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Inception: Incredibly Overhyped?

15 Aug

Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster has had everyone talking about it – from those who write it off as “too confusing” to those who hail it a “cornerstone in Hollywood film making”. After the film shot into the top 3 on film website IMDB, I had to find out what all the fuss was about for myself.

The premise; Leonardo DiCaprio is Cobb, the leader of a skilled team of extractors who specialise in entering people’s minds when they are dreaming in order to steal information from the subconscious. He is the best at what he does, until he is offered the ultimate challenge; to do exactly the opposite. Instead of extracting an idea from a person’s mind, he is instead requested to plant the idea. Hence, Inception.

Cue a heist unlike one you’ve ever seen before. Cobb and his team, including Arthur (Joseph Gordan-Levitt) and Ariadne (Ellen Page) set about creating a plan, to penetrate the mind deeper than anyone else has gone before, in order to ensure that the subject on waking will believe that he came up with the idea all by himself.

But, strangely enough, the inception itself does not really come across as the main focus of the film. Poor old Leo is a man troubled, harassed by guilt over the death of his wife (Déjà vu Shutter Island anyone?). Wanted for the murder of said wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), Cobb lives a life on the run, where his only real happiness comes from living in dreams of his memories of their time together. Unable to return home for fear of arrest, Cobb hasn’t seen his two young children in years. His last hope to return home lies on whether he can successfully achieve the inception.

And so we have the set up – unadulterated action mixed with raw emotion, with a large dose of dreamlike reality thrown in. The phrase edge-of-your-seat has never been so apt, as a sense of fraught tension kept me on tenterhooks throughout the entire running time (a rather on the long side 148 minutes). But that is not to say that Inception is a new and unique experience, as so many have claimed it to be. The film holds elements from many past pictures – the action-packed, reality-bending of The Matrix, the mysterious haunted past of Shutter Island and the confused and fragmented approach of Nolan’s own Memento.

An off-putting element for me was the huge amount of action scenes; car chases, blowing things up – you name it, you’ll find it in Inception. And although these scenes are always done well, I found myself often wondering if there really was a need for it all, as at times they simply seemed to detract from the rich, multi-layered tale. Still, the film is gripping and intriguing and well worth a watch, particularly if you are a fan of Nolan’s previous work. Oh, and there’s some pretty interesting ideas about dreams and reality in there somewhere too.

The multiskilled journalists of the future…

4 Jun

So, the time has finally come for my degree to come to an end, and the job hunt to begin. I foolishly believed that having a degree in media and communications and a fair amount of experience in journalism that it wouldn’t be too difficult to find something, at least to tie me over. I was wrong there. In the past couple of weeks I think I’ve applied for over 100 jobs; all I’ve had back so far has been 4 invitations to interviews – which all turned out to be from scamming companies.

One thing I have noticed about a lot of the job advertisements I’ve seen is they all seem to request people with a variety of skills. It won’t just be ‘Writing high quality copy’, you’ve also got to have ‘Some design skills’ or ‘Be confident with producing video content for an online audience’. Having specialised in a degree in journalism, my technical expertise is very slim. I still remember when myself and my best friend had to produce a video interview in 6th form, nearly 5 years ago – neither of us were particularly technical, and I remember those hours spent in the editing room as never ending – in fact I’m pretty sure we nearly killed eachother! So, since then I have come to the conclusion that I should generally steer clear of the technical side of media. I do have some limited experience in design and producing podcasts from my time at University, but generally the quality of my work in these areas is pretty low. So I figured, why not just stick to my strength? Sticking to what I think I’m okay at – writing – meant that I could utilise and improve on this skill; producing text for a number of different styles on publications; new, features, online etc. But maybe I was wrong in this judgement. I remember going for an interview for work experience at a local newspaper. I explained my University course, that you can choose your specialism – TV, Web and New Media, Pr, Radio or Journalism. I told the editor happily that I’d chosen journalism – it was what I wanted to do. He responded with; “So out of all of them, you picked the one that’s dying out?” It seems that in this new modern, media-saturated world where print media is known to be the dying breed there are barely any jobs positions which require somebody to just write. The walls between different media channels are falling, journalists need to embrace new emerging technologies, not shy away from them like I did.

I even recently found myself lying in a covering letter. It was only a white lie of course – but I definitely learned my lesson. Having claimed that I had ‘some experience’ producing video content and podcasts for online users, I almost immediately received an email back asking for examples of this. At that point, I panicked and decided I’d get my boyfriend to show me how to use these programs and help me create a good quality video tomorrow. Of course, the next day came and I was swamped with University work – I never got around to making that video. A few days later I received another email, again requesting examples of my work. I ended up ignoring it again and, surprisingly enough, I received another one a few days letter informing  me that I had not got the position. But it seemed that they had had some interest in me in order to write back so quickly. If I’d only not lied in my original covering letter, there’s a chance I could have got that job.

So I will continue my jobhunt, but considering my lesson learned. I now know that in order to succeed, I’ll have to embrace all  sides of media production, even if to start with they don’t appeal.

Avatar : the movie to redefine movies?

7 Apr

The box office smash that is Avatar exploded onto our cinema screens in stunning 3-D just a few months ago, and it seems to have swept the nation, becoming one of the most talked about films since James Cameron’s last true epic, Titanic. After the film picked up nine nominations and three awards at March’s Oscars, I decided it was time I found out what the big fuss was about.

Being in my usual fashionably late style, I was too late to catch the film in 3D at my local cinema in Coventry, and had to take a long bus ride to nearby Leamington to watch it in all it’s 3D glory.

The first question I have to ask my self is, is it really worth all the hype? And to be honest, I’m still undecided on that point. Whilst the visual effects and cinematography are certainly second to none, I can’t help but feel the story gets a little lost in the stunning scenery.

Make no mistake; this film is worth going to see purely on visual merit. Creating an entire new world, complete with exotic colourful banshees and the infamous blue “Avatars”, the CGI in this film is exceptional, and it pulls the viewer into the planet of Pandora, where the Avatars reside. We follow Jake Sully, a paralysed ex-marine who replaces his brother on a mission to infiltrate with the people of Pandora, called the Na’vi.

As Jake learns the traditions and ways of the Na’vi people, we learn with him, and as he slowly falls in love with the colony’s back-to-basics way of life, the viewer does too. Here Cameron creates an entirely new cultural existence, in fact, when I came out of the cinema, I found myself wishing that I could be an Avatar!

In a way, I got the impression that Avatar was trying to be all things to all people, a bit of a jack of all trades, if you will. At times I have to admit that I felt the culmination of action, romance, fantasy and sci-fi felt a little clumsy, although the storyline did work well. And, as a result of this merge of genres, the film certainly has something to offer everybody.

So, was it the movie to redefine movies? No, I don’t think so. Was it an enjoyable, exotic piece of escapism for a few hours? Yes. At a little under three hours, the film is slightly overlong, but worth a watch none the less, if only to see what all the fuss is about!

Vegan Week : Reflections

9 Mar

So, my short-lived veganism has come to an end and, whilst I picked up some useful knowledge about home cooking and health, I have to admit I probably won’t be keeping it up full time.

Vegan Health

I certainly found that I didn’t go hungry on a vegan diet – as I had previously expected – and I didn’t feel I was lacking in protein, with many protein-enriched foods on offer such as lentils, beans and chickpeas. I had secretly hope to feel some of the health benefits; to be filled with a some kind of feeling of a higher consciousness that comes with a virtuous, cruelty-free lifestyle, smugly looking down on the little omnivorous types. Of course, this didn’t actually happen. But I do believe that veganism is a great diet – although I only lost a small amount of weight in the week, I’m sure if I’d have kept it up for a month the results would have been much more apparent. Cutting out fatty, processed dinners such as cheeseburgers, fried breakfasts or steak and chips has to make an immense impact on a person’s health and weight.

Home Cooking

As mentioned previously, one of the main things I noticed in the vegan diet was the amount I had to cook from scratch. No more could I reach for a jar of shop-brought sauce to accompany my pasta, as many of these often contain traces of egg, milk or other animal by-products. Instead it was back to basics, using a base of tinned chopped tomatoes for many of my dishes, which I could then build upon and season however I wished. There’s definitely advantages to cooking in the traditional way – from scratch – as it gives you a lot more control over your food, to season it to your personal taste.

Conclusions

Having only attempted the vegan diet for a week – and I have to confess I have already succumbed to a tasty Steak and Ale pie since – I am nowhere near an expert in the matter. But for any people starting out in veganism, I’d still like to offer advice that I found useful; so below are my top 3 tips to life as a vegan.

1.  Cook food from other cultures – in order to ensure a varied and enjoyable diet this is a really handy tip. Check out the International Vegan Union for inspiration.

2. Trial and Error – not all vegan foods will be right for you personally. I hated rice milk but really liked Soya milk – it’s best to experiment to find out what you like.

3. Eat a colourful variety – of fruit and vegetables. This is important to ensure you get all the nutrients you need; simply eating the same fruit and veg over and over again won’t cut it.

Vegan Week : Days 3 and 4

4 Mar

It’s Thursday night, and I’m now over half way through my week as a vegan. And I must say I’ve actually been surprised at how easy it has been so far. All the overbearing cravings for cheese and chocolate that I anticipated have been minimal and I definately haven’t gone hungry at all – perhaps I underestimated my will power; or perhaps being a vegan really isn’t as drastic a change as people may first think.

One thing that the week has helped me with is my cooking skills. I’ve already cooked more meals from scratch this week than I have any other week in my life! Exotic dishes, curries and vegetable-based dishes; this week I’ve cooked them all. As cooking and nutrition is something I’m interested in anyway, this has definitely been the best aspect of the experience.

Last nice for dinner I served up stuffed peppers – a meal that quick and easy to do but very tasty if you do it right, and it has the added bonus of looking pretty too! See my pictures below. 🙂

Tonight was my first attempt at cooking a curry from scratch – a red lentil curry to be exact – and it was deemed by all who tried it as a success. So successful that I have decided to share the recipe here… 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons curry paste
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ginger root, minced
  • 1 (14.25 ounce) can tomato puree (I used a tin of chopped tomatoes in juice which worked fine too)

Wash the lentils in cold water until the water runs clear, put the lentils in a pot with water to cover and simmer covered until lentils tender (add more water if necessary). While the lentils are cooking fry the onions in a saucepan with a little vegetable oil

While the onions are cooking, combine the curry paste, curry powder, turmeric, cumin, chili powder, salt, sugar, garlic, and ginger in a mixing bowl. Mix well. When the onions are cooked, add the curry mixture to the onions and cook over a high heat stirring constantly for 1 to 2 minutes. Next, stir in the tomato and reduce heat. Leave it to simmer until the lentils are ready, then drain the lentils and mix them into the curry mix. Serve with long grain or basmati rice.

Day Two : Food from around the world

3 Mar

Flipping through my vegan leaflets yesterday I found a key nugget of advice seemed to be to keep trying foods and recipes from all over the world, in order to ensure a varied and enjoyable diet. They also offered a link to a very valuable little resource from the International Vegan Union, a website which boasts nearly 2000 vegan recipes contributed from people all over the world, categorised by country.

So today I opted to try some other cultures, eating traditionally Indian food for lunch – pitta bread stuffed with hummus, mixed salad and falafel. And for dinner I decided to take the bull by the horns and cook a dish I’d never cooked before. Rice and peas, traditionally a Jamaican dish, although I don’t know why it has this name because there are no peas involved at all! It’s actually made with kidney beans, making a great meal or side dish for vegans as beans provide a valuable source of protein. The meal took around 40 minutes altogether to cook and I ate it with a spicy tofu fillet (my first time for tofu too!) The combination, although it didn’t look too appetising was surprisingly tasty! Check out the pictures and recipe below. The only problem is now I am longing for a little chocolate dessert – which, of course, can’t be done.

My second challenge of the day was my first trip to the pub as a vegan. I had done research prior to this and knew that not all wines or beers are vegan friendly. It was quite a surprise to me, but it turns out that many wines that I am used to drinking have been filtered through animal products. Not a particularly nice thought really. So, instead of my usual glass of rose I opted for a sweet amaretto and diet Pepsi instead. I’m pretty sure both products are vegan – some people may say that Pepsi is still unethical because of the large corporation it comes from, but I say I needed a drink!

Ingredients

1 medium sized can red kidney beans
1 can coconut milk
2 cups of long grain brown rice
vegetable Stock
1 small white onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 spring onion, chopped
Seasoning – thyme, salt and pepper

Drain the kidney beans. You should drain the water from beans into a measuring jug, to which add the coconut milk and stock. Place this liquid mixture in pan and add the rice, garlic, onions and other seasoning and bring to boil. Add the beans. Simmer for about 20-30 mins until cooked.

My Week as a Vegan : Day One

2 Mar

  As research for an article for Birmingham Recycled, I visited a Vegan Christmas Fair in December last year. Up until that point, veganism was something I was unfamiliar with and I didn’t fully understand the reasons why anyone would chose to to cut out foods I viewed as essential to most people’s diet. I spent just a couple of hours there, but picked up plenty of leaflets, advice and inspiring stories as to why people choose to cut out meat and animal by-products.

It seemed the reasons are endless – health for one, the environment for another, and of course the most well-recognised one; the animals’ wellbeing. I don’t wish to starting preaching here, but one titbit that really pulled at my heartstrings was that the calf is taken away from it’s mother just days after it is born, causing immense stress to both, and the mother will cry for her baby for weeks after. All this just to supply us with things we really could do without?

A couple of months after my first peek into the vegan lifestyle, and my desk is currently piled high with vegan leaflets, guides and recipes books. So. Why not give it a go? I’m not talking about forever, but just for a week or two. Even in that short time I could make a tiny bit of difference, and I hope that after my time as a vegan is up, I will at least take something from the experience.

But coming from a chocolate, cheese and meat-lover this is no small feat. No Cadburys? No Pizza? No milk in my morning tea? I definitely have my reservations about this challenge, but I also have determination and, as I found out when I went vegan shopping on Friday, plenty of dairy-free alternatives. I even picked up some Vegan Ice-Cream!

Now the first day of my vegan week is coming to a close, and I have managed to avoid animal products and by-products for the whole day! Unfortunately, I haven’t been a very healthy vegan today. Having missed out on Shrove Tuesday a couple of weeks ago due to being swamped by University work, me and my boyfriend decided to celebrate it late, the vegan way obviously. I managed to find a vegan pancake recipe and, after a quick trip to my local organic shop, Down to Earth, to pick up the essential ingredient, soya milk, we were soon happily frying and flipping. I was pleased to find that the vegan pancakes were delicious – I really couldn’t notice a difference in taste between these and the traditional, egg-based version. In fact, I thought they were so good, I had five! See below for the recipe and photos .

Vegan Pancake Recipe

Ingredients

1 cup flour

1 cup soya milk

2 tbsp baking powder

1 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp vegetable oil

pinch of salt

Sieve the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl, add the sugar and salt and stir until well mixed. Then, mix in the soya milk and oil and beat until it is smooth. This is your batter mix done! Now just heat some more vegetable oil in a frying pan on a medium heat and you can start cooking. Fry each pancake for about three minutes on each side (or until it starts to bubble). Serve with whatever you want, my favourite is lemon and sugar 🙂