Thursday, November 29, 2007

Girls Kick Ass!

When you think of action stars, whom do you think of? Bruce Willis, Vin Diesel, Charles Bronson, Jackie Chan, The Rock, even Governor Schwarzenegger. The list of actors one considers action stars goes on and on. Where are the female action stars? Sure, there have been plenty of women who have starred, or more likely co-starred in action movies, but very few of them would be considered action stars. It is time to re-evaluate what makes and action star, and why it seems to always have to be male dominated.

Many women have proven their ability to be box office hits as action stars in the past. Actresses such as Uma Thurman in Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2, Sigourney Weaver in the Aliens Trilogy, Angelina Jolie as Laura Croft in Tomb Raider and Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil have all played lead roles in these highly successful films where they take center stage as action heroes. They have shown that women can portray fighting skills, weapons proficiency, and brute strength just as convincingly as their male counterparts. It is clear that, with the right screenplay and directing, women are not the box office poison that movie executives seem to think they are.

Let’s start with the ideal action hero. Opinions differ, but we can agree on most of the general aspects. Our hero should be able to drive at speeds of 100 mph or more, or at least be able to look really tough on a motorcycle. They should be able to outrun major explosions and push innocent victims out of the line of projectile shrapnel. They should deliver unbelievably cheesy lines with complete conviction. They should be able to look good, even when they are covered in blood and dirt. They should be able to beat up any number of bad guys that come at them in a given scene. They should always be proficient with at least five different types of weapons (most especially, a bazooka). And they should talk in a low, raspy voice to show just how tough they are (with the exception of Vin Diesel, he talks like a Muppet, but still kicks ass).

Of the minimal list of characteristics that one could assume would make for an ideal action hero, not one of them are exclusive to the male population. Let’s use Milla Jovovich as an example (she has starred in more action films that any other female). She has, in her various movies, looked really cool on a motorcycle, outrun exploding buildings, convincingly said some pretty awful lines, looked great covered in blood and dirt, beat up groups of genetically altered bad guys, blown away all kinds of stuff with all kinds of guns, not to mention her moves with a sword, and has even used the raspy voice when she was really pissed off.

Knowing that women can do anything men can do when it comes to being an action hero, there doesn’t seem to be much of an argument for why there are not more of them. Sure, there have been a few female-fronted flops like cat-woman and Electra, but there are also plenty of male dominated stinkers like Daredevil and anything starring Dolph Lundgren.

Young girls need role models to look up to too. Women should no longer settle for the secondary action characters. Writers should stop creating roles that, for no legitimate reason, have to be filled by men. Movie executives should take a look at the box office numbers when deciding whether to take the risk on a film starring women. This could be just another way in which women could rise above the inequality that continues to thrive in this nation and show the newer generations that girls DO kick ass.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Pushing Daisies" is a Bouquet of Fun

ABC is in full bloom this fall with its whimsical new show, “Pushing Daisies.” The newest creation by Brian Fuller, writer of “Dead Like Me” and “Wonderfalls,” is brimming with freshness and originality. The highly stylized and bright color scheme makes this show seem like a child’s storybook tale, which contrasts nicely with the overall theme, death.

Within the first few minutes of the pilot, a nine-year-old boy named Ned witnesses his beloved dog, Digby, getting run over by a semi-truck. Ned discovers his gift after bringing Digby back to life by touching him. The sweet melody of the soundtrack mixed with soothing narration by the familiar voice of Jim Dale (performer of the “Harry Potter” audio books) makes this tragedy light-hearted. Even though young Ned proceeds to accidentally kill his childhood-crush’s father, and then his own mother, you never feel sad for the boy because it all seems like a candy-filled dream.

The basic plot of “Pushing Daisies” is that Ned can bring people back to life by touching them. The twist is that if he touches them again, they will die, but if he doesn’t touch them again within 60 seconds, then someone else nearby will have to take their place. This makes for an interesting love story since he had to bring his long-lost sweetheart, Charlotte Charles (Chuck) back to life.

Ned grows up to become a pie maker. He helps fund his burgeoning business by moonlighting as a detective with his partner, Emerson Cod, (Chi McBride). He brings murder victims back to life just long enough to find out who killed them, and then he collects the reward.

Lee Pace, who plays Ned, gives the character just the right amount of innocence and vulnerability. Chuck, played by Anna Friel, is a spunky, fun-loving character and you can see why Ned had been pining for her for 20 years. Olive Snook, played by Kristen Chenoweth often steals the scene with her unusual obsession with Ned (she is known to break out in song when feeling especially heartbroken).

The witty dialogue is delivered with great timing by all involved and the punch lines are often laugh-out-loud funny. Visually, “Pushing Daisies” is like watching panda bears eat giant lollipops. And, unlike some of the other death-themed shows like “Ghost Whisperer” and “Medium,” it makes light of taboos that are normally handled with kid gloves.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Vision of Students Today

The advances in technology have simultaneously connected nations to each other and isolated individuals from their next-door neighbor. Children know more about computers than their parents. Teachers are losing touch with ways to keep their student’s interest. The digital age is constantly reinventing itself and leaving older generations in the dust.

Use of computers and the Internet in the classroom has been an ongoing discussion between school boards and parents for a few years now. The lack of proper training among teachers, and the seemingly over abundance of knowledge about computers that students have is increasingly become a wedge that keeps technology from working in the classroom.

The younger generations are becoming more computer-savvy all the time. Only a decade ago, handheld computers were an oddity. Now, anyone can access the Internet with gadgets the size of a calculator. Kids want the newest trend and the trend is technology.

Many states across the U.S. have started programs to supply laptops for students called the 1-to-1 Initiative. The hope is that students with personal computers will be less likely to skip school and be more engaged in classroom learning. In May of 2006,New York enacted the 1-to-1 Initiative, which promised an overall improvement in student achievement. By May of 2007, many schools in New York dropped the program because students had been using computers to cheat on tests, download pornography, and hack into businesses. In April of 2007, the United States Department of Education released a study showing no difference in academic achievement among students with or without computers.

There are no restrictions on laptops in most college classrooms. Students often use them for note taking. Some teachers encourage the use of computers among students in order to help them learn the technology they will need when they graduate. Journalism majors at Sacramento State are encouraged to take computer related classes because of the way news writing has continued to grow on the Internet.

Students use computers for more than just note taking though. Most students spend their time on myspace or craigslist. Instant messaging is quickly replacing those annoying, lecture-interrupting phone calls. The college student who is surfing the net instead of paying attention is the one who suffers. Why should teachers care whether students are paying attention? They are paying for their education; it is their choice what they do with it. The distractions come for those who actually are paying attention and are taking notes. It is very difficult to pay attention to a statistics lecture when the person sitting in front of you is looking at pictures of Britney Spears giving a beaver shot. Even the clickity-clack of typing on a keyboard can make it hard to listen to the professor.

One good thing about Internet access for students is that they are able to search for more information about a subject while a professor is talking. If an art teacher is discussing the importance of Stonehenge, a student can do a “google” search and discover more interesting facts about the manmade anomaly.

However, Internet use in the classroom has become such a distraction that some universities, like Bentley College, have set up on/off switches for individual classrooms so that teachers have the option of restricting Internet use.

The distance between younger digital savvy generations and older technologically challenged generations is too big right now to make any real advancement in classroom interactions. As these tech kids get older and start to saturate the workplace, they may find a way to incorporate education and computers, but for now, it seems that teachers and professors have not found that connection yet.