Archive

Archive for the ‘Assignments’ Category

Assignment 3- Part 2 (2 features)

The following two film reviews were written for the ‘movies’ section of Salon.

Salon is part of the Salon Media Group, and it is an online magazine that covers a range of issues in American politics. It also reviews and produces articles about music, books and film.

A Christmas Carol’ the way Dickens envisioned it

Jim Carrey as Ebeneezer Scrooge in Disney's ‘A Christmas Carol’

Jim Carrey as Ebeneezer Scrooge in Disney's ‘A Christmas Carol’

Scrooge learns the Christmas lesson of giving in a dark portrayal of Dickens’ classic novel.

By Jennifer Sansolis

November 8| It’s that time of year again, for yet another remake of Charles Dickens’, ‘A Christmas Carol’ (movie trailer).

This time though, it’s darker and more frightening than any other version that I’ve seen before. One thing’s for sure, I wouldn’t recommend it to younger children who easily succumb to nightmares.

Ebeneezer Scrooge begins the holiday growling at his clerk, Bob Cratchit (voiced by Gary Oldman), and his merry nephew Fred (voiced by Colin Firth), until he is visited by his late business partner Joseph Marley (voiced by Gary Oldman), who warns Scrooge to break out of his heartlessness or end up paying the price in the afterlife.

This latest materialization of Dickens’ novel is not unique at all and strips down the classic tale to its bare bones. This may be what director Robert Zemeckis meant when he said that he attempted to make the film exactly as Charles Dickens wrote it (interview clip).

To Zemeckis, the novel already read like a movie script and only needed to be captured by a great actor on the big screen.

Since the film was all Computer Generated Imagery (also known as CGI), it was difficult to establish a connection with the characters. The characters facial features and eyes were lifeless and soulless, even though their physical appearance was life-like.

For anyone who saw Zemeckis’, ‘The Polar Express’, there is some improvement on the non-responsive eyes and malleable facial features, but a lot is still missing.

Aside from the non-inventive take on the classic novel, the film is outstanding in terms of its visual effects and life-like qualities. There is so much detail, that every hair and wrinkle on Scrooge’s substantial nose is noticeable.

The set design and overall appearance of ‘A Christmas Carol’ is astonishing. The manufactured lighting, especially the image of a flickering candle in the dark appears genuinely convincing.

Jim Carrey’s acting brings out the character of Ebeneezer Scrooge and the three ghosts of Christmas brilliantly. Carrey was able to capture Scrooge’s cruel nature whilst also portraying the wonder of the ghost of Christmas Past, the joy in the ghost of Christmas Present, and the mysteriousness of the ghost of Christmases Yet to Come.

While Zemeckis has commented that no other actor could pull off what Jim Carrey did with the four characters (interview clip) with as much ease, it seems as though he could have very easily sought someone else. This is because Zemeckis did very little with Carrey’s natural performance and there was very little in terms of the comedy that is generally tied to Carrey.

The film’s visual is extraordinary, especially when watched in 3D. Yet, this was the only thing that made the experience unique, and it may take more than this to please some audiences.

If you’ve seen this movie, we’d like to know what you thought.


All About Steve‘: A Puzzle only Sandra Bullock can Solve

Sandra Bullock as a wacky stalker named Mary

Sandra Bullock as a wacky stalker named Mary

Brainy crossword puzzler and trivia fanatic takes a crack at the puzzle of love.

By Jennifer Sansolis

November 6, 2009| Produced by Sandra Bullock’s production company Fortis Films, and starring Bullock as the lead actress, ‘All About Steve’ (movie trailer) leaves audiences in an uncanny state of mind.

When the film opens, audiences are introduced to Mary Horowitz, a crossword puzzle creator (or as she likes to call herself, a ‘cruciverbalist‘). Living with her parents while her home is being fumigated, Mary’s only friend appears to be a pet rodent until she meets and falls in love with Steve (Bradley Cooper).

Essentially, ‘All About Steve’ is about what happens when an eccentric and babbling Mary goes on a blind date with a news cameraman and falls into an unrequited love.

When Mary and Steve first meet, the pair are smitten until just minutes into their first date, when an outburst of trivia from Mary overwhelms the passionate mood.

Steve is immediately alarmed at her personality and excuses himself, declaring that he was just assigned an assignment and really wishes Mary could be there, but he has to go.

Mary takes his excuse to heart, believing that Steve truly wants her to go to work with him and the stalking begins, as Mary follows one news disaster after another to be with Steve.

To make matters worse, Steve’s self-absorbed news correspondent, Hartman Hughes (Thomas Haden Church), encourages and facilitates Mary’s stalking by leaving her notes about where Steve is headed next.

Mary is an irritating character who incessantly yammers about trivia to the discomfort of other characters in the film and possibly to the dislike of audiences too.

And throughout the movie, a companionless Mary struts around in a pair of fire-engine-red go-go boots because they make her feel like she’s wearing “ten friends on a camping trip”.

But, the problems with the film are not solely the character of Mary’s fault, nor a result of Bullock’s over-performed-craziness. The script, by Kim Barker (writer of License to Wed) is sloppy and filled satiric clichés about the media versus plain folks.

Additionally, director Phil Traill has a bad start to his first feature film, subtracting the comedy from most scenes, and instead presenting viewers with a display of over-hyped wackiness. This is clear in some of Bullock’s supposedly witty one-liners such as “Hey Norm, thanks for not raping me” as her character hitches a ride with a truck driver.

And as for the ‘romantic’ in the genre of romantic comedy, there’s none there. The only glimpse audiences get of romantic is when Steve is parked outside of Mary’s house and the pair attempt to have sex in his car.

While some might find the film hard to digest because Bullock’s character can be silly rather than comedic at times, there are a few laughs to be had at the stupidity of what’s being said and done if you’ll accept the film as eccentric and in a world of its own.

Though 2009 was good to both Bullock and Cooper with their roles in ‘The Proposal’ and ‘The Hangover’ respectively, with both receiving reasonable reviews, ‘All About Steve’ takes away all the credibility that they have built up in previous films.

Bullock defends her portrayal of Mary as a character that falls out of conventional Hollywood portrayals of women and says that the film was an attempt to re-define the normal (interview clip). Trouble is, not everyone will understand the normal reality presented in ‘All About Steve’.

If you’ve seen this movie, we’d like to know what you thought.



Assignment 3 – Part 1 (2 features)

The following two film reviews were written for the ‘movies’ section of Salon.com.

Salon.com is part of the Salon Media Group, and it is an online magazine that covers a range of issues in American politics. It also reviews and produces articles about music, books and film.

“District 9”

Alien spaceship hovering over 'District 9' by Sony Pictures, cc.

Alien spaceship hovering over ‘District 9’ by Sony Pictures

Head to ‘District 9’ to evict the aliens as Blomkamp delivers a remarkable piece of sci-fi cinema.

By Jennifer Sansolis

October 10, 2009| Neill Blomkamp makes his debut in the sci-fi mockumentaryDistrict 9’ (full screen trailer upon clicked entry). Mentored by the award-winning director Peter Jackson from ‘The Lord of the Rings’, Blomkamp constructs an original, heart-pounding sci-fi film that merges with reality. While it’s easy to see that he’s not all that experienced at directing, Blomkamp makes a name for himself with the action and suspense that he builds on throughout the movie.

While most preceding sci-fi movies depict humans in fear of aliens and tease out ideas of what aliens would do to humans, Blomkamp instead invites us to consider what humans would do to aliens. Moreover, in ‘District 9’, humans rescue starving aliens from a spaceship that is hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa, and toss them into an area called ‘District 9’.

In choosing the city of his youth, Blomkamp is able to establish a sense of place, from the accents to the towns to the dusty environment. Additionally, the South African setting hones into a metaphor of the country’s history of apartheid and social problems.

With Nigerian gangs soon operating in the area, ‘District 9’ is quickly transformed into a slum. With nothing to sell but their weapons in exchange for food, the aliens are forced to live in substandard circumstances and feed on cat food, and are derogatorily labelled “prawns” because of their appearance with hard shell areas and thin joints.

Yet, although humans effortlessly buy the alien weaponry, they are unable to use them because their activation requires alien DNA.

Therefore, after 20 years in ‘District 9’, people are getting irritated by the alien presence and want them to leave. As a consequence, the government agency and weapons manufacturer, Multi-National United (or MNU), declare that it’s time to relocate the aliens further away from the city. For this task, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is put in charge, a man who is married to the daughter of MNU’s boss.

While delivering eviction notices to the prawns, Wikus comes into contact with an illegal lab run by an alien named Christopher Johnson and accidentally sprays liquid on himself. Within hours, his DNA begins to change and he becomes the first human-alien hybrid, which makes him a value to anyone who wants to operate alien weapons.

At first, the film seems to focus too heavily on the simulated documentary-style footage, news reports, political commentary and security camera footage. Yet all of the pseudo-footage creates a sense of realism and makes you feel like you’re in the movie alongside Wikus.

The aliens, created completely using Computer Generated Imagery (also known as CGI), are given real substance and appear to have as much character as the human characters in the film. Yet, aside from the little we learn about the alien character Christopher Johnson and his son, it’s a shame that we don’t learn more about the aliens and how smart they are.

Still in training, Blomkamp is not able to capture the other characters aside from Wikus. However, the film wouldn’t have worked without Wikus, who is the only human character who develops in the narrative. This may be why Blomkamp prioritizes Wikus’ storyline over the alien one.

Nonetheless, without a $200 million budget, Blomkamp is able to capture our minds and get our hearts thumping with a budget of about $30 million, indicating his promising skill in filmmaking.

If you’ve seen this movie, we’d like to know what you thought.



“Up”

Mr. Frederickson, Russell and the talking dog Dug hang on for their lives, by Disney and Pixar, cc.

Mr. Frederickson, Russell and the talking dog Dug hang on for their lives, by Disney and Pixar

Let your imagination whisk you ‘Up’ into the sky as a suburban house takes flight with thousands of multi-coloured balloons.

By Jennifer Sansolis

October 12, 2009 | In Disney and Pixar’s “Up” (movie trailer), a sense of realism is brought to the screen with incredible animation and traditional storytelling, adding to Disney and Pixar’s list of successful children’s films including WALL-E, Ratatouille, Cars and The Incredibles.

“Up” begins as the wishful adventure of two neighbourhood children, Carl and Ellie , who want to explore the mystical place of Andes in South America and who are fascinated by a gallant explorer named ‘Charles F. Muntz’ (voiced by Christopher Plummer). As Carl and Ellie grow up, they fall in love and get married with plans of fulfilling their childhood dreams, but everyday life gets in their way and their plan never eventuates.

“Up” evolves into 78-year-old Carl Frederickson’s (voiced by Ed Asner) attempt to live out his late wife’s yearning to go on an adventure. The cranky widower and balloon-seller, Mr. Frederickson, decides that it’s not too late to make his wife’s dreams transpire.

The night before he is supposed to be taken into a retirement home, he fills up thousands of balloons with helium and attaches them to his home as he takes flight for South America.

Little does he know that he has company aboard his flying-home, until he hears a knock on his door in mid-air. It’s the chubby, annoying boy-scout, Russell, who he shooed away a few days earlier. 8-year-old Russell, voiced by Jordon Nagai (interview clip) accidentally tags along, in need of obtaining his final Wilderness Explorer boy-scout badge for, ‘assisting the elderly’.

When the pair arrive in South America, they realise that they need to cross to the other side of the cliff and rest the house where Ellie wanted it. While walking day and night with the house attached to their backs, the two come across talking dogs and an enormous brightly coloured bird named Kevin.

Their journey is not without danger as they bump into someone who wants to capture Kevin. The pair work together to save him and learn about themselves and each other along the way.

“Up” appears to be a children’s film with bright, boisterous colours, but the narrative itself can be appreciated by children and adults alike. The story is both sentimental and funny; it has a genuine family appeal.

The animation, which can be viewed in both 3D and conventional cinema is exceptional. The three dimensional version used in the film is used to convey height and depth to the forest in Andes, South America.

The writers and directors Peter Docter (WALL-E and Monsters, Inc. co-writer) and Bob Peterson (co-writer of Finding Nemo and Ratatouille) deliver a warm-hearted and amusing tale. It’s no wonder that it was chosen as the first animated feature ever to open The Cannes Film Festival.

If you’ve seen this movie, we’d like to know what you thought.


Web Analysis – The Online Press

Introduction

With the advent of the Internet, newspapers have had to reassess their roles and adapt to the changing media environment. The aim of this article will be to determine the current state of the online press by analysing the coverage of one story across three newspaper websites; The Age, the Guardian and the International Herald Tribune (The International Edition of the New York Times). It will analyse how well each website uses web writing and publishing techniques, and decide which is the most successful in reaching their target audience. More specifically, three broad categories have been selected to evaluate each website: textual content, interactivity, and design. This study will be will be divided into three main parts, one section per newspaper website and all sections will analyse the coverage of the recent indictment of three internet hackers who stole 130 million credit and debit card numbers. This evaluation was carried out between the 18th and the 20th of August, 2009.

The Age

Textual Content

The headline, “Get Rich or Die Tryin’: ‘soup nazi’ hacker’s motto”, is attention grabbing. Yet, with only one keyword, ‘hacker’, the headline is almost meaningless. Without reading the entire text of the story, where it is explained that ‘soupnazi’ was one of many online nicknames that the mastermind hacker, Albert Gonzalez, used; and “get rich or die trying” is the label Gonzalez gave to his hacking operation, the majority of readers are likely to be unable to identify what the article is about.

The impact that keywords have on newspaper websites like The Age is immense. Nicola Cowen explains that newspaper websites are already fairly low down on the list of online places that people go to look for news (paid content), instead preferring specialist websites like ESPN for sports news and so on.

Additionally the article’s text is not straightforward or coherent. For instance, the first paragraph describes how a former Secret Service informant complained to his associates of having to manually count $20 bills. It is not until the forth paragraph where the author states the news that Gonzalez and two Russian men have been indicted this week for stealing credit cards. This may cause The Age to lose readership since a study by John Morkes and Jakob Nielsen found that users like organized sites that make information easy to find.

Interactivity

Hyperlinks

There are two hyperlinks within the article and neither have link text which explains where the link will lead. For instance, one hyperlink text is simply the word “reported” and it leads to an article about Gonzalez from the New York Daily News. While the link provides readers with a greater context of the story, it would have been beneficial for the link text to describe what to expect from the link so that readers are guided rather than startled. In their book ‘Creative Editing’, Dorothy A. Bowles and Dianne L. Borden similarly argue that “readers don’t want a surprise after waiting for a page to download”.

Multimedia
There is one photograph of the mastermind hacker, Gonzalez, embedded into the text. And there is one short video of a former hacker, Kevin Mitnick, explaining how modern-day hackers work and how Gonzalez was able to steal credit card numbers. The video capitalizes on the Internet’s ability to broadcast like television.

Discussion
The invitation to type comments about the story on Twitter without restrictions should be commended since some online US newspapers have taken a strict, rule-laden approach to social networking sites like Twitter (paid content), as reported by Joe Strupp in Editor and Publisher. However, after following the link to Twitter, it appears that no one has actually made a comment. Thus, though The Age has attempted to become interactive, people have failed to make use of it.

Design

The page is cluttered with external advertisements on the top, bottom and right side of the page and the excessive cross-promotion of other Fairfax Digital websites and articles. This could be detrimental to the sites success because users like clear and scanable pages. Figure 1 shows the crowded rows and columns of cross-promotion that The Age includes at the bottom of the article’s page.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Furthermore, in terms of navigation, I was able to find the link to the story quite easily on the homepage of The Age’s website under the heading ‘Technology’, with a thumbnail photo of Gonzalez.

International Herald Tribune

Textual Content

The headline “3 Indicted in Theft of 130 Million Card Numbers” (free subscriber only content) is straightforward and includes key words like “theft”, “130 million” and “indicted”, immediately encapsulating what the story is about. However, the headline could have also included the keywords “credit card” and “debit card” since those words are repeated multiple times in the body of the article.

The text is written in an inverted pyramid, listing the newest and most important information first and descending into other details as the article progresses. This is effective because the inverted pyramid writing style has been validated as the preferred norm among internet users.

Interactivity

Hyperlinks
There seven hyperlinks within the article’s text, all of which serve to provide context to the article. Six of those seven links are internal and the only external link connects to an article by Wired.com, which provides more detail about Gonzalez and the lifestyle he led. Since most of the links are internal, it appears that the website is avoiding external links.

That said, beneath the article, there are links to ‘related articles’ from both the New York Times and external websites, each under the corresponding headings. This works to give readers the option of viewing a range of opinions about the story. It is also important to note that the website does not cross-promote other websites owned by the New York Times Company under the list of external websites that it provides.

Like The Age and Guardian articles, the International Herald Tribune‘s link texts provide no explanation as to where links will lead. One example of this is the link text “the indictment”, which directs readers to a PDF file of an official court document stating the charges against Gonzalez. There is no indication that the file is in PDF (Portable Document Format).

This link is also interesting because it is an example of the International Herald Tribune‘s attempt to keep people within their site. This is because the court document has been converted into a New York Times file rather than remaining as an external link to the United States District Court file of Gonzalez’s indictment (PDF).

Multimedia

There is one photograph of the Hannaford Brothers supermarket, one of the companies which were infiltrated by the three hackers. This visual is helpful because readers like to see graphical elements accompanying news text.

Design

The page is broken up into two main columns: the left column contains the article, and the right is filled with advertisements and links to the 10 most popular technology articles. Additionally, there is a break embedded within the article’s text with a list of links to related articles. There is also more cross-promotion of other sections of the New York Times with links to those sections, as shown in Figure 2. This is similar to that which appeared in The Age, but to a lesser degree.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Guardian

Textual Content

Unlike The Age, the headline “US hacker charged with stealing 130m credit card IDs” explains exactly what the story is about, and includes the key words ‘hacker’, ‘US’, ‘credit card’ and ‘130m’, which are later repeated in the body of the article.

The kicker provides further detail about who was involved, a “former secret service worker” and “retail companies”. And like the International Herald Tribune, the article uses an inverted pyramid writing style.

The Guardian’s article is easy-to-read and internet jargon is explained. For instance, malware is explained as software that “systematically steals data” and sniffer programmes are described as “programmes that look for financial information”.

Interactivity

Hyperlinks
There is only one link within the article’s text. Again the link text “hacking” is not helpful in telling readers where the link will go, and leads to the “hacking” section of the Guardian’s website. The link functions to cross-promote other Guardian articles about hacking.

Multimedia
There are no photographs, or videos accompanying the text.

However, the Guardian article takes advantage of the Internet as a medium and does not restrict itself to the perception of the traditional form of the print newspaper, by giving readers the ability to adjust the font to larger and smaller sizes.

Design

In comparison to The Age and the International Herald Tribune, the Guardian is the most clutter free, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Additionally, while there is cross-promotion of other Guardian articles and external advertising, the simple design makes the Guardian page easy to navigate. Respectively, a study by Carlos Flavia’n and Raquel Gurrea (paid content) found that people are more likely to visit newspaper websites if they are easy to use.

Conclusion

This analysis has found that like many online newspapers, the three newspaper websites analysed have not taken full advantage of the Internet’s interactive capabilities, or linked extensively to external locations, or written adequate link text. A content analysis of 100 US newspapers by Tanjev Schultz similarly found that media organizations have not yet exploited the Internet’s interactivity effectively and have neglected to provide adequate interactive forums like chat rooms and videoconferencing. Likewise, Steve Paulussen’s study found that interactivity, external hyperlinks and the integration of text, audio and video is yet to be improved in Flemish newspaper websites.

The target audience for all three websites is likely to include readers of the print editions of the websites and people in search of online news. Thus, the goals of the three online newspapers would probably be to make a profit, to publish news in an online format, and to be as user-friendly as possible. This would mean that they would have the goals of creating articles which are concise, skimmable, hyperlinked and interactive.

Hence, overall I think that the International Herald Tribune is most successful in reaching its target audience. The combination of its easy-to-read, inverted pyramid style textual content, fairly organized design, and moderate use of interactive and multimedia content make it more successful than the cluttered design and incoherent text in The Age, and the many hyperlinks weaved into the text and greater use of multimedia make it more successful than the Guardian . A comparison of the three websites on Compete.com illustrates that the New York Times also has the most online traffic compared to The Age and Guardian (Figure 4).

Figure 4