Introduction to Portfolio

This is a portfolio of sample assignments from my Technical Communication class with Leah Guren. The online course focused on the introductory elements of Technical Communication, such as concise communication, clear graphics, and ordered information.

I created this site in 2017 to practice reviewing movies and television. I have also included various personal essays and poetry, along with a large “travel” section covering my semester abroad.

Miss Congeniality-Outdated Feminism

Before someone tries to throw hands at me about the title, let me clarify that I do admire this movie, and have seen it more than once. However, as I get older and watch it with new nuance, I see some critiques of this enduring classic.

The story follows FBI agent Gracie Hart (alias Gracie Lou Freebush) as she infiltrates the Miss United States pageant to catch an unexpected villain. I almost feel like the second scene is misleading. The prologue tells us who we have, the second scene leads us to believe we’re in an intense action movie, and then it pivots to an office!

Two standout supporting characters are Kathy Morningside and Victor Melling. Candice Bergen makes a meal of her bland role and entertains us as pageant director Kathy Morningside. No one with a name that cheerful can be trusted, and Ms. Morningside soon turns into a storm. While entertaining and campy, Caine’s stylist Vic is a two-dimensional stereotype that does no good for authentic representation

The two shining elements that pull the plot together are Gracie’s relationships with Vic and Cheryl. Cheryl is a shy contestant who opens up to Gracie and finds some confidence. r endearing earnestness helps her steal the show and eventually the title of Miss USA. In addition to being her stylist and consultant, Vic morphs into a father figure for Gracie, and they  ultimately winning Miss United States and being saved from explosion.

April 25th

Everyone knows that April 25th is the best day of the year! Cheryl’s “airhead moment” has become an iconic meme. 

While the movie ostensibly shows a strong female embracing other strong females, subtle misogyny abounds and is hard to miss in a post-#MeToo era. 

4 minutes in, a waitress is insulted with the line “this broad’s got two asses”. Right off the bat, this is the kind of subtle language that annoys me about this movie. Even before the pageant starts, the group that picks the agent to participate is made up of ten )males and one female. It’s a free-for-all of objectification and debauchery. (17:08-19:10). Once the pageant starts, Gracie wears a camera, and her male colleagues have a disgusting field day with what they see.

In addition, Gracie Hart is unnaturally forced into a romance with her colleague Eric Matthews, played by adorable Benjamin Bratt. While Hart and Matthews have an entertaining rapport as colleagues, there was no justifiable reason to force shift to romance at the end of the movie. The subtle flirtations and misdirects are one thing, but 

A Brief Shining Moment

This is one of the most straightforwardly feminist moments of the movie. While I don’t like the word “liberating” being used to describe a beauty pageant, I like her attitude shift and commitment to her friends

It’s not about her “becoming a beauty contestant”, but about her learning to operate out of her femininity as well as her masculinity. We also get to see Gracie make real friends, which is endearing

While an entertaining and colorful romp, Miss Congeniality doesn’t hold up as a positive example 20 years after its release. For a colorful Sandra Bullock comedy, I recommend The Proposal and for an epic Sandra Bullock action movie, i recommend The Heat (for adults only). Miss Congeniality gets 7/10 for a strong cast, a good soundtrack, and genuine humor and heart. Three points docked for the misogyny and the unnecessary romance. A great choice for a tween slumber party, or a “throwback classics” night, 

Love is Blind-A Delightful Disaster

Hi y’all! I know i promised to update more with the extra free time, but then online classes started. 🙂 I’m working on a new schedule and I have lots of cool content on the way. First off, my thoughts on a cultural phenomenon besides a disease.

Like the rest of the world, I’ve been alternating between boredom and procrastination in this quarantine. I’ve seen a lot on the Internet about Love is Blind and I finally decided to see what all the fuss is about. I’d like to note that I’ve only seen one episode of The Bachelor and do not follow any such franchises. Let me tell you, I’ve got some THOUGHTS! Let’s go.

The show is a “social experiment” to test whether love is in fact blind. 20 men and 20 women (all ostensibly heterosexual) move into a “facility” for two weeks. They spend every minute of every day talking to potential matches through a thin blue wall. After ten days of intense conversation, some couples may choose to get engaged, although none are forced to. They are then allowed to meet face-to-face. They proceed to a Mexican resort, then a new apartment together. They make their final choice on the altar, with the option to say “I don’t”.

Lauren and Cameron are the King and Queen of this show, second to none. If the show had been a contest for the ”healthiest relationship” (and it should have been), Lameron would win hands-down. From day 1 to the end, both are self-aware, mature, authentic, and they communicate effectively. As such, they are fan favorites, and have done the most promotional interviews. They also have a YouTube channel, Hanging with the Hamiltons

Amber and Barnett are two distorted peas in a cramped pod. They fumble through the pod dates and then see each other upon engagement. Amber might be authentic, but she has an emotional instability to her that “scares the living hell” out of her fiancé Barnett. Barnett isn’t that much better, waiting until the last possible second to choose between Jessica and Amber. Amber’s explanation of their relationship is questionable at best: “Barnett…frustrates me and he irks my nerves, and drives me to the ends of insanity, and…I f**king love him. I adore him for it.” (1×3, 19:30) I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe healthy relationships can be built on irritation and frustration. I wish them well, but I don’t ever wanna hang out with these two weirdos.

One early comedic highlight is Lauren’s reaction upon meeting Barnett: “Now that I see Barnett in the flesh after all of the drama, all of the large wine glasses that were consumed on the girls’ side due to this man. Ummm…” (1×4, 39:40). This tells me all I need to know. Men who cause drama and drinking are not the men who should be getting married.

Jessica and Mark didn’t have a shot in hell. From day one, Jessica had more intense feelings for Barnett, and those continued at full speed until the wedding day. I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt, that she was trying her hardest to go through with the wedding, but I don’t honestly think so. While Mark is 10 years younger than Jessica, he behaves and speaks as the more mature one in the relationship. In episode six, Jessica says “He’s really emotionally available, and that is a red flag for me.” (1×6, 36:59) Yes, a 34-year old woman described her 24-year old fiance in those words.

Gigi and Damian are an interesting pair. While not making it down the aisle on the show, the two are still dating, taking it at their own pace. Gigi is a drama queen throughout the show, but I believe her heart is in the right place. And I’m just gonna say it, she’s incredibly gorgeous. Damian is sometimes a doormat, and their conflict takes up too much show time, but I’m glad they’re happy. 

This is a clip from the reunion finale, when Amber explains Jessica’s problems to her and says what everyone is thinking. Lauren and Cameron embody all of our reactions.

I give this show 9/10 for entertainment and an intriguing spin on a classic formula. One point lost because the “love triangle” and other drama was blown too far out of proportion. Recommended for people who don’t watch The Bachelor but need to have some idea of current cultural discussion. 

Inception-The Ghosts in Our Dreams

Hey everyone! It’s only been 16 days since my last post, but the world seems to have been upended on its axis. I’m on an extended spring break and online learning for the rest of the semester, but I plan to just keep watching movies and discussing them, like I always do. Since this month feels like a bad dream, I thought I’d tackle an intriguing dream-centered movie next…Inception.
A while back I wrote a review of The Great Gatsby (2013 dir. Baz Luhrmann) and used the subtitle “One Man’s Mirage”. It appears that Leonardo DiCaprio has a penchant for unstable characters, particularly highlighted in 2010’s Inception.
The movie is quite similar to a show called Stitchers, about extracting memories from the minds of the dead. The main difference is that in Inception, dreamers are still alive. The film follows Dominic Cobb (also called Caleb) as he attempts to plant a life-altering idea in the mind of a grieving son.
The best part about the movie is that one can never be sure if a scene is taking place in reality or in a dream. There are multiple scenes that appear to be real, but turn out to be entirely designed, catching viewers by surprise. The biggest use of this comes in the last frame of the film. All I will say about the controversy is this: I believe in the wobble, I believe in redemption, but I also understand the heartbreaking allure of delusion.
The problem with this movie is that Leo DiCaprio steals every scene. This is not a compliment. Even with such commendable actors as Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, and Cillian Murphy, Leo’s intense passion pulls focus and no one else can do anything until he is out of frame. I suppose part of this is due to my expectations of a Marvel-like ensemble film, rather than the backdrop of paper characters we see
The only exception to the above grievance is Marion Cotillard. Her intriguing performance as Caleb’s damaged wife is on par with DiCaprio’s and they have palpable tension. The nature of this tension is complex, and both actors understand this.
Although DiCaprio and Cotillard pull most of of the focus, Ellen Page does her best to add depth with her reactions. Her role as the  dream architect Ariadne (could they have made that metaphor any less subtle?) adds a voice of reason and caution to a reckless heist.
In terms of violence, this movie is on par with Marvel-plenty of “bad guys” get shot, but there’s very little blood or gore. There is one scene of a woman jumping off of a hotel balcony, but her body isn’t shown.

Overall I give this movie 9/10 for an intriguing concept, a stellar cast who does their best, and some stellar set design. One point lost because Leo hogged every scene.

Harriet-A Woman Touched by God

I recently saw the movie Harriet and was blown away by its brilliance and mastery. First, I would like to acknowledge my place on the sidelines of this conversation. I speak only as a student of history, grateful for new knowledge and empathy. I was also grateful for cultural and emotional context around a sensitive issue I knew (and still know) relatively little about.

First, the stunning acting prowess of Cynthia Erivo as the titular heroine. Erivo brings a quiet dignity and stunning nuance to an iconic figure. Throughout the film, her stirring speeches effect change and evoke empathy from those who haven’t shared her painful history. At one point, Harriet defends her choice to return to the south, saying “Don’t you tell me what I can’t do. I made it this far on my own. God was watching, but my feet was my own. Running, bleeding, climbing, nearly drowned, nothing to eat for days and days, but I made it! So don’t you tell me what I can’t do. You don’t know me.

Later in the film, Harriet addresses a room of abolitionists with this haunting charge: ”I ain’t giving up rescuing slaves because it’s far. Many of you don’t know slavery firsthand. You were born free. You’ve been free so long, you forget what it’s like. You’ve gotten comfortable and important. You got beautiful homes, beautiful wives. But I remember.”.

Born into slavery, Araminta Ross Tubman ran from the prospect of being sold further south. She chose Harriet as her freed name, then went back to the hell she escaped from. Initially just bringing family and friends to freedom, she ended up freeing over 700 slaves and acting as a spy for the Union army. She died in 1913 at “approximately 91 years old” The “approximately” is what gets me. The woman who freed hundreds of slaves led an armed regiment, and tirelessly fought for freedom–this one-in-a-million woman didn’t even know her own birthday.

Another terrific leader of this movie is Leslie Odom Jr. Best known for originating the role of Aaron Burr in Hamilton, he carries a strong role as William Still. A free African-American, Still was a prominent member of the Underground Railroad, as well as a businessman. In the film, Still is understandably cautious of Harriet’s bold endeavors, but he admires her grit and ingenuity.

Rounding out the principal cast is Janelle Monáe as Marie Buchanon. A free woman who runs a boardinghouse; she acts as Harriet’s mentor, confidante, and protector, even when it costs her. Monáe is known for her R&B music career, but she cuts her teeth on a fine role. One of her first interactions with Harriet is her apologizing for a lack of understanding- a beautiful moment of recognition and solidarity. At another point Marie muses “What’s a man to a woman touched by God?” This recognition of solidarity and power is an affirmation of Tubman’s grit and grace.

The movie makes good use of certain metaphors and motifs. The most prominent is an image of Harriet on a white horse against a sunset. The first instance of this image is when Harriet crosses the Pennsylvania state line into freedom, and the second is near the end of the film, where Harriet confronts Gideon. Another important symbol is a river, serving as a guiding path and means of communication.

Two other noteworthy actors are Joe Alwyn as Gideon Brodess and Jennifer Nettles as Eliza Brodess. Jennifer Nettles is best known as the leader of the county group Sugarland, while Joe Alwyn is a newcomer actor, and Taylor Swift’s boyfriend. Alwyn’s character harbors intense internal conflict and self-denial which is interesting to watch. White people were trained to see African Americans as sub-human in that culture, and his conscience has a hard job convincing him otherwise. Nettles serves a noteworthy performance as widow Eliza Brodess who slowly loses her fortune and sanity. At one point she says “I feel imprisoned…surrounded by black-faced guards”. The sheer irony of this statement is almost comical-she’s one step away from empathy, but can’t make the connection. Nettles has a complex and unpleasant role in the story, but she tells it as gracefully as she can.

Throughout the movie, Harriet is guided by visions from God, warning her of danger and guiding her path. Around 37 minutes in, Harriet describes a traumatic head injury in her teens that brought on the visions and sleeping spells, simply saying “[The] hole in my head made God’s voice more clear”. The strong spiritual guidance is also shown through characters singing spirituals and using them as code. A particularly touching scene is when Harriet bids her mother goodbye through song.

Stand Up-Oscars 2020

But of course the shining jewel of the film score is “Stand Up”, performed as Erivo‘s solo. The song is an anthem for uplifting communities, and the unstoppable vocals were robbed of the Best Song award at the 2020 Oscars.

In regards to rating, the film is rated PG-13, mainly for language and moderate violence. The “N-word” is used often, along with several punches, hits, and other abuses to African-American characters. One character is killed onscreen by a kick to the neck, and guns are fired often.

Overall I give this movie 12/10, because I’ve given 10/10 before and this movie surpasses all others. The depth of storytelling is unparalleled, and the actors show respect and reverence for their roles. Mr. Blanchard’s score is a lovely blend of spiritual and “action movie”, underscoring the truth of the narrative. I recommend this for anyone who has limited knowledge of Harriet Tubman and wants to know more of her history and context.

In Time-Instant Revolution

Hi friends! I’ve had a busy two months, with returning from my trip and taking an intense writing class over the month of January. While I adjust my routine and figure out my personal brand, here is a movie review I wrote on my trip of an indie dystopian. Enjoy!

I was first drawn to this movie for how it plays with time and power. In a dystopian future, time is the new money and “Darwinian capitalism” rules the masses. Unfortunately this intriguing premise is ruined with a generic plot and horrible characters. I don’t love doing bad reviews, but I’ll make an exception because I was inspired to fill in the gaps.

This “sci-fi noir” (early dystopian) film tells the story of Will Salas, a man who “just wants to wake up with more time on the clock then hours in the day.” After the death of his mother and an unrelated sudden inheritance, he heads to the capital to take down the oppressive dictator, with the help of said dictator’s bombshell daughter (Amanda Seyfried). The actual system collapse doesn’t start until an hour and fifteen minutes into the movie

This movie is actually similar to the (author) short story “What You Pawn I Will Redeem”, in that both explore the futility of greed and the endless hamster-wheel chase of survival in poverty.

While the movie has some interesting musings on capitalism, In Time suffers from what I call “Twilight syndrome”. Every side character is interesting and I want to explore their story, but I’m forced to watch Bonnie and Clyde stumble through a romance while destroying a nation. We have Henry Hamilton, a 105-year old who commits suicide and jumpstarts the “conflict”. We also local gang leader Fortis who is out to find Will and Sylvia and collect their bounty. And then we have Raymond Leon

This is Timekeeper Raymond Leon, and the whole reason I’m talking about this movie in the first place. Not only is Leon portrayed by our charming Cillian, he is far and away the most underrated character in this movie and the one with the most possibilities for backstory exploration. All we know about him is that he has been a timekeeper for 50 years, he was from Dayton but managed to escape, and he knew Will’s father. That alone is a more interesting use of the premise than the basic Robin Hood story we are given. His character arc is minor, but there’s room for interpretation of his motivations and actions. His ultimate demise casts the rest of his narrative into a new light, as a man failed by the system he fought to uphold.

Last Five Minutes of In Time

This ending to Leon’s arc reminds me of Luke Castellan’s ending in The Last Olympian. Those that fight hardest for corrupt systems fall farthest when they are let down.

The movie as a whole feels underdeveloped and more fitting for a soap opera series. The collapse of a way of life is seen as a matter of course and powerful leaders react with alarming indifference. The police force also gives up with no fight, setting down their guns and walking away as Sylvia and Will overthrow the system in front of their eyes. I understand the social commentary this movie is aiming for, but even in the real world dismantling a system is never resistance-free. Anyone who calls themselves a feminist can attest to this reality of life,

I give this movie 5/10 for interesting premise, good visuals, and Raymond Leon. Half points docked for a mainly insufferable cast and a generic plot. If viewers want to become emotionally invested in a semi-relevant side character, they are free to watch this movie, but the general *plot* and leads are an utter waste of time.

Travel Update-Closing Thoughts

This post has been in my draft for the last two weeks, and will now be released on the very last day of my Study Abroad term in England. We leave our hotel on December 5 at 8am, and it has been many amazing adventures compiled into one beautiful story.

After Oxford, we spent three days in Canterbury and three in Cambridge before settling in Ditchingham for finals week.

Canterbury Cathedral has some of the most beautiful stained glass windows I’ve ever seen’ and at this point, I’ve seen plenty. We stayed at a conference center on the cathedral grounds and explored the picturesque streets.

In Cambridge, we explored more picturesque small town streets, along with the many colleges of the illustrious university, and attended Evensong at King’s College, which was an ethereal experience. I’ve attended many Evensong services over the last three months, but there is a reason that the King’s College choir is world famous.

Our week in Ditchingham was a unique experience. We stayed in a conference center with sketchy WiFi and turned in a plethora of final projects. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. One of the highlights of the week was performing scenes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest for our final drama project. Every group had been assigned a scene but very few people knew the plot of the entire play so it ended up being a giant collage of fun.

We got to London on the 29th and I saw Waitress that night (here’s my review). It was an absolutely incredible show, full of empowerment and self-discovery and an amazing score. The following night I saw Matilda, which was another giant collage of fun, with some light horror thrown in. Apart from that, I’ve been exploring the city, working on final papers, and reminiscing about the past three months.

Yesterday I went with some friends to the Sky Garden. We rode to the 35th floor of a snazzy downtown building and watched the sunset from a terrace higher than the top of the London Eye. The restaurant/bar is a cross between the Como conservatory and the overlook at the Guthrie theater.

Let me first state that I recognize and cherish the increíble privilege of seeing so much of the world. This trip has been incredible. Back in August, I had one sort of vision of how this semester would go and it was honestly just a hazy stereotype but this trip has been beyond my wildest dreams and I’m so grateful for all of it. This is my last day in Europe, which is mind-boggling to consider. There are definitely parts of my life that I can’t wait to get home to, the biggest one being my family and the second one being my kitten, and I am excited to take the lessons I’ve learned from this semester and build a new life for myself going forward. I absolutely want to come back and revisit some of my favorite sites at the earliest possible opportunity, so keep an eye out for the next travel announcement.

While all of this travel has been amazing, moving from place to place every week can make a head spin. We roll up to a town, see the highlights, and then we’re out. On my next sojourn across the pond, I want to stay in one place long enough to become a local. I want to see what normal life is like, outside of a church or a holiday.

Another interesting learning curve of the trip has been the fluctuating social dynamics. There are 20 people on this trip, and I like spending time with different people in different degrees. There’s also the issue of coordinating logistics amid so much free time. As a result, it can get hard to plan social outings with more than three people,

Part of the reason I haven’t blogged as much in the last few weeks is that I lost focus a little bit. After Salisbury, I got sort of caught up in my head for a few weeks and wasn’t paying as much attention to the amazing experiences around me. After some time I got somewhat desensitized to the increíble cathedrals and informative museums. I’m not proud of it, but it did happen. But I got some good reminders to refocus and I’m soaking up every moment of these last hours, and cherishing the priceless memories of the last three months.

I was texting a friend and she said “I can’t wait to hear about your trip!” While I appreciate the sentiment, something about that sentence felt odd to me. I wouldn’t call this a “trip” so much as a lifestyle change. In my mind, a trip lasts one to three weeks, perhaps a month. We’ve been traveling for so long that we have embraced the nomadic way of life.

Our teacher told us that upon our return, many people would inquire about our experience and most would expect a one-word response. Some of the words I would use are: “amazing” “unique” “incredible” “broadening” and “beautiful”. I’ve seen so much more of the world, of myself, and of my peers, and I will continue to process these observations over the next weeks. Thank you for following along with me on this journey, and I’ll see you soon.

Bon Voyage ❤️ E

Waitress-Life is What You Bake It

Hi. Ive been busy with finals the last week so i haveń´t had much time to write. We got to London on the 29th and I saw Waitress at the Adelphi Theater that evening. Here are some thoughts on it.

Start with a base of a 2007 independent movie, stir in a Grammy-nominated score, fold in powerful feminist themes of motherhood and self-reclamation, and the resulting hit musical Waitress will go down easy as a piece of pie. Witnessing the November 29 performance at the Adelphi theater was a treat in every sense.

The musical is based on the 2007 movie written and directed by Adrienne Shelley. The story centers on Jenna (played by Lucie Jones at the Adelphi), a waitress and pie prodigy at a small town diner in rural America. When she finds herself pregnant by her parasitic husband and begins an affair with the new gynecologist in town, she finally finds some self-confidence and the grit to make a better life for her daughter. Jenna is supported by coworkers Becky (Sandra Marvin), Dawn (Laura Baldwin) and Cal (Stephen Leask), along with a lively selection of patrons. Most stories have at least one character who features as a guardian angel, but this story has two. Jenna is supported by the presence of diner owner Joe, and by memories of her late mother.

While all of the characters are somewhat two-dimensional, the most irritating example was Jenna’s husband Earl, played by Tamlyn Henderson. Throughout the play he consistently abuses her in every possible way, from verbal insults to implied sexual assault. Jenna is continually encouraged to leave Earl, and the birth of her daughter finally pushes her to stand up to him in a satisfying comeuppance.

Not only does Jenna break up with Earl in the delivery room, she also breaks up with Dr. Pomatter. Throughout the play, the doctor comes across as awkward and goofy, but remains a source of tenderness and care for Jenna, despite his own marriage. I found myself rooting for Jenna and Dr, P, and then remembering that the relationship is an affair and feeling conflicted.

The musical is built on a score by Grammy winner Sara Bareilles. Her single “She Used to Be Mine” is seen as the cornerstone of the show, but I was disappointed by this rendition. The song is performed in the second act of the show, after Earl has confronted Jenna about hidden money and she decides to drop out of the baking contest that would have changed her life. Sara B performs the song with an aching nostalgia that transforms into determination to change her situation. However, Jones sang the song in a higher range than originally performed and came across as nervous throughout the performance, and the determination of the second half of the song came across as desperation. This is not necessarily an incorrect interpretation of the song, it just felt too forceful for my taste. However, the rest of the score is energetic, heartwarming, and pitch-perfect.

Two songs that I found incredibly endearing were “When He Sees Me” and “You Matter to Me”. The former is performed by anxious waitress Dawn in anticipation of her first date. The song hits on many modern fears about the kind of men out there (“he might sit too close or call the waiter by his first name”), but it also touches on the more poignant and personal fears of rejection and abandonment that haunt us all on the search for love and understanding. This search is reflected from the other angle in “You Matter to Me”, a tender duet between Jenna and Pomatter as they bake a pie together. Jenna’s revelation of what acceptance and desire feel like

In contrast with the simple one-room set of Last Orders at the Dockside, the set of Waitress involved many moving parts such as tables and a counter for the diner, a living room for the house, and a table for a gynecological office and hospital room. I was impressed with the speed and efficiency of the scene changes, often involving members of the ensemble. One interesting feature was an orchestra on a platform that rolled in and out. For a majority of the show, the orchestra platform stayed on stage right but for the final number

One of the sweetest surprises of the play was the appearance of Lulu, played alternately by Juliette Clemens-Lary and Annabelle Jones. In the performance I saw, the child was either a fabulous actress or Lucie’s daughter. The last song of the play reveals that Jenna has taken over the shop and renamed it Lulu’s Pies, getting herself and her daughter on their feet surrounded by friends.

Overall I give the show a 10/10 for an entertaining cast, strong musical score, and powerful themes of self-reclamation and family. I would recommend this show for a mother-daughter night, or for those who need reminding of their own potential.