Friday, February 27, 2009

USF Human Rights Film Festival 2009: Taxi to the Dark Side

After attending the student film section of the festival, I decided to head to the cafeteria to curb my hunger pangs, making sure to get back to the theater in time for the screening of Alex Gibney's 2008 Oscar winning film for "Best Documentary Feature," Taxi to the Dark Side.

When I think about that movie, I don't even know where to start... probably because it was so long and there was so much information crammed into it. But the main focus of the movie was the story of Dilawar, an Afghani taxi driver who was wrongfully captured by the US military as a terrorist and eventually killed during his detainment. This story served as a frame to discuss the various US detainment camps, the torture methods used within them, and the political aspect to it all.

Truth be told, it was a gripping documentary. Audience reactions were heard left and right, from gasps in disgust at the gruesome imagery of the Abu Ghraib scandal to the rare laugh when a political figure's stupid decision or dialogue was mocked. The documentary lived up to its award-winning acclaim, though I must admit that it was a tad too long. Yes, there was so much information on the subject to convey, but you can only hold an audience's attention for so long. Perhaps it was my lack of sleep from the night before, but I found myself dozing in and out of sleep at around the hour and a half mark. Other than that, the film was a highly interesting watch that exposes a great atrocity in how the US military goes about its business "protecting America".

A candid picture of the director himself, Alex Gibney (on right):

Discussing human rights over coffee

And here's a link to the main page of the Human Rights Film Festival:

More information on Taxi to the Dark Side:

USF Human Rights Film Festival 2009: Student Films

I guess not too many people are big on human rights

Ouch. The only thing worse than a tough crowd is no crowd whatsoever.

Okay, so people didn't exactly flock to the student film portion of USF's Human Rights Film Festival - there was an audience of less than twenty. But I like to think of it as intimate. You know, an intimate group of people willing to devote their time to learn more about the various violations of human rights that plague our world today... and then there was me, a journalist in a Digital Media Production class who was only there because it was part of an assignment. But that's not to say I didn't enjoy myself and learn quite a bit. You know, because I did.

First up on the block was a film made by Kate Elston called "Presente". It was a short, focused piece that revolved around one particular part of the protests held at the School of the Americas - a person calls out the name and age of a person killed by soldiers trained at the School of the Americas and the crowd (which lies in the thousands) responds together with "presente," or "present" in Spanish. I was surprised by how short the film was and, to be honest, I kind of expected more information to be given on the situation, though I can understand that it would have ruined the focus of the film. Nevertheless, "Presente" fulfilled its role well as both an artistic and informative piece.

Next up was a film created by Alexandra Platt & crew called "Soy Niente," or "I Am Nothing". It documented the growing problem of gypsies in Italy not being recognized as Italian citizens or having the ability to obtain work permits in order to assimilate into Italian society, thus being perpetually pushed to the outskirts of Italy, diminishing in status even as their numbers grow. This film was definitely longer than the first one and had more of a traditional documentary feel to it. It left me interested in the situation even after the film was over, and I could tell the audience felt the same with the questions that were raised after the screening. Platt noted that the film is somewhat outdated as the situation has grown larger recently, so I would love to see a follow-up on it.

After that was... nothing? That's it? No more student films? Lame. I expected something like 4 or 5 quick-fire short films. Oh well.

You can check out the main page for the film festival here:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I'm pooped. I think I'll go to bed.

After that little splurge of posting, I think it's time to call it a day. I wonder how I'll be able to run on about 5 hours of sleep. I mean, I've been productive on much less.


Journalism 3 TV Review

Mmmm. The Office. I gotta admit, I'm actually not very proud of this one, but it's alright. They can't all be gems, right? ...Right? Ah well. Another one bites the dust:

Let’s face it – when you’re a college student, sometimes you just don’t have the schedule to commit a half hour to sitting down and watching television at the exact same time on the same day every week. But on the other hand, sometimes you need to make time to just lay back and enjoy some no-strings-attached quality television. That’s why The Office, currently airing on NBC, is one of the best shows to watch even when your life schedule isn’t as consistent as you’d like.

The Office is a sitcom that’s an American adaptation of the BBC series of the same name. It’s shot as a mockumentary, which means that the characters in the show are aware of the cameras that follow them around, often looking at them and having one-on-one conversations to them. The series follows the somewhat miserable employees of the Scranton branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, which is lead by the eccentric and sometimes inept regional manager, Michael Scott. Other notable characters include coworker lovebirds Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly, who share a common interest in pulling pranks on the even more eccentric Dwight Schrute.

The Office loves to utilize awkward dialogue and interactions as the driving force to its humor. The fact that the show doesn’t even have a laugh track brings the awkwardness to an even higher level by including the viewer, who is often forced to question whether they should be laughing or cringing at the embarrassment of the situations presented before them. Such comedy can much of the time come off as ‘dry’, however, and that may turn off potential viewers. But to those who aren’t turned off, The Office provides solid entertainment for a half hour, and the best part is that you don’t need to follow it religiously.

Like most shows, viewers of The Office are benefitted greatly when watching the episodes in its intended order and without skipping over any of them. What makes The Office so great, though, is that it isn’t completely necessary to do so. Because continuity takes a backseat in the series, you can get virtually the same enjoyment out of watching an episode without seeing any recent ones as if you had seen all the episodes preceding it. True, there is an overarching plot of some sort, but its bearing on individual episodes is minimal to the point that you don’t even have to worry about it. Add this to the fact that most major plot points are at least slightly explained when such information is crucial to the episode, and The Office makes for a great on-and-off series to watch when you’ve got the time.

So if your schedule is too demanding to follow the going-ons of television, The Office delivers a brand of comedy and entertainment that you can pick up and leave off from at your own leisure – because we can all use Casual Friday.

Score: 8/10

Journalism 3 Movie Review

Next up is my review for Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Woody Allen is damn lucky he was able to cast so many hot people. Here we go:

Vicky Cristina Barcelona: three proper nouns that, without any given context, are tough to string together. In this case, Woody Allen provides the backdrop of two young adults, Vicky and Cristina, and their eventful trip to the beautiful Barcelona, Spain. The movie’s premise is one that showed promise, but ultimately, the execution in dialogue and mediocre acting performances bring down Vicky Cristina Barcelona’s identity as a romantic blockbuster that explores ideas like the uncertainty of love and polygamy’s role in a world so focused on single-spouse relationships.

Deciding to visit Barcelona for the summer, Vicky (played by Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (played by Scarlett Johansson) take notice of an eccentric painter at a local art gallery opening. The painter, known as Juan Antonio (played by Javier Bardem), goes on to force the two girls to question their ideas of love throughout their multiple encounters. Vicky, a prim-and-proper girl who was recently engaged, especially deals with her own inner struggle as she must call into question if what she had wanted in the past was what she had wanted at that present moment. The situation gets even more complicated when Maria Elena (played by Penelope Cruz), Juan Antonio’s ex-wife, makes a return.

I wasn’t really sure how to feel about this movie when I first saw it. As I went through it from beginning to end, I could see many things wrong with the movie and, at the same time, many things right. I suppose that’s why I consider Vicky Cristina Barcelona to be a fairly average movie in that its positive aspects strike an almost equal balance with its negative aspects. For starters, let’s take a look at the choice of actors and actresses. On the plus side, Penelope Cruz’s performance as Maria Elena is absolutely stunning. The wide range of emotions she was able to naturally and masterfully display throughout the film cemented her position as a perfect fit for the role. Additionally, Javier Bardem’s performance as Juan Antonio was above average. He was handsome, charming, and his line delivery felt perfectly natural. Truly, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem were the stars of this show, so much so that they both nabbed quite a few nominations for their performances, with Cruz winning two or three.
Scarlett Johansson’s performance was neither grand nor disappointing – she played her role well and, if I may add, served to be great eye candy. Actually, let’s be honest here: pretty much everyone in this movie is beautiful… even Javier Bardem. That’s right, I said it. But much in the same way that Cruz and Bardem’s performances uplift the movie’s status, Rebecca Hall’s performance brings it down. At least in the first half of the movie or so, Hall’s line delivery is almost painful. Each line felt so unnatural, as if it was just being read plainly off the script. Perhaps it was Allen’s intention to make Vicky’s character this one-dimensional, uptight girl who spoke in an almost monotonous voice, we may never know. But one thing remains: the role of Vicky could have definitely been made better.

It wouldn’t be nice to put all the blame on Hall, though. While her line delivery did feel unnatural and stale, I think part of that could be attributed to the dialogue itself. At times, I couldn’t help but ask myself “is this how real people are supposed to talk?” While the story itself was enchanting and the ideas conveyed within the movie were appropriate for our current society’s beliefs on love, the dialogue itself is another down point for the movie.

One last thing that must be mentioned is the music. Most of the movie’s music is a beautiful blend of percussion instruments and acoustic guitars with a healthy dose of Latin flavor, the movie’s main theme is unbearable solely due to the main vocals. I don’t know why, but I found the vocals to be absolutely annoying, and I dreaded each subsequent time the theme played more than the last.

Despite its glaring problems, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is an enchanting tale of love that will at least hold your attention for the entire hour and a half. When its positive points are placed side by side with its negative points, it is apparent that the movie just barely hovers above the average line.

Score: 6/10

Journalism 3 Restaurant Review

'bout time I put this up on here. I reviewed Hukilau because it's awesome. Check it:

As any college student would know, cafeteria food gets old fast. Sometimes you just need to get off campus and grab a decent meal. Lucky for USF students, such a meal can be found close to home and at a price that suits what you get. Now, you may be anxiously asking yourself, “Where can such a heavenly notion like that exist?!” At ‘da Hukilau, of course! Located on the corner of Geary and Masonic (a walk that every USF student should be accustomed to), Hukilau serves up authentic Hawaiian flavor while surrounding you in an atmosphere that makes you feel as if you’re smack dab in the middle of the islands.

Even from the outside, you can tell that Hukilau is ripe with decoration. A giant tiki statue stands right next to the door while a straw awning shelters the outside tables. Upon entering, the friendly staff greeted us with an “Aloha!” and promptly seated our party of four. I was caught off guard by the presence of an improvised stage to the left of the entrance, where two gentlemen in Hawaiian shirts were performing – one on acoustic guitar, the other on bass. As frequent a visitor as I was, this was the first time I had seen live performers at Hukilau. Perhaps it was the time that made the difference – Friday night at around 7:00 PM. Nevertheless, the host escorted us to our table (right in front of the performers) and took our drink orders, handing each of us a menu before going off to tend to other business.

Looking around revealed even more decoration: the walls were decked out with pictures, paintings, surfboards, leis, and more. The bar, also sheltered by a straw awning despite being indoors, had its vast selection of alcohol proudly on display. Compared to the rest of the establishment, our tables were fairly simplistic: wooden, square, and no decoration whatsoever. Our chairs were none better, but they at least had flowery cushions that made sitting down on them tolerable.

I had already decided on what I was having before receiving my menu, but I decided to take a look anyways. Hukilau’s selection isn’t exactly what one would classify as stereotypical Hawaiian food – you won’t find a roasted pig with an apple in the mouth or anything like that as an option. Instead, Hukilau’s menu reveals a more casual, true-to-life side to Hawaiian food, which is best encompassed within the restaurant’s flagship entrée: Loco Moco. If you’re completely lost as to what I’m talking about, picture this: three scoops of steamed rice, two hamburger patties, two fried eggs, and it’s all topped with brown gravy. Sure, when you look at the ingredients on paper it may seem a little nauseating, but when you taste it, you’ll see that the individual parts come together in a way that is simply unexpected.

But no, my meal for the night would not be consisting of Loco Moco, an entrée whose portions were far more filling than I can take. Instead, I opted for something a little classier: an appetizer of spam musubi (think spam sushi) and a plate of grilled salmon and rice for the main course. My fellow dinner guests ordered fairly varied selections: tuna marinated in soy sauce and garnished with seaweed and onions as an appetizer, panko breaded chicken with rice, Loco Moco, and a seared tuna salad. Hukilau’s menu offers something for practically everyone, though I do have one complaint in its lack of vegetarian selection. Going through the menu, I counted only one burger, two salads, and two appetizers suitable for vegetarians. I’d definitely like to see more options for vegetarians, as I feel like five just isn’t enough for a menu the caliber of Hukilau’s.

Our appetizers came quite promptly, and my spam was, as usual, perfection. It wasn’t long since I had my first taste of spam musubi, but from the start I had been amazed how delicious a concoction of cooked spam, rice, and soy sauce all wrapped in seaweed could be. I was offered a bite of the tuna appetizer, which exploded flavor with every chew. Sure enough, the appetizers were satisfying and left me wanting more.

Little did I know, more was on the way quicker than expected – our entrées were delivered to us fast. Not so fast that we couldn’t enjoy the appetizers, but much faster than your ordinary restaurant wait. The food was fast, piping hot, and delicious. My grilled salmon was accented with the perfect amount of herbs, which added enough flavor to the dish without overpowering the natural taste of the salmon. It all rested on a bed of pasta and onions, a delicious surprise which they neglected to mention on the menu. My side order – three scoops of rice – also helped to balance out the flavors of the meal, making for a deliciously filling entrée. My dinner guests were satisfied as well, but we all managed to somehow make room for dessert: a Hawaii-manufactured brownie heated up and topped with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. When you taste the combination of the warm brownie and cold ice cream melding together in your mouth, you’ll see just why it was so necessary to leave a little stomach space for dessert.

The live performers were a nice addition to our meal, but there was a problem in how loud the music was. Because of the performers playing at such a high volume, it was hard to make conversation with my dinner guests, and I believe that conversation is a crucial component to eating as a group. Nevertheless, the performers were friendly and had a very relaxing selection of music. They even made an effort to acknowledge the audience (specifically my roommate), conversing about specific places in Hawaii.

All in all, Hukilau’s casual atmosphere, decorative style, and delectable food make for a must-visit for any USF student. The prices may be a tad high for the average college student’s budget, but they make up for it with big portions of great food. So if the cafeteria just isn’t cutting it, hit up the Hukilau for a satisfying taste of authentic Hawaiian.

Rating: 8.5/10

Friday, February 13, 2009

Risen from the dead.

After a year-long hiatus, I've been forced to bring this blog back to life. And this time around I'll probably post on it more often and consistently. Joy.

But why am I even making this post? It's not like there's anyone at the present moment who even watches this blog. I guess it's more of a "for me" thing, but if any future readers are still reading this, congratulations.

Portfolio: Gamer's Paradise Pilot

(coming soon)