A Semester in Review.

Change has been the keyword for this past semester.

I’ve had to adapt to different styles of writing, try new things further immerse myself into the roll of a feature writer. In particular, this semester taught me how to better investigate stories and the question “why?”. Nearing the end of it, I still know that I have plenty to work on if I want to be a professional writer. Next semester I’ll be abroad in Florence, Italy. I’ll take what I’ve gained from my editor, my experiences in my internship and the stories I’ve gathered from other people. This is a semester in review and the stories that made it that way.

LARP:

A few weeks ago, I had to venture out to the wooded area of Veterans park and experience Live action Role Play, or LARP. These two stories are the result of my four hour adventure in the woods. I’ve got to say that I learned a lot from these guys and what a real sense of community and acceptance is.

http://www.theshorthorn.com/content/view/20778/267/

http://www.theshorthorn.com/content/view/20786/267/

Beards:

Every November, men go the month without shaving. The thing I learned from this experience was what length I would go to in order to finish a story. Not to mention the topic was a bit lighter than the news stories I was used to last semester. I got the chance to speak with representatives of the Movember Foundation – a group dedicated to the growth of facial hair for cancer, and men who just loved facial hair.

http://www.theshorthorn.com/content/view/20687/267/

Steakhouse:

The appeal that Arlington Steakhouse had for customers and the story was it’s historical connection to the city. I mean, this place is has seen the city through economic depressions and booms. It watched Arlington ingest three other small cities around it to become what it is today – a giant suburb of 400,000.  I take something from every story like this. Not to mention, old people tell the best stories.

http://www.theshorthorn.com/content/view/20642/267/

Louie Louie’s Dueling Piano Bar.

This particular assignment introduced me to the idea of piano bars. Whenever I told anyone that I was writing a piece about one, and had no idea what they were about, they flipped out. I guess that’s living in the south for you.

http://www.theshorthorn.com/content/view/20569/267/

Uptown Theater.

Though the story started as a piece on a music festival at a renovated venue, it ended as a renovated venue hosting a new festival. The difference is once I got to the theater, experienced the type of people who ran it and saw the history of the place, I was entranced. This is a perfect example of how a story can jump focus’s once you start reporting. My biggest regret is that Michael and I didn’t go back and experience the show for that weekend.  We still plan to though!

http://www.theshorthorn.com/content/view/20412/267/

Spoonfed Tribe.

These guys. The Spoonfed tribe story was one of those that required Mike and I to drive to Denton in the middle of the night and stay till two a.m. I learned alot about the people of Denton and gained new music to listen to that night. Plus, we still play the promotional CD in the burgundy beast for those long car trips. It wasn’t my optimal way to spend a Friday night, but I wouldn’t take it back for anything else.

http://www.theshorthorn.com/content/view/20243/267/

Hookah Lounges in the Arlington area.

This was the type of story, I imagined myself doing when I first signed on to Pulse – The Shorthorn’s entertainment section. Even though the execution wasn’t the best, I still think the pictures were awesome and that the concept was a good idea.

http://www.theshorthorn.com/content/view/20177/267/

New freshman adjust to campus.

This was my first crack at a feature story. I took mundane circumstances and attempted to make a cohesive story out of it. Though it’s flawed, I enjoyed delving into the life of somebody else and walking through a day in their life.

http://www.theshorthorn.com/content/view/20036/267/

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New Sounds: Linkin Park

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Artist: Linkin Park
Label: Warner Bros.
3/5 Stars
By William Johnson
Six piece rock group, Linkin Park, released their fourth studio album entitled A Thousand Suns, on Tuesday.
Following in the steps of Minutes to Midnight (2008), A Thousand Suns is an experimental audio book that mixes styles found in previous albums with the bands newer sound. The result is something similar to when Ford revamped the body of the 2010 mustang: a more developed and streamlined version of a good idea.
The record is a concept album, the concept being nuclear war. The title is a reference to a Hindu proverb, Bhagvad Gita, that is used an allusion to a cataclysmic explosion. The first few songs are slow and short, with increasing action. Towards the middle of the album, the songs  begin to climax in volume and mood. The intensity slows down dramatically towards the end for a power ballad.
The first half of the album showcases the newer style of Linkin Park, evident in the electronic artsy rock that last for the first seven tracks. Even guitarist/rapper Mike Shinoda’s lyrical flow feels out of place in the tribal themed track, “When They Come For Me”.  The second half of the album picks up with is sure to be a single, “Waiting For The End”.  The way Shinoda and lead singer Chester Bennington perform is reminiscent of previous albums on this track.
A new element to this album is the inclusion of completely acoustic track, entitled The Messenger. In it Bennington wails about the enabling power of love. In the chorus, his voice can heard cracking on the lyrics, “When life leaves us blind, love keeps us kind.” This amount of vulnerability is new for the harsh growling singer.
Another new dynamic in this album is a singing duet between Shinoda and Bennington entitled “Iridescent”.  What starts off as Shinoda leading the ballad over a piano accompaniment, turns into an arena rock ballad and then back into the fading piano chords playing background to Bennington’s crooning.
This album is a bag of mixed nuts, best served on shuffle. While it exceeds Minutes to Midnight, this record is still reaching for it’s own sound, something that was clearly established in older records.

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Editorial: The Cordoba House at Park51 (The Mosque at Ground Zero)

The idea of a mosque built in the area surrounding ground zero seems to divide the multicultural American public over issues of religious freedom and moral sensitivity.

The alleged ground zero mosque is a privately owned building two city blocks away from the site of the 9/11 attacks. After being damaged in the attacks, the building remained empty until it’s purchase by real estate company Soho Properties in 2009. Soho properties purchased the building as a part of it’s Cordoba Initiative. Before this purchase, the buildings previous tenant was a Burlington Coat Factory location.

[ What’s the Cordoba Initiative? ]

[According the official site, the Cordoba initiative is working to improve relationship between Muslims and western culture. Cordoba refers the capital of Muslim controlled Iberian Peninsula during the 10th and 11th centuries. In this time, there was a truce between Christian, Muslim and Jewish Kingdoms.  The Cordoba House at Park51 is a planned $100 million, 13 story Islamic community center that will include a memorial space for the 9/11 attacks and a separate mosque open to the public. Among the planned features is a culinary school, 500 seat auditorium, restaurant and fitness center with a pool. The site goes on to explain that Cordoba House will be a place of multiple faiths coming together to understand each other. ]

As suggested by recent polls, the public is split in half on the issue, with a slight majority against the center being built. An August poll conducted by Marist Poll concluded that 53% of Manhattan residents support the center, however.

The biggest trend I have noticed among the opposition of the center is the lack of accurate information. By continuing to call Park51 a “Mosque on Ground Zero”, the actual nature of the project is perverted. The average American is rightfully offended by the idea of a solely Islamic place of worship being placed on the 9/11 site, but this is not that situation. What Soho Properties is proposing is a center for understanding, intended for the diverse public.

Presidential Backlash

[President Obama recently spoke in support of the center during a White House Ramadaan dinner on August 13th.

“Let me be clear: as a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country,” Obama stated. “And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.  This is America.  And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.

The president came under fire for these words of support from several media outlets and families of the attacks. He later clarified these statements by saying he was speaking in support of freedom of religion and not the location of the center.]

Another concern from the informed public is the amount of emotion involved in the project. While the Cordoba House has good intentions, the proximity of an Islamic center so close to the 9/11 site is something that will never be accepted by a portion of Americans. Too often is the image of Islam represented by misguided extremists.

These Americans will continue to view Islam through the same extremist veil that blinded the Jihadists on the morning of September 11th and led the 645 reported hate crimes in the week following.

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Editorial: The Obama Administration and The Race Question.

By William Johnson

In the weeks following the Sherry Sherrod Department of Agriculture debacle, news outlets have begun to question the non involvement approach President Obama has taken when presented with race relation issues.

In the week following the incident, the President saw his lowest approval ratings from the African-American public at 85%. General approval ratings, however, remained constant for other key demographics. While most blacks stand behind the president, black leaders like Jesse Jackson offer constant criticism of his performance when addressing race issues.

Even before taking office, the President began to receive criticism as a member of the black elite who was talking down to black people by Jackson and other black leaders. In a July 2008 interview with Fox News, the civil rights leader was heard stating that he wanted to “rip Obama’s nuts off”. As if terrorist allegations weren’t enough of a deterrent, Obama is taking fire from both end of the political and racial spectrum.

Fewer black Americans are seeing President Obama as a black president and more as a president who just happens to be black. In my opinion, this is better for the leader of our country.

The president is a symbol of the people. He is a representation of the entire country, not just one race or group. The power of the American president is measured by the support of the American people. When our leader begins to neglect the needs of one group in favor of another, that’s when he begins to lose that power.

While I do believe that President Obama should involve himself more with race relations, I think he should try to do so objectively. Not as a black crusader, but as an equal mediator. I would rather see the president present a comprise that upsets all parties, than a decision that favors one race over another.

A good example of the above mentioned proposition in the past month is when the Obama Administration encouraged Arizona lawmakers to contest certain sections of the state’s new immigration law. Articles that required immigrants to carry their papers and required police to determine the immigration status of persons they believe to be illegal were blocked. While the law itself was not reversed, these key portions were ruled unconstitutional. Among the articles that went into effect is one that makes it illegal for employers to pick up day workers off of the street.

Even after this attempted compromise, conservative leaders of Arizona are unhappy with the blocked provisions while members of the opposing side still protest over the rest of the law. This case will likely go on to the Supreme Court, where a final decsion will be made.

This is how the Obama Administration should intervene in race related issues. Not with a crusading sense of right and wrong, but with the strength to meet in the middle of polarizing opinions of the two.

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You Mustn’t Be Afraid To Dream A Little Bigger, Darling!

In a season normally reserved for big budget action movies with plenty of explosions and little content, Screenwriter and Director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) delivers something just short of a modern masterpiece.

Summer movies are expected by many to entertain audiences without involving them. Your standard summer action movie is full of the same cyclical process that results in the girl being saved and room left open for a sequel, given enough people see the original. Summer movie goers may be in for a surprise with Inception.

This film is set in an alternate reality where it is possible to navigate through the human subconscious while people sleep. In other words, It is possible to invade a person’s dreams. Few people know how to do this, and of those few, there is an even fewer number who navigate through the minds of others in search of profitable information. These individuals are called Extractors. Enter Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), an Extractor who is working outside of the U.S., on the run for a crime he claims he didn’t commit. With his team of specialized dream navigators, He takes one last job that may finally bring him home in exchange for doing the impossible: Inception.

Nolan grasps his audiences attention from the beginning, and holds on to it until the very last scene ( Which in my theater, caused plenty of cheers and gasps). The idea of Inception is fed the audience slowly. Nolan requires that viewers think accordingly and sometimes takes their intelligence for granted. For those who have trouble keeping up, the central theme of the movie is repeated several times throughout.

This is a visually stunning mash up of every type of movie people have come to like. It’s cyberpunk-heist thriller that’s beautiful to look at. With scenes that defy laws of physics with eloquence, It’s hard to not forget ignore the casts performance, at first.

Leonardo DiCaprio gives a convincing performance as a man stuck between the lines of reality, who just wants to go home. Anyone with the slightest powers of empathy can feel for his character in this techincally and emotionally complex film.

Joseph Gordon-Levvitt (500 Days of Summer) gives a cold, distinguished performance as Cobb’s main partner, Arthur. His character is often criticized for not having enough imagination throughout the film, but Gordon-Levvitt fills the role with a quiet intensity. English actor Tom Hardy also portays his role as Eames, The Forger, with a likable flair. He and Levvitt share a few moments of on screen banter over a sour past relationship.

Every heist needs an inexperienced newcomer, and Ellen Page ( Juno) fills that role. Her character, Ariane, is the person who must design the dream worlds in which people are brought into. Though without a particularly dazzling performance, her presence is felt in key moments that help define Leo’s character. The rest of the cast gave solid performances, including Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai), who plays a mysterious investor.

Without a doubt, Inception is the best movie of the summer, so far. It does what so many other summer movies fail to do and invites the audience to think along with it until the final scene. This movie may not be for all, however. Some may deem the concept as too far fetched and others have complained of it being too much like The Matrix meets Oceans Eleven. I however, stand unmoved.

I recommend this movie to anyone who will allow their imagination to be open to the possibilities of Inception.

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Introducing Donald Glover

If you’ve seen an episode of 30 Rock, Community, or watched anything by comedic group, Derrick Comedy, you’ve heard the material of Donald Glover before. However, up until the past year, you may not have known it.

As the face of Troy in NBC’s 30 Community, Donald plays a washed up high school jock, still clinging on to his letterman jacket. The 26 year old began writing for NBC’s 30 Rock , right after graduating from NYU’s Dramatic Writing program. It was at NYU that he started to play around with music and founded the comedic group, Derrick Comedy. While at NBC, he began writing stand up material and subsequently left the show after it’s third season to pursue a career on the stage. Shortly after leaving 30 Rock, however, Donald auditioned and received the role of Troy.

Derrick Comedy is a sketch comedy group that produces a series of Youtube videos, many of which Donald helped write. The group formed at NYU while performing in the comedy group, The Wicked Wicked Hammerkatz. The group released a slew of videos and is now premiering it’s first feature length movie in select cities nationwide.

Now, the entertainer is releasing albums, performing on Comedy Central, and wrapping up his first season on Community – all in the past 6 months.

Donald was recently the subject of a social media campaign to portray the first African-American incarnation of Spider-Man. Fans tweeted constantly for the chance to have Donald Portay the popular webslinger. Although newcomer Andrew Garfield received the role, Donald hasn’t slowed down. On the 16th of July, He flew to Montreal to receive the Rising Star comedy award at the annual Just for Laughs festival. With a year as successful as his, it doesn’t come as a surprise. In The midst of the Community season in March, Donald’s first stand-up special premiered on Comedy Central. This is where I first encountered his standup ability and had to looked him up.

Earlier this month, Donald also dropped his third album, CULDESAC, under the moniker of Childish Gambino. He has repeatedly stated in interviews that he uses the pseudonym to disassociate fans from his comedic efforts. In March, he told New York Magazine the name came from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator he and a few buddies in college were playing around with, and has stuck with the entertainer since. The album is an indie-rap production similar to artists like Kid Cudi or Drake, with wordplay a step below Lil Wayne. Donald infuses indie beats and hip-hop bragging in this unique collection. For those on the fence about it, or are definitely interested, Donald provides all of his music free on his site. There you can find everything from his first mixtape, “ I Am Just a Rapper” to his current efforts.

And as for Community, it’s been renewed for a second season to premiere September 23rd. Glover is set to reprise his role as Troy on Thursdays at 8 CST.

For Donald‘s latest album, go to http://www.culdesac-album.com/

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6 Movies You Should Have Seen Already

By William Johnson

After scanning the list of upcoming movies in the past weeks, none particularly stuck out to me. So, I’ve decided the list a few movies that do stand out from the rest. These are the movies, from recent years, that are on my all time favorites list, and that I suggest you check out.

1. Away We Go (2009)

This film features a couple in search of the perfect place to raise their unborn daughter. Burt and Verona are still struggling to keep the lights on their mid 30’s and want start over for the sake of their child. The couple travels across to country in hopes of finding a place with the right amount of stability, including friends to support them.

Anybody familiar with The Office will recognize a much scruffier version of John Krasinski as the lead role in this comedy-drama, directed by Sam Mendes (Jarhead). This movie features comedian Jim Gaff and actress Maggie Gyllenhaal in supporting roles as well as a cast full of familiar faces.

Singer-Songwriter Alexi Murdoch provides the majority of the movie’s soundtrack with songs from his Time Without Consequence album. His indie-folk tunes direct the mood of this film almost as much as the cinematography.

What holds this movie together for me is the enduring chemistry between the two lead roles, Burt and Verona. Though both have their own dorky quirks and worries about life and people, they are able to confide in each other. Their bond and ways they handle every situation is what attracts me to this movie.

2. Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind (2004)

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) explores a notion originally used in Alexander Pope’s Eloise to Abelard. In both stories, a young woman falls for a teacher and wishes the memory of her love be wiped clean once she finds that she cannot have him. Kaufman provides the possibility of memory erasure in his script while director Michael Gondry helped visualize the process in modern cinema.

Eternal Sunshine travels deep into the minds of main characters Joel and Clementine, two estranged lovers who have their memories wiped of each other. Jim Carey (Yes Man) and Kate Winslet (The Holiday) provide the right amount of chemistry for this love/hate relationship gone wrong. Carey is in one of his most serious roles as Joel, who decides that he doesn’t want the procedure done halfway through and fights to keep a hold of his memories.

This film asserts the idea that removing the memory of an act does not change the type person of person you were when you committed the act. Eliminating the memory of somebody doesn’t change your tendency to be attracted to that person. In a film that audience can’t help but to identify with, Eternal Sunshine demands your emotions and your intellect with every viewing.

3. Kingdom of Heaven – Directors Cut (2005)

Ridley Scott (Gladiator) brings his usual hack and slash action elements to this movie, but with a bit of class and beauty. Orlando Bloom portrays the historic figure of Balian, a blacksmith turned defender of Jerusalem against Muslim forces during the Crusades.

The first thing audiences may notice in Kingdom of Heaven is the allure of the landscapes used in this film. Every scene attempts to include the beautiful backdrop. The detail in this film is remarkable. The crew recreated the ancient city of Jerusalem in the Moroccan Desert.

Although the Muslim people are the invading force, they are portrayed with much more respect that most contemporary films. In fact, this film provides criticism to the Christian Crusaders.

I recommend the directors cut because the original film was incomplete. Characters were reinserted to the directors cut make a more coherent story. Although this brings the running time up to 194 minutes, for anybody planning to watch it, this is the only way to truly appreciate it.

4. Anything by Quentin Tarrantino

Whether is be Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, Inglorious Basterds or Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino brings cinematic gold to the silver screen every time.

Tarrantino brings a sort of over the top violence and black comedy that most contemporary films are missing. His non linear story telling and over the top dialogue set him apart as one of the decades top directors. His intentional use of cliches and habit of killing off more half of the original cast in him films are trademarks of his style.

5. Up in The Air/ The Hurt Locker (2009)

I combined these two movies because the portray similar lead characters. Both The Hurt Locker and Up in The Air feature men who have been trained to do one thing, and excel in this by dedicating their lives to it. In the process, they lose the ability to live outside of their skill set.

George Clooney (Ocean’s 11-13) plays Ryan Bingham in Up In The Air, a corporate downsizer who travels across the country with his life in his backpack. His job is to lay people off when company managers are too cowardly to do it themselves. This movie follows his travels and the way he perceives people and relationships.

Jeremy Renner (Dahmer) is Sergeant First Class William James in the Academy Award Winning film, The Hurt Locker. James is a bomb specialist with an extensive service history who is assigned as the team leader of an Electronic Ordinance Disposal Unit. The Hurt Locker follows his tour in Iraq, and readjustment to home life.

While these films share similarities, they are quite different movies. I grouped them together because of the similar themes and the way both films made me feel. Up In The Air caries a theme of voluntary detachment, while the EOD unit in The Hurt Locker must find unity to succeed together.

6. Babel/Crash (2006/2004)

Babel is a combination of concurrent perspectives in regards to a shooting in Morroco that fatally wounds an American tourist. The story is shown from the perspectives of those affected and following investigation. Crash is about a car theft that systematically sparks a chain of events.

Babel and Crash have been called large and small scale versions of each other. While similar, the difference between the movies lies in how connected the groups of people are. In Crash, a series of racially charged events affects the lives of several families. Babel is based around one event that has international consequences.

Both movies, however, examine the racism and prejudice that exist in our national and global societies. The harsh realism behind these movies is necessary when discussing these issues.

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