Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Let's Build A Summer Blockbuster In Winter

By Alan Burkholder

BOSTON, Mass., USA – Everything is awesome.
At least, that's what the tagline of The Lego Movie says. And given what nearly everyone is saying about it, that certainly seems to be the case.
As a fan of Lego, it can be hard not to have a strong expectation for what the movie will be like. However, this film is, even from a subjective viewpoint, well-crafted and competent. Naturally, since the entire movie is based around a toy, it is virtually impossible to make a Lego movie without product placement, but the movie handles this issue quite cleverly.
The plot of the Lego Movie is standard.
Emmet Brickowski, voiced by Chris Pratt, is a construction worker who has few distinguishing characteristics. He lives his life quite literally by the book, always following a set of instructions and never doing anything to set himself apart from the crowd, which only serves to blend him into the background so much that nobody in the city of Bricksburg, where he lives, knows who he is.
The monotony of his life is interrupted, however, by a mysterious action girl who goes by the name of 'Wyldstyle' (Elizabeth Banks). After going after her and stumbling down a rather steep and dangerous tunnel, Emmet finds a mysterious object known as 'the Piece of Resistance,' and it gets stuck to his back.
From here on, we have a fairly typical "save the world" plot, as Emmet and Wyldstyle set out to stop the evil control freak President Business (Will Ferrell) and his most trusted police officer, Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) from freezing the entire world in place using another mysterious object known as the 'Kragle.'
This movie sports an impressive cast of all-star actors, including Morgan Freeman as the wise, blind and magical Vitruvius; Will Arnett as an incredibly snarky version of Batman; Alison Brie as the deceivingly happy Princess Uni-Kitty; Nick Offerman as the half-pirate, half-robot Metalbeard; and Charlie Day as an aged and somewhat loopy astronaut named Benny.
All the actors and actresses make the most out of their roles, and every character has some shining moments on-screen.
The movie, at heart, has a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, courtesy of the writing team of Kevin and Dan Hageman, along with the writing and directing team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller.
Lord and Miller also created the comedies 21 Jump Street and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. The style of comedy in those films is also used here, albeit for a more family-oriented audience.
The jokes are almost always guaranteed to get a laugh, and there is an effective mix of visual and verbal comedy that is almost certain to leave the audience rolling in the aisles.
The Lego Movie, however, is not only funny, but creative. The cast is colorful and diverse, the jokes clever and original, and the locations amazing.
In fact, creativity and the power of imagination is a central element to the story that keeps things going and keeps the audience engaged.
The film also has a lot of other strong points worth mentioning.
The score manages to set the mood for what is happening on screen. The animation – a unique blend of stop-motion and CGI – makes the film feel like it is actually filmed using sets made entirely out of Lego bricks and other real-world objects, right down to the small imperfections in the plastic.
As it starts out, the Lego Movie is what one would call fairly standard for a kid's movie: lots of humor, lots of actions, colorful and fascinating characters, and so on.
However, what really sets this movie apart is the incredible twist that comes after the second act, just before the movie's climax.
Without giving anything away, any questions that the audience may have had about the movie before this point will suddenly get answered. It's not only a good twist, but one that makes sense, and sets up a fitting final confrontation between the villains and the heroes.
And, in the tradition of many movies before it, there is a small chance that you might start to cry at the point of resolution, regardless of your age.
In the end, all you need to know about the Lego Movie going in is this: There is a reason this film is almost universally loved. There is a reason that this film made over $69 million its first weekend. There is a reason that this film has a currently unrivaled score of 96% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. That reason is, of course, that the film is good. If you have not seen it yet, do so as soon as possible.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

To The Vietnamese, Tet Is A Spiritual Time

Vu Quang Anh / youthjournalism.org
Thousands of Vietnamese visit Huang Pagoda each year during Tet.

By Vu Quang Anh
Junior Reporter
HANOI, Vietnam – Many people know Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, as a conventional New-Year-like holiday that is identified by customs like giving presents to children, spending time with families and eating traditional food.
However, unlike the Western New Year, Tet, which ended earlier this month, also has a great religious significance for Vietnamese people and includes a plenty of religious and spiritual traditions.
Tet religious customs are all about asking for luck and happiness in the upcoming year.
The Vietnamese believe that what they do during this holiday can affect their lives in the New Year, and some traditions are practiced even before the holiday. One of them is the worshipping of the Apple Spirit. The Apple spirit is believed to be assigned by God to keep track of all the things going on in human houses.
It is said that each year on December 23rd of the Lunar Calendar, the Apple spirit reports to God about what has happened in a certain house throughout the previous year and God then decides whether to reward or to penalize the homeowners.
On that day people would clean their houses and practice a ritual in which they ask the Apple Spirit to report good things about them to God so that they would be blessed in the upcoming year.
Tet’s Eve is probably the time when most religious traditions can be observed. It is believed that the family’s life in the upcoming year depends on what kind of person comes into the house first after the beginning of a new year.
If that person has positive qualities such as wealth and success, the family will also be blessed with these qualities. But if the person is a negative one, a bad year will be waiting for the family.
Most families don’t want to take risks and usually send their own member out just before the midnight of the New Year and he or she comes back after the New Year has officially begun, becoming the first person to step into the house of that particular family. That way, families don’t have to worry about their future because they already know what kind of person is going to come into their houses first. This tradition is called in Vietnamese xông nhà.
The most important religious custom of Tet which can be seen before, throughout and even after the holiday is visiting pagodas.
Vu Quang Anh / youthjournalism.org
People praying for luck in the coming year at the Yen Tu Pagoda during Tet.
The Vietnamese make these visits in hopes that their next year will be happy and prosperous. This tradition is popular because the Vietnamese people are very religious and pagodas allow them to address their wishes and prayers to the highest power – Buddha – which is said to increase the “chances” of being blessed.
Vu Quang Anh / youthjournalism.org
A hieroglyph for "patience"
from the Chu Van An Pagoda.
During Tet, pagodas do a lot to serve the enormous number of people coming to pray. They invest money on decorations, plan all kinds of religious rituals, and prepare monks to be advisors to those who are inexperienced with prayer.
The biggest pagodas, like the Hương Pagoda not far away from Hanoi, even have their own big festivals that attract thousands of Buddhists across the country and last for a whole week in February or March, depending on the year.
There is another pagoda custom that is becoming increasingly popular. This tradition is giving out ancient hieroglyphs, each representing a certain quality, such as intelligence, determination, luck or success. People believe that by obtaining such hieroglyphs they will be able to develop those qualities and make their own lives better.
Tet is not merely a fun holiday, but it is also a time for people to practice religious customs that have been practiced for centuries but cannot be done during the year. With all the abundance of religious activities and traditions, Tet is truly a religious holiday.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

'Endless Love' Sends A Terrible Message

By Celeste Kurz
WEST HARTFORD, Conn., U.S.A. – I’ll admit it. On Valentine's Day, two friends and I went to see the newly released movie, Endless Love.
We told ourselves that we wanted to go in order to laugh at the movie. But let's be honest, who doesn't love a little romance? When it comes to romanticism, I am as hopeless as they come. A classic story of forbidden love? It's enough to make a girl swoon.
I didn't enter into the experience expecting to be amazed by a profound examination of true love, however, I did leave the theater amazed.
The story centers around two protagonists: Beautiful Jade, played by Gabriella Wilde, with her tragic past, ever-so-promising future and complicated relationship with her father. And then there's handsome David, played by Alex Pettyfer, the underdog always there to surprise us.
David's rather unlucky in life, it seems, but we keep rooting for him because of his "good heart" and grandiose vision of love. The two are an unlikely pair, and Jade's father, who doesn't approve, does his part to make it into the forbidden love story I mentioned.
The conclusion we're supposed to reach is clear: Of course this pair should be together! They love one another! And nothing is more important than love! Step aside, evil man. Give David a chance.
We are supposed to applaud the couple for remaining together despite all odds.
But here are the problems I have with how it all went down:
1) Jade the homebody meets dangerous David and suddenly becomes a wild, fun-loving, free spirit. I understand the freeing properties of love, but are we supposed to endorse a complete personality change?
2) Jade, who will be enrolling to Brown University as a pre-med major, has a wonderful opportunity lined up for the summer before her freshman year. She is to have an internship with a successful doctor, yet she turns it down.
Want to know why? You guessed it: David.
In a particularly melodramatic scene, they part ways after their last day together, then look longingly at one another as the iron gate closes between them.
That evil internship opportunity, represented literally by the bars caging her in, keeping them from one another. But, no, such sadness can't last! So they run to one another, with Jade begging David to ask her to stay, saying that she'll turn down the internship if he does. He does, jumps the fence, and passionately kisses her. Oh, look, that amazing, once-in-a-lifetime chance no longer stands in the way of their love. Yay. Ridiculous.
3) While Jade is initially made out to be timid and shy, we watch as she develops into a truly independent woman who stands up for herself. You go, Jade!
But if you look at all closely, you see that's not really the case. The audience I was a part of was particularly vocal, emitting lots of "oohs" whenever Jade would talk back to her father, letting him know that she was in charge of her own life, that she wanted David and that that was the way it was going to be.
Wow, it's wonderful that she isn't depending on Daddy anymore.
Really, though, she's not seizing her independence. In fact, she substitutes her need for male contact with David, rarely straying out of his sight and sulking in his absence. When he returns, she bounds up to him within seconds and says things like, "Thank God you're here!"
So while her rebellion initially appears to be some form of growth, Jade's character is still hopelessly dependent on men to provide the substance and purpose of her life.
I have a serious problem with this movie for the message it sends to young women.
Some people will say it's just a silly love story, that we should enjoy it for its sheer simplicity. That's all it was ever intended to be.
But I don't care what the intentions were.
Intentional or not, Endless Love sends a message to young women that they can throw away wonderful, life-changing opportunities in the "name of love." It tells them that to be truly happy and lovable, they must live their lives with reckless abandon.
And worst, it tells them that they must be dependent on others to produce the substance of their lives, that "their man" should be their sole focus.
The filmmakers had a good start with Jade. The quiet, young woman was ready to make her dreams into reality, with beauty and intelligence galore.
But these qualities were stolen from her, making her into a silly girl who would throw away all she had strived for just to have a few more days with "the love of her life." They took away the love she once had for herself, directing it all to David instead.
Besides, if their love was truly endless, wouldn't it have lasted while she was away on her internship? Wouldn't it have lasted if they hadn't spent every waking minute together?
In my far-from-expert opinion, true love comes first from an ability to love and appreciate oneself. It’s the ability to value the unique qualities that you as an individual offer to the world.
If we continue to sit back and allow messages like the one sent in Endless Love to be spread without even a second thought, we're going to have far fewer real-life love stories.

Snow Is Piling Up, But Where To Put It?

Francis Byrne / youthjournalism.org
A mountain of snow and some plows for moving it sit in the corner of the parking lot at Bishop's Corner shopping plaza in West Hartford, Connecticut on Saturday, before the latest round of storms.

Francis Byrne / youthjournalism.org
Snow is pushed off the road in West Hartford, Connecticut, but is piled up under the trees.

Francis Byrne / youthjournalism.org
A snow pile in the center of LaSalle Road in West Hartford, Connecticut.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

My Brother And I Found The Cure For Cabin Fever: Go Out And Play In The Snow

Sherry Sah / youthjournalism.org

A parked car is buried in snow in a driveway while more snow falls on Saturday in Manchester, Connecticut.

By Sherry Sah
Junior Reporter
MANCHESTER, Connecticut, U.S.A. – I wake up on a Saturday afternoon and the first thing I see is snow. I shake my head and think great. It has been snowing on and off since Thursday for the past three days.
In Connecticut, we get very heavy snow and when that happens, everything is ruined. Cars won’t start and the roads are frozen over with ice. This means delays. Jobs, stores, and even schools are closed.
Ever since then, I have been trapped in my home. I haven’t even looked inside my school bag to start or check my homework.
At first, I wasn’t too happy on seeing the snow because that meant I couldn’t go out and all my plans were going to be cancelled. My weekend would be all messed up due to this bipolar weather.
As I flipped through the television channels with boredom, my little brother came and sat next to me. He told me he was sick of being stuck in this tiresome house.
I looked up at him and thought, What can we do to turn this negative situation into something positive?
I remembered that my grandmother always said, “When life gives you lemons, turn them around and make sweet lemonade.”
I told my brother we should go outside and have our own fun. He gave me a look and explained to me that I was crazy because it was too cold and we were supposed to get three to six inches of snow.
I asked him, “Would you rather stay inside the whole day and do nothing or do something fun?”
We immediately grabbed our sleds and started changing into our snow gear.
As our feet landed on the cold snow, we ran down the hill and started chasing one another. We began throwing snowballs at each other and laughing with joy.
When we got tired, we dropped to the ground and made snow angels.
I closed my eyes and thought to myself, This is the life.
Even though we are stranded in the snow, I’m happy to hang out with my brother.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Military Tanks On A Venezuelan Roadway

Mary Granella / youthjournalism.org
Soldiers from Venezuela’s National Guard and a military tank along a highway in Valencia, Venezuela on Friday. This type of military presence is found at every spot where protesters gather in Valencia, but it is not limited to where the protesters are. There are as many as three, sometimes even four, military tanks stationed at the entrance to every neighborhood and in every square in the city, along with 20 or more National Guardsmen and several motorcycles. This photo shows the tank and some soldiers but the view does not show the four or five military motorcycles that were also present.

Nigerian College Students Spend A Sweet Valentine's Day Cuddling With ... Orphans

Festus Iyorah / youthjournalism.org
Mary Umeoguaju and Ijeoma Onwujekwe in front of the Nsukka Motherless Babies Home. 

By Linus Okechukwu and Festus Iyorah
NSUKKA, Enugu, Nigeria – Valentine’s Day brings a lot of activities to mind – dining out, classroom parties, flowers and gifts – but some college students here used the occasion to show their love to orphans.
“I feel great. I feel we owe the society a lot, and one way to give back to the society is through charity,” said Henry Ihuoma, president of the Mass Communication Students Association at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka.
Ihuoma and more than 20 other mass communication students from the school excitedly drove to the Nsukka Motherless Babies Home on Friday with a barrage of gifts for the children, who are desperately longing for visitors.
About eight orphaned babies live in the home, which sees a large number of visitors on Valentine’s Day since people believe it is important to visit on that day.
Some of the students who spent time with the children spoke with excited faces about their experiences.
“I feel wonderful,” said Faith Ehiremen, 18. “I was very happy that I showed them care. This is the best Valentine for me.”
Ihuoma said the decision to visit the Nsukka Motherless Babies Home was borne out of the need to share love with the less privileged in society, especially on Valentine’s Day.
He said that visiting the home is a necessity as it helps to make the babies feel they are part of the society and that people actually care about their welfare.
While Ihuoma and Ehiremen speak of how memorable the visit to the orphanage was, Ijeoma Onwujekwe,18,  said she felt happy that she could help to make Valentine’s Day a fascinating one for the babies.
Mary Umeoguaju,18, said she is extremely excited to get to visit the babies.
Festus Iyorah / youthjournalism.org
Henry Ihuoma, president of the Mass
Communication Students Association
at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka,
led the visit to the orphanage.
“It was a wonderful experience; I was happy to see them,” Umeoguaju said.
Lovelyn Chime, 19, was excited to spend time with the children.
“I felt very happy. It’s been my dream to be with kids. I love them. I feel very elated to be there,” Chime said.
Ihuoma observed that while people throng into the home on Valentine’s Day, other days in the orphanage are really dull, as only few people take time to visit.
But visiting the babies should be a priority, said Ihuoma.
“It should be an everyday activity,” Ihuoma said, adding that the children need to be fed. “We should give them the best at this tender age. If we don’t show them this love, the society will suffer the consequences.”
Onwujekwe said the babies need love more than anything because they are the most vulnerable in the society.
“We should see them always. Our presence there will be greatly appreciated,” said Onwujekwe. “We can organize fund-raising events to help them.”
Chime agreed.
“It should be part of our life because those kids need us,” Chime said. “You can see that they were very happy to see us.”
Ehiremen said its important to identify with people who truly need support. “True love is not done once in a year,” she added.
Linus Okechukwu / youthjournalism.org
Faith Ehiremen at the orphanage
Speaking on the need to support orphanages, Ihuoma called on individuals, non-governmental and charitable organizations and the wealthy to fill the needs of those who cannot survive without help.
People should always make time to visit the sick and even those in prison because they part of the society, Ihuoma said.
“They are part of us,” Umeoguaju said. “It is rather unfortunate that they have few people to care for them. We have to share what we have with them.”
Ehiremen said that as much as the babies need to be loved, they also need help financially and materially. She, like Ihuoma, appealed to well-meaning people in the society to help orphanages.
Though the students had to return to their hectic university schedules, there’s no doubt they’ll always remember this Valentine’s Day at the Nsukka Motherless Babies Home and the sweet children clinging to them.
Festus Iyorah / youthjournalism.org
Mass communications students from the University in Nsukka spent Valentine's Day at the Nsukka Motherless Babies Home.

Show Love Daily, Not Only Valentine's Day

By Festus Iyorah
Junior Reporter
NSUKKA, Enugu, Nigeria – Valentine’s Day in Nigeria is a day for love.
For some, it’s a day to celebrate their affections.
For others, it’s a day to renew marriage vows or buy gifts for loved ones.
And for young people, it’s a day when passions can get the best of them.
There are still others who head to orphanages to shower affection on babies and children, to let them know they are a part of our society.
Roman Catholic churches in the country always celebrate the holiday in grand style, preparing masses for St. Valentine that include homilies, drama and music meant to share genuine love with one another.
The day is also a special one for teens and adults who are in romantic relationships. Some opt for posh restaurants or local eateries that fit their budgets.
Sometimes, lovers dash their dignity at the expense of the genuine love this sacred day should embody.
It’s disheartening to admit that morality erodes on Valentine’s Day. Teens too often get a hankering to step beyond the bounds of propriety.
They need to understand that the holiday is meant to foster the sharing of real love. It makes no sense to indulge in things that will cause pain later.
Unraveling the shrouds of secrecy that surround Valentine’s Day, we have to ask ourselves some critical questions. Can the love celebrated on this day offer solutions to the world’s ailments? Could it be embraced monthly, weekly or even daily?
Are we meant to scurry to the homes of motherless babies only on Valentine’s Day? Or do these children need love every day?
Valentine’s Day should be an event that lingers in our hearts forever as we make it a habit to help people around us in that spirit of love, a habit that can salve our sorrows and fill our lives with benevolence.

With genuine and unconditional love, our society will be a better place to live and our footprints will be indelible in the sands of time.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

As Venezuelan Anti-Government Protests Turn Deadly, People Are Losing Their Fears

By Mary Granella
Junior Reporter
VALENCIA, Venezuela – People outside my country probably have no idea what’s been happening in Venezuela for the last couple of years, but life has gotten even worse in the year since our late President Hugo Chavez died.
Since the death of Chavez on March 5, 2013, Venezuela has sunken even deeper into a moral, social, economic and political crisis.
Our inflation rate closed last year at more than 56 percent, the highest since 1996, according to the Central Bank of Venezuela, and it is still climbing.
The monthly minimum wage here is only 3,000 bolivars – about $477 in U.S. dollars – but one month worth of groceries is about 6,500 bolivars, too expensive for anyone.
On top of that, in the past year, shortages of basic products have risen sharply.
Flour, oil, coffee, sugar and even toilet paper are all things people just can't seem to find anywhere nowadays.
In supermarkets, people start getting in line even before sunrise and soldiers from the National Guard literally stamp a number on them to prevent others from cutting in line, just like a farmer would treat his cows.
After six or seven hours, when you can finally go inside the supermarket – and if you're lucky enough to see there's anything left in the shelves – you’ll find a huge sign that reads, “ONLY 2 PER PERSON.”
That means you can only buy two (sometimes four) packages of whatever you need. Only 2 kilos (about 4 pounds) of sugar per person or 2 kilos of flour, which is basically nothing when the average Venezuelan family is made of five or six people who usually make a living out of selling food on the streets.
Venezuelans are tired of this tyrannical, dictatorial government, and protests are breaking out.
Since last Saturday, people have been gathering in squares all over the country and marching together peacefully.  The protesters, mostly students from high schools or colleges, had no weapons.
At first, students from only two or three cities started these protests, but yesterday it was nationwide. And it got dangerous.
Public and private school students, workers from private companies and the unemployed all got together to march.
And what did we get? Two people dead and more than 70 hurt, according to news reports.
On orders from President Nicolas Maduro, the National Guard and the local police forces dissolved these peaceful protests. But the way went about it wasn’t peaceful at all.
From tear gas to birdshot and sometimes even real bullets aimed to the head and chest, they apparently shot away, not minding at all who they hit.
Bassil Dacosta, a first semester student in the capital city of Caracas, was killed by a gunshot to the head. Dozens of other students were wounded by birdshot to the legs as they walked.
But nothing stopped them from protesting. Members of these groups stayed on the streets until the early hours this morning. Some left to get some sleep because they're going back out to continue their protests today. No deaths will be in vain.
Venezuelan opposition leader
Leopoldo López, shown in a
photo from his website.
The only way anyone here can get any information about what's going on are social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Why? Because yesterday the government shut down the signals of several television and radio stations to prevent us from knowing about what's going out on the outside.
On Twitter, some families in Caracas wrote about National Guard throwing bombs inside the houses and setting places on fire. Families were crying for help as they searched for their missing loved ones.
There are reports of more than 100 students detained and carried to prison just for exercising their Constitutional right to protest. Now they could be facing up to 13 years in prison.
I'm writing these words because I don't know how much coverage Venezuela has gotten internationally, but we're crying for help.
We need someone to stop this. Since Chavez died and Maduro took over, 23,000 people have been murdered in the streets. In Carabobo, the state where I live, at least 60 people get murdered every weekend.
Venezuela is dying, its people are suffering and our national television shows nothing but government celebrations and even worse, government officials trashing our leaders from the opposition movement.
The government is searching for Leopoldo López, one of our main leaders in the opposition, in order to capture him and get him to prison. They're blaming everything that happened yesterday on him.
But they will not silence us. There are now many videos on YouTube about what has been going on.
We’re speaking out.
Venezuela is being taken away from us. But they've taken away so many things, they've even taken away our fears.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ice Storm Turns Georgia Into A Slippery, Sparkling, Frozen Winterscape

Johanna Boedenauer / youthjournalism.org
Ice formed on tree branches in a Norcross, Georgia neighborhood.
Johanna Boedenauer / youthjournalism.org
A couple kids take their saucers to the slick, icy street in a Norcross neighborhood.
Johanna Boedenauer / youthjournalism.org
There won't be any grilling for awhile in Norcross, Georgia.

Johanna Boedenauer / youthjournalism.org
Bundled feet brave the snow.
Johanna Boedenauer / youthjournalism.org
Ice covers plant leaves in Norcross, Georgia.
Johanna Boedenauer / youthjournalism.org
Self-portrait by photojournalist Johanna Boedenauer, 16, as she ventures out into a Norcross, Georgia neighborhood to take pictures in the ice storm.