Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Welcome to OCK's First Annual Experimental, Innovative and Groundbreaking Short Subjects WebFestival!

April 30-May 15, 2013

Curated by the students of EMF 330W: Writing Media Criticism

School of Communication, Northern Arizona University

Copy Editor: Jon Torn, Ph.D.

Read the articles . . . watch the films . . . leave your comments, thanks!


Animation  Program

A selection of award-winning shorts that demonstrate how independent animation and digital effect houses and artists are transforming the medium with fresh takes on traditional animation, 3-D imagery, and CGI effects.

"Heart": a Battle for Love - essay by Chance Boultinghouse

The Light of Learning in The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore - essay by Elizabeth Nelson

We Are Watching You: Surveillance Society in Mato Atom's "Seagulls" - essay by Chance St. George

Live Action Program

Live action shorts from yesterday and today that rethink conventional narrative in original and interesting ways.

Music Video Program

A selection of provocative and transgressive music videos that challenge social boundaries.
WARNING: These videos contain strong language, explicit violence and sexual material. Please use discretion before viewing. NSFW.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

March 2013 Issue - Essential Viewing!

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

It is a rare thing when a movie leaves you completely speechless as the credits roll. Normally I chit chat about what I have just seen or talk about what I did or did not like, but not with this film. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is an utterly compelling drama that will leave you heartbroken but intrigued by what you have just seen.

Movies about the Holocaust are rarely  short of emotion and are constantly moving, but this film stands out from the rest because of the perspective it takes. This film, instead of focusing on condescending adults and overly powerful tyrants, is shown through the eyes of children who are witnessing these horrible events taking place around them, without truly understanding them. Another unique aspect of this film is that it does not just shine a light on the historical events or have a typical Hollywood feel good ending. This film is raw and harsh in its exit and once again brings the audience looking to their hearts and their emotions. Regrettably because this film is so dark, not many people will want to see it, which would be their loss.

Boy tells the story of two eight year old boys, one Jewish and one German , are told to hate each other by society, but instead find friendship and companionship across an electrified fence. We first meet Bruno living a carefree life in the suburbs of Germany. The film opens with Bruno and his friends behaving like typical young boys enjoying their carefree childhood, imitating planes flying and running in and out of crowds of people being forced out of their homes and onto army trucks. The children are seemingly unaware of the inhumane treatment occurring right next to them.

His father (played by David Thewlis) is a German SS commander moving his family to the countryside where he can be closer to his “work”. Once there, Bruno becomes aware of a “farm” on the outskirts of their gated home. As the normal explorer instincts of an eight-year-old boy kick in, he finds himself in front of a metal, barbed electric fence. It is here he meets a boy of his own age, wearing the infamous “stripped pajamas”. Bruno tries to make friends with the little boy, Shmaul, even inviting him over to his house for dinner, not realizing that the child is a prisoner. Bruno continues throughout the film to befriend Shmaul, even bringing food and board games for them to partake of together. The innocence that surrounds these two boys is humorous at times, but ultimately heartbreaking. The portrayals of these young actors are beyond their years and through their simple and genuine acting, instill deep love in the audience members’ hearts and minds.

While the children, Bruno and Shmaul, are the main story line, the subplot of the marriage between Bruno’s father, Thewlis, and his mother, played by Vera Fermiga, creates dramatic  tension that adults can relate to. The father’s strong military values are balanced by Fermiga’s more compassionate character which  is continually disturbed by the treatment of the Jews at the hand of her husband. Fermiga starts to question the inhumanity that is happening in her very own home, but is conflicted by  the role of being the “good wife” to a SS commander and is forced to keep quiet.

That changes after a pivotal scene she witnesses a soldier beating an elder man working for them, while  Thewlis does nothing to stop it. This whole event happens at the breakfast table, in front of the children. Thewlis is sitting at the head of the table, Fermiga at the other end; swollen tired eyes watch Thewlis as he sits silently. The children sit with their back to the brutality as the beating unfolds behind the kitchen wall. The family or kitchen table is a symbol of unity in a family, a sense of love surrounds this place, and for such violence to happen at this place tarnishes that symbol. When it becomes too much for her to handle, motherly instincts kick in as Fermiga confronts Thewlis with her belief that the “farm”, is no place for children to be raised. Her  raw, natural, emotional energy gives the audience a completely different perspective to the unsympathetic and callous personality of the father. Farmiga’s  gut wrenching performance reaches new heights in this scene, to the point that chills literally pulse throughout the audience, leaving a saddened atmosphere.

In the dramatic and horrifying ending of Boy, the audience should not expect a joyful Hollywood resolution . This raw independent film drives home the emotion I a devastating last twenty minutes that will leave the audience captivated and have them walking away from the movie with a heavy heart. This isn’t to say that the film is ruined by this end, we are saddened, yes, but if this film had left with a family reuniting and living “happily ever after” then the events of the Holocaust would be glorified and tied in a pretty bow. The Holocaust was not a happy period of time, and for this film to stick to that sense earns points in my book.  The dynamic shots of revealing events and revealing emotion keep the end moving with a level of curiously that keeps the audience from switching channels or stopping the film.  Mystery surrounds the final minutes of the film with a cinematic twist, once again leaving the audience stunned and most likely silent. - Elizabeth Nelson

It's such a Beautiful Day

American culture is one that has become obsessed with body image and ways to maintain it.  A seemingly endless amount of ways to exercise have gained and lost popularity over the last three decades.  American's are obsessed with the idea of having the right work out. Don Hertzfeldt's animated short trilogy It's Such a Beautiful Day presents a whole new type of work out.  Rather than exercising the body, Day is a work out for the soul. Never before has one piece of work evoked as many strong emotions in me as It's Such a Beautiful Day.  If someone had told me prior to viewing that a stick figure animation could take me from the high's of hysterical laughter to the lows of true anguish, I would have laughed in the face.  I was so wrong.

Don Hertzfeldt is an independent animator known for works like Rejected and Billy's  Balloon.    It's Such a Beautiful Dais actually a trilogy of short animations that Hertzfeldt combined in 2012.  The first part Everything Will Be Okay came out in 2006, followed by I Am So Proud of You in 2008, with the trilogy finishing up in 2011 with It's Such a Beautiful Day.  In 2012 Hertzfeldt combined the three into an hour long film, titled after the third installment, and It's Such a Beautiful Day was finally complete.  The trilogy follows protagonist Bill, a stick figure, who must deal with a psyche that deteriorates and evolves over the course of the three shorts. 

In Everything Will Be Okay, viewers are introduced to Bill's everyday routine.  The stereotypical loner, Bill goes quietly about his day shopping, commuting, and hanging at home as the film begins to build him as a character.   His life seems normal if not a bit monotonous, until one night he has a dream of a giant fish inside of his skull.  This marks the beginning of Bill's psychological breakdown.  His nights become less restful, and his days become less clear.  This cycle continues until Bill eventually has a complete mental collapse.  Everything Will Be Okay is Hertzfeldt's first animation in the trilogy, and it shows.  The animation and sound design are the most basic in the first installment, but in many ways this piece is the most genuine.  Hertzfeldt beautifully crafts Bill as a character, and develops him into a very relatable and likeable mold, putting him in familiar awkward experiences, coming up with clever quips that never really work out the way he planned.  As Bill degrades mentally, Hertzfeldt effectively showcases his torment through his poetic narration, making viewers hurt just as much as Bill. 
The next installment of the series, I Am So Proud of You, sees Hertzfeldt mature as both a film maker and a writer.  As far as the animation goes, it is obvious that Hertzfeldt is totally comfortable in his medium, giving him room to start taking creative risks with his animation.  These risks pay off, as Hertzfeldt begins to blend his drawings with photographs and other special effects, creating a world that perfectly illustrates the unstable psyche that is Bill's world. This second chapter acts as almost a prequel to the first, with Bill's family history being explored.  As his schizophrenic gene pool comes to light, as well as Bill's unstable upbringing.  The episode is brought full circle as Bill makes peace with his mother, and begins to recover from from his condition.  All seems to be good and well, until his psyche finally fully shatters. 

The final installment, It's Such a Beautiful Day, opens with Bill in the hospital.  He has fully relapsed into his mental condition, where simple doctor administered tests become impossible equations.  As recovery becomes a more distant possibility, doctors decide to release Bill to his home under family care.  Even though it seems all hope is lost, Bill has an epiphany walking around his home one day.  Bill becomes to see the world with a new appreciation, finding beauty in the simplest things.  This is where some of Hertzfeldt's best work comes through, as Bill begins to see beauty and detail in his once drab setting, his drab hand drawn world starts being replaced with real life photography, creating an elegant metaphor. As Bill begins to find peace and beauty in his world, It's Such a Beautiful Day's story takes a sharp turn.  The video becomes much more abstract with Hertzfeldt's narration beginning to paint Bill as an immortal figure, moving away from the simply structured original storyline, and into a much more abstract conclusion. 

In his final chapter Hertzfeldt comes to full maturity.  Where the prior pieces had evoked strong emotions with sad ideas and good laughs, the final installment pulls no punches.  The emotional roller coaster that is based on the track of Hertzfeldt's poetic narration, is beautifully garnished with his best animation yet, as well as a sound design that is at least as moving as his creative imagery.  Where the story is continually very simple, being supported more on character development that plot, the final sequence takes viewers on a trippy metaphoric journey through time with Bill, ending the story on an abstract note that will take a few viewings to fully understand.
When recommending a movie it is often helpful to have similar movies to recommend to help compare and prepare.  In the case of It's Such a Beautiful Day, I have never seen anything remotely close to this film.  All I can do is recommend it, and assure readers that this is one of those films that it's almost better to go in not knowing what to expect.  To view this film, and other works by Don Hertzfeldt you can go to his website: www.bitterflims.com to purchase his work. - Chance St. George

Lost: The Final Season

Lost is one of the most, if not the most unique television shows ever, as well as one of the most polarizing and misunderstood. The premise of the show is well known: Flight 815 crashes on a mysterious island, and as the survivors elect a leader, and live together, the island’s secrets are slowly revealed over the course of several seasons. There is no such thing as a casual fan of Lost; . one has to watch the entire thing, perhaps multiple times, to understand what’s going on. Because of this, its wide viewership narrowed in its later seasons and by the end, people either hated it or loved it. To many people, Lost was a community. Not only did people watch it they came together to talk about it, theorize about it and analyze it. Perhaps it was because of this that the ending left some people disappointed. However, if you take a step back and look at the final season within the context of the rest of Lost it does the same thing, and is still about the same thing: The characters.

Lost is a show about its characters, and though it contains complicated plots and story arcs, its beginning, and end was character driven. Because of this, some considered many questions unanswered, and the ending confusing, but when looked at through the eyes of the characters, Lost ends the way it began. It is virtually impossible to talk about Lost without spoilers. For the purposes of this review, let’s assume that the reader has watched at least up to the sixth season , and ideally has finished it, and is now looking for a second opinion. Spoilers ahead.

Season six begins showing the aftermath of the Jughead explosion in the season five finale, detonated to prevent Flight 815 from ever crashing on the Island. It is revealed that season six, like previous seasons, will follow stories both on and off the Island, but this time in what is called a “flash sideways” rather than a flashback or flash-forward. Season six continues the story of our characters on Island, while simultaneously showing us an alternate reality, what happens to these characters when their plane never crashed. It is revealed this season that the main antagonist is the smoke monster, aka the man in black. This is a common experience in viewing Lost, having no idea what is going on, or what the big deal was until the last moments, and this is why repeated viewings are essential to truly appreciate Lost

A good example is perhaps the strongest episode this season which is, like previous seasons, a Desmond centric episode. We start to see in “Happily Ever After” how this flash-sideways world fits in with our characters. And it is Desmond who plans to bring them together. Lost takes its time before it decides to reveal information, and this episode comes after the halfway mark in the final season, but reveals the importance of the flash-sideways story line which, up until that point, had seemed like a completely unrelated appendage to the main story.

And now to the episode which polarized the fans, The End. 

In it’s final moments it is revealed that the flash sideways timeline was not just an alternate time line caused by Jughead, but was an afterlife limbo. All the characters had died, at some point, and end up in a limbo with no memory of their past life. They must find each other and remember in order to move on.The rug, was once again, whipped from under us. And should we have expected anything less? Death in Lost, and has been a theme since the beginning, and indeed the show has played up the idea that the characters have been dead the whole time. In season three it is stated that all passengers of the flight were found dead. Were they? Of course not. And then in season four, one of the characters, Hurley who now speaks to dead people and has always been the voice of the audience, also speculates that they have all died. All red herrings, yet all very large clues to what actually happens.

More than anything, the reason people dislike the episode is due to two things: A lack of answers to the questions, and because of one huge misunderstanding, that they were “dead the whole time” The latter is easier to dismiss. They were not. Many people are under the impression that on the island the characters have been dead for the entirety of the show. This is likely due to the footage of the fuselage that aired after the episode ended, put there by ABC as a retrospective moment of the set. In the cannon, they were alive and well (or not so well) on the island.

The second is the lack of answers. Though it is true that the finale lacks a scene that sits the viewer down and explains the mythology in great detail, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Lost remains slightly ambiguous in the end and though it may not be for everyone, it is a purposeful on the part of the writers, not a cop out.That is not to say the show does not supply answers, however they are buried in the narrative, perhaps too much so. But the answers we are given are answers the characters are invested in getting. Although the season is slow at first, and is low key compared to seasons two through five, its high points are the characters. Season four ended with moving a giant land mass, and five with a nuclear bomb explosion and the murder of the most enigmatic character who we’ve only just met. People may have expected season six to feature an epic battle, and more time travel. What we get is much more personal. That is not to say this season does not have its epic moments, but the battle is one of the characters internal turmoil and their choices. 

The show, in the end, never Lost touch with what it started out as which was a show about the characters. To quote Damon Lindelof, the show-runner, Lost can be summed up as “Broken people crash on broken Island, they fix Island then each other. All consumed in bright light” The show took a path that not everyone would like, but where it ended up is what it had planned for. 
Joseph McKay

Point Break

Kathryn Bigelow, these days, is best known for being the Academy Award winning director of films such as The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty., But to large numbers of people she will always be known as the director of the cult-classic 1991 hit movie, Point Break. This flick has been loved for three decades now by audiences of all ages. Bigelow showed long before the Oscar win that she has what it takes to make a killer movie with big stars, a great storyline, and one that is considered an instant classic. Point Break is an adrenaline rush from start to finish.

Patrick Swayze is the main character is this exciting story. Oh, you need to know more than Swayze being in the movie? Keanu Reeves plays Johnny Utah a rookie FBI agent that has just been awarded the toughest assignment in the LA area, he has to take down the Ex-Presidents, a group of surfing bank robbers, lead by Sawyze, that are close to impossible to track down. That’s right, bank robbing surfers; it can not get more original or radical than that. Reeves goes under cover as a typical surf-bum, but before he learns Swayze’s circle of friends are the robbers he is looking for, he becomes close with Swayze by learning from him the spiritual ways of the surfing life.
Current fans of her recent, serious work might find it hard to believe that Bigelow directed this film, but there are some similarities that might stand out. At first look, the audience might think that there are no political messages in Point Break. But political commentary exists in the form of the Ex-Presidents, whoare given their name because the surfers wear president masks. Maybe Bigelow is trying to point out that sometimes politicians are the biggest crooks of all.

Also, some of the handheld camera scenes that Bigelow directs in this movie shows her unique visual touch. One of the most crucial scenes in the movie comes when Reeves is chasing Swayze through a neighborhood right after a bank robbery. As the two make their way through people’s houses and backyards the shaky camera gives the audience the feeling that they are running and panting with the cop and the robber. At one part in the chase Swayze throws a dog at Reeves to try to shake him off and the camera follows Reeves’s head has he ducks out of the way to avoid the catapulted mutt. 
Another handheld camera scene comes when Reeves and his partners are busting the wrong group of surfing criminals. As the FBI agents prep to enter the house the audience gets a glimpse of Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer, Anthony Kiedis, whirling his arms and moving his body on a bed while listening to an old-school Walkman as if he was on stage with his band. The camera continues to use that same shakiness as the agents enter the house and come out on top in a gunfight against the wrongly accused criminals. 
But to make this movie somewhat believable Bigelow knew she had to nail the surfing scenes. Anyone that has ever tired surfing before would probably notice that Reeves and Swayze had stunt doubles for the surfing scenes. Doubles or not, the realistic and gnarly shredding that goes on in many scenes of the movie keep the audience focused on the storyline instead of having them bust out laughing at a cheesy fake background. The attention to realistic detail shown by Dark Zero 30 can also be found in this early feature.

The ending is what makes this movie worth sitting through the first two hours. Do not get it wrong, the first two hours are great too, but Point Break’s ending brings everything together and will not leave many disappointed. After all the incredible action throughout the film, it ends with Reeves and Swayze eye-to-eye confronting each other about the events that took place. But did Swayze’s friendship mean anything to Reeves or is the rookie cop so focused on his assignment he has no friends?

Point Break is hard to beat. It’s original storyline and screenplay is clear, clever, and fun. Gary Busey, before he became crazy in real life, nails the part of the crazy old-man that does not take crap from younger cops. Lori Petty perfectly portrays the punk-rock surfing girl that every guy wants. Reeves is fantastic as the young up-beat cop trying to take down the bad guys like Batman does, and Swayze is Swayze so of course he is good too. Not many movies can repeat the flow that Point Break has. Although extremely cheesing at times, this movie has it all: action, drama, and suspense.
This movie will be an enjoyable to watch with a group of friends and might even be a group favorite for a long time after the credits role. Do not over look this awesome up-beat movie. And did we mention, Patrick Swayze is in it. 

- Matt Esanea


Not very many movie franchises are long-lasting.  Those that are tend to be very unsteady or unstable.  The Batman series, for example, keeps getting restarted with remakes and major overhauls every reboot.  The Indiana Jonesand Star Wars series each experienced a long gap between its third and fourth movies, and the quality of those films suffered. But none of those franchises has lasted as long as the James Bond series, which has steadily churned out movies for more than 50 years, with no loss in relevance and no major changes.  The 23rd entry to the 007 canon is Skyfall, and while it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than entertainment for the masses, it provides a few moments of true emotion amidst its engaging storyline, unlike previous Bond films, which are well known for their slick dialogue and cool action sequences.
Part of this change is, of course, due to the writing, but it can also be attributed to the presence of Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes, who takes over as first-time director for this film.  His experience on such films as American Beauty and Revolutionary Road makes a difference in how this particular Bond story is told.  Meanwhile, Daniel Craig reprises his role as the famous British spy for the third time, and is joined by series regular Judi Dench as “M,” newcomer Ralph Fiennes as Col. Gareth Mallory, and Javier Bardem as the main villain, Silva.
This time, Bond has been assigned with hunting down Silva, a former MI6 agent gone rogue, who has stolen a confidential list of other MI6 agents who are posing undercover around the world. The movie opens with Bond chasing the man who stole the list on Silva’s behalf.  The chase scene starts out with Bond in a Hummer-type vehicle, then he switches to a motorcycle, then finally he hops a train where he confronts the thief on top of the fast-moving train.  The chase will leave viewers in suspense throughout this scene.  Whether it’s an exchange of gunfire, the dangerously high velocity of the vehicles involved, or an approaching tunnel wall threatening to smash Bond on impact, there is constant uncertainly as to whether or not 007 will catch the thief or even survive.
The rest of the movie doesn’t quite have as much suspense, but it is still quite engaging.  The scene where 007 meets the latest “Bond girl,” Severine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe), and is nearly killed by her bodyguards works mainly because it adds to the suspense, though the fact that he took them all on at once might not be a wise tactical decision in real life.  But then again, this is James Bond.  Also, in a later scene when Bond and his associate “Q” (Ben Whishaw) drive to 007’s childhood home, Skyfall, there is plenty more suspense when they lure Silva there to ambush him with booby traps and explosives.  But unlikeHome Alone, this is not just some slapstick-style trap they’re laying.  This is spy-thriller material with a real sense of danger.  By the time the stage is set for Bond’s final confrontation with Silva, the audience’s collective heart rate will finally be coming down after witnessing Bond taking down Silva’s henchmen while nearly getting killed himself.
 The film bears some similarities to past 007 movies, and yet it also has some striking differences.  As with all Bond movies in the Daniel Craig era, there are no overtly sexist remarks made by 007, unlike many past Bond films.  Also, Severine, the femme fatale, is a smoker, while Bond is not.  This differs from the early 007 movies, where Bond was portrayed as smooth and debonair, constantly with a cigarette in hand.  While Bond himself may not have smoked since Timothy Dalton played the role, Skyfall did provide shades of the more recent GoldenEye, in which the femme fatale smoked cigars (although Severine only smokes cigarettes in this film).  Of course, one thing that has remained the same is 007’s love of martinis.  In the casino, when the bartender mixes the drink by shaking the ingredients together, Bond replies, “Perfect!”  Obviously, he’s referring to the way he likes his martinis prepared.
One thing in particular that makes this movie special is the presence of real human emotion.  Other 007 films were heavily reliant on action and witty dialogue, but without spoiling the film, let’s just say that both Bond and M have to deal with feelings of loss in the story.  In addition, the film shares those emotions effectively, by showing each of these characters in a melancholy state of mourningupon learning of the death of loved ones.  There's also a moment when those in charge of MI6 wonder if a spy agency even has a place in a world that has become increasingly democratic and open in nature.  Yet the film avoids becoming too preachy, and lets the audience decide for itself what to think.
For a movie that’s mainly about entertainment, Skyfall does a great job injecting genuine human depth and reflection into its characters.  It may be a plot-driven movie, but what sets Skyfall apart from previous 007 films—or for that matter, movies such as GoodFellas and the first three episodes of Star Wars—is that Skyfall’s characters aren’t too shallow, one-dimensional, or lacking in emotion.  There is true character development, which allows the audience to connect to the characters on an emotional level.  It is a movie that gives moral and emotional depth to its principal characters, without becoming so incredibly moralizing as to tell people what to think about current events.  If you're looking for a reason why James Bond is still relevant after an entire half-century on screen, just go see Skyfall.

This review has been brought to you by the letters M and Q, and by the number 007. 
- Gregg Ensminger

The Walking Dead

There have been countless zombie movies over the years all depicting relatively the same plot.  Yet we all still see them and either poke fun at them or turn them into cult classics. We love zombies for many reasons, some being that they scare us or make us laugh. Some people even add zombies to their list of possible apocalyptic scenarios replacing the 2012 theory. Other times, zombies merely provide a new tense situation to throw our heroes in and watch to see who comes out on top. 90% of the time, our “heroes” are just ordinary people thrown into extraordinary situations. And then there are those few naysayers who can’t stand anything zombie related, however, this review is not for you and I’m sure a vampire review is sulking around here somewhere. Zombies are one of this generation’s newest obsessions and I for one am excited to see what heights people can take it to.

The Walking Dead is an AMC TV series based on a graphic novel about a zombie plague sweeping the world. A zombie TV series that we can tune into each week to follow the survivor’s adventures? I’m in! (Warning: following may contain spoilers) The show opens typically, and introducing some of the main characters depicting “normal” life before the crazy starts. We first meet police officer Rick (Andrew Lincoln), who has a wife and son but things aren’t so happy at home. Rick is wounded in the line of duty and ends up in coma for months, while the zombie plague rages on unbeknownst to him. He awakes to a chaos-ridden world and attempts to find his family, and all that is just the first episode. For starters, this is a unique way to start the zombie apocalypse; by having our main character out of commission while the plague is just beginning which is usually the boring part of the movies. People in this day and age want action and we want it now. We only find out exactly what happened through, interesting flashbacks throughout the show.

Viewers are used to a quickly moving zombie movies where they don’t get attached to any character as they expect them to either be food or another zombie soon. The Walking Dead, being a series, makes you care about the characters as they develop over the course of the show. A series lets a character come full circle;it shows how someone might deal with a zombie outbreak right in the beginning and then how they cope a couple of months down the road when the zombies have taken over. The best example of this happens to Rick. Over the course of the show, Rick loses family members and close friends. As one might expect, this takes a toll on Rick, who beings to slowly lose his mind,which only serves to provide the show with more drama and suspense. Another drastic change takes place in Rick’s police partner, Shane. The two begin as best friends but soon end up at each other’s throats for various reasons; I will let you enjoy how and why yourself. One mistake a newbie to the show can make, though, is getting too close to the characters, because I will say it now: no one is safe, ever! Any of your beloved characters are up for the chopping block at anytime. But don’t let that deter you; The Walking Dead makes up for that by having some of the deepest plot lines of any other shows out today.

Another norm in a zombie thriller is the survivors’ attempt to find a safe haven after they come to terms with the fact that there is no cure. That is no different in The Walking Dead, except packed in between the main story arc are additional stories that move the show along.  As the group builds up and breaks down over and over again, they want to find answers. They may find a few answers in one episode yet more questions are always being added to the list by the time the next episode airs. Even the locations or “safe havens” the creators chose to use for our survivors are different than anything we have seen before, such as malls or fortified cities. We watch the characters going from an overrun Atlanta to forests to farms out in the middle of nowhere and even a prison surrounding by walkers (zombies).

Watching this will give you a lot of nostalgia and the direction of this show feels like a classic old school zombie movie from the 80's to 90's that's actually serious this time. Having a well-respected cast and great acting makes this show very promising and I will be hoping for a lot more future episodes... a lot more. So in closing, for those of us who love the genre, it's a weekly dose of zombie apocalypse. For those that aren't fans of the genre, when the zombie apocalypse happens and you don't know what to do, don't come crying to my friends and me, you'll just slow us down. On second thought…you may come in handy in case we need to make a hasty retreat….
- Chance Boultinghouse 

The West Wing – The Debate 

“I pledge I will not go to war for oil.” Isn’t that what we want to hear from a presidential candidate? The no holds barred, straight talking debate that a nation craves, it needs, it wishes for? But this line didn’t come from an actual candidate or a television news pundit, but from an episode from seven years ago of Aaron Sorkin’s acclaimed television drama, The West Wing. When television sets up an ideal that reality doesn’t match, it makes us hope for something great from a subject that we look at cynically. As Sorkin once said in an interview with The Telegraph about writing The West Wing “I like writing idealistically, romantically and swashbuckling.” Does this make us wish for something more from our leaders or do we realize that it is fiction and no one can live up to the ideal? This review asks that question.   

The West Wing aired episode #139 on Nov. 6, 2005, one year after President George W. Bush secured his second reelection. For six seasons viewers had followed the administration of Josiah “Jed” Bartlet, Sorkins ideal chief executive. Bartlet, asplayed by Martin Sheen, is a Nobel laureate in economics as Democratic President of the United States He is a highly intelligent and quick witted that is surrounded by hyper-competent senior staff that ran his dark horse presidential campaign. The Chief of Staff (Leo McGarry) his deputy (Josh Lyman), Communications director (Toby Zeigler), his deputy (Sam Seaborn), and press secretary (CJ Cregg) form an important role in the political power struggle in the Bartlet administration against a Republican congress. In the final seventh season the show reached the end of the Bartlet administration and are in the campaign cycle of Arnold Vinick (R-Cal.) played by Alan Alda and Matt Santos (D-Tex.) played by Jimmy Smits, who meet to debate in “The Deabte”. The episode was groundbreaking in presenting a realistic presidential debate on screen offering viewers a choice between two well drawn candidates.

The debate was filmed on the actual set of the 2004 nonfictional presidential debate between Bush and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, with the added gravitas of American broadcast journalist Forrest Sawyer who plays himself as the moderator of the debate. We see an honest debate, with Vinick coming out and saying to Santos, “Lincoln didn’t need rules.” Let’s break the rules, Vinick says, and the two candidates depart from the standard debate rules of equal time can canned responses, throwing them out the window giving an honest debate. Any viewer would ask, why can’t see this in real life? Why is it only on television that we see politicians become what we would hope they would be? The show encourages us to ask more of our leaders.
The episode is given a sentiment of truth and reality by breaking from the typical format of the show. Dedicated viewers of The West Wing are used to the beautiful cinematography, the long walking and talking steady cam shots and the look of film that we come to expect with the show. Instead ‘The Debate’ is shot live; two versions of the episode are made one for the East Coast audience and then a few hours later for the West Coast. It is a unique viewing experience even seven years later:we see Matt Santos (D-TX) played by Jimmy Smits as he blows a couple of his lines giving us the impression that this is a real debate that we are truly watching someone who will become the leader of the free world.  Adding to the reality is the look of the episode. The beauty of film changes into the jarring sensation of live digital broadcast. It doesn’t look the same as everything else we had been watching on The West Wing. It reminds us of the live broadcasts we have watched for most of our lives, upping the realism factor. 

The West Wing has never been shy about making statements, drawing criticism from the conservatives who call the show “The Left Wing” and accuse it of pushing a liberal bias. The show addresses issues of abortion, political corruption, war, and gun control from a clear perspective, and opens a dialogue for what the nation wants to hear. The debate brings these issues to the front of our consciousness. Santos comes forward with a stirring defense of the word liberal that makes us want to jump out of our seats and say I am a liberal, I am not afraid, I am a liberal and proud of it. It is a stirring monologue that brings joy to the heart of liberals everywhere.  

What is also fascinating about watching “the Debate” today is the impact of revising those issues that troubled our souls not that long ago andstill have us by the throat today. Vinick’s response to question about energy that“Nuclear power is completely safe” comes back to bite him later when, five episodes later, a nuclear plant in Vinick’s home state of California melts down leading him to lose the election. More recently Fukushima created an international scare because of Mother Nature wrecking havoc with a nuclear plant with a massive tsunami. When I heard those words of Vinivk’s the first thing that jumped into my mind was people running to the store for iodine tablets and fearing the threat of nuclear fallout when the Japanese power plants melted down and threatened to fill the atmosphere with glowing cancer. In yet another way The West Wing reveals the gap between reality and the ideal.

Another debate point that will catch people’s attention in immigration. Vinick makes the point of saying he will double the size of the border patrol to secure the border. Santos rebukes his plan to add more agents and decrease taxes all at the same time. He also says that adding more agents will not stop illegal immigration. I think it speaks to today’s climate of immigration. We have built fences and added agents to our border, but still have the debate on how to stop it. 

Both candidates have moments when they lose their cool; they make snide comments to each other and have angry outbursts. It lends realism to the episode. It makes up feel that we are not watching a scripted, planned-out show but something real. We know deep down this is not true, the lines are scripted and the outbursts are planned. But is that not what good television is supposed to do, bring you into the box and feel like it is real? I want to see in my politicians the bravery to go out and tell it the way they think it, in the words they will live up to because they are their own words, not the tested phrases of polling and thirty second sound bites. They go through all this work trying to figure out what words work best, the order, delivery and style that will be most effective, but in the end we want to hear the words that are truthful.

The West Wing debate is not only fantastic television because of its live format; , it makes us think and wish for something more from our leaders. We should look back at this episode and ask ourselves “why not? Why can’t we have this from our politicians?” It may be a pipe dream, but is that not what television is for, to make us dream and want something more? Tell our leaders to come out, gloves off, and debate what the nation wants to hear, the things that affect our lives. We should sometimes hold elected officials to the standard of scripted leaders that we often would rather have run our nation. We want them to come out and say “I will not go to war for oil.” 

- Sean Ryan

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Javeon Butler - Top 10 Hip Hop Albums of 2012

2012 was a good year not only for rap, but for a  plethora of young, up and coming artists that don’t have the major labels backing them like a Jay-Z or a Kanye West. With the ability to share their music all over the world via the web, artist like Soulja Boy and Kendrick Lamar have been able to make the transition from small time rappers to hip hop  icons. With so much new music being circulated, it’s nearly impossible to comment on them all, so with that being said, this list is comprised of rap albums and mix tapes released in 2012 that I could turn on from the first song and listen all the way through.

1.  Kendrick Lamar – Good Kiid Maad City: This album tells a story that takes you through a night with Kendrick Lamar and his friends. From home invasions to keeping the peace, this album is full of surprises.

2. Nas – Life is Good:  In his first solo album since his collaboration with Damien Marley, Nas easily upholds his title as one of the best lyricist to grace the game.

3. The Game – Jesus Piece: This project was a complete turnaround from The Game’s previous projects. With a new flow, and a controversial album cover, Jesus Piece is a refreshingly different sound for The Game.

4.  Big Sean – Detroit: Looking to bounce back from his debut album which did well in sales but did not go over so well with his fans, Big Sean brings along a lot of friends to help him tell his story about Detroit. His fans say this is the Big Sean they’ve been waiting for.

5.   Rick Ross – God Forgives, I Don’t: This was a great album with strong instrumentals and even better collaborations with names like Andre 3000, Drake and Ne Yo.

6.    Ab-Soul – Control System: Calling himself soul brother number 2 (number one being James Brown), California rapper Ab-Soul uses soulful samples and complex lyrical concepts, making Control System great brain food to keep you thinking.

7.   Schoolboy Q – Habits and Contradiction: With a gangster rap mentality, and profound lyrics, Schoolboy Q, along with label mates Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul, represents a new breed of rappers.

8.   2 Chainz – Based on a TRU Story : 2 Chainz’s debut album Based on a TRU Story is packed with big name collaborations. With music to dance to, along with bass heavy songs with more of a gangster influence, this album gives you everything you want.

9.    Lupe Fiasco – Food and Liquor II: For all of Lupe’s Kick Push fans, this album was exactly what they were looking for, with conscious rap that has a message and sounds amazing.

10.  French Montana – Mac and Cheese III: The surprise album of the year would have to be French Montana’s Mac and Cheese III album, which was a more upbeat project that anyone could have anticipated. With its chill music and party vibe, its sound is new and refreshing.

Gregg Ensminger - Top Ten Worst Oscar Winners Since 1970

Despite the high amount of reverence that the movie industry gives the Academy Awards, the Oscars aren't infallible.  Sometimes an undeserving nominee wins on the strength of the actor's reputation, or due to industry bias in favor of some movie genres but not others, or simply because the Academy voters have a habit of falling for Oscar bait.  These are some of the worst offenses by the Academy from the past four decades:

10.  Ellen Burstyn, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974; Best Actress)
This one wasn’t Burstyn’s fault. But another nominee, Gena Rowlands, should have won for one of the greatest film performances ever in A Woman Under the Influence.

9.  Eminem, "Lose Yourself" from 8 Mile (2002; Best Original Song)
A song about once-in-a-lifetime opportunities?  Unoriginal.  Slim Shady’s rhymes?  Corny as usual.  Oscar-worthy material?  You must be trippin’.

8.  Martin Scorsese, The Departed (2006; Best Director)
Scorsese was the Tarantino of his day [in other words, the Academy's darling by virtue of commercially or critically popular Oscar-bait (Raging Bull, GoodFellas, Gangs of New York, etc.)]. So Hollywood must have been desperate to honor him, since he won his first Oscar for this mediocre, generic cop movie. 

7.   Cuba Gooding, Jr., Jerry Maguire (1996 Best Supporting Actor)
Considering that the same actor gave us Daddy Day Camp and Boat Trip, people must be rightfully wondering how he ever won an Oscar.

6.    Cher, Moonstruck (1987; Best Actress)
She didn’t have a long, productive, or memorable movie career, and there’s a reason why.  Overact much? (Also see: Burlesque, Mask)

5.    Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady (2011; Best Actress)
In a year with so many worthy nominees in this category alone (Michelle Williams, Viola Davis, Glenn Close, Rooney Mara), they reward Streep for hamming it up as Margaret Thatcher?

4.    The Hurt Locker (2009; Best Picture)
True, Kathryn Bigelow was technically brilliant directing this, and it's important to boost female directors.  But we all knew at the time that Avatar was the better picture.

3.     Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets (1997; Best Actress)
Although Kate Winslet eventually won her own Oscar, it still rubs some people the wrong way that, on Titanic’s big night, she lost to Helen Hunt.

2.     Charlize Theron, Monster (2003; Best Actress)
If this were truly Oscar-worthy, then Eddie Murphy would have the most Oscars ever for all the times that costume and makeup changed his look.

1.     Diablo Cody, Juno (2007; Best Original Screenplay)
Have you actually seen this movie?  “Cautionary whale?”  Really?  Cody’s writing is so cheesy that soap opera actors would be embarrassed to read it.

Matt Esaena – Top 10 Gangster Films

Gangster films have been a popular genre of movies for decades. People like to watch characters that live exciting lives and experience things that they will never be able to do. Audiences are easily hooked on mob stories. It’s human nature for an audience to cheer and sympathize for the “bad guy.” 
Here is a look at some of the most notable Gangster Films Ever Made:

10. Public Enemies (Director: Michael Mann, 2009)-  FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) tries to take down legendary bank-robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp). Took audiences back to the 1930’s, a time when gangsters had a much easier time avoiding the Feds. An engrossing historical drama.

9. Godfather Part III (Director: Francis Ford Coppola, 1990) - The final part in the Godfather saga takes place in 1971 in New York City, as Mobster Michael Corleone tries to clear his family name.    Die-hard Godfather fans might say this film does not belong on this list, but let’s remember, it was nominated for seven Academy Awards for a reason.

8. Carlito’s Way (Director: Brian De Palma, 1993) - The audience follows Carlito Brigante (Pacino) as he is released from jail and tries to remain out of mob business. Once a hitman, always a hitman it is hard for Carlito to avoid the life style he is known for.  One of Pacinio’s most brilliant performances.

7.  Scarface (Directors: Howard Hawks, Richard Rossen, 1932) - Loosely based on the career of Al Capone, Scarface helped paved the way for all subsequent Gangster Films. This film had many scenes that were considered violent and sexual back in the day, but it is because of this movie and a few other early gangster films that directors were able to envision films for today’s audience.

6. Casino (Director: Martin Scorsese, 1995) - This film follows gangsters Sam Rothstein (Robert De Niro) A.K.A “Ace” and Anthony Spilotro (Joe Pesci) as they are sent to Las Vegas to run a casino for the mob back east. This movie explains in a Hollywood fashion, for the story’s sake, how casinos were owned and operated by mob families before big corporations were able to step into the strip and take over the money making scenes of Las Vegas.

5. A Bronx Tale (Director: Robert De Niro, 1993)- Young Calogero “C” Anello must choose between the life of a hard-working honest man that his father lives or the life style of cracking heads like all his neighborhood friends want. De Niro proves he’s as good at directing gangster films as he is at starring in them.

4. Scarface (Director: Brian De Palma 1983) - Based on the hit 1932 Gangster Flick, Pacino portrays Tony Montana, a Cuban man who comes to America and builds a drug empire. Montana finds conflict between business and personal decisions when his best friend and business partner is accused of falling in love with Montana’s sister. Unusual for its focus on non-Italians, this is one of the best Gangster Films of all-time.

3. Goodfellas (Director: Martin Scorsese, 1990) - Scorsese once again makes another mob hit (no pun intended) with De Niro and Pesci. This film uniquely shows how mob bosses get rich and powerful because of the lower-ranked members that make their money for them. Extreme violence keeps the audience hooked throughout.

2. Godfather Part II (Director: Francis Ford Coppola, 1974) - There is little to no argument that this film is the greatest sequel ever made, the only sequel to win Best Picture. We move between  Michael Corleone trying to run his mob empire and flashbacks of the young Vito Corleone’s origins and attempts make a name for his family. Coppola wisely kept writer Puzo on for the sequel. 

1. The Godfather (Director: Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) - Everything worked for this movie: The lighting, the editing, the writing, and the directing. But what makes this movie is the great acting. Every actor portrays their character perfectly: Cann, Duval, Pacino, and who could forget Marlon Brando’s Academy Award for Best Actor? The film, of course, also won Best Picture. Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece might be the greatest movie ever made.

Sierra Gadberry - Top 10 Books turned to Movies

Books are ways to get the brain thinking, imagining, and creating. Readers can imagine the characters and plots on their own. Turning books into movies allows readers to see interpretations of their favorite books on screen, not always skillfully done. Here's a list of films that are not only great to watch, but are also a great read.

1. Harry Potter Series ( Author: J.K. Rowling; Multiple Directors) – A wicked movie series for all you Hogwarts prodigies, who wanted to see your favorite books transform to life with all their  great plot points  intact, thanks to awesome digital effects.

2. Water for Elephants (Author: Sara Gruen; Director: Francis Lawrence)- Set in the 20’s the film heartbreakingly portrays the inhumane treatment of an elephant in a traveling circus while an  affecting romance between Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson unfolds

3. Lord of the Rings (Author: J.R.R. Tolkien; Director: Peter Jackson)- Tolkien’s books were a hit to read so there is no surprise that the film trilogy  is equally good, with faithful plot details and great CGI.

4. The Devil Wears Prada (Author: Lauren Weisberger; Director: David Frankel)- Meryl Streep’s performance as a high fashion editor who reigns down on an intern is classic. Watch Anne Hathaway prevail through the tasks Streep sets.

5. The Help (Author: Kathryn Stockett; Director: Tate Taylor)- An eye-opening  film depicting the struggles of black women working in rich white households during the ‘60s.

6.  Holes (Author: Louis Sachar; Director: Scott Plank)- Shia Labouf’s debut film shoots him to stardom with his likeable charm shines as he plays a young man digging holes out in the desert. From the Newberry Prize winning children’s book.

7.  Marley and Me (Author: John Grogan; Director: David Frankel)- Need a feel good movie? A struggling journalist writes a column about his trouble-maker puppy, Marley. Based on a true story.

8. The Hobbit (Author: J.R.R. Tolkien; Director: Peter Jackson)- The breath taking 3D is amazing! Peter Jackson lets the fans of the fantasy classic see stone goblins, dragons, and Gollum in a whole new way.

9. The Notebook (Author: Nicholas Sparks; Director: Nick Cassavetes)- An all-time favorite romantic drama following an old couples past and how they go to where they are now, lovingly brought to the big screen.

10. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Author: Hunter S. Thompson; Director: Terry Gilliam)- Weird, wild and mind blowing adaptation of the gonzo classic following journalist Raoul Duke’s acid trip in 60s Vegas.

Sean Ryan – Top Ten Television Series of the 21st century.

HBO set the stage for today’s great series in the late 1990s with long form shows allowing for the proliferation of the format in the new century. HBO’s lack of reliance on advertisers allowed for the use of sensitive subject matter, creating gripping shows not found on basic cable shows. This reason is why HBO dominates my top ten list. The influence of HBO’s style is reflected in great shows on other networks such as Battlestar Galactica and Breaking Bad, with longer story arcs and deeper character development. 

10.  Deadwood - HBO (2004-2006). Based on the blood, beer, and mud of gold rush era South Dakota, Deadwood makes a truly memorable first season. Falling short in the second season is the only reason it falls to the 10th place.

9.  Avatar - Nickelodeon (2005-2008). Cartoons are not only for kids. Who wouldn't love a flying monk that will rule the world? The storyline and animation keep audiences of all ages hooked.

8 Game of Thrones -HBO (2011- ). Winter is coming and fear of white walkers taking your head makes you feel engrossed by this HBO series. Falling short of the books, Game of Thrones comes in 8th place.

7 Breaking Bad - AMC (2008 - )
A cancer stricken high school science teacher that decides to cook high quality meth. This compelling series makes us question how far we would go for family and wealth.

6 Doctor Who - BBC (2005- ). Trust the Doctor. This campy British series makes you laugh across the galaxy and regenerates the old series for the 21stcentury. 

5 Battlestar Galactica - Syfy (2004-2009). A cult classic of epic proportions. Cylons, starships and sex makes for a great science fiction series. If you don't like Battlestar Galactica you can go frak yourself.

4 Band of Brothers - HBO (2001). Gripping WWII series following the Greatest Generation, leaving no doubt in the mind of the viewer, that they were the greatest generation.

3 Firefly - FOX (2002- 2003). 500 hundred years later, prostitution is glamorous and our main character looks like he walked out of the Wild West.  With such a devoted fan base the short lived series Firefly was followed by the film Serenity.

 2 Sherlock - BBC (2010- ). Modern and inventive portrayal of Sherlock Holmes makes you crave for another 3 episode season. The innovative use of text messaging and updated characters fills out the second best spot.

1 The Wire - HBO (2002- 2008). The gritty street crime drama makes you jones for the next episode. The fact that there hasn't been a new one since 2008 is a crime in itself. This suspenseful show about inter-city violence wins the top spot every time. 

Chance St George - 10 Best “Bad” 80's movies

These movies aren't bad because one should avoid seeing them, quite the opposite in fact. Some of the movies on this list rank amongst our most watched and most cherished. We call them “bad” movies because they represent everything that made the 80's “bad”. Each and every one of these movies is chalk full of comical montages, corny one liners, and gratuitous fight scenes.  Transport yourself back in time to one of our more laughable decades with a “bad 80s” marathon!.

10. Ghostbusters (1984, Directed by Ivan Reitman).  When three psychology professors are fired from their University, they team up and begin to offer their services as a poltergeist removal service.

Best 80's moment: “Back off man, I'm a scientist”-Bill Murray

9. The Toxic Avenger (1984, Directed by Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman). Melvin the janitor is a loser who doesn't fit in, that is until he is mutated into hometown superhero, the Toxic Avenger.

Best 80's moment: The Taco Stand hold up is so full of bad music, bad acting, and one liners that it sums up all that is the 80's.

8. The Thing (1982, Directed by John Carpenter). When a team of Antarctic researchers, including Kurt Russell, discovers a dark force form another planet, they learn that they can either trust no one, or die.

Best 80's moment: The Thing trying to transform into a dog in the cage. 

7. Top Gun (1986, Directed by Tony Scott). Fighter Pilot, Tom Cruise, must overcome his dark past and prove that he is the best of the best when it comes to flying jets.

Best 80's moment: Two words, beach volleyball.

6. Rocky IV (1985, Directed by Sylvester Stallone). This time Rocky finds himself fighting a Soviet Boxer, to avenge Apollo Creeds death. This one is Rocky's toughest fight yet.

Best 80's moment. Rocky's Russian training montage is one of the best of  all time.

5. Escape from New York (1981, Directed by John Carpenter). In the future, when the president crashes into an anarchist New York, a convict must be sent in to rescue him.

Best 80's Moment: It's hard to get more 80's than Kurt Russell with an eye patch, (though Captain Ron didn't quite make the list).

4. Tequila Sunrise (1988, Directed by Robert Towne). Kurt Russell and Mel Gibson star as old friends whose lives are changed when one, a cop, must investigate his drug dealing friend.

Best 80's moment: The cast includes Kurt Russell and Mel Gibson, you can't get more 80's.  Great dialogue throughout.

3. Lethal Weapon (1987, Directed by Richard Donner. An unlikely pair of cops, veteran Murtaugh and reckless rookie Riggs, find a way to work together and stop a violent drug gang.

Best 80's moment: Riggs and Murtaugh's fight that ends with “I'm hungry, I'm going to get something to eat.”

2. Big Trouble in Little China (1988, Directed by John Carpenter). Jack Burton finds himself battling ancient Chinese evils after getting involved with gangs in San Francisco's China Town.

Best 80's moment: Every line by Kurt Russell, especially when his gun jams in the middle of a karate showdown.

1. They Live (1988, Directed by John Carpenter). With four films on the 'bad' 80s list, this one is director Carpenter's finest achievement. Aliens have taken over the world, and are controlling humans with subliminal messaging.  Only "Rowdy" Roddy Piper can stop them with the help of his special glasses.

Best 80's moment: Every time Roddy Piper takes his sunglasses off.