G.I. No – Ending Gender Division in Children’s Books

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“The Hunger Games… isn’t that a girls’ book?” – this was the lukewarm reception I received from my sister when I told her that I’d finally started reading ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy in anticipation of the new film. Understandably, the same sort of statement would have been said by me if I caught her reading Captain Underpants. Was it just one of those “sibling comments”, or has society not progressed when it comes to gender perceptions in literature?

These problems have been prevalent in kids’ products for generations, specifically in fashion, television and food. ‘Friends’ taught us that it isn’t cool for boys to be playing with a Barbie, but instead they should be pretending to shoot their dad with a ‘G.I. Joe’ doll; yet the recent ‘Let Toys Be Toys’ movement is already putting sitcom scenarios like that to bed. ‘Let Books Be Books’ is next in line and it seems to have arrived at the perfect time if views on the entire market are to change.

This recent push by parents to break down ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ categories in books has been met with a positive response from numerous retailers and book publishers. From Toys R Us to Usborne, the publisher behind the likes of ‘Girl’s Activity Book’ and ‘Boys Activity Book’, it seems that there are plenty of companies willing to put an ender to gender-stereotype reinforcements and move forward with the rest of society.

Funnily enough, when I was back at sixth form, we hosted a ‘Pirates and Princesses’ day to raise money for local charities. Of course, I could probably guess who was going to dress as whom – oh boy was I wrong. Some of my male friends came gallivanting through the main doors in their sparkly dresses, when two minutes later they would be kidnapped by a gang of Somali pirates, both male and female!

Now, I don’t mean to be encouraging cross-dressing, piracy or kidnapping in that example, but it just shows that gender doesn’t define what views we impose on each other, particularly in children’s books. There is a vast amount of literature out there that can appeal to a vast range of interests and beliefs, without catering to a certain gender, race etc.

I may be too young to want kids myself, but it gives me a wave of relief to know that in ten years’ time, my child may not have to make the choice between pink and blue, ‘G.I. Joe’ and ‘Barbie’ or Jacqueline Wilson and Chris Ryan. Imposing gender views on children before they’re old enough to establish their own shouldn’t be encouraged, especially in books, which take such a vital role in a child’s cognitive development.

If movements such as ‘Let Toys Be Toys’ and ‘Let Books Be Books’ can work to reinvent the children’s market, then that can only mean good news for the future. Ross, pivot your views elsewhere – ‘Let Books Be Books’ gets a great big thumbs up from me!

I Need a Hero: Justice League Nominations

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At some point in time, we’ve all pictured ourselves to be the perfect choice for one superhero or another. Whether it be part of ‘The Superhero Conversation’ with your mate, or simply because you have a beard like Chris Hemsworth, the superhero ego has caught up with us occasionally. Yet with Marvel assembling a wave of superheroes in an onslaught of movies and TV series (most notably through ‘Avengers Assemble’), DC have responded like a bat-signal in the sky to form their own Justice League through Warner Bros., regardless of our egos. Already, we have our Batman, Superman, Flash and Wonder Woman – but what about the rest? Ladies and gentleman, here are my suggestions for some of the members of Super Spandex Clan (I still think that’s a better name than ‘Justice League’):

1.  Aquaman – Ryan Gosling

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What Marvel have established from ‘Avengers Assemble’ is that you can have a variety of incredible leading actors that still cooperate together on screen as a team, each with equal screen time (sorry Jeremy Renner). Justice League can adopt the same ethos, instead of having a ‘Batman, Superman and The Rest’ movie. Of course, Aquaman has an infamous reputation for being one of the worst superheroes, with his main superpower being the ability to communicate with the marine life at Seaworld. What good is that? The Justice League movie has a tough job of restoring his reputation, just as ‘Injustice: Gods Among Us’ did. Gosling would be the perfect choice, as he has proved over the years that he can take to the fray as the leading man, whilst not getting too cocky. Admittedly, yes, my main basis is on the similarity of their hair!

2. Chris Pine – Green Lantern

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With the, erm… ‘underwhelming success’ of the recent rendition of Green Lantern, fans are left stunted as to whether Warner Bros. will work on the failures of the first film and keep Ryan Reynolds, reboot Hal Jordan’s story or just scrap it altogether. If they decide to keep Hal Jordan but move forward, Chris Pine would make a great choice. Hair may be a common denominator across my choice of actors, but Pine’s efforts in the recent ‘Star Trek’ franchise as Captain Kirk shows that he has a firm grasp on the sci-fi scene – he already has the Enterprise, why not give him a alien ring to add to his collection?

3. Martian Manhunter – Dwayne Johnson Martian_Manhunter_cosplay

Dwayne_Johnson_at_the_2009_Tribeca_Film_Festival “David Michael “Dave” Bautista, Jr. is a Filipino American actor, mixed martial artist, bodybuilder, and professional wrestler who is currently signed to WWE” – this is the description for the big-built Drax the Destroyer as part of Marvel’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ squad. If it’s a man-machine that DC is looking to cast, then they should look no further than The Rock himself. Whether it be the ‘Fast & Furious’ movies or ‘The Scorpion King’, Johnson has shown that he can be a lean, mean fighting machine like Manhunter. If they’re looking to cast Manhunter as the jester of the squad, then Johnson’s role in ‘The Tooth Fairy’ should, for once, come in handy. Manhunter has been described as ‘surprisingly funny and whimsical, according to Martian standards, anyway’ – perfect.

Comic fans, I understand that there are more members of Justice League than just eight, but I’m choosing to stop there as I doubt there may be more than that in the film! Also, I have an allegiance to Marvel as a fan boy, which of course I cannot break.

P.s. on a superhero note, keep an eye out for Infamous: Second Son and Captain America: The Winter Soldier in the next two weeks *snorts, pushes up spectacles*

‘NekNomination’ – Gizmo or Gremlin?

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We Britons have many reasons to be thankful for Australia. If it weren’t for Australia, we wouldn’t have Dame Edna, koala bears or even Foster’s (okay, so two out of three). Stereotypically, they’re a bit mad. Admittedly, we wouldn’t change a thing, like the idea of deep-fried Mars bars or Russell Brand. Yet they now have another staple to add to their agenda – ‘NekNomination’, a new social drinking game that has made its way overseas to the majority of the student population.

Innocently, I spent my weekend scrolling down my Facebook news feed for ‘bantz’ and growling at anyone who was brave enough to beat my Flappy Bird score of 9, only to come across an intriguing video that one of my friends posted. 34 likes, a filthy pint as the display picture for the video and comments that ranged from ‘Proud and slightly disgusted’ to ‘What have you become?’. This couldn’t be good.

After four minutes of watching lager getting mixed with a raw egg, SPAM and a variety of other foul foods, only to have it chugged to a backing track of ‘I Need a Hero’, I struggled to process what I had just witnessed. A video of my childhood friend quickly degrading himself in the name of a 24 hour nomination was both nauseating and thrilling. Ending the video with ‘I nominate…’, I prepared myself for what was coming: The Student Apocalypse.

Being a first year, I’ve steadily opened myself up to a whole range of dysfunctional drinking games. ‘Ring of Fire’, ‘Canoe Race’, ‘Beer Pong’ – but never anything like ‘NekNomation’. Never before have I seen my brother mix ‘Frosty Jacks’ with gravy granules and mouthwash together; nor have I seen a woman ride on horseback into Tesco to then down a pint with pride. The rules about social media have gone straight down the loo, come back out of the loo, mixed with Budweiser and paprika and drunk through a Chemistry department funnel. Is it the best thing to happen since Flappy Bird, or is it just blatantly moronic?

I could sit here banging on about ‘down with lad culture!’ and be a sensible student. In all honesty, students love this sort of thing and it’s a celebrated part of student culture. Primarily, we’re here for a higher education degree and an expansion in our life skills; but we’re also here to nick traffic cones and have a ruddy good time. ‘NekNomation’ is just another way of being a bit of an idiot, each to their own.

Understandably, with any form of drinking game or student bedlam, it has its consequences. The ‘NekNomination’ page from Northern Ireland was taken down as the result of two people having died from playing the game and attempting to better their peers. Also, universities and employers can view your Facebook profile and see the video, which could potentially be damaging to future employment prospects.

My intention isn’t to sound like a parent with ‘finger-wagging syndrome’. Of course it’s an individual lifestyle choice, and that should be respected. Personally, it could be seen as the start of a phenomenon that does some good in the world besides getting you a boost in likes and pride. One of my friends in Education posted on Twitter: ‘Quite liking the idea of #RespektNominate screw downing a drink, instead do something nice for somebody or yourself instead’, whilst Ireland’s Radio Nova are attempting to get #NekDonation trending to other radio stations in an effort to raise money for charity.

From events like ‘Dryathlon’ and ‘Movember’, there are examples everywhere that people are willing to make the most out of something potentially dangerous than get rid of it before it escalates. Think cuddly Gizmo from Gremlins – sure, he can turn into a destructive, ferocious monster if you encourage it, but look how darn cute he is when you give him love and a Barbie car! As long as we ensure that people are aware of the impacts of this nutty craze, be relatively sensible and help to promote its possible benefits in helping charities and organizations, this student gremlin need not be put into a microwave and blown to smithereens.

Also, for those concerned, yes, I have been nominated myself. My brother nominated me about a week ago and I’ve still yet to figure out how to do a healthy ‘NekNomation’. So far, the main ingredient is a Nourishment drink… procrastination is certainly getting the better of me.

Next-Gen, Maybe Next Time

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Original article at York Vision

Gaming community, I’m about to make a statement which will probably get me shunned to my bedroom early and without any supper. Considering your anger when the Playstation Network is down without explanation, I’ll have to put it bluntly: I won’t be getting next-gen. Now, put your Blades of Chaos and blue shells DOWN and be calm, go with me on this. I can assure you that it isn’t due to a distaste or lack of money. My argument for doing so is pretty simple: I’m a bit of a culture freak.

By that, I don’t mean I staple Kermit the Frogs together to make a t-shirt like Lady Gaga once did. What I mean is I feel this need to always be aware of the culture around me. I spend most of my day on Facebook and Twitter looking for trending topics in the worry that I may wake up tomorrow and miss something that has potentially just exploded onto the internet. To remain blissfully unaware is difficult.

Have you ever been asked “Have you seen this?” or “Have you heard that?”and feel that little bit dumb or ‘out of the loop’ for having not done so? It pains me when I know I haven’t seen Life of Pi or read Harry Potter past the fourth book, because I feel uncultured, even though I like to think I’m a pretty well-rounded individual. Well, it’s the same with gaming.

In the great console war, I chose my side long ago on Christmas Day. Since then, I’ve been dedicated to Sony’s innovative exclusives and mainstream titles, from the original, clunky Playstation to the high-tech prowess of the Playstation 3. I made it my mission to delve into as many different genres as I could, from shouting ‘JAAASOOON’ in crowded shopping malls in Heavy Rain to pummeling thugs and battling throat cancer in inFamous.

Yet, all it took was a “You’ve never played Mega Man?” to make me realise that this exclusivity was excluding myself away from the excess of culture that exists across consoles. Certainly, you can’t play every game that’s ever been created, nor would you want to. However, you can only remain so versatile within such a restricted domain.

One of my friends is a self-confessed Nintendo fanboy (admittedly, not something many people confess), who would constantly inform me of the latest game that “was much better than your AAA rubbish”. Usually, I would roll my eyes at him; now, I’m willing to invest in a part of culture that just hasn’t existed in my life at all. Whether that be Nintendo or the simple ‘indie’ developer (I’m developing a slight obsession for the newly released Octodad: Dadliest Catch), there’s still a vast amount of content that is yet to be explored.

So why the need to move onto next-gen? On a developer’s point of view, it’s ‘moving with the times’ as technology advances, products need creating and, let’s face it, the wages aren’t going to pay themselves. For the consumer, are you really unsatisfied with your current console and need to move on? Has the absence of touch-pad controls and speech recognition made you break down crying in the middle of GAME? I didn’t think so.

That’s why, my nerdy brethren, I’ll be saying no to next-gen for the next couple of years. As part-time IGN anchor Ron Burgundy famously put: ‘Try to think of these consoles as women. Totally different, beautiful women that you can play with”. Without sounding like a player, I think I’ll spend time with some other women before I take my current relationship to the next level. God forbid my girlfriend reads this article!

Texts From a Friend

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The majority of the time, texts from a friend usually consist of “How are you?”, “Are you on your way?” and “Wow, what a gay Facebook status”. Yet, there’s that one rare moment when a simple text turns into a conversation filled with specs of goldust just itching to be written down before somebody copyrights what you’ve just discovered… Exhibit A:

“Ross you didn’t invent ‘got milk?’.” “Yes I did, I DID… I should’ve written it down…”

Well, I recently had one of those moments, excluding the ‘got milk’ copyright part! As I’m sure some of you are aware, Irrational Games, the developer behind the critical and commercial phenomenon ‘Bioshock Infinite’ have recently ceased to exist due to a “change of focus”. After publicly grieving on Facebook that there won’t be any more games released in the Bioshock series, I received a text, from my friend Ben,which flourished into a brilliant snippet of critical conversation/banter:

Ben: 2k has thousands of employees. For Mr Levine to want to make something different does not require to out 100 developers out of a job. The game series will just be made by others. Anyway Bioshock 1/2 were not the same as infinite. Also many  developers can work on a franchise and it still be okay. Look at CoD. Also these 100 developers have a chance (not a brilliant on though) to work at another 2k developer and probs still make BioShock games. Even though it probs mean that they have to uproot themselves to another country/state/etc. The story here is not he future of BioShock.

Me: Yeah of course, I beared in mind naughty dog when you said that – one team made Uncharted, one made The Last of Us, apparently similar games, if one of the teams went bust I guess the other team would, to a degree, be able to replicate it 🙂

Ben: Is replication what you want? What about innovation?

*small toilet break*

Me: Recognition more than replication, I guess, I want to recognise what I’m playing, but yes, push the boundaries too 🙂

Ben: Recognition can come from the name on the box. Far cry 3 blood dragon is not like far cry 3 however the box tells you the link

Me You can recognise the title, not necessarily the brand! I don’t see Operation Raccoon City as a Resident Evil game (per se) despite holding the brand name 🙂 We’d make a good critical duo!

Ben: Where do a brand and title desperate? That may be a good question to ask?

And the duo idea is so good I’ll take 50% of the moonah

Me: Right down the middle… 70/30, like I said 😉

Aside from the fact that this is a tad boring and I use emoticons far more than I do full stops, you see my point! Don’t just let those wonderful texts get lost into cyberspace – show the world that you, sir/madame, have something pretty darn inspiring to say. I expect to see you overtaking the Queen for her Christmas speech any day now 😉

Gaming Nostalgia – My Top Ten

Original article at MyIGN

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ERH MA GHERD, GEHMS! We’ve owned them, we’ve played them, we’ve traded them in to buy even more games. It’s a wonderfully viscous circle of life that we gaming geeks have endured for years. Yet, through that time, we’ve loved and lost games that always hold a place somewhere in our hearts and possibly that neglected PS2 memory card under your sofa. Sometimes I just sit back and think about my gaming favourites, how they’ve become a part of the past, my past. Ready yourselves for some nostalgia, kids, here are my top ten games of my time:

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age

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Infamously, there haven’t been many reputable licensed series throughout my childhood. After being heavily disappointed by the Mr Bean video game, and a multitude of PS1 Disney-Pixar titles, I sought comfort in the warm embrace of EA and their efforts with The Lord of the Rings gaming franchise. I give Warner Bros some credit for their experimentation, but EA were incredibly faithful and innovative with it. My personal highlight was The Third Age, a turn-based LOTRPokemon hybrid that pits you in a compelling RPG adventure in the footsteps of the fellowship. Great locales, characters and enemies from the three movies; heck, the game had you fighting Nazguls as your first enemy – much tougher than a cuddly Pikachu!

2. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II

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Fast-forward yourself into the year 40,000, and your Rangers of Gondor have laser rifles and your Orcs have jetpacks. Welcome to the future: it’s a lot bloodier than you anticipated! The Warhammer universe is quite an insane one, filled with a variety of armies and races just hell-bent on shooting each other senseless. It makes for a an incredibly dysfunctional ride when we convert that into RTS gameplay. Couple that with a long story, great RPG elements and more violence than a Leeds United football match and you have one of the best PC games of my lifetime.

3. Crash Twinsanity

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Who the heck is Crash Bandicoot? Once a popular Sony mascot, the cuddly bandicoot has gone rogue since 2008, with recent rumours that Sony wants to taste the wumpa fruit again some time in the future. In secondary school, pretty much everyone I knew had experienced Crash Bandicoot in some form or another, whether it be through mediocre impressions of N. Gin or bonding over the fact that Wrath of Cortex was their only Crash game. For me, Crash Twinsanity brought together everything that I ever loved about Crash. It had a charming sense of humour, both written and slaptstick (see above picture), colourful characters and locations, new and old, as well as some of the most brilliant concept art I’ve ever seen! After completing it four times, it’s still a personal favourite.

4. Simpsons Hit and Run

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Cortex may be my favourite, yellow-skinned villain, but the Simpsons have to be my favourite, yellow-skinned domestic family (I actually Googled ‘yellow-skinned domestic family’, it seems no others exist!). The theme of my room when I was younger constituted entirely of The Simpsons memorabilia. Simpsons bedsheets, dolls of the Simpsons, Simspsons comics in the corner of my room: I think I’ve made the folks at Fox a lot of money! Hit and Run was always a bonding point among myself and other The Simpsons fans, even more than the show. Mixing Grand Theft Auto with Springfield made for a hilariously-addictive way to spend my time, and the only time I’ll ever experience driving a rocket car.

5. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

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I raise both hands in the air when I say that I haven’t played any of the Far Cry games. Sure, I played about thirty minutes of Far Cry 3 at my mate’s house, but it never reeled me in much. When I heard that Michael Biehn was voicing a commando cyborg who rose from the ashes of Vietnam War II to fight a cyber army and blood dragons, I ran straight for my debit card yelling ‘SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY’. The game exists independent of the Far Cry franchise and mimics the likes of the original Robocop: filled with satire, robotics and more weapons than a Texan gun shop!

6. The Matrix – Path of Neo

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Admit it, we’ve all asked that one friend of ours to pretend to shoot us so that we can attempt to doge that make-believe bullet like a complete badassThe Matrix is understandably one of the coolest cult films of my time and Path of Neo gave me an excuse to take the red pill and kick some ass. The lobby scene? Yeah you can do that. The fight with 13235232143 Agent Smiths? Oh, absolutely. Making your way through a Chateau maze fighting giant fire ants? Don’t ask!

7. Bioshock Infinite

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Arguably one of the coolest gaming titles of the past ever, enter the Bioshock series. As a PS3 player, I found it incredibly difficult to ignore this series, despite trying my best for a few years. ‘No thank you, my life is as weird and political as it is with Fallout in it!’. The series grew across current gen and I had to give in: oh was it worth it. With gratuitous violence, a tough-skinned concept and execution and one of the most mind-numbing endings I’ve ever played (I had to ring my girlfriend after I’d played it and basically cry down the phone attempting to explain it), it really is one of the best adventures you can ever experience. Also, it has Troy Baker, because what doesn’t have Troy Baker these days?

8. Battlefront 2

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It’s a simple fact: people love Jedi, there’s an entire religion based on it! Mention ‘Battlefront’ to anyone and they won’t talk about the first game, they’ll boast about that badass light-saber throw they did as Darth Maul and how they tried to mimic the ‘cable trick’ as Luke Skywalker on the Hoth map. LucasArts made a vast amount of brilliant Star Wars titles in gaming, but Battlefront 2 really shone as a game that was fun to play on your own, but absolutely necessary with your friends. Mos Eisley, you won’t just be remembered for your funky tunes and bar fights, but for your ‘Hero Assault’ matches, too.

9. Wario Land 3

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When the world was in awe over a selfless, friendly Italian plumber who risked his life to save princesses, I was busy sat in the back of our family car on holidays guiding an overweight, reckless mustachioed man to his next destination. Oh, and playing Wario Land 3, that was also a nice pastime! Originally an antagonist to Mario, the garlic-ridden Wario got his own franchise that soon grabbed my intention. Taking the Indiana Jones treasure-hunter stance, Wario had to find a variety of treasures to help him escape a music box, as well as make a bit of cash for himself. It had zombies, donuts, giant worms and a variety of wacky stuff that made me blissfully unaware that I was very travel-sick: I’ll always be thankful.

10. Mario Strikers Charged Football

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And finally, numero ten, Mario Strikers Charged Football. This was a game where I could still engage with Wario and his brutish antics, whilst still being able to admit to two things: ‘Why yes, I have played a Mario game’ and ‘No, sorry I’ve never played FIFA, does this count at all?’, I loathed football and played it, I had friends who loved football and played it – it certainly was for everyone. The campaign made me feel like a semi-professional footballer, whilst the multiplayer made me realise that I should pack in that ambition if it ever grew to become real. Great fun and one of the best games on the Wii, if only I still played on my Wii!

‘Twas the Night Before Valentine’s

Original article at York Vision

We’ve come a long way from the first medieval associations of Valentine’s Day with the romantic love and chivalry of Geoffrey Chaucer’s time. But is chivalry dead? Doris Xu has given us a fascinating insight into Chinese mythological romance right up to modern commercial culture. Adrian discusses his plans for his first Valentine’s Day as a student in a relationship. Not all of us will be sending generically mass-produced cards and strewing a path of rose petals to the bedroom after a sumptuous restaurant dinner in 2014.

Popular suggestions include e-cards (because it’s the thought that counts?) for long distance relationships, or pushing the boat out with a £20 Marks and Spencer’s dine in for two deal. Even happily established, i.e. virtually married, couples often scoff at the ‘commercialization’ of the tradition. With the trend for doing things ‘ironically’, our comment editor has expressed a desire to watch When Harry Met Sally whilst crying into his Ben & Jerry’s. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Bridget Jones’ Diary are also suitably tragic but brilliant options for viewing on the 14th.

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For the first time in Valentine’s Day history, I won’t be spending mine sneering at the joyful statuses of lovers on my Facebook news feed, or resisting the urge to mope to R.E.M.’sEverybody Hurts, because I’m now one of the lucky people to be in a relationship and have plans.

Considering this, I find myself a bit of a newbie in celebrating it this year, particularly when me and my girlfriend conform to the opposite gender stereotypes. I’m quite the softy, who considers a box of chocolates and a serenade to be acceptable; she isn’t into cheese (the emotional kind, she loves real cheese) and will happily accept chocolates on an essay-stimulating basis, rather than an emotional one.

That leaves us with limited options: we’re both new to this business. As a compromise, we’ve both agreed that we’ll stand together against the commercialisation and have a romantic, student night in. I’ve been assigned as chef, whilst a cold 76 Tang Hall Lane is the designated romantic cabin of love and assorted biscuits. The problem is that I’m sharing with a couple already, so the fight will be on as to who can claim the table and scented Gladecandles first!

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In China, western Valentine’s Day seems more popular among young lovers than the traditional one known as Qixi festival. Qixi festival originates from Chinese folk tales. According to the mythological story, the love between a weaver girl as an incarnation of Vega and a cowherd symbolizing Altair cannot be permitted by heaven. They were expelled to opposite sides of the Milky Way, and could only meet once a year on the night of July 7 in lunar month, when a flock of magpies would form a bridge with their wings to reunite the lovers. Although the reunion can never happen, lovers, newly-weds, and old couples, will cuddle up together and gaze at the sky to seek Vega and Altair as part of tradition. If it is a rainy night, people believe the rainfall to represent the tears shed by the separated couple.

In contrast to this ancient and sentimental way, young people prefer western Valentine’s Day featuring romance. Generally speaking, young people will enjoy a candlelight dinner with lovers exchanging presents. In some cases, some young men may devise a surprise. One of my best friends in China told me how excited she felt when unpacking the valentine’s gift. She fancied a handbag before and a couple of days later, she was depressed to find other buyers had nabbed it. She felt down, until she unwrapped the Valentine’s present and found it was exactly what she longed for.

On February 14th, some young men and women in love may choose to register marriage on the special day. Another tradition is the blind date. Some dislike spending Valentine’s Day alone, so attend blind dates organised by matchmaking agencies and TV programs. Some parents are even involved in the matchmaking if their children are too busy to date. Parents may put up a profile of their child and if they are satisfied with the counterpart, they will exchange contact information. This seems like a market, but it’s become a prevalent phenomenon in China in current years.

Meanwhile, in terms of the pressure to celebrate, some young people said they have no alternative. Otherwise, their lovers may think they are not loved. Each year, celebration may cost them a sum of fortune, since after Valentine’s, there are some other romantic festivals such as March 14th known as White Day, and May 21st which is celebrated among the young as the pronunciation of the date in Mandarin is similar to “I love you”, plus Qixi festival. In the end, nobody can be happier than shopkeepers!

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Special Edition – Review

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Original article at York Vision

Composer for the scores of timeless classics such as Mrs Doubtfire and The Silence of the Lambs, Howard Shore is writing in the league of musical genius. Sadly, as admirable as his efforts were, they were overshadowed by the likes of Robin Williams burning his bosoms over a kitchen stove. That certainly wasn’t the case with his soundtrack for The Lord of the Rings, giving him renowned success and nasty hobbitses everywhere music for Middle Earth. If following that up with a score for An Unexpected Journey was a brave return for Shore, continuing with The Desolation of Smaug was an even braver one.

Opening with The Quest for Erebor, I was half expecting the popular Misty Mountains Cold theme to intertwine itself with the film’s score as was previously done. However, it instead has that orchestral empowerment we were introduced to ten years ago. From the first few tracks, it begins to feel darker and gloomier than An Unexpected Journey, a fitting move by Shore as Peter Jackson’s prequel trilogy begins to change its tone. Flies and Spiders hits this perfectly, with its sharp chords and mighty crescendos, giving it that feel reminiscent of Mordor from The Lord of the Rings score.

  The Elves save not only Bilbo and company from some horrific spiders, but the soundtrack from becoming two hours of doom and gloom. Rivendell, also from the original trilogy, has always been a personal favourite piece of mine, as beautiful to me as a pint is to Pippin. Feast of Starlight provides that same gloomy but mystical coating, before the soundtrack goes on its travels down The Forest River, as fast paced as the scene in the movie itself.

From here, Shore takes inspiration from his previous Middle Earth composition. Sadly, it isn’t a cameo of The Green Dragon Song like they did with Frodo last year, but instead giving a certain ambiance to his music in order to portray different themes and concepts conveyed in the film.

For example, we have the bold and brass nature of the Dwarves, conveyed by instruments of a similar description in Girion, Lord of Dale; summing up the very personality of a city with grandiose melodies, as is done for Lake-town in Thrice Welcome; and letting you know when Hobbits are getting some worthy screen time with the famous Shire clarinet in The Courage of Hobbits. It all feels familiar, which is a wonderful thing – this is the Middle Earth you left ten years ago, which sounds as authentic as you remember.

The composer isn’t afraid to tread new ground, however. Shore uses a descending arpeggiated melody in pieces such Bard, a Man of Lake-town and Protector of the Common Folk which give the score some cohesion, whilst pushing the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra to its limits in creating an altogether sinister conclusion of tracks to scale up Smaug’s fiery (sorry) reputation, as is brilliantly presented in My Armour is Iron, with its rhythmic strings and blaring brass, building him up in a Sauron kind of way.

What’s more, Shore has created something truly beautiful in his tracks Kingsfoil and Beyond the Forest. They’re almost narcotic when they introduce a basic, elven melody that breaks away from the overall threatening tone of the film; although, they are true to this concept, and can be just as epic in their own rights as the songs progress.

Let me discuss the elephant in this soundtrack, Ed Sheeran’s I See Fire. Where does a chart-topping, acoustic-loving 22 year old have his place in a Middle Earth soundtrack? You either loathe it, for said reason, or you love it for the reason that I do. Of course he’s not singing in Elven, but that doesn’t take away from the authentic feel that he grants to The Desolation of Smaug.

The song bleeds with Thorin’s anguish for Smaug destroying his people, calling to his dwarven brothers to stand against him. ‘And if we should die tonight, then we should all die together…. watch the flames burn auburn on the mountain side. Desolation comes upon the sky.’ Ed Sheeran channels this in his tender vocals, strumming a simple rhythm on his guitar, accompanied by nothing more than a drum and cello. Its simplicity mirrors the fact that Thorin and his people have nothing. Also, he gets a folklike violin solo – any Hobbit’s dream!

To conclude, Shore does a magnificent job in capturing the essence of The Desolation of Smaug in his soundtrack. He stays comfortable in some parts, using old tricks in a new setting; in others, he experiments with what he has learnt across his time as a composer, daring to be different in some aspects, paying off entirely. Whilst it won’t go down in motion picture history as The Lord of the Rings soundtrack did, it will certainly go down in mine and any budding Tolkien fan’s history.

Bad Films – The Attraction of Repulsion

Fast food. From alarming news stories and the likes of Supersize vs Superskinny, it’s safe to say that society is informed on how it can lead to malnutrition. Yet the Big Mac will always be one of God’s most wonderful creations, what with its criminally delicious effects on our taste buds. Is it the same for bad films? Are they as bad for us as the critics deem them to be, or do they make a good substitute for a Big Mac?

For starters, what do we even consider to be a ‘bad film’? According to Rotten Tomatoes, a film review aggregator, bad films are otherwise known as ‘rotten’ if less than 60% of the films’ reviews are rated ‘positive’. It’s shallow, but it essentially gives budding cinema-goers the ‘yay or nay’ on a new movie release. A rotten habit of mine (oh stop) is searching for the latest, hoping they’ll be the greatest, and pre-imposing my opinions based on that miniature tomato or bogey green splat. Should I not watch something because of a blemish composed of the beliefs of a critic?

In all honesty, we spent the majority of December watching film after film stamped with this curse. Christmas films are as sinfully awful as that tacky, sing-along Santa that your Mum is obsessed with. Jingle All the Way is a personal favourite, where every year I chuckle at Arnold Schwarzengger running across the city to get his kid a Turbo Man doll. I think to myself, ‘This is absolute trash, when will he shout “Get to de choppa!”?’, yet I continue to watch it, just like I do any Christmas film plucked from the depths of a bargain bin.

This seems to be apparent at pretty much any time of the year. The truth is, we love our trash. Twihards together spent hundreds of millions on seeing an awkward Kristen Stewart pout at pretty boys, whilst comedy junkies flock to the new Adam Sandler flick to see his latest attempt at “acting”. We dedicate the ‘Razzies’ to mocking their efforts and attempts; yet, we still willingly empty our wallets to see some sub-standard cinema shite.

The question is – why? As much as critics slate these “bad films”, I feel they exist in their own right as an art form. Sometimes, we find that we don’t want to watch a film and be philosophically engaged, politically persuaded or culturally inspired. Sometimes, I just want to relax at the end of a long week and get a kick out of having my senses insulted with pure rubbish. Would you prefer admiring the Mona Lisa to watching a flipbook of a cartoon cop repeatedly running over a burglar (always a highlight of Hot Fuzz)?

Of course I’m not undermining the talent and genius of these creative minds. If anything, these two art forms give light to one another. We wouldn’t know what an Oscar-worthy film was without having Syfy readily on demand to scoff at Titanic 2. Society needs that counterbalance to really appreciate what taste is and I’m glad people exist who give our cultural lives a bit of perspective. As the saying goes, ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’. Or another man’s Big Mac? I might have overdone that metaphor.