A Blackberry World

Elliot Wiser, (the guy who created Bay News 9 in the Tampa Bay area) was one of my professors during fall 2009. He had this hunch that mobile phones are going to take over lives; that millennials will rely on mini-computer-like cell phones to function in this world – as if technology doesn’t already drive people away from engaging socially with one another on a normal level. I thought he was looking too far into the future. At this moment in time everything is online and now in its fast-paced nature, everything you can think of is converted to a phone application.

I recently acquired a hand-me-down PDA from my father: the Blackberry World Edition. What a professional, look at me I’m about to take a conference call or Google Zagat rated restaurants, pain in the neck. I’m not complaining but the phone is so wide and bulky that I feel obligated to hold it in my hand wherever I go so the track ball and buttons do not get ruined by the inner-depths of my messy purse. But my concealed aversion towards this mega-phone changed once I discovered a little treasure called ‘phone apps.’ I decided to call my Blackberry friend.

Here I am on the computer happily downloading free phones apps from the Blackberry Web site. So far I have AOL Instant Messenger, Associated Press Mobile News, the Bible and Slifter, a price comparing application, all at my fingertips. Do I care my lap top recently perished? Not like I should because I can research, check e-mail, news, weather, friend‘s status on Facebook and all the other very important things.

Let’s just hope the phone does not kiss the concrete any time soon. There goes the entire face and our friendship.

I haven’t stepped up to the iPhone plate yet and sure enough when that day comes, I will probably spend countless night-time hours browsing through the hundreds of apps in the iTunes store. But for now, the Blackberry apps are warming me up to the ultimate brand for apps: Apple.

If you have a Blackberry, visit blackberry.com and click on software. There you will find apps for news and weather, sports, travel and mapping, games and entertainment, music and media, lifestyle and finance and banking. Be careful, you will get addicted.

Graduate Record Exam Nightmare

In addition to the article about the Graduate Record Exam I wrote in The Crow’s Nest, I have to mention something that I didn’t get a chance to say: if you don’t know USF Tampa and you signed up to take the exam there, make sure you find out where the testing building is before the test day.

I say this because I was lost for a half hour and thought I’d never make it to the test. The instructions on the GRE e-mail confirmation say to stop by the campus-visiting center immediately upon driving through the entrance and ask the personnel where the testing center building is. My test was at 8 a.m., I arrived on campus at 7 a.m. and the visiting center was not open. Can you smell disaster?

I drove around to find the building while I thanked the heavens for my Blackberry’s ability to give me some kind of direction. The minutes passed quickly and I realized I was circling a campus about 10 times the size of USF St. Petersburg. With 20 minutes left to spare before my test appointment, I sped back to the visiting center and it was finally open! The lady gave me a map and I made it to my test at the last possible minute.

So, it is my obligation to relay to subsequent GRE takers where this elusive building is.

The road leading into the campus is called Leeroy Collins. Off this road, make a right on USF Alumni Drive. Make a left on USF Maple Drive. Follow all the way down to USF Holly Drive and make a left. You will then see USF Myrtle Drive. Make a left and this leads you into the Crescent Hill Parking Facility where all USF students with a parking decal can park. Walk south to the Student Services Building. There are always people walking around so if you get lost, rest assured there is help. The testing services room is upstairs.

Another piece of advice: make sure you do not eat or drink in the testing services waiting room or the testing room. Even though your GRE practice test book says you should bring a snack, snacks are not welcome by the office personnel. You’ll get snapped at.

And another thing – make sure your signature looks exactly the same as the copy on your driver’s license. I had mine whiteout and was told to try again.

USF Freshmen Quarterbacks Duel At Spring Game

USF’s annual spring football game was all about first impressions this year, as the split squads of green and white faced off for the first action on the gridiron of 2009. On one hand, the trio of new coaches – offensive coordinator Mike Canales, defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, and co-defensive coordinator David Blackwell – had a lot to prove, as well as the Bulls’ incoming class of talented recruits.

On Saturday, neither group disappointed the fans at Raymond James Stadium.

“That was as exciting a spring game as maybe you will ever see,” USF head coach Jim Leavitt said after the game.

Although true, Leavitt’s words were an understatement in describing the actual events that unfolded during the four quarters on the field. Led by red-shirt freshman quarterbacks B.J. Daniels and Evan Landi, the green and white teams battled each other literally until the end. On the final play, with no time remaining on the clock and after Landi connected with Colby Erskin to bring the white squad within one, Landi’s two-point conversion pass attempt sailed just inches over the head of receiver Theo Wilson, allowing the green team to barely escape with a 21-20 win.

As both young arms put on a show, the game did not appear to be about green versus white as much as it was a duel for the backup quarterback role to returning senior Matt Grothe. Come August, Leavitt might have a tough decision to make, as both Daniels and Landi played phenomenally. The pair of quarterbacks scored more points in the first half than the past two spring games combined. Individually, Daniels completed 11 of 19 passes, good for 181 yards and two touchdowns, despite throwing one interception. Landi went 20 for 30 with 189 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.

Daniels put the green team on top in the first quarter, ironically not with his arm, but with his legs instead. He scampered in the end zone for a one-yard run, a score set up by his very own 55-yard completion to receiver Dontavia Bogan on the previous play. Before the green team could end the first quarter with a seven-point lead, Evan Landi tied the score with what was a mirror image of Daniels’ pass earlier in the period: a 55-yard bomb right into the hands of fellow red-shirt freshman Daniel Bryant.

The first quarter proved to be an indication of how the remainder of the game would play out: back and forth scoring that rendered the game a clinic on how to score points.

“This was my third spring game and this definitely was the best one yet,” said USF student Jeremy McLeod. “It was high scoring, exciting, back and forth touchdowns, pretty much what everyone wants to see when they come to a football game.”

After Daniels put the green squad up in the second quarter with a 20-yard touchdown pass, his next throw on the next possession landed into the hands of the white team’s cornerback back Carlton Mitchell, who took it to the house 95 yards to tie the game at 14. Even with an aerial assault of offense from the two freshman quarterbacks, the defense of both the green and white teams stepped up when it mattered most. Senior linebacker Chris Robinson picked off Landi’s pass, which led to the go-ahead winning touchdown capped off by a 46-yard pass from Daniels to Bogan. Robinson’s pick was the last of four total turnovers forced by the defense on the night.

The Reviewer: Martin Kippenberger at MoMA

A week spent in New York began with a free trip to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Aware of the continuing economic recession, MoMA has finally taken a cue from the European art museums and is providing free entry, even if it is corporately sponsored (Target Free Fridays!) and only one afternoon a week. The visitors inside couldn’t seem farther removed from the recession, they laughed and talked together, while taking it all in. What was the featured exhibit captivating my attention? Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective.

It is my opinion that Kippenberger’s work asks not the question, ‘What is Art?’ but rather, ‘What is an artist?’ Dead at 44 from a liver disease undoubtedly linked to his alcoholism, Kippenberger represents what I think to be the ‘Insane Artist’ prototype. Both his critics and his fans agree he was manic, unpredictable and wildly productive.

Living up the crazy stereotype, he defied all others. Was he a painter? A photographer? A graphic designer? A performance artist? A carpenter?

Walking into MoMA, I was greeted by a huge open space chock full of Kippenberger-created furniture. Tables, chairs, swings, shelves, dressers, even wooden people filled the space. A small circular train track didn’t carry your typical cars. Instead, replicas of the capital punishment electric chair lined the track.

His furniture alone could have carried the exhibit. But his furniture was only the beginning. As I made my way up to the sixth floor, I found a wall of posters. Nearly every poster featured a photograph of himself, his name consistently larger than all other words on the piece. Most of the posters announced his gallery openings, and he designed each one himself, making them an easy outlet for his glaring narcissism.

Then, as if on cue, he fooled me again. I entered a room that was literally breathtaking – I cannot remember the last time I saw something new that was so captivating. I stood in front of a wall of his paintings for 15 minutes. A grid of the square paintings seduced viewers, with depictions of everything from a city street to a portrait of a young girl. The relatively small paintings (probably two feet by two feet) were done in only black and white gauche, with intensely brilliant attention to light.

Simply turning around within the same room illuminated his mastery of light. Behind me, hung Kippenberger’s photography. Certainly practice with a camera brings a new understanding of light, one Kippenberger capitalized on to create dramatic representations of light.

The little I knew about Kippenberger was mostly associated with his mania and productivity, but I had no idea the range of his work. I remember hoping at this point, that as I continued through the exhibit I would be struck by a real rarity -consistent excellence throughout it.

I was disappointed. It seemed the curators of MoMA packed a lot of punch with Kippenberger’s first few rooms, only to strikingly taper off towards the end. The paintings went from great to mediocre, his real skill hidden behind what looked to be a purging of insanity. I imagined my own journal of neuroses and frustration with EDS poured onto a canvas, and found it in his more abstract work.

Still, I loved the exhibit. Kippenberger took risks, tried new things, never resting on his laurels. He kept creating, drawing, drinking and indulging until his death. Kippenberger broke all conventional rules of mastery of medium, opting instead for a life of a renaissance addict. Some of his work represented the adage of quantity of quality, but his philosophy of “living life to the fullest” was clear – Kippenberger chose quality of life over quantity any day.

The Reviewer: Sunshine Cleaning

A dark comedy with the word sunshine in the title is usually a good sign. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” left me in a dark and sunny place, and “Little Miss Sunshine” was so brightly uncomfortable it received a whole handful of Oscar nods – including a nomination for Best Picture and two wins: Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Alan Arkin’s performance as foul-mouthed Edwin. Knowing a good thing when they produce one, “Little Miss Sunshine” producers Peter Saraf and Marc Turtletaub again joined forces to bring “Sunshine” to the big-screen: “Sunshine Cleaning.”

The similarities don’t end with the titles and producers. Both “Sunshine” films are set in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and both are brightened by an Alan Arkin supporting role. This time around, Arkin plays Joe Lorkowski, father of daughters Rose and Norah, played by Hollywood’s surprise favorites Amy Adams and Emily Blunt. Receiving critical acclaim in “Doubt” (Adams) and “The Devil Wears Prada” (Blunt), both women give sincerely convincing performances as two sisters trying to dig themselves out of dreary realities.

“Sunshine Cleaning” succeeds from its two lead female characters and the women who play them. Rose (Adams) is the reformed head cheerleader, now a career-less single mom longing to provide a better life for her son and hell bent on proving herself to the world. Her world of course, consists of old high school chums who broke the lower-class ceiling, living the good life as middle-class stay-at-home moms with successful husbands, 3,000 sq. ft. homes, and lavish baby showers. Living the life of a never-ending high school reunion from hell, Rose starts her own business in a desperate attempt to become someone her high school classmates will again envy.

Her one employee is her sister Norah, another failure by societal standards. Your pseudo-gothic, beer chugging, blue eye-shadow wearing Norah is your typical woman stuck in adolescence. She lives at home, screws up every minimum wage job she lands, and still parties under the train tracks. So, you’ve got your pick of heroines: Rose, the uptight, delusional poser, or Norah, the foul-mouthed, attention-hungry punk.

The characters of “Sunshine Cleaning” are brought to life by authentic performances from Adams and Blunt. Adams couldn’t play a character farther from her role as a sinless nun in “Doubt,” yet she is as convincing as a woman of God as she is in “Sunshine Cleaning” as an ex-high school siren, now having a sex-filled affair with a married man.  Blunt, playing an anorexic uptight snob in “The Devil Wears Prada” effortlessly transforms into her “Sunshine” role as the free spirit with no notion of “posh” or “class” to say the least.

Both women use “Sunshine Cleaning” to showcase their acting versatility, and ability to save a film from mediocrity.  Your run of the mill dark comedy elevates to a praiseworthy date flick.

The Reviewer: Slumdog Millionaire

I felt compelled to view “Slumdog Millionaire” after the film won 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. Two and a half hours later, I sat in a near state of shock as the film ended. This movie won what? I searched and searched my most respected film review sources, The New Yorker, MetaCritic, Pitchfork, and felt in shock further still as each source praised the genius that is “Slumdog Millionaire”. After much reflection, I must admit – I wholeheartedly disagree.

Even the film’s highpoints seem calculated – the cinematography captivated me, but in an uncomfortable way more than anything. The visual circus assaulted me. I thought the colors intensely overdone and the music and sound effects louder than necessary to create the intended setting. But hey, maybe this really was India. A bright and bustling circus full of grime, poverty and horror. And the sensory overload seemed of pornographic proportion. I remember catching myself a few times, staring at the movie with a facial contortion made possible only by unease.

It’s not the calculated production choices that led me to such distaste of Slumdog. It is the plot itself. Slumdog, a screenplay adapted from the novel Q&A, is a fairytale in every sense; boy meets girl, overcomes obstacle after obstacle in winning her back, and the story ends happily ever after. Well, at least their story does.

The two main characters make the impossible ascent from rags to riches, while the rest of Indian slum residents remain in destitution. Using the gameshow Who Wants to Be a Millionaire as the catalyst for two slumgoers to escape the horror of abuse, starvation, and wildly unsanitary conditions, I was unable to enjoy the success of Jamal and Latika when prefaced by such exploitation of the slums.

Even as reviewers united in their praise of the film, Slumdog is not without its criticism. Slum-dwellers protest the title itself, shamed by the reference that they are dogs. Many held signs in the streets of Mumbai, including one that said, “We are not dogs, we are the future of India.” Bloggers railed against the Fox production company after news surfaced that the child actors of the film still lived in harsh poverty, and will return there after a brief showcase of the two children at the Oscars. These two complaints by Mumbai natives and bloggers are indicative of my severe distaste for the film. Placing a fairytale against the backdrop of very real poverty and hell on earth seems insensitive if not just plain exploitative.

Now, I realize I may sound harsh. And honestly, that does disturb me. I’ve heard the argument, “You don’t go to the cinema for a dose of reality, isn’t the escapist fairytale the whole reason you go to the movies?” Yes. I am not at all making the extreme moral argument that one should never go to the movies because it is time better spent saving the world or curing the evils that plague humanity. Go out, get entertained! But I will not apologize for my opinion that the film was completely low brow. And there, in fact, is the beauty of “Slumdog Millionaire.” I have always been an art appreciator who aired on the side of mass adoration. I have long felt that it was necessary to see the good in art to keep its concept expanding, finding value in the plain white canvas of the play Art, and the La Guernicas of the world. They all had their place. But this movie, personally, this movie was plain offensive. A movie so socially acclaimed reminds me that art is so many things to so many people, and I’m back where I started. Just what is art again?

The Reviewer: Man On Wire

Just what is art, anyway? Is it a classic Greek sculpture? Is it a blank canvas with nothing but a painted black square staring back at you? I have always been an advocate of expanding the confines of art, allow more not less, to qualify. Placing such rigid constraints upon art could limit the possibilities, creating a small box with which art is to fit inside – antithetical to the whole idea of creativity. The Oscar-winning documentary “Man on Wire” rebels against any art snobbery, forcing its viewers to acknowledge the art of life.

“Man on Wire” tells the story of Philippe Petit, a Frenchman with a big imagination, who achieved what is now revered as the greatest artistic crime of the century. In the middle of the night in August 1974, Mr. Petit and a group of associates illegally entered the World Trade Center, made their way to the top of both twin towers, and rigged a wire from roof to roof. Then, at around 7:15 a.m., Mr. Petit, practically walked on thin air for an hour, before finally surrendering to police waiting in awe on the roofs of both towers.

This is the best film I’ve seen in 2009 as of yet. I couldn’t recommend it more. The film is a work of art, defined by the art of wire walking it is documenting. The intricacies of the film mirrored Petit’s painstaking attention to detail; every aspect of the film was obviously intentional and carefully planned. The film’s classical piano score will move viewers as Petit dances on the wire, and it soon becomes apparent that no other music would suit the film as well. While classical music seemed an obvious choice, the decision between color and black and white was less clear. Director James Marsh impresses film aficionados by alternating between color and black and white, adding more visual flair to an already aesthetically enticing film.

The impeccable score, the interesting story devices and the showcase of the actual 35-year-old pencil drawings planning the scheme are all works of art, but the true art is the man on the wire. Mr. Petit delivers a thrill far exceeding my expectations, as he takes to the wire with such command and grace, you’d swear it couldn’t be real.

Mr. Petit is one of many narrators in the film, giving the audience a ground view of the high wire enigma. He lives up to all you’ve imagined, with wild eyes belonging only to a man truly moved by his own imagination. As friends and co-conspirators talk to the camera recounting memories and adoration of Philippe, I realized that Mr. Petit had seduced all of these people with his infatuation for adrenaline, fame and beauty. Mr. Petit speaks of his passion with such fervor; the audience sits in wonder of his life’s philosophy and his high wire gift, most certainly an art form.