Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Activity for teaching film

Our assignment this week was to create a short activity for teaching film. There's a class wiki where students in previous semesters have posted their ideas; it also has a bunch of useful external links, such as a New York Magazine article on becoming screen literate. So, here's my contribution:

Activity for Teaching Film: What makes a good movie?

Instructions for student groups: Pick a year and find out the five films that earned the most at the box office that year, as well as the films that were nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. For example, in 2008 the top five earning films were The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Hancock, and WALL-E. The five Best Picture nominees were The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, and Slumdog Millionaire.

Discuss the similarities and differences among these films. Features to discuss include budget, use of special effects, cast, director, genre, length, marketing (both for the original release and for the Oscar competition), and any other factors you can think of. If you choose a year that is not very recent, discuss which of the films you have seen or heard of – does either award nomination or box office success seem to predict longevity? What criteria do you think the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are using to select nominees? What criteria do you think determine the financial success of a film? Why do you think various criteria do and don’t overlap in the two categories? What are your personal criteria for a “good” movie?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Survivor: Samoa, week 2

Well, I skipped watching the premier of Flash Forward so I could see the second episode of Survivor. I'm hoping I can catch up with FF online...

Survivor continues to be disappointing. The person kicked off tonight was one of the people I liked best: a police officer who totally saw through to the sleaziness of the loathsome villain guy. But people kept referring to her as the "weak link," implying that because she was "old" (maybe mid 40s?) she somehow wasn't an asset to the team. I would FAR rather have her on my team in one of these challenges than the tiny soft-looking twenty-somethings (although I suppose I risk dismissing them as rudely as Mr. Villain by referring to them that way...)

My hope that there would be Samoan cultural references related to the rugby-game challenge was not fulfilled, unfortunately. There were rugby-shaped balls and some scrum-like activity, but the word "rugby" was never uttered, much less any references to Samoan culture. Oh, well. I don't think the show is going to hold my attention much longer -- it's too dissatisfying on too many levels.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

VideoANT: analysis of a Volkswagon commercial

Our class assignment for this week was to take a video clip - part of a film, a commercial, whatever - and annotate it using this cool U of M program called VideoANT. Here's what I did:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Survivor: Samoa

I've decided that since this is a media blog, I'm going to blog about media stuff whenever I feel like it, in addition to writing for class assignments.

Having been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Samoa, I was morally obligated to watch tonight's season premier of Survivor: Samoa. Things started off ok, with the contestants paddling to shore in traditional outrigger canoes. Also, a fair amount of the set decorations have at least vaguely Samoan-looking patterns on them. However, of the few Samoan words that were used, most were mispronounced. Saying the name of the country with an American accent is one thing, quite understandable; but one of the two main team names (i.e. a word that will be repeated many, many times throughout the series) is egregiously mispronounced by everybody. The word is "galu." The host - and consequently everyone else - pronounces this "ga LOO" with a hard /g/ as in "gap." Now, in the Samoan language, the letter "g" is pronounced "ng," as in the last sound of the word "sing." (If only I knew how to get an IPA font on Blogspot!) In addition, almost universally, the second-to-last syllable in a word gets the emphasis. So the word in question should be pronounced "NGA loo." It seems to me that it wouldn't have been terribly difficult to ask someone about this before filming... on the other hand, the show makes it look like the country is completely unpopulated aside from the contestants, so maybe asking a local for help with pronunciation would've ruined the illusion.

(Galu means "wave," by the way; the other team name is Foa Foa, which means "conch shell." They didn't say this in the show - I had to look them up in my Samoan-English dictionary, which I imagine is not a resource that most CBS viewers have readily at hand.)

There were some very pretty establishing shots of the rainforest, coastal blowholes, and lagoons. Again, no indication of any local inhabitants. This is the first time I've ever watched Survivor, so maybe it's their standard operating procedure to use their locations merely as a physical backdrop rather than showing any interest in language, culture, history, etc. On the other hand, this was only the first episode - in the preview for next week it looks like they've got some variation of rugby going on for one of the challenges, which is definitely culturally relevant.

But will I watch next week? The reasons I've never watched before still hold true: I do not find the individualist-competitive-cutthroat premise to be entertaining. In fiction, sure, but when "real" people are involved I would much rather watch something that rewards teamwork and resourcefulness (not to be confused with deviousness).

On the other hand, I am tempted to see if they manage to incorporate anything of Samoa into the show, beyond superficial design motifs and insultingly mispronounced team names (I mean, come on, if they really cared wouldn't they at least TRY to get it right, or take two seconds to explain why the names were chosen?). Also, there is an utterly loathsome "villain" participant whom I would very much like to see kicked off the show. He established clearly that he is there to manipulate and betray people. He actually called himself the "puppet master" to the camera, and refers to most of his female teammates as "dumb girls." His expressed purpose in participating is to demonstrate how easy it is to win the show with his strategies. I find myself thinking that if he wins this competition, it will prove once and for all that the universe is unjust... which provides pretty strong motivation to keep watching. No wonder this show is still on the air.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

my first vlog

Rather than trying to come up with an interesting way to talk about myself, I decided to do a little movie review... and it turned into 5 1/2 minutes, for which I apologize. I hope it's not tedious!

Also, apparently I've got something wrong with my coding, because the video covers up the last paragraph of this entry :( Don't worry, there's nothing that scintillating that you're missing, but I still need to get the glitch figured out.

And by the way, I'd also like to complain that my Logitech webcam seems only capable of recording in windows movie format! This wouldn't have been that big a deal except that the nifty freeware video editor I found can't open those files. Oh well, some kinks to be worked out of the system. I shouldn't whine too much because we do have Vegas editing software in the lab so it wasn't even that inconvenient for me to do the editing. It's just that I had all these lovely plans about being able to play around with editing at home... it still might happen, we shall see.

Friday, September 11, 2009

vlog review

Before I jump into my vlog review, I want to say that I was really impressed with the video diaries from the Christel & Sullivan CD. They were interesting (visually, compositionally, storytelling-ly) and thoughtful and overall very well done. However, I thought they were better examples of short films than vlogs. They were the culmination of a semester's worth of planning, whereas typical vlogs (it seems to me) have to be constructed on a much shorter timescale.

Anyway, the vlog I want to review is the Karen Alloy piece about 2012 that was embedded in the MinnPost article about Minnesota vlogging. I'm not sure about the demographics of her intended audience; she has over 16,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel, so presumably she is mostly addressing them, as well as general viewership that's given her feedback over time; and other people that she would like to recruit as subscribers. I was impressed with the amount of information she managed to cram into her five-minute vlog, though my academic side was dismayed that she didn't cite any sources. (Come to think of it, that would be a problem in the field of journalism too, not just in academia. Interesting question - this makes no claim to be a news or academic vlog, but does the author have any responsibility to cite sources, etc. anyway?)

As for technique, Alloy demonstrated impressive energy and charisma in the vlog, using lots of jump cuts (I think... this is where knowing more filmmaking vocabulary would help) to liven up her five minutes of "talking head" footage. However, I found myself frequently wondering when she was going to stop for breath! I felt her pacing was frenetic rather than appealing. I imagine that this, along with her casual speaking style, is designed to appeal to a young audience (it's hard to judge how old Alloy is, but I'm guessing that she is targeting her age-peers).

Overall this was a polished, well-prepared presentation. Alloy never appeared to be reading, despite the large amount of text she had to get through; my complaints about pacing aside, she did appear engaged and comfortable throughout. Probably a good role model in many ways for wannabe vloggers.

video library

Seeing all the great DVDs in class on Thursday made me think it would be fun to offer my own collection up to the class for loan. There are a few things from the UK that are DVD region 2, which means they can't be played on normal US DVD players; I'm not sure if they'll play on a computer or not, but you're welcome to try! Here's the list; let me know if there's anything you'd like to borrow.

About A Boy
Alien Nation (complete series)
Angel (seasons 1-5)
Around the World in 80 Days (miniseries)
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
A Bit of Fry and Laurie (seasons 1 & 2)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (seasons 1-7)
The Anton Chekhov Collection (BBC productions of Platonov, The Wood Demon, The Proposal, The Wedding, The Seagull, An Artist’s Story, Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard.)
The Colour of Magic (miniseries, region 2)
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog
Dollhouse (season 1)
Firefly (complete series)
The Fugitive
Ghost World
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
High Fidelity
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (series)
Hogfather (miniseries, region 2)
Hot Fuzz
House (seasons 1-5)
The Incredibles
Keeping the Faith
Life on Mars (complete UK series, region 2)
Love Actually
Monk (pilot episode)
The Mummy
Neverwhere (miniseries)
Northern Exposure (seasons 1 & 2)
Pirates of the Caribbean
Pitch Black
The Princess Bride
The Quick and the Dead
Rain Man
Remington Steele (season 1)
Shaun of the Dead
The Shawshank Redemption
Sliding Doors
Sports Night (complete series)
The Terminal
This American Life (season 2)
Titan A.E.
When Harry Met Sally

New Blog

Welcome to my new blog! I'll be posting regularly this fall in the context of CI5472: Teaching Film, Television, and Media Studies. Topics will vary, but it's a safe bet there'll be a lot about media and media literacy. Enjoy!