Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Road

For everyone on Twitter, I promised a review of The Road. I could quite easily do it in six words: Best movie I've seen all year....however I'll get much more in depth.

I love films that make you think. And I love film, literature, etc, that take place in a post-apocalyptic or dystopian society. The Road is post-apocalyptic, and really made me think, because even a day later I'm still mulling it over in my head. It's about two unnamed characters, the man (played by the amazing Viggo Mortensen), and the boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee), travelling across the country to reach "the coast", because the man figures they won't survive another winter where they originally lived. This is roughly ten years after an unnamed event happened, that killed off most humans, animals and plants, so food is very scarce. On their journey, they must try to avoid the "bad guys". There are no more laws, and it's essentially every man for himself.

It's a shocking film, and often very tragic. How do you retain what keeps you human when there are so few humans left? How far do you go to keep yourself and your family alive? When is life still worth living? These questions are asked within the film, and I found myself thinking at length about them as well. Flashbacks to the boy's mother, and the Man's wife (Charlize Theron) help bring these questions to the forefront of the movie.

For the majority of the film, Mortensen and Smit-McPhee are the only characters on screen. They work off of each other very well. What I loved most about the film is how the characters, and your perception of them changed within the two hour time span. They were very convincing as Father and son. The man was so devoted to his son that he would do absolutely anything for him. I admired that dynamic, and was very moved by it. But at the same time, it is something that is very hard for me to imagine. I can't imagine having nothing in the world, but a son or a father. But I think being in such a situation, where you depend on each other so fully would make you extraordinarily close. The Road is being described by many as the "feel bad movie of the year", and I gotta say I agree with that statement. Expect to feel bad, to feel horrified, and to think when you watch it. It's very difficult to watch. I actually find it amusing that the release date is when it is, because this weekend was Thanksgiving in the States. Why would they release such a bleak film Thanksgiving weekend? Surely they could have released it next week. That being said, I hope word of mouth spreads and a lot of people see it. Mortensen definitely deserves an Oscar nomination for his role in the film, and I also think it should be a contender for Best Picture. I was also very impressed with Smit-McPhee. He was quite young when this film was made (and is still quite young). I can't imagine making such an emotionally heavy movie right now, as an adult, let alone when I was 11 years old! They found themselves a gem when he was cast.

Another thing that really impressed me was the imagery. There is very little colour in the movie, most things are shades of grey, or other muted colours. They did a very good job creating a bleak and destroyed world. Everything, from what they wear, to the trees and buildings look the way one would imagine they'd look ten years after a world-ending event. Numerous close-ups are used to show how skinny and dirty the man and the boy are. I read somewhere that some of it was CGI edited to make the colours more muted and bleak, but a lot of it was simply excellent choice in filming locations. Kudos to the film makers.

I wish I'd had time to read the book, by Cormac McCarthy, who also wrote No Country for Old Men, which was adapted into film. I've never read any of his books, but I think I'd start with The Road, because as much as I loved No Country, I liked The Road quite a bit better. Maybe over the summer I'll have more time to read it. I do recall reading the back of the book a few years ago, and thinking it sounded pretty interesting, but for whatever reason I didn't pick it up. I wish I had.

That being said, make sure you have something fun planned after you see the film. Had I just been going home afterwards I probably would have been a little depressed all night. It's emotionally exhausting.

Here's a link to the trailer.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Been a Stressful Week

This has easily been the most stressful week yet in CreComm. It has been a week full of assignments, and research projects. I've been lucky, because I had my review mostly written last week, but I've still felt the pressure. Twice in the last 24 hours I've found myself on the verge of bursting into tears because I found myself in a spelling dilemma, but one has been dealt with for sure, and the other is most likely okay as well. I'm a worrier by nature, but my reaction was a product of my stress. I'm thankful that tomorrow is Friday, and that I have plans with a friend on Friday, and I'm going out with Kirk on Saturday. That will give me an opportunity to unwind a bit.

I do a lot of my homework at home in the evenings, so on days when I can sleep in a little bit, my favourite way to unwind for the evening is to finish it off with The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. I've spoken before about my great admiration for Conan, and I find that watching his show, and getting a good giggle calms me down and helps put a nice end to my day. Last night I was so stressed when it came on, but I had to tell myself that the situation was out of my hands until I received an email in the morning, and I sat down to watch it...and I felt better by the end of it. :)

I want to share a cool video I found a few days ago. The Muppets do Bohemian Rhapsody. I love Queen, and Bohemian Rhapsody is one of my favourite songs ever, so I got a great laugh out of this!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Today in Melanie's PR class, we learned how to use Twitter. I've been using Twitter for about six months now, as @MissJenh. I started to follow @postsecret but kept with it after I realized just how useful it was. Around the time of the Iranian election was when I started checking it every single day. Twitter was an invaluable resource for the Iranian people at that time, and I found myself worrying when the people I followed stopped updating. Were they arrested? Or even killed? Several accounts stopped updating long ago, and I was told by a friend that, that was because Iran cut off the internet in the country...but I fear something worse happened to them. I know for sure one of the people behind @persiankiwi was arrested, but I believe they were later released. I found they were the best source for news on the protests in Iran. I really got behind their fight, and even changed my time zone to Tehran time (and kept it there until yesterday in fact) to help throw off the Iranian government, who were looking for these brave individuals.

Now I use it to get my news, and to get a good giggle on occasion from @simonpegg and @ThatKevinSmith. I follow folks at the Winnipeg Free Press, but my favourite news source on Twitter is @shortformblog. It gives the news in one sentence format, and provides a link to the actual news story, should you choose to read it in full. It's a great way to get news on the go.

It has only been recently that I've started communicating with people I know "in person" on Twitter. Before that, my own updates were infrequent and I used it to get my news. But now I'm communicating with people I know more and more, so I feel like I am getting more out of Twitter than I was before. I think it is useful for PR folks, and other people in the communication industry, because it allows you to get your message out to a number of people, very quickly. You are not relying on the mass media to get your message out, so you can do it on your own terms, albeit in 140 characters or less. You can provide useful links to your followers about what your organization stands for, and advertise products. I think taking advantage of social networking is essential to getting your organization off the ground. Why would one turn down the chance to spread the word, promote and advertise their organization? I think in this day and age it would be foolish not to take advantage of Twitter.

My Twitter account is used both recreationally and professionally. I follow a large variety of people, and tweet about school stuff, link to things online I find interesting, and stuff about day to day life. Since starting CreComm, I have tried to keep my own personal tweets fairly work safe, meaning free of course language (difficult because I can have quite the sailor mouth and it has been difficult to keep this blog free of curse words), nudity, and the like. I've become fairly devoted, and at least skim through every tweet I receive on my home page, and check it at least once a day.

I hope to see you all on Twitter, and if you have any people you think I should be following...let me know!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

You Know You Love Movies too Much When...

...dinnertime conversations about CreComm turn into conversations about how Jen watches too many movies. Case in point:

Me: You know, I like Journalism, love the course, love writing...but I can't major in it. The industry is too bad, I won't get a job, and I just like eating too much.
Mom: You don't like eating do you?
Me: (as I'm putting a mouthful of food in my mouth) No Mom, I hate it, but I have to do it to, you know, live.
Mom: I thought you would have said you love watching movies too much.

Oh boy. She says this because Kirk and I spent yet another evening at the movies, seeing Pirate Radio. I may review it when I have more time, but I will say that it is not getting the love it deserves. It's one of the funniest films I've seen all year.

Do your family members poke fun at your obsessions frequently? Leave a comment with your response.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Survivor (another other reality television, plus some LOST)

I feel compelled to write a blog post about my favourite guilty pleasure tv show, Survivor. Since I last posted, the big villain, Russell H has turned into the big hero. He's the main member of the underdog folk in the newly merged Aiga tribe, and while he's still not a "nice" guy, he's just an excellent player. I'm rooting for him, maybe not to win, but it will be a sad day when he leaves. My Mom has made a great point when she says she doesn't want him to win because in the first episode he admitted to being a multimillionaire. She's right. I'd rather one of his allies win for that very reason.

I got to thinking today about how Russell H has become the hero of the season. It's all about the editing. The producers realized they got a winner when they started seeing all the footage of Russell H. So in the early days, most of the time was spent on his tribe, Foa Foa. Therefore, the viewers got to know that tribe better than the Galu tribe. There were actually some members of Galu that did not get any significant interview time until the merge, so I did not actually know their names. How can you root for someone when you don't know anything about how they're playing the game? I think the audience has almost been forced into rooting for the Foa Foa members, including their big hero: Russell H. It's amazing how the "villain" has been shifted into hero status, and the practically unknown Galu folk are kind of the villains. At least, this is how I'm interpreting the game.

Survivor is awesome in that it is always best to start rooting for the underdogs. As a fan since near the beginning, I've watched all (or almost all) of every season, and I know that when you are in an underdog position, you start to scramble. And when the majority alliance gets cocky, that's when the trouble starts. Audiences love an underdog, so most of the time that is who I'm rooting for. My favourite season ever was the Cook Islands season, with Yul, Ozzy, Becky and Sundra. They became a tribe of four, and during the merge, they managed to pick off the majority tribe by continually winning immunity before the merge, and making agreements with the majority tribe members. When you're part of the underdogs, you stick together, and when you find cracks in the majority take advantage of them. It was brilliant game play, and Yul, the eventual winner, is among my favourite players ever (along with Ozzy, who got second place that season).

Yes, Survivor is serious business to me. I like it, and The Amazing Race because they don't feel as tacky as some of the reality shows that have been produced (The Swan on FOX comes to mind as an example of a tacky show). Essentially they're games of skill. Survivor has a huge networking and social aspect, which I really respect. I also acknowledge the difficulty of both shows. I'd never go on Survivor (and can't, because I'm Canadian) because I'm out of shape first of all. Secondly, I'm very shy and not particularly good at scrambling to make friends fast. Thirdly, I have a low tolerance for stupid things people pull, and am painfully honest as a result, which can come across poorly if people don't know me well. Lastly, I don't deal with hunger well. I get dizzy and nauseated if I go too long without eating, and I tend to get cranky as well.

However, if I were able to, I'd love to go on The Amazing Race. I wish they took Canadians, because I would find a partner and apply. Not that I would be a particularly good team member. I don't have my full license so I couldn't be the driver, and I don't know left from right so I wouldn't be a particularly good navigator. Couple that with being out of shape, always in need of a snack close by, and my need for lots of sleep...and I'd be the most incompetent team mate ever.

I think I'll stick to the couch with my bowl of ice cream and my glass of water, and shout at the tv when I think someone is doing something stupid.


Oh, and in non-reality television news, LOST starts on Tuesday, February 2nd! I can't wait! I've been trying not to read any spoilers about it, because I want to go in surprised for as much of it as possible. It's very much like the last Harry Potter book for me. I spoiled myself for all the other books by reading the end before I got to the end...but I refused to do that with the last one, to the point where I read it in one shot. With the final season, I want to experience as much of it "fresh" as possible, so I'm forcing myself to avoid spoiler sites, and I may not even watch episode previews. That way I can get the full emotional impact of each episode.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Awesome Movie Music

I enjoy soundtrack music, and often listen to certain pieces while working on homework. I thought today would be a good day to share some of my favourites. I tend to enjoy powerful pieces that play at the climax of the film. Generally they have a slow start and build up into something very powerful.

"In the House - In a Heartbeat" by John Murphy from 28 Days Later

A great example of a powerful piece playing at the climax of a film. I'm listening to this one on repeat as I'm writing this.

"Coronation" by Ilan Eshkeri from Stardust

One of my big beefs is that this movie didn't receive the love it deserved. I blame the poor trailer for that. I bought the book on a whim, thought it was nothing more than mediocre and wasn't even going to see the movie based on the trailer and the book. Turns out the movie was much BETTER than the book (and how often do you see that?!). The excellent soundtrack definitely helps, and this is my favourite piece off of it.

"The Ice Dance" by Danny Elfman from Edward Scissorhands

Not sure if I have mentioned here, but Edward Scissorhands is my favourite movie. And this may possibly be my favourite piece of instrumental music ever. It's enormously tragic, probably because of the scenes where it is played in the film. I cry every time I watch the movie and if I'm in the right mood when I hear this music, I cry as well. Danny Elfman writes fantastic film scores.

"PM's Love Theme" by Craig Armstrong from Love Actually

In the interest of full disclosure, I have all three main "themes" from this film (PM's Love Theme, Portuguese Love Theme and Glasgow Love Theme) on my iPod and listen to them very regularly. This one is my favourite of the three, but the whole soundtrack is fantastic. It's among my favourite Christmas movies, and I can't wait to watch it again this year!

"The Kraken" by Hans Zimmer from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

All three films have great scores done by the great Hans Zimmer. This piece always stood out to me, it's a little long but it very easily changes tone and seems composed least to my very untrained ear.

Hans Zimmer also composed some fantastic music with James Newton Howard for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Here are two more pieces from those two films:

"Molassus" (the Batman theme music):

And "Vespertilio", used in the trailers for The Dark Knight:

Good music sets the tone for the film. Have you ever watched your favourite movies on mute or without the music? It feels "off" doesn't it? Soundtracks should be enjoyable within a film, and great soundtracks should be enjoyable outside a film. Notice I haven't used some of the most famous pieces of music from films--I wanted to showcase some of the less well known pieces that I enjoy.

Happy listening!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


On Monday I unexpectedly ended up seeing the film Amreeka at The Grant Park theatre. I had heard good things about it, and was not disappointed.

It's about a Palestinian woman, Muna, who wins the green card lottery, and takes her son, Fadi to Illinois to live with her sister, Raghda. In America, she struggles to find work, and both her, her son, and her extended family face racism in the face of the Iraq war. The film takes a generally light hearted approach to some very serious subject matter, and it is something I appreciated. I think Hollywood too often portrays Arab individuals as stereotypes, most often as terrorists or suicide bombers. The film makes fun of this stereotype quite often, as the main characters are often accused of being both--and of course they are neither. They are normal people who just moved to a new country and are trying to adjust to a new life. I think Hollywood stereotypes play a huge role in people's perceptions of individuals and we forget that the roles Arab people are given in film is definitely not the role they fit in society, 99.999% of the time. It's hard for Middle Eastern actors to get work as "normal" characters, instead of extremists.

That being said, I just want to give a heads-up to people. The film is in both Arabic and English (though mostly in Arabic). I knew it was a Canadian film, and I assumed that after the characters came to America, the film would switch to English. I am, of course, okay with subtitled films (I stated in a previous entry that I love listening to other languages and picking out English words), but I know not everyone is. But along with the heads up is a bit of a cool fact: the film was partially shot in Winnipeg! I had heard of this before I saw the film, but had forgotten about it until Kirk whispered to me that the high school used in the film was actually the high school he went to! I'm still at the point where I get excited when I see landmarks I recognize on film, so it was really cool to recognize parts of my city.

One thing I didn't like about the film was the ending. It was very abrupt, and when the screen went black, I felt slightly dissatisfied...almost as if it ended mid-sentence. A better ending would have been about two minutes before the actual ending, because it offered better and less awkward closure. However, that's a very minor quibble. I know how difficult it is to end stories, and often you want to get as much in as possible, so you can't decide where you stop the story.

Here's the trailer:

If you get the opportunity, check it out!

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Kirk and I went to go see The Men Who Stare at Goats on Saturday, and they played this trailer before the movie. We both agreed that it looked interesting, so I thought I would share the trailer with you all:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"True Stories"

I thought about this "genre", and the following blog post while I was watching Disney's Pocahontas the other day. I was just a wee squirt when the film was released (and even saw it in theatres), but I'm sure much of the promotion was in regard to how it was based on an "amazing" true story. I've long known that Disney took several liberties with her story, and that in fact, Terrence Malick's film The New World is quite a bit more accurate, though it still does take some liberties. Knowing what I do now, is my enjoyment of the film affected?

I was watching the movie on my computer, and because I can't NOT be on the internet when on my computer, I kept pausing the film to look up things about the characters on Wikipedia. Pocahontas was very young when she first encountered John Smith and there was never a romance between the two of them. Smith, it seems, was a troublemaker as well. I read snippets from a fascinating book (only some of it was online) on Sunday, and I wish I could find the link again. In it, the writer speculates that Smith actually raped Pocahontas. Rape was a very serious crime to the Native American was seen as worse than kidnapping. The women were actually taught how to deal with being kidnapped by other tribes, because it was a common thing to do at the time apparently, to spread out family lines. Pocahontas ended up marrying John Rolfe and she had a child named Thomas with him before she died in England in 1617. This link says what the book speculated on about the parentage of Thomas. It's thought that a man named Thomas Dale raped her and fathered her son, especially since her son is not named after his "Father", John Rolfe. Some believe her marriage to Rolfe was simply to keep up appearances, which is sadly like some modern marriages.

Quite different from the Disney version where trees sing, leaves fly, Pocahontas is a gorgeous grown woman and John Smith is a beautiful man with perfect golden locks. I quite enjoy the Disney film, despite all of the knowledge I've collected over the years about the "true story". I think it is because I take it as fiction, and it is a touching little love story. I liked The New World as well, though I would like to watch it again; I thought it was rather slow in parts when I did see it and don't remember it as well as I'd like. Besides, how can you not find "Colours of the Wind" enormously catchy? I've had it on repeat as I'm writing this!

I think you have to take "true stories" with a grain of salt. When I see movies that make that claim, usually I'll do some research after the fact if I found the film compelling enough. Sometimes it is fairly close to the truth, other times it's not even close.

I think a large concern with Pocahontas is that it is a film aimed at a young audience, who may not be able to differentiate between a true story and a very embellished "true story". Obviously the film is full of stereotypes, both about Native Americans and Europeans. Some pretty inappropriate language is used to describe the Native American people, but I figure that, that language is used primarily by the "villains", and it is the job of the parents to take the film as a "teachable moment". Discuss the language with your children, explain that the language used is inappropriate and wrong, and explain why it was used. I don't think it is necessarily the job of a film studio, even one that makes films aimed at a younger audience, to have perfectly politically correct movies. I do understand the criticisms though, because many parents would not be "on the ball" and use the film to teach children about "good words" and "bad words", and some may even share the views held by the villains in the movie.

As I said earlier, I was very young when this movie came out, probably about six years old. I actually didn't like it very much in theatres, because it was "too sad" for me. I don't recall my parents ever talking to me about the language use or the stereotypes, but I think it was because I was too young to understand the word "savage", and didn't pay attention to that sort of thing. At the time I hated it when characters broke into song, "Back to the story please!" was my thought process, so my mind checked out during the song moments. I think my parents probably answered some of my questions about the issues in the movie, because like I said, it was a bit too old for me at the time.

I do have one quibble with the end of the movie though. Obviously, there will be spoilers in this next paragraph, so if you don't want to be spoiled, please skip over:

John Smith was badly wounded by a gun shot, but the voyage from the "New World" to England would be about three months, depending on the weather. Infection from such a wound sets in VERY quickly. I would think that it would be best to treat him in the "New World", because at least then they won't be trying to treat him on a boat that's rocking on the ocean. Surely they would have brought a surgeon or someone with medical training with them. Also, how much more could have been done for him in England at that time? I would think that there wouldn't be much more that could be done for him, and he'd be long dead by the time he got back anyway, from infection. Does anyone with any medical history knowledge have any insight? I'm just kinda bitter about the ending because to me, it would probably be best to treat him on land or on an anchored ship in the "New World", rather than take him back to England. Then at least in the Disney movie, he could have been with Pocahontas and I wouldn't have ended up crying at the end like I always do. And yes, I know this is the least of my worries with the film, because as I've established, it's not historically accurate in the least. And anyways, can a film with a talking tree be historically accurate?

(end spoilers)

I do think "Based on a true story" is thrown around too much. That's why it is up to the movie-goer to do research, and maybe find that the "actual story" is more interesting than the movie version! The real story of Pocahontas is much more tragic, I think than the Disney version, but quite a bit more interesting. She was more than just a love affair.

Do your research folks! Don't just follow what Hollywood tells you.