Sunday, June 13, 2010

Winner of the PWR "Webby": Trees Are People Too



I was going to write a review of Lady Gaga’s last album, but I couldn’t make it through the first song, so instead I chose the next best (worst) thing – James Cameron’s “Avatar”. Call me idealistic and snobbish (please don’t, that’s mean), but I have made a point to not see this movie until now. I’ll admit that yes, part of the reason for my abstemious refusal was that everyone loved this movie so much and I take stubborn pride in my individuality – since I believe myself to be sui generis – and will defend it at all costs. Another reason is that I really didn’t want to pay sixteen dollars to see a movie – any movie. Plus, if you ask me, that whole 3-D thing is a bit of a gimmick anyway.

But alas! I have given in. I figured that to truly get to the essence of the movie, I would filter out all of the excessively sensational visuals by watching it on my computer illegally in really bad quality. If you watch a movie in bad quality and don’t like it, then it’s not a good movie. Let me make it clear, however, that it is not Cameron’s views I am concerned with here (maybe a little), but his want of artistic tact, if you will.

To start off with, there is a general lack of depth in the movie’s characters. It seems like Cameron sacrifices adding dimension to his characters by adding it to his visuals instead. Let’s start with the bad guys. You have the antichrist himself in Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who cares about absolutely nothing except killing the Na’vi and “making it home by dinnertime”. Cameron makes his view quite obvious: the U.S. army is a war machine consisting of a bunch of violent thugs that have nothing better to do than pick on the little guy (figuratively, since the Na’vi are about eleven feet tall). Oh, but let’s not forget the corporate influence. In one of the brighter spots of the movie, Giovanni Ribisi plays Parker Selfridge (“Self rich?” Really James? Really?), a corporate administrator who oversees the mining operation on Pandora. Ribisi offers the viewer a few brief glimpses of Selfridge’s slight unease with the Colonel’s violence, but that’s all they are, just passing glimpses. Ultimately, Selfridge just wants to make a buck, no matter the cost to others.

On the good side, we have Dr. Grace Augustine, played by Sigourney Weaver. In case you missed it the first time, let me remind you of that character’s name: Grace Augustine. Could there be a more peaceful and benevolent name? I guess maybe if she were named Jesus or Flower Kitten. And of course, her personality directly reflects her name. She is the peace-loving scientist who only wants to understand the Na’vi and collect a few samples for her research. No ulterior motives there. The Na’vi themselves are goodness personified as giant blue catlike hippies who are “at one with nature”. One tawdry scene that really stuck in my craw is when Neytiri (Zoe Zaldana) is about to shoot Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), but decides against it because a seed from the Tree of Souls falls on her arrow. I literally rolled my eyes at how cliché this symbol of peace was (think back to Bernie Boston’s “Flower Power” photograph).

What Cameron fails to realize with his portrayal of indigenous peoples as pure and enlightened beings, is that they aren’t any better or worse than any other human being, because they are exactly that: human. Unfortunately (fortunately, if you are an Objectivist), being human means being selfish and greedy, which means that indigenous peoples, just like soldiers, scientists, and civilians, are not perfect and fall victim to these traits just as easily as any other human being (I’m speaking generally of course). To think that the Na’vi or other indigenous peoples don’t exploit their own natural resources or murder each other is absurd. Mind you, I am not defending the actions of imperialism, which are unjustified and reprehensible, but I am suggesting that Cameron is blinded to a crucial part of the human condition – namely, that no human is exempt.

But I digress. Like the characters, the plot isn’t very interesting either. In fact, it’s quite formulaic. It’s as if “Dances with Wolves” had sex with “Pocahantas” and then put their half-aborted offspring in a time machine and hurled it into the year 2154. That being said, I never thought alien lovemaking could be hot, but to his credit, Cameron manages to pull it off. I started to fall in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) myself and would gladly be “mated for life” with her. Also to his credit, the setting and visuals are well done, but not as mind-blowing as they were made out to be by all my friends. Then again, I did watch it on my computer in two dimensions, so I can’t really knock him on the visuals. But I will anyway. I read an article a few months back that said moviegoers were becoming depressed because they longed to live in a place as beautiful as Pandora. Obviously those people don’t get out much and haven’t watched “Planet Earth”, because our planet already is as beautiful as Pandora. All Cameron did was capture that beauty and add a few new touches, like glow in the dark plants. Good thing we have raves to make up for that.

In the end, “Avatar” turned out to be just what I expected it to be: trite and inane. It is obnoxious and in your face, which is probably why Cameron chose to shoot in 3 dimensions. He really wanted to hammer the point into those thick human skulls of ours (too bad they aren’t made of carbon fiber). Take away the third dimension, however, and this is just another forgettable fantasy film.

-Rutger Rosenborg

Runner-up: HE EATS LASAGNA!! GET IT?!

I am not a fan of Garfield. Allow me to explain why.


Humor aimed at young children is fine. I don't mind if a cartoonist's claim to fame is making 8-year-olds giggle at a fat cat's hilarious antics ("Oh Garfield! It gets me EVERY time when you eat those donuts!"), because comedy for children is different. The problem is, Garfield's creator Jim Davis gets credit for much, much more. Between 1982 and 1997, he won some kind of award related to his cartoon almost every year. In both 1982 and 1986, he was awarded "Best Humor Strip Cartoonist." This I consider to be a travesty.


Clearly, a lot of people think Garfield is funny. This is what perplexes me. Let's look at today's official comic on www.garfield.com (an unresponsive piece of garbage because of excessive use of Flash):




Okay. So there's a joke. Rather, an attempt at one. Either Garfield dropped Jon's toothbrushes in the toilet, or he's in the midst of an acid trip and Jon is concerned for his health. Given Davis's target demographic, I'm inclined to assume the former. Hilarity ensues! Garfield does something comically undesirable, and Jon drives the point home by illustrating his discomfort! Boy, do I love poorly-enacted situations that are mildly amusing.







I bet you didn't see that one coming. GAAAARRRRRFIIIIEEEEEELLD!!!!







It's kind of like Larry the Cable Guy, except without all the farting and racism.






More realistically:

"Time to make a webcomic!"
"Make sure you explain the punch line in the last panel!"






Jim Davis is a very considerate guy. See, he's afraid you're not smart enough to understand his highly sophisticated humor. So he makes sure that for his particularly clever comics, someone in the third panel explicitly explains the joke. Personally, I love being patronized.

Granted, Garfield is not the worst strip out there. I've yet to be even slightly amused by a Family Circus or a Heathcliff comic. But Garfield's incredible success and widespread fame are insulting to cartoonists that actually produce good quality content. Davis thrives on making jokes that are either unfunny, unoriginal, or completely ruined by his inexplicable need to point out what's "funny" about them.

There's plenty of good stuff out there. Calvin & Hobbes is a personal favorite; give it a try. Don't support mediocrity.

-- Dawson Zhou

Runner-up: Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon

It was a classic bro’s night out. Six of us, with nothing better to do on a Thursday night, crammed into Elliot’s pick-up and headed into Redwood City. The Destination: Clash of the Titans. It was shaping up to be an epic night. We arrived at the theater time to spare, which we promptly spent stocking up on Chipotle burritos to sneak into the theater. The moods were high, the burritos were hot, and still with 15 minutes to grab the good seats. It’s Kraken time.

Or so we thought. Bros are many things, but masters of foresight they are not. As the bored teen working the ticket office explained to us, Clash had already sold out for the night. Big movies tend to do that on their opening week, bored teen snidely helpfully added. Prick. There would be no releasing of the Kraken for us that night. Nevertheless, we’d driven all the way from Stanford to see a movie and somehow squeezed 1000 calorie burritos into our pockets; leaving without a movie wasn’t an option.

As we weighed Tyler Perry’s Why Did I get Married Too? against She’s Out of My League and tried not to puke, another movie caught my eye: Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon. I’d heard good things about it, and I was a fan of some of their past work in Over the Hedge and Kung Fu Panda. Plus, as Ryan later reasoned, Dragons are not too far off from Krakens. The scarcity of alternatives combined with Ryan's logic made convincing the group an easy task. So we bought our tickets with the goofy 3D glasses, and entered the theater with mild feelings of disappointment, mourning the night that should have been. Much to our surprise, the Kraken-less night was far from ruined. In an ocean full of bong water, How to Train your Dragon was the yacht that rescued us from the sinking ship that would have been our evening. It is quite simply a brilliantly fun experience, one that any fan of movies must experience.

Not a Kraken. Not a problem.


How to Train Your Dragon tells the story of the scrawny Viking teen Hiccup, who’s utter failure at physical activities, a mainstay of the Viking lifestyle, makes him the laughingstock of his village and a disappointment to his father, village chief Gerard Butler. Hiccup’s clumsiness and combat ineptitude proves particularly troubling because dragons of all shapes and sizes constantly attack his village, causing mayhem and carrying off livestock. The most feared of the dragons is the illusive Night Fury, which no Viking has ever seen and lived to tell the tale. During a night raid, Hiccup miraculously uses a self-designed net launcher to shoot down the Night Fury, sending it falling into the forest behind his village.

Unfortunately for Hiccup, no one witnessed his exploit, and thus none believed that the lowlyHiccup could ever wound the infamous Night Fury. Hiccup sets off into the forest to prove himself, and eventually comes across the Night Fury, helplessly trapped in the net. Hiccup cannot bring himself to kill the Night Fury, and ends up setting it free. This sets up the plot of HTTYD, as Hiccup goes on to gain the trust of the dragon and learn that everything the Vikings had previously thought about the dragons was completely wrong.

You’re right; we should have come to you first.

While the story doesn’t break any new barriers or revolutionize the genre, the transformation of the bumbling underdog to a hero works well here. Most importantly, the story is just a set up to provide a fascinating world of breathtaking set pieces, intense action, and solid humor. This film best compares to Dreamworks’ previous work Kung Fu Panda, which magnificently blends action and humor to keep the audience engaged in the adventure. Still, there are some minor problems with the narrative. The film is not very long, only 98 minutes, and because of this there isn’t much development or exposition of the supporting characters, relegating them to the stereotypical young adventurer templates commonly found in these types of movies. There’s the nerd, the jock, the wise-cracking twins, and the love interest. They perform their expected roles without venturing into further complexity or depth. This isn’t necessarily a negative, but it’s just unfortunate that the movie wastes this potential because it could have fleshed out these characters without making the overall experience feel bloated or tedious.

The outstanding 3D visuals, especially during the flight sequences, are the real centerpiece of this experience. For better or for worse, all 3D movies these days are compared against Avatar as the benchmark for 3D animation. Avatar provided epic 3D aerial battles and breathtaking eye candy whenever the hero took to the skies of Pandora. In my opinion, HTTYD may actually be more visually stunning than Avatar in this aspect. Since such a large part of the movie focuses on flying beasts, excellent camera placement is a necessity. HTTYD delivers, delivering gorgeous flight sequences that really capture the joy and thrill that one would expect while flying. The flight scenes perfectly satisfy the cliché analogy to an epic roller coaster ride. When a bunch of college students and varsity athletes stare in slack-jawed awe as the camera whips through thrilling twists and turns, you know that this is something special. Samir made the asinine decision to eat during these sequences, and was rewarded with burrito stains on his pants as well as an ensuing car ride home during which we did not hesitate to remind him of his sour-cream folly.


Warning: you may be too engrossed to notice that you dropped your burrito.

Ultimately, is How to Train Your Dragon worth the price of admission? Absolutely. I would even go so far as to say that this is an excellent template for how mainstream movies should be made. The story, while nothing we haven’t seen before, is interesting and fun. The script is well-written and clever, the humor works extremely well while avoiding immaturity, and the voice acting is spot on. The CG visuals are gorgeous, keeping the action enthralling and exhilarating. This film deserves to be seen in 3D, so pony up if you have the extra cash; you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to. Dismissing this excellent film on the basis that it’s animated is a grave mistake; people of all ages should enjoy this movie. It may not be a critical or artistic masterpiece, but it’s near impossible to leave the movie regretting your decision to see it. Six bros certainly enjoyed it, which is more than we can say for Clash of the Titans.

-Patrick Samper

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"This changes everything. Again": Yes Apple, we know.

So the new iPhone 4 was announced this past Monday during Apple's WWDC and as you can imagine, it's been creating somewhat of a revolution across the web. The approximate 5200 attendees of the conference were at the edge of their seats as numerous representatives bragged about all the extraordinary (as usual) features that could be utilized with the device. People clapped, people wow-ed, and most importantly they smiled with joy. The crowd's smiles were so big they practically surpassed Mr. Jobbs' ego; OK maybe not, but they were still pretty huge. As the Apple CEO stood there in his black shirt and washed out jeans, the rest of the world glued their eyes to the computer as they watched live blog updates of what was going on (the conference doesn't allow live streaming due to the entrance fee).


The product itself is in fact truly amazing. You have the

usual small add-on features that nobody actually cares about but pretends they do, and then other cool aspects like HD filming capabilities (in 720p) as well as editing via iMovie. The retina display was as popular as the head cheerleader in high school, as was the new an improved Guitar Hero. The main feature however that really left everyone at the edge of their seats was what Apple calls FaceTime. This is essentially iChat for the iPhone where you can actually video chat with your friends while making a call. Of course everyone forgets the fact that Sony Ericsson released the same feature in the TI-86 model in the early 2000's because it's Apple and they just do everything better. This isn't entirely false actually as they've now surpassed Microsoft as the most valuable tech company in the world. We're sorry to hear that Bill, but it was time to go home anyway, you should be fine. Back to FaceTime, the commercial for it is quite entrapping with the typical old couple chatting, a mother tucking in her daughter in bed, and the romantic young couple communicating from opposite sides of the world. Very cute. Overall, the device does offer many amazing features that will once again help move technology forward. We gotta give it to you Jobbsie, you really aced it this time, or rather, "again".


Check out a video for the iPhone's new features here!


Review by: Andrea Fuentes

Monday, May 31, 2010

Garfield Minus Garfield

I hit a bit of writer's block when searching for a topic for this blog post. It wasn't that I just hadn't experienced any mass media in the past weeks, on the contrary, I probably consume far too much. The new Prince of Persia movie surprisingly didn't suck. The Black Keys and LCD Soundsystem just came out with good albums. The Survivor season finale was exciting, even in its twentieth season. The problem is, that's about all I have to say about those things. They're good. I recommend them. Quality media, boring review.

So I came to look at this blog to see what else people had written about and search for some ideas. I found Dawson's post on Garfield especially entertaining. I hate Garfield, and all of what Dawson said couldn't have been more true. A part of me died when I found out Bill Murray starred in Garfield: The Movie. You're dead to me, Bill.

Anyway, this review is not also about Garfield, and definitely not about Bill Murray. It's about what you could call a Garfield spin-off: www.garfieldminusgarfield.net. The concept is simple: Dan Walsh takes Jim Davis' strips and edits out Garfield, Odie, and all of their dialogue. Let's take a look at the most recent one:

(If the image is cut-off, click it to see the whole thing)

In this twisted version of the "classic" comic, we see Jon Arbuckle not as your typical suburban man with a particularly zany pet, but instead as a sufferer of depression, pessimism, and sometimes schizophrenia who is engaged in a constant battle against the crushing unexcitement of every day life in the modern world.


Dawson notes that often Davis includes far too much explanation, which is apt considering how well Garfield Minus Garfield portrays its protagonist - often with what most would consider not enough explanation. In this strip, we are left to wonder what is going through Jon's mind in the second panel that causes him to retreat back to his depression after his brief flash of optimism in the first? Maybe he has realized that very few of those hopes and dreams are likely to come true. Many kids hope to be astronauts; dream of traveling the world. Most of them will work in cubicles, filling out spreadsheets from 9 to 5, so that they may live in their modest, bland apartment that is identical to all the ones next to it. They will vacation in Disneyland. They will not be the first person to walk on Mars. Jon knows this. Jim Davis doesn't know it, but Jon does. Jon lives it.


Every so often, Jon's abject loneliness and existential angst get the better of him, and he cracks. He goes completely insane and breaks out in a random bout of schizophrenia. These are perhaps at once the most hilarious and most depressing strips. At first we may laugh at the pure absurdity of it, but then we realize that Jon is seriously mentally unstable. This is him at his rock-bottom, and it is terrifying. No one traumatic event has brought him to this state; instead it is the sum total of every day of his life spent alone, bored, and hopeless. Sartre had it wrong. Hell is not other people, hell is no other people.


This isn't totally a losing battle, though! Jon has his good days too, just like anyone else. Here we see him full of optimism, ready to tackle the day, ready to live life to its fullest! But calling it a bittersweet victory is an understatement. We know that, even if he has managed to convince himself of a brighter future for these three mere frames of his life, it is unlikely that good things actually are on their way. We know Jon isn't about to make a new friend. His dreams aren't about to come true. But still, he believes they will for a moment, and these moments, however constructed and false, are still worth cherishing in Jon's otherwise miserable existence.


Now maybe I'm totally off-base here. Maybe this is just Jon's home life and he does have an interesting job and sometimes hangs out with a few buddies after work. Maybe he's just a little angsty and nihilistic when he's by himself at home. Or maybe there's no real story here at all. Remember, this is all unintentional. The author, or maybe more accurately, "curator" of this comic only removes Garfield. Walsh does not write or draw anything new. But it's precisely the fact that there is no inherent, explicit narrative or character definition that makes this comic so brilliant. The readers are free to come up with their own ideas of the specifics of Jon's struggle, and then further figure out how each update fits into that story. It's the lack of spelling-it-out and sometimes total incoherency that make Jon such a much more compelling and realistic character. We can empathize and apply his struggles to our own. Every once in a while, everyone gets bogged-down, burnt-out, and depressed.


Keep your head up, Jon, literally and figuratively.


-Joe Kelley

Photo Poetry

By Nikolas Iubel

Have you ever heard of Vinicius de Moraes? You might not know him, but you've probably heard one of his most famous songs, The Girl from Ipanema (if you're American, Wikipedia says you've probably heard it in an elevator - take from that what you will).

Vinicius wrote not only the original lyrics in Portuguese to The Girl from Ipanema, but also some of the best poetry ever written in Portuguese language. My personal favorite is a poem called Sonnet on Fidelity. I would like to introduce you to this great sonnet through a photo poem made of a few pictures from my personal photo collection. These pictures were taken in a beach called Barra do Saí, in the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil.

Disclaimer: The original poem, written in Portuguese, is MUCH more beautiful and poetic than its English translation. To be honest, I don't really like the translation I am about to present, but it's the best one I could find. I think this poem (and specially the last stanza) is so powerful that even a somewhat poor translation deems it worth reading. If you like the poem, here's your chance to start learning Portuguese so that one day you will be able to appreciate the beauty of the original lines.

SONNET ON FIDELITY

Above all, to my love I'll be attentive

First, and always with such ardor, so much

That even when confronted by this great

Enchantment my thoughts ascend to more delight.

I want to live it through in each vain moment

And in its honor I must spread my song

And laugh with my delight and shed my tears

When she is sad or when she is contented.

And thus, when afterward comes looking for me

Who knows what death, anxiety of the living,

Who knows what loneliness, end of the loving

I could say to myself of the love (I had):

Let it not be immortal, since it is flame

But let it be infinite while it lasts.
SONNET ON FIDELITY

Above all, to my love I'll be attentive
First, and always with such ardor, so much
That even when confronted by this great
Enchantment my thoughts ascend to more delight.

I want to live it through in each vain moment
And in its honor I must spread my song
And laugh with my delight and shed my tears
When she is sad or when she is contented.

And thus, when afterward comes looking for me
Who knows what death, anxiety of the living,
Who knows what loneliness, end of the loving

I could say to myself of the love (I had):
Let it not be immortal, since it is flame
But let it be infinite while it lasts.

By Vinicius de Moraes
Translated by Ashley Brown

And now the original in Portuguese:

SONETO DE FIDELIDADE

De tudo, ao meu amor serei atento
Antes, e com tal zelo, e sempre, e tanto
Que mesmo em face do maior encanto
Dele se encante mais meu pensamento.

Quero vivê-lo em cada vão momento
E em seu louvor hei de espalhar meu canto
E rir meu riso e derramar meu pranto
Ao seu pesar ou seu contentamento.

E assim, quando mais tarde me procure
Quem sabe a morte, angústia de quem vive
Quem sabe a solidão, fim de quem ama

Eu possa me dizer do amor (que tive):
Que não seja imortal, posto que é chama
Mas que seja infinito enquanto dure.

De Vinicius de Moraes

"What Happened, Heroes?" by Nathan Barnett




What happened to Heroes? The show took off, grabbing thousands of viewers with its captivating first season. After the infamous Writer's Strike crippled the second season, fans expected another captivating storyline to fully develop in the third season. However, many fans like myself were very disappointed. Instead of receiving a new, creative, and well thought out plot, fans were given a disjointed universe where elements just didn't quite add up and attempts at character development resulted in unstable characters whose rationality was lost in the writer's desire to create drama. This faulty plot development remained throughout the third and fourth seasons, not surprisingly ending in the cancellation of the series earlier this month. However, the biggest factor resulting in the downfall of Heroes was the show's inability to understand its audience.

Heroes had a fan following primarily consisting of the audience of any SciFi show: nerds. Heroes' first season had all of the elements loved by this audience. It presented a fantastical world, full of people with abilities who had to deal with the wrath of a world who saw them as "different". This classic SciFi storyline was revamped in the series, similar to that of the show Lost. However, the show neglected its fan base by allowing the third and fourth seasons to prioritize drama over plot fluidity. When your fan base is equivalent to, for example, that of a soap opera, the audience can accept complete changes of character (sometimes even replacing a character with a whole new actor). In a show where the audience is nerds, however, there exists a group that deeply analyzes the plot of the show. Nerds love to discuss their favorite shows, by means of blogs, facebook, etc. When a show fails to create solid fluidity throughout its plot, the nerds refuse to accept it as they are offended that the writers do not have as much of a complex idea of the show as the audience member does.

To give a good example of the failure of fluidity, lets analyze the character Sylar. Sylar rose to fame quickly as one of the most terrible villains of all time. His pure evil nature drew in a lot of viewership. This character was maintained during the first two seasons, however, in the third season, the writers tried to show Sylar's attempts to be good, and make it seem that life circumstances had turned him evil. This might have been interesting if the writers had not chosen to make Sylar revert back to evil after a very random event halfway through the third season, making Sylar an evil character again throughout the rest of the season. The writers really failed, however, when they tried to make Sylar good again during the fourth season, where they portrayed Sylar as a man looking for meaning in life. The writers were trying so hard to create drama and flesh out the character of Sylar that they neglected to recognize simple emotion, and also the whole reason people liked Sylar: he was pure evil. By over analyzing the character, the writers ruined character fluidity for Sylar, therefore making him into an awkward and terribly confusing character, and not in the interesting way.

Friday, May 28, 2010

It All Starts With an Idea: www.ted.com



“Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.”

(http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/V_for_Vendetta_%28film%29)


This is a quote from the movie V for Vendetta; a testament to the potency of ideas. Ideas, ladies and gentlemen, are the basis of all occurrences in the material world. Indeed, actions speak louder than words. But without the thought, the action is worthless. We may call the 21st century the “Modern Age”, but the issues we face globally today are all but Ancient. For all our technical marvel and productive prowess, we remain unable to cure the common cold – let alone remedy world poverty.


It is on this note and in this age of supposed material accomplishment that I wish to pause, and remember the basis of progress: not a machine, a computer or just hard work, but ideas. The website, www.ted.com, is in my opinion a beacon of light in the forest of darkness that sometimes surrounds us. The fundamental denominator to many of the problems we face today, from disease to terrorism, is often simply ignorance. It is only with the enlightened spread of worthy ideas that the benighted can be wrenched from their predicament.


Bold words, perhaps, for just a website. But it reflects the magnitude of faith I have in the spread of beneficial ideas. It is of utmost importance, in today’s swamp of complex information, to have an outlet or avenue where pertinent information can be accessed on demand. Ted.com provides this avenue, maintaining excellent quality in content by attracting the best in their fields, all the while offering variety in a myriad of topics, with over 700 “ted talks”.



I recall a day where I was overcome with the menial tasks of finishing problem sets and reviewing lectures. A day when meaning seemed to give way to form, a day when ends hid under the rocks of didactic means. And yet, Ted's wealth of inspiration and brilliance lay at the touch of a fingertip, at once projecting the passion of its speakers onto me. I would scarce run out of examples, were I to describe a few of the magnificent talks that have brightened up my day, ranging from poverty alleviation to computational complexity theory and molecular biology.


A wise friend once told me that an idea can change the world. In today's society, despite all its flaws, I can't help but spot a glimmer of hope, and dare think that perhaps....just perhaps, they were right.



- Misrab Faizullah -



Sunday, May 23, 2010

Modern Warfare

Community
Episode 123: Modern Warfare

Community is completely ridiculous. The show centers on a misfit group of community college students at different ages and from different backgrounds. For no apparent reason their after class Spanish study group has blossomed into an incredible friendship between seven unlikely characters. In the most recent episode, Modern Warfare, a game of paintball for priority registration escalates to the level of a spy movie.

When Jeff awakes from a nap in his car, campus is a barren, paint-spattered wasteland. The game has begun without him! I am amazed by how well this entrance made me buy into the premise of a paintball action movie knockoff. Community has this ability to get away with complete absurdity. I am reminded of one of the animated shows like The Simpsons or Family Guy. Both of these are totally crazy, but their medium allows us to relate to the storyline each week. Community has done something similar, but without the layer of animation.

Jeff first finds Abed who has taken on the character of a street lurker. Abed takes Jeff to his lair where he and Troy have formed an alliance. The classroom reminds us of a base right out of an underground rebel movie. When the three need to use the bathroom, they have to stealthily sneak through the “neutral zone” – the school cafeteria. They find the girls in the men's room where they have been camped out, picking other students off at the urinals. There is a brief standoff. No one is sure who to trust. The hilarity of the scene comes from its reflection of other gang scenes. We see Brita dual wielding a pair of yellow paint pistols in complete seriousness.

As the episode progresses, each other character gets shot in one of the skirmishes until only Jeff and Brita remain. In true hero fashion, right in the heart of battle, Jeff and Brita have sex for the first time. We're left wondering if there are feelings between them, but for now it is only physical (as if there is time for feelings with a war for priority registration going on around them!)

In an attempt to end the game, which has now gone well into the middle of the night, the dean puts in Señor Chang, the group's Spanish teacher. Chang, wearing a Scar-face suit and wielding an automatic paintball gun, ambushes Jeff and Brita. Brita sacrifices herself so Jeff can shoot Chang. Absurdity ensues when Señor Chang crumbles, laughing hysterically. He opens his coat to reveal a paint bomb set to explode in the next five seconds! Jeff makes a run for it and dives out the door of the library just as green paint explodes all over.

Community's absurd hilarity and the strength of its characters keeps me coming back. The group does not fit together, but they have become great friends. We often get along for reasons that don't make much sense and Community's absurdity reminds us of that.


-- Eric Conner

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Behind the Scenes at Stanford’s Conservative Newspaper

It was the 2009 elections season, and the Stanford Review was upset. A candidate for Senate, who I will call Shirley Hu, popular among the school’s conservative circles, was not interested receiving the conservative paper’s endorsement. At the meeting, prominent Review leaders were unsure of how to title the following issue: “Shirley Hu: The Pat Buchanan of Our Times” or “Vote for Strong Conservative Credentials, vote Shirley Hu.” Ultimately a different title was adopted, but such move would have probably hurt Hu’s chances.

The Review is not the most popular student publication on a liberal campus, and its staff is pretty much banned from any event including liberal activists and community centers.
However, the paper enjoys surprisingly high readership, contains quality investigative content, and provides an alternative perspective to many campus and national issues.

Like many conservative newspapers on liberal campuses, the Stanford Review likes to criticize as many aspects of University life. Reading the latest issue’s Smoke Signals, which gives a thumbs up or down to both national and campus news, one does not particularly feel inspired: DOWN: State Pension, DOWN: Conservation, DOWN: Not Drama- Draw-ma, DOWN: Goldman Sachs, DOWN: Arizona. The Review prides itself in that if it has nothing nice to say, it will go ahead and say it anyway. Otherwise the newspaper might start looking rather empty.

One of the Review’s major steps regarding distribution this year was making sure no issues were placed close to recycling bins. Well known across campus was that the campus left would often throw stacks of Stanford Reviews right into recycling. However, these environmental progressives would never simply throw them away. I must admit I miss removing our issues from the recycling bins.

While an outspoken part of the campus does not like the paper, things have started to change. With the arrival of several Democrats to the staff, and with the number of controversial stories declining, the Review’s prestige is rapidly increasing. The paper is the second largest student publication on campus.

The only people who actually still consider the Review conservative are those who don’t like it: mostly juniors and seniors who refuse to accept that, even if hard to notice at Stanford, there is usually another side to the policies they are advocating.

Even regular, non-partisan people often approach the paper to receive coverage. Several weeks ago, an artist working on murals around the graduate residence Munger asked the Review to cover her work. Although happy to receive any type of requests, art is not something we tend to cover. However, the staff instead jokingly suggested looking at the financing of such murals, already thinking of some titles to go along with the article, which went somewhat along these lines: “University Squanders Thousands of Dollars on Murals.”

Some of the Review’s most successful stories this year actually came by looking at the financial situation of many campus groups.

An investigation into the ASSU’s shuttle service program demonstrated that the cost to the ASSU of transporting each student to nearby airports was around $50, well above the $30 charged by the much more convenient and timely private sector.
While students were only charged $12 for the ASSU shuttle, the ASSU money is ultimately the student’s money, so the program was fundamentally flawed.

The Review’s major breakthrough, however, came when it uncovered that past ASSU executives spent $13,000 on food and gas using ASSU discretionary funds. The story led to drastic changes in ASSU transparency and accountability, but most importantly, the people at the Daily had no other choice but to acknowledge the Review’s investigative strength in their upcoming issues.

Jean Paul Blanchard
Features Editors, Stanford Review

The Most Violent Movie Ever




In high school, my hardcore Republican friend suddenly stopped eating meat after he watched a movie called Earthlings. I may or may not have scoffed and/or rolled my eyes. This year, however, I finally got around to watching it. It was horrifying, the most powerful film I have ever seen in my life.


Earthlings investigates speciesism. Just as racism means discriminating based on race, or sexism means discriminating based on sex, speciesism means discriminating based on species. Asymmetric power relationships include not only common examples such as Nazi persecution of Jews or KKK persecution of blacks, but also the everyday abuse of animals at the hands of humans. Early on, the film establishes that whether human or nonhuman, all animals are earthlings with the same basic needs and desires. These include: food, water, companionship, freedom of movement, and avoidance of pain.

The majority of the film shows footage, often shot by undercover camera, of human mistreatment of animals for pets, food, clothing, entertainment, and experimentation. The camera forces us to see what goes on behind the scenes at factory farms, slaughterhouses, puppy mills, labs, and circuses. Many scenes are painful to watch. See birds get de-beaked. See bulls get castrated, branded, and de-horned. See prohibited practices being carried out at a supposedly kosher slaughterhouse. See live foxes get anally electrocuted. Hear an elephant trainer instruct a new circus employee how to dig a hook into the elephant’s flesh to cause the maximum amount of pain. Hear the animals cry out in agony, and watch them writhe helplessly.

I could only watch this movie in segments. I don’t think I could handle all 95 minutes in one stretch. It’s a bit overwhelming.

(I'm guessing this breathing, blinking creature used to look more like a fox.)

Joaquin Phoenix narrates plainly and calmly. The intent is to educate and provoke thought, not to send viewers on a guilt trip for our complicity in the atrocities shown onscreen. Earthlings is not sensationalized. It does not need to be; the gruesome footage speaks for itself. Moby’s superb soundtrack is appropriately emotive.

I guarantee this film will elicit some emotional response. It will really make you think. It will challenge you to rethink your understanding of animals. This movie made me feel deeply ashamed of my species.

Just think about it. Only a few hundred years ago in this country, it was considered mainstream and normal for white plantation owners to own and use slaves from Africa. Ownership of black people as property was accepted by society! In fact, slavery was an important part of the economy. It was not regarded as immoral. It required a certain amount of social courage to speak out against such injustice. Similarly, in this day and age, the exploitation, abuse, and murder of animals for food, entertainment, clothing, experimentation, and pets are standard practice. People are dependent on animals in so many different ways. How progressive are we as a society? Will speciesism and suffering gradually decline, just has sexism and racism have reduced over the years?

It’s no exaggeration to say that this movie might change your life. Ignorance may be bliss, but the truth will open your eyes. Educate yourself. Watch Earthlings. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Then go proselytize someone else!

(In order to increase awareness about the plight of animals around the world, the makers of Earthlings have made the movie available for free. You can watch it streaming on Google Video or here: http://www.earthlings.com/earthlings/video-full.php . Now you have no reason not to watch it.)


-Vir Choksi-

Eureka – The Perfect Show for Nerds who don't want to admit it



Eureka offers the perfect blend of character, comedy, and techie that any nerd will fall in love with. And I don't mean nerd in any derogatory way. I'm talking about the person that loves gadgets, taking things apart, and having a sense of awe and respect for technology. But Eureka, a show about a small town in the Pacific Northwest, is a show that even the anti-nerd can enjoy.

Eureka, airing on SyFy, is a show about Jack Carter, a U.S. Marshall turned Sheriff. But Carter isn't a Sheriff in a normal town. Rather, he is surrounded by the best and the brightest scientists in the world that always seem to get into trouble (usually by almost blowing up the world).

Eureka offers an interesting combinations of nerd and cool, joining together two incredibly different ideologies to form an enjoyable TV series that can be supported by all type of viewers.




What makes Eureka a show that is enjoyable for everyone is Colin Ferguson's portrayal of the Jack Carter. Ferguson adds to Carter the perfect blend of sarcasm, brilliance, and comedy that makes the show enjoyable to watch week after week. Throw in the ability to live in a town full of autonomous cars, houses with feelings, and an endless stream of crazy gadgets and you get a wacky, nerdy show with characters that prevent it from being cast aside as not “cool” enough. Carter is not a scientist. Carter has absolutely not technological knowledge, and adds to the humor of the show when he has absolutely no idea what he is talking about. But he is by far a 'stupid' character. Unlike the scientists that fill Carter's town, Carter is good at reading people and fixing problems. While the town is full of people who are clouded by reason, Carter acts on his gut, a quality that makes him stand out in Eureka. But unlike most techie shows, where the only right way is to use reason, Ferguson's character stands as the man who can use common sense to help save the day.


Eureka still has significant appeal to the techie in the crowd. Each episode is centered around some technological problem gone astray, ranging from huge magnetic fields being rearranged to nanoids that are meant to repair living tissue on the loose. All the gadgets and technologies in the show fill the hearts of any techie, aching to be able to have gadgets like that of their own.

Eureka's ability to reach out to multiple audiences has proven successful. It was the highest series launch SyFy had ever had in its history, and continues to do well as it moves into its fourth season. If the writers of Eureka set out to create the perfect blend between tech and character, then they've struck gold!

-Patrick Costello

Monday, May 17, 2010





Some thoughts about Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Magic and the Celtics


What a game! Two red-hot teams riding impressive winning streaks into an epic showdown—what could be better for the typical rabid NBA fan like me? This time of year always sees me drooling for heart-thumping, chest-bumping, head-bashing, fist-smashing combat on the basketball court. Enough, let’s get to some expert analysis. The Celtics have really been clicking on all cylinders as of late. Their defense is suffocating and full of energy, and each player seems to be contributing in their own special way to the offense. Ray Allen has never looked so nimble taking the ball to the hole, Rajon Rondo has emerged as a flashy, game-changing distributor with a crafty touch around the key, Paul Pierce has shaken off his recent shooting slump, and Kevin Garnett looks more like the freakish offensive juggernaut we’ve all become accustomed to this past decade.


However, two players I would like to commend in particular are Tony Allen and Rasheed Wallace. If you know anything about Bill Simmons, the die-hard Celtics fan and popular sportswriter, you would label my previous sentence blasphemy. Tony Allen has for the past few years been somewhat of a liability—note, a major liability—on the offensive end, making bonehead mistakes and not being able to make a jump shot, let alone a layup. Suddenly, during this year’s playoffs, he is making ferocious drives to the hoop (and finishing!) and performing SportsCenter-worthy highlight plays as if he were actually a decent player in the league. Speaking of Tony Allen highlight plays, the one memory I have of him is actually from a few years ago, when he tried to pull off a tomahawk jam well after the whistle was blown and play had ended. He ended up getting sent back by the rim and landing awkwardly, leading to every tendon in his knee being shredded into millions of pieces. That’s a slight exaggeration, but it did not look very good for him, and it was very, very embarrassing. I have to say that after his past couple of playoff game performances, which included one truly special facial over Antawn Jamison of the Cavs, I have erased from my mind that sad image of Tony Allen getting utterly destroyed by an inanimate orange hoop. Tony, you are a now a legitimate contributor to a championship-caliber team. What a turnaround.


And ‘Sheed. The man has finally arrived, everyone give him a warm, hearty welcome. Celtics fans this season have loathed the recent free-agent pickup for face palm-inducing acts on the court such as: repeatedly jacking up three-pointers that do nothing but clank off the side of the rim, observing his opponents stroll their way to the hoop rather than getting down in a defensive stance and actually moving his legs, rocking an awesome belly, and displaying more interest in the yummy hot dog being devoured by that guy in the funny green hat sitting in the fourth row than in the actual basketball game. But what a difference the playoffs can make. Rasheed still looks like a flabby mass of lard, but you cannot possibly question his effort in Game 1 against the Magic. I can’t remember the last time he was this active on defense. He was shoving and clawing and flailing his arms and jumping around and barking —all in a notable attempt to frustrate Magic superstar Dwight Howard out of his offensive game. And it worked. Dwight ended up shooting a measly 3-10 from the field and turned the ball over 7 times. Rasheed’s stat line itself didn’t look so great, but if you watched the game, you should have been quite taken aback by his very UnSheed-like performance. Kudos to him, I think he’s made the case that the Celtics do indeed need ‘Sheed.

If you still don’t believe that Rasheed is now a vital part of the Celtic’s playoff push, I need to slap you, but before that happens, please take a moment to process the following statistics, which should prove scientifically my point. (By the way, I’m an engineering major, so I think you should trust my analysis.)

There you have it. Numbers do not and cannot lie. When ‘Sheed has tried during an NBA basketball game this season, the Celtics have won 100% of their games. Compare that figure to when ‘Sheed doesn’t try—they only win 63% of the time. That’s a 37-point swing in win percentage.

In closing, I’d like to congratulate one Tony and one ‘Sheed for finally showing up. Good work, gentlemen.


--Charlie Fang

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Tony Stark is at it again


My head hurts from a combination of lack of sleep and watching an action movie from the second row of the movie theatre (a lethal combination), but I feel like I won’t be able to sleep easily if I don’t get some sort of work done today, and since I don’t think I’m in the ideal state of mind to be writing a research paper, I figure this would be a good time to review “Iron Man 2.”


First off, let me say I’m a big fan of the first movie and of Robert Downey Jr., so we don’t have to pretend this is an unbiased review or anything (as if anyone was expecting that). When we first see Tony Stark again, he’s the same guy as before – an ostentatious, super rich, super genius (don’t you just love it?). He flies through a sky of fireworks down to a stage at the center of the Stark Expo where he is greeted by a cheering crowd and a group of women dancing in outfits inspired by the Iron Man suit. He then goes on to give a speech that basically comes out as “I am responsible for world peace, worship me.” This guy is my hero. The Senate tries to force Mr. Stark to turn over the suit to the military, but he won’t have any of it. Of course, he gets out of it, embarrassing supposed weapons expert Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) in the process. Hammer runs his own weapons company and clearly is upset by his obvious inferiority to Stark. This guy has got to be a bad guy, I mean, his last name is Hammer, he must be evil right? Well you’ll have to see for yourself.


What is clear is that we have Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) out of Russia, and he has it out for Stark. Of course he’s evil, he’s Russian, right? Guess we just can’t get over that whole Soviet thing. Anyhow, he’s apparently the only other person in the entire universe who can make the kind of arc reactor Stark did. Instead of explosives and bullets, he opts for a more primal whip (albeit electrical whip) system. Personally, I wasn’t too fond of this choice (like, really dude? I’d pick a missile over an electric whip any day) but there is a comic book to be respected, and this kind of thing is to be expected in a comic.


We again get to see into Stark’s complex character, his relationship and conflicts with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), with some new self-destructive tendencies and father issues mixed in. His flaws keep popping up, but you just can’t stop rooting for the guy. You know he has a good heart; otherwise it wouldn’t be worth it to keep the shrapnel out of it with his small-scale arc reactor magnet combination.


The action scenes are intense (especially from two rows away) and can satisfy most people’s hunger for firepower – the mechanical warriors just keep on coming. I can’t really knock these scenes for being too comic-book-ish because, again, it is based on a comic. And, of course, there’s no shortage of scenes that make the inner engineer in all of us geek out. When Stanford starts offering classes on how to replicate the technology of Iron Man, consider me first in line.


Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Colonel James Rhodes, a move that I have mixed feelings about. Don Cheadle is a great actor, but man, Terrence Howard was just so good in the first movie. Don Cheadle gets to ride in the suit instead though. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury is back from that special scene after the credits of the first movie (on that note, if you’re into Marvel Comics, don’t leave until you see what’s after the credits of this one) and is fairly enjoyable. He brings Scarlett Johansson with him, who plays Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romanoff, and she does her fair share of ass-kicking. Unfortunately, watching movies with Scarlett Johansson makes me sad. See, the thing is, we were supposed to get married a while back, but I told her I needed to focus on my studies first, and though I told her we could get married when I was done with college, she wasn’t to happy about my decision (thank you, I’ll be here all week).


-Michael Crayne