Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wag the Dog Movie Review

Wag the Dog was a hilariously clever movie about the guise of politics and the measures that some people will go to "spin" a story to protect their public image. Of course, the area of politics  (and in this case, the presidential election) is one that constantly under public scrutiny, especially in the United States where candidates must use their public image to secure votes from the American people. And candidates have to be very careful to depict themselves favorably, because if you do/say something, or act in such a way that the majority disagrees or finds what you do offensive or disappointing, you'll be on your way out! In the film, we see spin-doctor Conrad Bream (Robert DeNiro) and his team (including Anne Heche, Denis Leary, William H. Macy and Dustin Hoffman) concoct a plan to distract the public's attention from their candidate's alleged nefarious sex scandal by hiring a movie producer (Hoffman) to create a fake war with Albania. With all of the smoke and mirrors at their disposal, an effective distraction to the scandal is created, but then things get misconstrued and the movie ends up in a confusing mess of what is real, and what appears to be real.

This film surprised me, partially because I couldn't predict what it would be about based upon the title. Later, after watching the film and thinking about  how the plot could tie into the title, I remembered the caption at the beginning of the film:

Why does the dog wag its tail?
Because the dog is smarter than the tail.
If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog.

Now, according to a little research that I conducted on that phrase, it means "a minor or secondary part of something controlling the whole." (Wikipedia). After reading about this, I began to understand the message that I think the director wanted to convey. In Wag the Dog, the minor or secondary part is Conrad Bream's team, who take control of the whole (the American voting public) in order to sidestep a scandal that could ruin the presidential candidate's shot for office. I think the director wanted to show how easily the media can mislead the public, especially because we rely upon and tend to naively trust the media for information. The fake war with Albania was created to distract from another (real) disaster to the candidate's campaign, and people seemed to believe it. At least for a while. The whole film just made me think about how easily I might be convinced to believe something untrue about anything, in this case a presidential candidate. What we perceive to be true may be a complete lie, and the film's director shows us with Wag the Dog just how easily that can happen.

I think this movie means to depict the people of Albania as down trodden and helpless, which they of course had to do to make people think that an actual war was going on there. I suppose one could assume that the few minorities in the film mean that they were irrelevant to the plot. I did not observe any instances where minorities were degraded or deliberately eliminated. The film director, Barry Levinson, however, is Jewish. Dustin Hoffman is from a Jewish family, but he was not brought up in any particular religious orientation, so I suppose he is "ethnically" Jewish, but not religiously. I am not sure if this had anything to do with the role he portrayed; I am just looking for ways to tie in the director's background with movie features. It may also be noted that Levinson has worked with Hoffman in other movies,  such as Rainman (1988) and in Tootsie (1982) however, he was un-credited.

People who are from different backgrounds probably wouldn't have to much of a problem with film, in terms of misinterpretation. Albanians may be offended by the choice to use their country in the ruse of a fake war, which may cause others to view them as helpless and unable to protect themselves.

The movie added to my visual literacy by introducing me to the reality that much of what we see in the media is fabricated and untrue. Now, I know that everything I see on TV is not real or true, but I didn't think about the campaigns I see government officials and hopeful elects as being complete lies. Wag the Dog showed me how it is so easy to spin things in one's favor, and to unfairly cover a mistake up with a bigger story to de-emphasize it. I don't follow politics as closely as some others, but I like to think that I educate myself pretty well when elections are at hand. The plot included details of what kind of artistic means that people might use to generate and carry out their fictitious creation. The movie producer had all kinds of tricks up his sleeve, he was a very powerful character in the movie. Initially I thought Dustin Hoffman's character wouldn't be too important., but as a movie producer, he had the resources needed to create an entire smoke screen using clever distractions and effects to really draw attention away from the presidential candidate's sex scandal. In the end, when Hoffman orders Bream killed and makes it look like he had a heart-attack, that shows how events can be twisted to seem to be what they are not. The movie made me feel like I have to be extra wary with my judgements, to not just think the first thing that pops into my head when I see something about a candidate on television, created by their campaign. They could be "wagging the dog" ;)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Introductory Preso Experience

For my introduction in CCA, I decided to make a video to show the class who I am, and what I'm all about. I wanted to share with everyone what I find most important, what I like to do, and why I wanted to be a teacher. If they are able to understand who I am and what makes me "tick," we might be able to establish common ground between one another. I learned a lot from my classmates' presentations, and saw many different and creative ways of presenting ourselves. In CCA, we have to work in groups often, and making sure that we understand each other and get to know each other will help promote a good environment for collaboration.

Creating my video didn't take too long, I planned what I was going to say by typing up a script. It wasn't much, just things like where I was born, where I grew up, info about my family, my hobbies, and what I wanted to do as a teacher. I recorded myself speaking, kind of like a "talking heads" idea from The Office. I also recorded other frames of me doing different things, like riding a book cart at my job, the library, running up stairs (for my intro), my sister, and singing. I think I did a good job conveying who I am to my classmates. Some things have changed a little since my video, but overall I am living my life the same way!

For more Youtube videos of and by me, visit my channel!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Thank You For Smoking Movie Review

I watched "Thank You For Smoking" the other night, and though I had seen the film before, I was surprised by what I discovered when I watched it again with the knowledge I have gained from Visual Literacy. Besides my love for William H. Macy (he just seems so benevolent! Although not necessarily in this role), I wanted to look at the plot and elements of this movie to see what I could connect with our perception today.

I think the director (Jason Reitman) of this movie wanted to point out how different points of view can really make a topic dynamic and complicated. The character Nick Naylor is a lobbyist for big tobacco, and vice-president for the "Academy of Tobacco Studies." Throughout the film, Nick is constantly defending Big Tobacco and going head-to-head with those opposed, arguing that people have the right to choose whether or not they want to smoke, that it is not the fault of Big Tobacco that smoking is killing, it is the smokers' own problems. Now, for Nick Naylor, being a tobacco lobbyist is "just a way to pay the mortgage." I think this is interested because if you look at a job like Nick's from this perspective, it really is just a job. However, Nick's perception of his job is different than those of people who have lost loved ones to the ill effects of smoking. It seemed like the director wanted to emphasize how everyone has their own personal take on things, and how easy it is for us to put a "spin" on things to justify our actions and our perspectives. For Nick Naylor, he is doing what he's good at (talking) and supporting his son.

I do not recall very many instances where minority groups are featured. It seemed to me that the characters were primarily white. There is one state official present during the end scene that is African American, and he makes the point that Americans need symbols to look at in order to understand a concept or idea. Other than this individual, I did not see many other minority representations.

The director is Jason Reitman, a Caucasian man who is Canadian. I think his background may have played a role in directing the film, because he seemed to have an interest in the story after reading the book of the same title. Therefore, he had to follow the story line of the book pretty closely, with his own interpretation of some of the action. The elements of the book are there, with Reitman's own "spin" on the characters. I think that Reitman did not necessarily eliminate focus on other ethnicity for person reasons; rather, Reitman was just trying to follow Thank You For Smoking author Christopher Buckley's initial descriptions.

Because of the limited instances of minorities in this film, I think people in these groups may be offended simply by the lack of the groups being in the film. I also think that smokers may misinterpret this movie because of the negativity against those who choose to smoke out of their own will. Throughout the film, the emphasis is on the people's choice to smoke (at least that is what Nick Naylor is always saying), and I think that maybe people who choose to smoke would feel offended that smoking is made out to seem so hated and bad. They may feel even more alienated because of their person choices than they may feel in real life, when attention is not necessarily paid to individual smokers.

There are several notable instances where visual means are used to enhance the film and focus our attention. The introductory credits sequence was done with fonts and graphics meant to imitate those on cigarette packaging. I thought this was a very clever way to show how we can be influenced by visual graphics, especially when people are trying to sell things to us. Also, there is an emphasis on how companies, in this case cigarette companies, use catchy commercials and other means to grab our attention. As the senator of Vermont, William H. Macy's character comments 
"they like to use cartoons and symbols to hook our kids," which is sometimes a very true case. Think of the Marlboro man, the great cowboy figure that was bound to interest children in the 60s and 70s. In movies, actors needed something to do while they were talking, and smoking just seemed like a "natural" thing for them to do. 
Advertisement was born inadvertently through movies! Now today, smoking characters have negative connotations, and they probably should have. These different artistic elements employed by the director made the film even more effective in showing us how advertisements can be easily justified, and how important it is to resist falling into the "spin" and to judge things for ourselves, instead of letting others make decisions for us!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

AHA-Propeller Island City Lodge

While watching Travel Channel tonight in my house with my friend Colin, there was a show about the most bizarre hotels around the world. Among the tropical resorts and rustic cabins, there was Propeller Island City Lodge in Berlin. Propeller Island describes itself as:

"Aesthetic sensation for the eye and the ear, Propeller Island is a pseudonym used by the German artist Lars Stroschen to publish his audio-visual creations. Unlimited diversity, repeating nothing and copying nothing are the guiding principles here. The most popular result: the CITY LODGE, a habitable work of art in the heart of Berlin, whose wealth of ideas never fails to attract everyone into its gravitational field and to continue inspiring guests long afterwards. A magnet for creative individuals, those weary of consumption, those who see things differently, philosophers and seekers of perspective and vision. Frequented by personalities from around the globe, this vision machine is a much-desired shooting site for photo sessions and video clips. Is that perhaps the reason these rooms seem so familiar to you?" (Propeller Island website) 

I mean, just take a look at these rooms! All photos from Propeller Island's My Berlin photos.

The "Hollywood" 

The Blue Room

How relaxing, the Tempura room

Caution, this room is wrapped!

Mirrors in every direction

Kids being too loud? They can sleep in a cage!

This room is upside down! A bed and four chairs come out of compartments in the floor!
Colin is going to Berlin in May, and he'll be in Berlin. I told him that he HAS to try and go to this hotel, just to see what other amazing rooms the City Lodge contains. I am so jealous that he gets to go in the first place, but I'm even more envious because I want to see this hospitable house of art for myself! 

AHA!-Sand Animation at Ukraine's Got Talent

I was looking through my Facebook home page today, and one of my friends had posted this video on her wall.

Artist Kseniya Simonova uses a giant light box, fine sand, emotional music and amazing sand manipulation skills to turn simple sand into beautiful art. I thought that this needed to be shared because it just goes to show how the simplest things give way to beauty if the right touch is applied, and the right eye perceives. If you watch the various images Kseniya creates out of the sand, you'll see her interpretation of Germany's invasion and occupation of the Ukraine during WWII. The Ukraine's Got Talent judges are moved to tears, and the audience members are speechless watching Kseniya work. I never thought that something so basic, like sand, could evoke such strong emotions and inspire me like this did.

Kseniya's sand art brought perceptual aesthetics to mind as she exemplified how a simple artistic medium could be used to make amazing images. Now, you might not think that what she's doing is that impressive or interesting. In fact, you might think the images in the sand art rudimentary and unsophisticated, not worthy of being called art at all. But I think they're art, because my eyes and brain tell me that I like what I see in this sand. That's what is so mysterious, yet unique and special about perception and aesthetics; what you might find ugly, I might find beautiful. "One man's trash is another man's treasure." Isn't that what they always say? It's all about how you look at it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder!