Runaway

•October 25, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Love him or hate him, you’ve got to respect Kanye West’s creative genius.

“Runaway,” a 35-minute short film directed by West himself, showcases this artist’s talent in a way that even the haters can’t help but appreciate. It combines a variety of songs, dialogue, beautiful choreography, engaging videography, and a story line metaphor that relates directly back to West’s life.

My favorite scene arrives around the 14 minute mark. West takes the piano as a flock of ballet dancers dressed in black move in rhythm to the underlying song of the film, “Runaway.”  It is the choreography that holds my attention. Traditional dance combined with hip hop. Ballet mixed with contemporary moves. It’s a style that I enjoy immensely, but one that I’ve seen few choreographers really pull off. The background beat of the song is classic, giving a basis for traditional ballet moves. The tempo of the foreground music, combined with the smooth syncing of West’s voice, draws out the hip hop.

In this way, West exposes his audience to an unexpected form of dance, just as he has always done with his music.

Check it out:

The Diary of Elizabeth Gilbert

•August 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It’s a #1 New York Times Bestseller and, more recently, a major motion picture. My favorite actress, Julia Roberts, happens to star in the leading role. And yet, I am not impressed.

I am currently attempting my second go at the infamous book, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

The first time I picked it up, I made it to India (aka about half-way) before I dropped it for another. It’s been two years since then. This time around, I set it down after chapter 10… approximately one third of the way through Italy.

It wasn’t actually my intention to stop reading it all together, but there was no great urge to continue like I have found in so many other books this summer. (In the meantime, I started and finished the third and final installation of Steig Larsson’s Millennium series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.) I did, however, put aside a couple hours to go see the movie. And, again, I was disappointed.

Hence, I am finding that my motivation to jump back in to E.P.L. is lacking. But, as it was my goal from the start to actually finish it this time, I must go on. I have to ask, though, what is it about this slow, overly-personal story that makes it so respected?

To a certain extent, I can understand the hype. Gilbert’s year long commitment to finding herself is inspirational, to say the least. She sparks a will in her readers to make the time and effort to discover their own personal interests, goals, and deepest desires. Through her own experiences, she encourages others take a serious look into the lives they have created for themselves and ask the hard question: Is this what I really want?

I would be lying if I said that I was not influenced by the story, or at least completely agree with the message behind it.

[Side Note: It is my immediate goal to move somewhere new (whether it be New York, Los Angeles, London, or, like Gilbert, Bali), where I know few or no people. This is, I believe, the only way to truly find out what you want for yourself, as an individual, without the influence of those closest to you. While it is unlikely that I will be able to do this myself (due to a slight to large lack of disposable income), I cannot help but envy those who get to. And Gilbert fits directly into this category.]

But her writing – style, composition, language, and all – is something I simply cannot stand, no matter the context behind it.

The style is informal. The composition is unorganized, scattered. Though Gilbert uses the introduction to explain the set up of each section, which it certainly follows, the paragraphs – actual content – jump from idea to idea. Overall, her account is chronological. But she steers into long-winded tangents, distracting both herself and her reader.

Her language use is conversational. Imagine, if you will, that Gilbert was telling you this story herself – out loud. That is the tone that she portrays. While I do not think that informal language in itself is a barrier to great books, Gilbert’s use detracts from her story. It’s as if Gilbert wrote the book by simply writing down her thoughts throughout each experience. The story line wanders as a train of thought might. And perhaps this was her intent. But it creates awkward sentences and disorganization.

I did not pay $15.00 to read Gilbert’s diary. When I buy a bestseller I expect it to have a captivating plot line and reek of superior writing. And E.P.L is 0 for 2, in my book, despite the success of the overall message and individual lessons.

I have heard a number of people say that they had trouble getting through the India section of Gilbert’s tale, too. But they did. In fact, millions of other people were able to accept her writing style and even enjoy the story she presented. So much so that it became a bestseller. A title that, personally, I do not think it deserves.

Maybe it’s just an extreme difference of personal preference or pet peeves. But I cannot imagine that I alone in my dislike of Gilbert’s story.

And perhaps my opinion will change once I have forced my way through the whole book. But don’t hold your breath.

Bookworm Diaries

•August 5, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It’s safe to say that I have been a bookworm for the past month.

During school I never had the time to just sit down with a novel. Any reading I did do was from a textbook or assigned supplemental article. In other words, it was nothing I enjoyed.

But school has ended (for good) and suddenly I find my self with an abundance of free time, and half a dozen intriguing books on my summer reading list. Of the half-dozen, I have already blown through four and hereby offer my review (and recommendation) of each:

1. Water for Elephants: The circus has always been a mystery to me. And I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. I am not referring to the modern day circus, aka Cirque du Soleil (which, by the way, you should definitely go see if you haven’t already). I am talking about the real circus – acrobats, animals, “freaks,” ringleader, and all.  I guess I’ve just never understood the appeal of the old fashioned circus. Until now.

Although the circus freaks and clowns still don’t appeal to me, after reading this book I wouldn’t hesitate to go to the circus if the opportunity presented itself.  But only to catch a glimpse of the people that make the show happen – that is where the real action takes place. Author Sara Gruen paints a realistic and engrossing picture of life on a traveling circus in the midst of the Great Depression. She toys with your emotions and appeals to your curiosity through the memories of Jacob Jankowski, the show’s novice vet. Romance and action and drama and suspense – it’s got it all.

I read it twice in a row.

2. The Kite Runner: I honestly cannot find the words to express how this book affected me. It is a tough read and often sad. You’ll find yourself loving, hating, misunderstanding, and feeling sorry for the main character, Amir, all at the same time. The story starts when Amir is a young boy, growing up in a peaceful Afghanistan. His home country is in a state of turmoil when he returns from America years later to search for his long-lost best friend’s son. He is subjected to cruelty and harm, and is forced to face his past and discover unexpected truths. It is a story of family, friendship, and loyalty that you should not miss.

3/4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire: It’s been a long time since I’ve fallen for a series, but Lisbeth Salander and Mickael Blomkvist have captured my curiosity.  These two characters combine to make an intriguing duo. While Salander’s history is a hodgepodge of instability and secrecy, Blomkvist’s is one of journalist controversy and scandal. There is no denying their unpredictability.

In the first book of the series (Dragon Tattoo), the two characters meet under unusual circumstances before working together to uncover the truth about the complicated Vander family and a murder that occurred nearly 40 years ago. The second novel takes you deeper into Salander’s hidden past and leaves you with a sense of foreboding. Both books will surprise you at every turn. It’s an intricate combination of mystery, murder, scandal, and complicated romance that I cannot begin to recap. And it’s well worth the 600+ page read (each).

I will undoubtedly go purchase the newly released series closer, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, in the next few days.

Up next: Something Borrowed and The Lovely Bones.

Teen pregnancy: breaking the stigma

•July 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

A large stigma surrounds teen parents.  One that many do not rightly deserve.

Outsiders often make assumptions about the teens’ decisions. Statements such as “they are far too young to be having sex” or, simply, “how stupid do you have to be to get pregnant these days,” follow them around and hinder their success.  The lack of support leaves many teen parents homeless, jobless, and without an education. It leaves them without the opportunity to do right by their children. Mostly, it leaves them questionning their ability to parent.

Back in Dec. 2009, I began working with pregnant teens and teen parents at the North Clackamas School District’s P.A.C.E. (Parenting – Academics – Careers – Employment) program and it only took one day for my own assumptions to die hard. 

P.A.C.E. allows teen parents to finish out their high school degrees by offering resources, day care, parenting help, and a flexible education schedule. It provides opportunity and support for those who may have otherwise never have finished their educations.  But often, not even this is enough to help teen parents and their children survive.

That’s where the Madonna’s Center comes in.

As a non-profit organization in Milwaukie, based solely off volunteers, the Madonna’s Center relies entirely on donations, grants, and other community resources to meet the needs of the teen families in the entire Clackamas County area.  It survives without government support.  And it is one of a kind – no other organization like this exist in the entire United States.

The center provides essentials for around 75 teen families at any given time – including: diapers, clothing, food, blankets, cribs, and so much more (a full list of which can be found here).  Volunteers help teens parents find housing, jobs, medical help, educational opportunities, counseling, and transportation. 

The center’s most recent effort its largest fundraiser of the – its 4th Annual Hope Chest Sale. Volunteers hope to raise between $3,000 – $5,000 in order to keep running. Teen parents and volunteers alike have been searching for donations and promoting the fundraiser to no end. If the Madonna’s Center is not able to raise the money it needs, many teen families will be left with out essential support once again.

In a few short months I have seen a mother so protective of her newborn that the teacher had to drag her to class everyday. I have seen four parents earn their high school degrees. I’ve seen another determined to go to college to study psychology, and many more to become nurses. I have seen a young married couple, now with three children, succeed and come back to help other teen parents. I’ve been mistaken for another teen parent, only to come to the realization that they were only trying to offer me the same support they have recieved.

The teen parents involved in these programs are doing everything they can to provide their children with the life they deserve. They are doing everything they can to keep their families together and healthy. They are working hard every day to make it to the next. And they are asking for help.

So donate, volunteer, spread the word, or simply learn more. Do what you can to help teen parents break the stigma.

The Fun Theory

•June 24, 2010 • Leave a Comment

DDB Stockholm took the challenge of creating Volkswagen‘s new ad campaign as an opportunity to experiment with fun, and involve the audience.

It’s called “The Fun Theory” – the idea that making something fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for the better. DDB innovators began to experiment in different ways of making simple tasks fun: they turned a staircase into a piano, a bottle bank into an arcade, and added sound effects to a garbage bin.

The immediate success of their experiments encouraged DDB to take “The Fun Theory” one step further.

In Fall 2009, fans were asked to come up with their own innovative and fun ways to encourage people to change their behavior for the better – whether it be for themselves, the environments, or what have you. Participants then submitted their entries on thefuntheory.com, where they awaited judgment. The competition closed on Dec. 15th and site visitors had a month to cast their votes.  The entries were then at the mercy of “the jury,” comprised of four influencial Swedes (only one of whom is associated with VW). The jury narrowed it down to a top 10, and finally, chose The Fun Theory award winner – The Speed Camera Lottery (you can view the other entries here):

DDB drew inspiration from this competition in creating the new VW “Fast Lane” campaign slogan: Driven By Fun. Combine this with viral video and social media (check out their Facebook page) and you have VW’s new campaign.

The first commercial released for this campaign entitled “The Slide,” in which VW livened up commuters’ daily routines by offering the option of a slide instead of the stairs or escalator, has earned nearly 800,000 views in 10 days:

Have DDB and VW managed a viral video/ad campaign success through the theory of fun? I’d say so.

My Sister’s Keeper

•June 24, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I read the book (in 3 days). I watched the movie (more times than I can count). And I’m torn.

For only the second time in my life (the first being The Notebook), I like the movie just as much as the book.

I have never been a fan of books turned into movies. There is just no way that the film writers can pack 400+ pages into a 90 minute movie. Key moments and characters are often left out, which can only lead to disappointment from the true fans. Harry Potter and Twilight (let it be known that I cannot stand the movies, though I love the books) are perfect examples of this.

But I think I’ve finally figured out how to like both the book and the movie: read the book AFTER you watch the movie. This may not be practical considering the book has to exist before it can be turned into a movie… But I stand by my statement.

My Sister’s Keeper, the novel, by Jodi Picoult was originally released in 2004 and has continued to earn recognition over the years, especially with the adaptation into film.

The story, if you don’t already know, is about a 13-year-old girl named Anna who was genetically designed and conceived to be a donor for her sister, Kate, who suffers from APL, a rare form of leukemia. Anna’s blood, bone marrow and countless other donations are the only things that have kept Kate alive past age 3. But when Kate goes into renal failure and needs a kidney, Anna finally stands up for herself and files a lawsuit requesting medical emancipation from her parents. This decision threatens to tear her family apart, but inevitably brings them closer together.

Picoult’s writing style and captivating plot line keep the reader involved and wanting more, page after page after page. She delves into the lives of everyone surrounding Kate and shows the reader many different forms of grief and acceptance and determination. She explores what it means to be a good person. And she shows the reader that the right thing is not always the moral, ethical, legal, or easy thing.

The movie version truly captures the emotional impact of the family’s legal and medical battles and will likely bring you to tears.  However, that does not mean that the movie version stuck close to the original story. Quite the contrary actually – a whole secondary plot line is missing, including a key character. And, without giving too much away, the ending is entirely different.

Despite it’s shortcomings, however, the movie is a winner. It will tear at your heart exactly as the novel does.

If I had to suggest only one, though, the book or the movie – the answer is easy: Read the book. It’s more than worth the extra time.

Let’s rejoice in the beautiful game

•June 10, 2010 • 1 Comment

Ah, the World Cup. I have been waiting for June 11, 2010 since Italy beat France in the 2006 final. I still hold that if Zidane hadn’t headbutted his way out of the game, France would have taken it all. But that’s besides the point…

Nike has taken World Cup advertising to a whole new realm of entertainment and chills with its “Write the Future” campaign.

This 3 minute film takes a number of world class soccer players (including Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Ronaldinho, and Landon Donovan – just to name a few), tennis star Roger Federer, basketball legend Kobe Bryant, and Homer Simpson (yes, from The Simpsons) and strings them all together in an incredible series of clips to make potentially the most epic soccer commercial I have ever experienced. If you haven’t watched it yet, do so now:

This and the tournament’s hit theme song, Wavin’ Flag (Celebration Mix) by K’naan, have brought the World Cup to the front of everyone’s mind and kept it there.

2 days. Vive la France! (And USA, too.)