Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bicycle Thief (Movie Review)

After World War II, there was a change in the way international filmmakers had interpreted story lines within movies. One of the most influential cinematic styles came from Italian films known as Neorealism. This cinematic art form had garnished a lot of attention from moviegoers from around the world because its story line dealt with realistic social issues that had affected those living in poverty, as they struggled to put their lives together after facing economic and social strife during the post war era. A film that made an exceptional example of Neorealism was the 1948 film, Ladri di Biciclette, which is based on a novel by the same name. When the film was released in America, the title of the movie was, The Bicycle Thief, which some have felt is an incorrect translation, but should have been titled, Bicycle Thieves. That is why some might see the film sold under the two different titles. Though people didn't agree on what the proper title should have been, they did however love the film. Just four years after its release, The Bicycle Thief was deemed one of the greatest films of all time, according to British film magazine, Sight & Sound's first ever international poll taken by filmmakers and critics. In 1949, The Bicycle Thief also won an Academy Honorary Award for Best Foreign Film.

The story is about a poor man named Antonio that is struggling to support his family after his country had been defeated in World War II. After the war ended, the country goes through poverty and unemployment. Antonio is offered a job that requires him to have a bicycle. Antonio and his family are excited about the possible income he'll make in the long run that will help his family very much. But on his first day of work his bike is stolen from him. Antonio and his young son, Bruno, search through the city of Rome to find the missing bike. The director of the film, Vittorio De Sica, shot the entire movie in Rome, Italy which at that time had been devastated by the effects of WWI. The streets were dirty and in shambles, so this setting had fit the story line more accurately. American producers offered millions of dollars to have actor, Cary Grant, play the lead role of Antonio. But the director rejected the offer and instead hired a real life factory worker (Lamberto Maggiorani) to play the role instead, and also hired other non-actors to play characters in the film as well. The principles of Neorealism are authenticity rather than pretense, earthiness rather than sparkle, the common man rather than the idol (Mast & Kawin, 2006).

Personally, I felt the director made the right choice because having a famous actor play the lead role would have been a distraction from the story line; because the film focuses not just on Antonio and his family facing difficulties but the entire city is facing the same poverty. As shown in the introduction of the film, many men, both young and old, are arguing with each other about who will get picked for the very few jobs that are available. Also, the film shows several scenes of people being crammed into buses so they could get to work; since having a bicycle was considered a luxury let alone having your own vehicle. 

I noticed that after Antonio lost his bike it seemed like every shot showed rows of unattended bicycles. I guess it shows the irony of everyone else possessing what you no longer have. That is why in a moment of despair Antonio does the unthinkable and tries to steal another man's bike. Seeing the situation from Antonio's point of view, and the injustice he went through, it is understandable why he acted in such a way. All he wanted was get his bicycle back so he could financially support his family. We saw this similar example happened to people that lived near the gulf coast region that was devastated by hurricane Katrina in 2005. With little help from FEMA, citizens were doing the unthinkable and looting stores and houses. People justified their actions because they wanted to feed their families. It goes to show that when in a moment of despair the human mentality is survival of the fittest. The only negative part of The Bicycle Thief that viewers may not like is the film's unhappy ending, where Antonio and his son have no choice but to accept the loss of the bike and move on. 

Even though the public's interest in Italian Neorealism was brief, from 1945 to 1953, this cinematic style has influenced film makers even in our days to captivate realism in their films without big budget. But instead focusing on story telling that's related to the lower working class that struggle to have the basic necessities in life that some of us might take for granted. 

Reviewer's Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5

Reviewer: Bridget Campos

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lady Gaga - Born This Way (Album Review)

Little monsters put their paws up for ‘Born This Way’

Lady Gaga's anticipated third album, Born This Way made its debut on May 23, 2011. At first critics greatly disapproved the album's art cover and labeled it as "a cheap Photoshop job." But after the album's release, a majority of critics felt Lady Gaga redeemed herself by making an album that's "near perfection." They praised the Mother Monster for her unique approach in creating an album that explores 80's rock music with a modern techno-pop sound, mashed with clever lyrics that contain strong religious references. From the critics' perspective you would think Born This Way is one of the most iconic albums ever to be made. Perhaps so, even Lady Gaga herself said Born This Way will be "the greatest album of this decade." But is that really the case?

On the first week of its release, Born This Way sold over 1.1 million copies and reached the No. 1 spot on Billboard 200. That same week, had a two day sale of the album for only 99 cents, which amounted to 440,000 copies being sold. Some have speculated that this internet sale contributed to 40% of the album's sales for that week, which in turn helped Lady Gaga receive her first number one album and put her in the top five ranking of female artists whose album sales have broke the million dollar mark within its first week. When an album is put on sale on the day of its release, this is really not a good sign. Think about it, if you created an album that you've labeled as your best work ever, would you undervalue it by selling it for only 99 cents? Such actions show that the record company has no faith in the album. This can happen because either, prior to the album's release, the feedback isn't very positive and so the record company is not sure if the public will buy the album or not. Having such a sale could aid in putting the album in the number one spot on the music chart, or at least very close to it. From a consumer's standpoint they are more likely to buy the album because they are getting a deal. And if it's a lousy album, hey they only spent a buck on it. Some listeners will wait until they see how well it does on the music charts. If they see the album is in the number one spot than it must be worth buying. Within the third week of its debut, Born This Way has since made a steady decline each week thereafter. 

But aside from record sales, listeners will mostly enjoy the singles on this album, which are "Born This Way", "Yoü and I", "The Edge of Glory", and "Judas." They don't have the same popularity of her past singles from two to three years ago, but they are entertaining to listen to. Another really good track on the album is "Bloody Mary." It has a mixture of Depeche Mode and gothic opera. If listeners are into European techno-pop then they will also enjoy the song "Scheiße" However, the rest of the tracks on this album are just ok.

After listening to Born This Way, all I can say is thank god for digital music. Now I know you have probably heard from artists or music connoisseurs to buy only vinyl records. But remember back in the days (say 12 to 15 years ago) when CDs were popular? A person would spend $20 to $25 on just one album and hope it was worth buying. Sometimes you got a classic that you would listen to from beginning to end, but then there were times when you were stuck with a flop album, where if you were lucky, you'd get one or maybe two tracks (usually singles to the album) that were good and the rest were throw away songs. That was the case until mp3 downloads were created. Online music stores such as iTunes gave consumers the power to buy whatever music they wanted to listen to. Music lovers are not pressured to buy albums but instead can purchase individuals songs of their choice. But in the end it kind of worked out because artists nowadays make better singles than albums. It is extremely rare to hear an album that's good from beginning to end.

So is Born This Way worth buying? Well, if you are expecting the album to be just like her last two albums you might be disappointed. But, if you have already heard all of Born This Way's singles and enjoyed them, then you will like listening to the entire album.

When it comes to comparing the success of Lady Gaga's first album, The Fame, to the record sales for Born this Way, there is a significant difference. Her album sales have dropped by half, not only in the U.S. but in several parts of the world. It is evident that Lady Gaga is at a crossroads of her career. So what could be her next move? Either she will change her music style again and come with yet another persona, or maybe go back to what put her career on the map, so to speak. Original fans of Lady Gaga are screaming for the days of "Poker Face", "Paparazzi", and "LoveGame"; and have grown weary of her latest self-deprecating stanzas. Yet, true little monsters of Lady Gaga will stand by her no matter what persona she takes on. She can be Lady Gaga one day or her male alter ego, Jo Calderone, the next day. It doesn't matter.

Reviewer's Rating: 3 out of 5

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Under Pressure: How to Endure Work Stress

It is not uncommon for people to complain about how stressed out they are. In a 2007 poll taken by the American Psychological Association (APA), nearly 1/3 of all Americans claim to suffer from stress.

Within the past few years, due to a failing economy, people across the country have had to deal with losing their jobs because of company layoffs. It's no wonder why some feel they have tremendous pressure on their shoulders. For some people a large amount of their stress comes from their jobs. There are employees that have to endure a heavy workload due to lazy co-workers, or having a boss that is unreasonably demanding, dealing with workplace violence, sexual harassment, and gender/racial bullying. Such factors can affect an employee's self esteem and in turn lead to low company morale.

But another source of stress can be feeling unappreciated at work. Some employees feel no matter what extra effort they make it goes unnoticed. They can feel as if it doesn't matter whether they give 110% because they won't get a pay increase, a promotion, or at least some kind of recognition. They say to themselves, "I've worked myself to the bone for this company for years-- stressing myself out for no reason because it hasn't gotten me anywhere." This attitude can eventually lead to a lack of motivation to be at their job. This in turn can lead to having a "clock in, clock out" mentality; meaning the employee coasts thru their tasks by doing the bare minimal of what is required of them to complete their job and nothing more. How can you prevent lack of motivation at work? 

Usually addressing the matter to the boss or manager of your department can help. Managers that are aware of the lack of motivation in their employees will do their best to remedy the problem. They do so by communicating with the employee or team to find ways in boosting their moral, rather than assuming the employee has lost motivation to be at work because of having problems at home. It is commendable to have a manager that has a hands on approach to keeping the lines of communications open between higher ups and subordinates. Yet not all employees have an approachable type of manager. There are some managers that have the old school method of installing fear in their employees and not really caring what input they have to share. If someone is afraid of you, more than likely they will not tell you if they have a problem. This can affect the lines of communication, where employees no longer trust managers and vice versa. This can make an employee feel trapped in an unhappy environment.

There might be some who will read this article, and depending on their culture or type of job, will feel this topic of dealing with stress and feeling unappreciated at work does sound absurd. "If you have a problem at work, you suck it up and deal with it. There is no such thing as being stress free and happy to be at work," such a person would reason. Yes it may be true that problems at work can not completely be avoided, but the burden of not addressing a problem can cause a person to repress their anger and they may end up taking it out on their family, or turning to vices to cope with the problem. This can eventually lead a person to one day snap. In a survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that over the past 5 years, from 2004 to 2008, an average of 564 work-related homicides occurred each year in the United States. Wouldn't you have to agree that unhappiness and stress at work did play a major part in these violent incidents? That is why it is important to correct the problem immediately before it is too late.

In situations where an employee has done all they can to address the problem(s) with higher ups and try to come to a solution but to no avail, than perhaps it is best to remove yourself from that unhealthy work environment. This is not to say quit your job tomorrow and hope for the best, but takes the steps necessary to look for something else. However, if you notice that no matter what company you work for the same problem keeps coming up then maybe it's not the company but you yourself that needs to have a change of attitude. Sometimes we may not realize we have a problem until someone brings up the issue to us.

In the meantime there are positive ways you can learn to cope with stress at work. Some have turned to meditation to reduce anxiety and panic attacks. Others exercise or have a support group consisting of friends and family members where they can blow off steam by talking out the problems they are having at work. We have a choice of how to respond to stress at work by either fixing the problem or continue to ignore it.

No matter what some may say job satisfactory is possible. Psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized that a person can achieve high success in life only if their motivational needs have been met. "Maslow's model places motivational needs in a hierarchy and suggests that before more sophisticated, higher-order needs can be met, certain primary needs must be satisfied" (Maslow,1987). One of these basic needs can be what our body depends on a daily basis; such as food, water, sleep, and so forth. This is the first step, then following that is our Safety needs (being in a safe and secure environment), then feeling Love and Belongingness (the need to give and receive affection). After fulfilling these steps, a person will strive for self-esteem and after doing so he will be able to accomplish the highest-level needed and that is Self- actualization. This is when a person comes to realize their high potentials for success. 

Written by: Bridget Campos

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Revival of Gothic Literature in the Media

Gothic literature has always been in the hearts of society since it was first created in the 18th century and has permeated all media, from movies, TV shows, songs and even music videos. This interest in Gothic literature continued when new Gothic writers emerged, such as Stephen King, Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer. Since the recent media sensation of the movie, Twilight, and the TV show, True Blood, viewer’s interest in Gothic culture is at an all time high. But the real question is, what made people’s interest in Gothic literature subside until recently?

Gothic literature was first created when Horace Walpole wrote the story, The Castle of Otranto. Walpole wanted to combine medieval romance with supernatural elements in a modern novel. During that time mixing fiction with history was unheard of, but Walpole’s actions showed that he was way ahead of his time and that he had actually set a standard of a different style of writing, which is now commonly used in Gothic literature. But, during that time, readers were reluctant to read fictional novels, so in order to gain the readers interest, Walpole claimed that The Castle of Otranto was based on true events. He wrote the first preface as a way to build up the credibility of his story. Walpole presented the introduction objectively, as a third party translator. When first published, the novel was disguised as a “true story” that took place, in Italy, during medieval times, “between 1095, the era of the first crusade, and 1243, the date of the last, or not long afterwards.” Nowadays, this concept would be considered as nothing new. Even in our time horror films are presented in a way that make the viewers think that the story is real. But after the success of The Castle of Otranto, many other Gothic writers emerged: Mary Shelly, Anne Radcliffe, Bram Stoker, and Lord Byron Percy.

Traditional Gothic Literature involved high emotions and a very dark, dreary setting. A typical setting would be either in a castle, mansion, or monastery that were often remote and in very decayed condition and usually contained ghosts, vampires, graveyards and supernatural elements. The villains are mostly evil with magical powers that can have a hypnotic effect on their victims; one example is of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. However, the style of Gothic literature started evolving into something more complex, with a physiological element to it. In some stories, the characters experience terror from something that was created within themselves, as shown in the story, William Wilson. The story, written by Edgar Allan Poe, was of a man that imagined a real person was trying to take his identity. He became so obsessed to the point of wanting to kill that person, who in the end is really the character himself.

This example showed that Poe didn’t use the traditional scary villain characters, like a ghost or vampire, but rather modified traditional Gothic Fiction, which had an effect on other writers; causing them to display more of the psychological tormenting of the main character; whether it would be through supernatural powers or within themselves. Most of Poe’s stories don’t have a villain, but the narrator seems to have enemies by drawing up conclusions, or, seems to posses a compulsive disorder that causes them to focus on a small imperfection to point of becoming mad; as we have seen in the story, The Tell-Tale Heart.

But why does Gothic literature still interest people despite the predictable plot and stereotypes within a gothic story? According to an article by Matt Butcher titled, From Gothicism to Romanticism: The history of Gothic literature, he says, “Gothic literature is a genre that made readers think. Above all, it is a genre that made readers start to behold the great emotions that writers could evoke. As readers consumed texts with the supernatural and the horrific, they also tended to love that sensation that the suspense brought out…As Gothic literature intended to awaken the readers imagination, terror was one of the main devices employed for this effect. While Romanticism worked on the movement of ideas and intellect, Gothic was a link to extreme ideas and the understanding of the emotions that they developed, like thrill, fear, and terror.”

During the 20th century, mostly all classic Gothic novels were turned into films. As decades went on these same classic films kept being remade for the new generation. Soon Traditional Gothicism’s popularity had declined, but it then branched out into another label called Horror/Thriller. This in turn caused a slight increase in this “new” style that was created during the 60s and 70s. Mostly a lot of “slasher films” were made, like Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead. But what also emerged from Gothic literature were dark comedies in TV shows and films; such as, The Munsters, The Addams Family, Bewitched, and the film, Beetle Juice. It wasn’t until the mid-80s and up to now that science fiction dominated most Gothic literature. Some people worried that the Romanticism part of Gothic literature would soon fade away. That seemed to be the case until the film, Twilight, came out. The movie is based on the 2005 novel by the same name. Another story that follows the traditional Southern Gothic elements of mixing religion and sexuality is the show True blood.

Goth had also blended in with music and thus created Gothic music, also known as the gothic scene. This in turn created Glam Rock, which became popular by singer David Bowie, The Cure, and many others. Also, musicals like The Rocky Horror Picture Show displayed a fun and animated side of Gothic culture, while staying true to its horror elements.

Though a variety of ages have an interest in Gothic/ Horror stories, most people have gone so far as to embrace the Gothic way of life in their music, dress, attitude, and environment. Gothic people can immediately be recognized by their way of dress which is usually all black attire, including black hair, white powdered makeup, and black painted fingernails. Why are people living a Gothic lifestyle? Some see it as a different way of expressing themselves artistically by choosing not to embrace society’s view of sunshine and happiness. But they instead express the opposite of that and embrace the dark and gloomy side of life that most people fear (or choose to ignore) the evitable fate of mankind which is death. It wasn’t until the late 90s that Gothicism was looked down upon by both parents and the media when two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, killed several students and a teacher at their Colorado high school in 1999. It was known as the Columbine High School massacre. It was revealed that the teens were into Gothicism. The public immediately attacked a well known Gothic artist, Marilyn Manson, claiming that his violent lyrics are what caused these teens to commit such a terrible crime. It is then that Gothicism branch out into another genre called Emo, which focuses more on the highly emotional side of Romanticism. It is very popular among teens and viewed by parents as less violent. Emo tends to focus more on the softer side of Goth, without the obvious all black attire or white makeup. 

Yes, Gothicism has done more than just peak people’s interest in monsters/vampires. This genre explores mankind’s thinking, and how searching for enlightenment could lead to a dangerous path into the unknown. According to an article titled, The Emergence of Modern Day Horror from the 19th Century Gothic, states, “On the basis of supernatural powers, gothic writers uncover some elements of human mentality… In view of such cruel and complex social reality, there is no wonder that English literature has gradually turned from rationality to the unconscious, to the exploration of psychological states of characters and coexistence of good and evil in people. As a result, gothic novels appear to be the principal source for a psychoanalytic investigation, because, according to [Sigmund] Freud's psychoanalysis, the evil and horror are usually inspired by people, by their powerful emotions and illusions, but not only by miraculous phenomena. In their psychoanalytic theories, psychologists [Jacques] Lacan and [Julia] Kristeva regard fear of uncertainty as the most powerful human emotion; thus it is clear why horror genre continues to attract attention of modern audience. Early gothic novels are characterized by the portrayal of dark sides of both the world and personality that usually result in characters' madness. Modern day horror creates a more profound analysis of the suppression of sexual desires and interprets gothic elements with irony or parody.”

The issue of Gothicism is relevant to modern times, in that, the close relation between fitting in with society or choosing to stand out as different. Though Gothic literature has over the centuries diversified into other genres, it still is popular and will remain that way because of its complex meaning that can easily be diversified, based on each person’s interpretation.

Written by: Bridget Campos