Who Let the Dogs Out?

At long last, mankind now has an answer to a most peculiar age old question: what in the world do our pets do while we’re away?

The animated adventure, “The Secret Life of Pets”, chronicles a day in the life of two canine companions and their adventures on the mean streets of New York City. The film stars Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, and Kevin Hart.

Max (Louis C.K.), a steadfast terrier, finds his peaceful world turned upside down when Katie (Ellie Kemper), his beloved owner, brings home an oafish stray named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Not willing to share Katie’s affection, Max schemes to send his unwanted roommate back to the pound, but unexpectedly finds himself along for the ride. When the two are rescued by a tough talking bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart), they find themselves in a whole new world of trouble. It’s up to their friends, a rag tag team of dogs, birds, a cat, and a guinea pig, to bring Max and Duke home safely before Katie gets home and discovers them missing.

“The Secret Life of Pets” is the newest feature from Illumination Entertainment, the same production company known for creating such humorous and heartwarming tales such as “Despicable Me” and “The Lorax”. While it is charming, “The Secret Life of Pets”, unfortunately, doesn’t quite surpass any of Illumination’s earlier creations. The film is entertaining, but offers no relatable message, and the humor and sentiment are fleeting. It’s the perfect cinematic treat for young children, but older kids and adults will find it mediocre at best.

Those sad puppy dog eyes just don’t cut it this time; no matter how cute and goofy Max, Duke, and all of their furry friends are, their antics only earn “The Secret Life of Pets” a 3/5. Illumination’s next animated animal adventure, called “Sing”, is slated for release this December.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

Photo Credits: @CaptainAmerica

Its all come down to this; two qualified candidates face their toughest battle yet. Now, the ultimate question still remains: team Iron Man or team Captain America?

“Captain America: Civil War” hit the big screen on May 6. The highly anticipated summer blockbuster stars returning favorites Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., and Scarlett Johansson, as well as newcomers to the Marvel universe, Tom Holland (Spider-Man) and Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther).

After another act of heroism from the Avengers causes devastating collateral damage, the government decides to drop the hammer (and we’re not talking about Mjolnir) on the team of superheroes, insisting that any further action on their part should be regulated by the United Nations. The first sparks fly when Iron Man (Downey) sides with the government, but Captain America (Evans) opts for the freedom of his team and their actions.

The government’s interference and the weight of other occurring events involving the Winter Soldier, Captain America’s old pal Bucky Barnes (played by Sebastian Stan), turns a civil disagreement between Cap and Iron Man into an all-out war and forces the members of the Avengers, and some new up and coming heroes, to pick a side.

While returning favorites, such as Captain America, Iron Man, and Black Widow (Johansson), continue to deliver a power packed performance, it’s the newest additions to the Avengers family that truly steal the show in “Civil War.”

Spider-Man (Holland) and Ant-Man (played once again by Paul Rudd) can hold their own in a fight with their uncanny abilities, but the real superpower that these two possess is a sharp sense of humor. Their screen time, sadly, is slight, but Holland and Rudd command every second of it with extraordinary moves and witty retorts. Though his size may be lacking, Ant-Man still manages to pack one big surprise that will have audiences applauding with delight.

As for the web slinger, well, Marvel studios may have finally hit the nail on the head this time. The character of Spider-Man has been a hot button issue in the past, with the hero’s franchise being done and re-done with different actors, neither of whom met fans expectations. Tom Holland, the latest actor to don the red and blue suit is the perfect blend of the awkward Peter Parker and the snarky Spider-Man that audiences have been waiting for. And the spider suit has never looked better; it’s new design is a sleek and nostalgic throwback to the wall crawler’s original comic book style.

Black Panther (Boseman) had plenty of screen time, but wasn’t exactly a scene stealer. “Civil War” acted as a means of introducing the lesser known Marvel hero to the cinematic world before his solo film hits theaters. Boseman will reprise his role in late 2017.

Fans will find little to dislike about this latest installment of the Captain America franchise. No matter which hero audience members are rooting for, everyone will be highly satisfied with the outcome of the film and the explosive and emotional journey it takes to reach it. “Civil War” gets a power packed 5/5.

She Just Kept Swimming

Photo Credits: @findingdory

In 2003, Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” swam its way into our hearts. Now, 13 years later, “Finding Dory”, the much anticipated sequel, manages to do the same.

Ellen DeGeneres reprises her role as Dory, the unforgettable blue tang who forgets a little too much, and Albert Brooks returns as Marlin, the wary but persistent clownfish who traversed the ocean for his missing son. The film also welcomes a slew of lovable new characters voiced by some of today’s biggest stars, such as Ed O’Neill and Ty Burrell (of the popular sitcom “Modern Family”), Kaitlin Olson, and Idris Elba.

In the film, Dory sets out on a perilous journey to reunite herself with her long lost (and forgotten) parents, Jenny and Charlie (voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy). Her search brings her to the Marine Life Institute in California where, with the help of a cantankerous old octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill), a visually impaired whale shark named Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), and a beluga whale with busted sonar named Baily (Ty Burrell), Dory rediscovers the place she once called home and learns that, while her short term memory loss is often a hindrance, it is in no way a weakness.

While “Finding Dory” manages to reproduce a lot of the beauty and heart of its predecessor, it is sorely lacking a lot of the wit and humor that made “Finding Nemo” such a hit. Dory’s iffy memory was previously a source of comedic relief; however, in the sequel, it comes off as quite tragic. Dory owned up to her impairment and never let it frighten or inhibit her; now, for the first time, she sees her disability as a burden to herself and others and her once peppy demeanor becomes vulnerable and sad. Dory’s drastic change in personality cuts the film’s funny factor in half. But for the little laughter that it produces, “Finding Dory” still manages to tug at the heartstrings and create an empowering message about the true power possessed by those with mild impairments or disabilities.

If Dory’s moving tale isn’t enough to bring the crowds flocking to the theaters, audiences will be positively delighted by “Piper”, Pixar’s latest traditional short film that precedes the main feature. The baby sandpiper with the big brown eyes and his quest for food has dominated the internet and has had patrons buzzing nonstop since he first flitted from his nest and onto the big screen. Also of note is a haunting rendition of Nat King Cole’s timeless hit “Unforgettable” performed by award winning artist Sia played during the end credits of “Finding Dory”.

Pixar’s nautical tale has changed drastically over the course of 13 years, much like it’s audience. While the charming humor of “Finding Nemo” appealed to the kids of 2003, the melancholy, but moving, message of “Finding Dory” speaks to that same generation now grown, earning it a four out of five. Pixar has many other projects on the way; the first is slated for summer 2017. Until then, just keep swimming.

Remembering Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas Police Officers

Over the course of merely three short days, two African American men were killed by police officers, which subsequently led to the deaths of five policemen at a Dallas protest against police violence inspired by the initial shootings. Seven different lives lost, and all undeserving of their sudden deaths.

On the evening of Tuesday, July 5, local police killed 37-year-old Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Sterling was selling CDs and DVDs outside of a convenience store as he regularly did when he was forcefully wrestled to the ground by two police officers and was eventually shot to death.

The officers were responding to a 911 call made because of a reportedly armed man, yet the convenience store’s owner and acquaintance of Sterling, Abdullah Muflahi, stated that he was unaware of any incident that evening that would have prompted calling 911. The graphic incident was recorded by a bystander and can be viewed online.

Shortly after the news of Sterling’s death broke, it came out that he had some prior encounters with law enforcement in the past, but no evidence has been revealed of the two cops responsible for his death being aware of his record at the time of the incident.

The very next day, police also killed 32-year-old Philando Castile, a Minnesota man of Falcon Heights. Castile was pulled over for a burnt out tail light on his car right before he was fatally shot by an officer.

Castile informed the officer that he was a licensed gun carrier as he was reaching for his wallet to present his ID, which resulted in the cop shooting as his girlfriend and her daughter sat in the car with him and witnessed it happen. This incident was also captured on video, as Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond “Lavish” Reynolds, began streaming on Facebook Live immediately following the shooting of her boyfriend. The original video has since been removed from Facebook, but clips from it can still be found online.

The following evening, a peaceful protest in Dallas by Black Lives Matter advocates honoring the two men killed by police turned deadly after a lone sniper shot and killed five officers on duty at the event. Approximately twelve officers were shot and other officers and at least one civilian were injured, while some remain in serious condition. The assassin was identified as 25-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson of Mesquite, Texas. He was a veteran who had served in Afghanistan.

The incident was a premeditated, hatefully inspired attack on police officers in response to the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The Dallas shooting has been ruled as the deadliest attack on U.S. law enforcement since 9/11, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

CNN recently released short profiles in remembrance of each of the victims, providing details about each of their lives and remarks people have made about them since their deaths.

Edmund Jordan, the attorney representing the Sterling family, stated that Alton Sterling was “a respected man” who was “beloved in the community,” according to CNN. Philando Castile worked as a school nutrition supervisor, and a colleague stated remembering him as a “gentle laid back sweetheart,” beloved by his students and coworkers.

One of the five cops shot and killed at the Dallas protest was 43-year-old Brent Thompson. Thompson was a Rapid Transit Officer in the Dallas area and had served on the force for approximately seven years. He had been married just two weeks before his death.

Another was 32-year-old Dallas police officer Patrick Zamarripa. Zamarripa was a U.S. Navy veteran and was a father to two children.

The next, 40-year-old Dallas police officer Michael Krol. One of Krol’s family members remarked that it was his “lifelong dream” to be a police officer, according to CNN.

Lorne Ahrens, another victim of the Dallas ambush, was a 48-year-old Dallas police officer. CNN reported that a former colleague of Ahrens stated, “He was the kind of guy that it made you happy when you got to work and saw he would be working the shift with you. You could count on him to do the right thing, the right way.”

Last of the five cops killed in the Dallas attack was 55-year-old Michael Smith. Smith was a police officer who had worked for the Dallas Police Department since ‘89.

“…all of us as Americans should be troubled by the news. These are not isolated incidents. They are symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system,” stated President Obama at a press conference at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland, regarding the fatal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

The following day, President Obama spoke again in Warsaw about the Dallas incident, calling it a “vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement.” He also stated, “Today is a wrenching reminder of the sacrifices that they make for us.”

These incidents combined have since sparked massive nationwide conversation about the blatant issue of police brutality in the U.S. and a debate over how prevalent racial profiling is within our criminal justice system. Black Lives Matter advocates are speaking out about the importance of their cause now more than ever.

The Importance of Being an Informed Voter, As Explained by the ‘Brexit’

It can be easy to think that simply voting is doing your part, regardless of if you really understand what you’re voting for; however, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Obviously, voting is an important right that should be exercised by all, but it is just as important to understand and be aware of what you’re voting for. Mindlessly checking boxes on a ballot simply to say that you’ve voted and to get your “I Voted” sticker could be detrimental to the outcome of a vote and/or election if enough of the voters aren’t aware of what they’re doing.

The best and certainly most recent example of this sentiment is what many are referring to as the “Brexit,” or, the British exit. This term refers to the referendum that occurred on Thursday, June 23, in which British citizens voted to leave the European Union. Almost immediately following the referendum, shockwaves were sent through global markets and currencies, which in turn caused the British pound to plummet to its lowest value in decades.

Soon after news of the Brexit broke, Google Trends reported that shortly after the referendum polls closed in the UK, there was a +250% spike in the question “what happens if we leave the EU” searched on Google. Additional searches about the referendum and even the EU itself suggested either a certain level of ignorance among British voters, or a strong yearning for an understanding of what they had just participated in by voting.

Top questions searched on the referendum included:

1. “How do I vote in the EU referendum?”

2. “What is ‘Brexit’?”

3. “Who can vote in the EU referendum?”

4. “When is the EU referendum?”

5. “Where can I vote?”

Top questions searched on the European Union included:

1. “Why should we stay in the EU?”

2. “Why should we leave the EU?”

3. “What will happen if we leave?”

4. “Who won the EU debate?”

5. “Which countries are in the EU?”

Now, it’s important to keep in mind that Google Trends isn’t able to tell us specific information about the searchers themselves. Helpful information in this scenario would have included if they were voters, if they were even eligible to vote, whether they were part of the Leave or Remain campaign, and how many people the data released even accounted for. The search numbers found by Google Trends are reported “relatively within the date-range and in context of other trends,” according to Medium.

Essentially, it’s likely that a number of the Brits who did conduct a post-vote search about the EU were simply trying to learn more about the specific referendum they had just taken part in. Although, it is still greatly important and certainly ideal to go into the polls informed about what you’re voting for. Being uninformed about the choice you’re faced with and unprepared to cast an intelligent and confident vote is dangerous for the outcome. Because of a certain degree of a lack of understanding, Britain made a decision that has the potential to be quite dangerous on the global scale. Since the vote, many Brits themselves have publically voiced their regret over making the wrong choice and fear that they made an irreversible mistake.

An important fact to be aware of is that the Brexit additionally impacted [and will continue to affect] the United States. Many are under the impression that Americans don’t need to be concerned with the outcome of the referendum. Even countless political leaders in other countries are trying to convince the U.S. of this; however, that also could not be further from the truth.

America’s export sector has played a monumental role in recovery efforts from the infamous ’07-’08 economic crisis. This same sector has also suffered drastically over the years from Europe’s less than inspiring sales recently and slow growth, in addition to facing the effects of the dollar’s slight strength in comparison to the rather weak euro. In time, the Brexit will only enhance these already negative effects that the U.S. has been facing, especially due to the pound’s recent plunge in value [as a result of the Brexit] and the expectation of the euro to fall against the dollar.

Additionally, Britain is the main route by which the U.S. expresses itself politically and economically in Europe. Therefore, Britain leaving the EU will make it significantly harder for Americans to include their agendas on “trade, digital privacy, global tax reform and such,” in Europe, according to Time.

Probably one of the most significant and instantaneous effects of the Brexit on the U.S. will come from the Federal Reserve. The Fed has remained hesitant to hike interest rates due to the unrest in Europe, and the Brexit will likely lead them to continue this for much longer than desired and planned.

Uninformed voting is an ideal opportunity to bring to light the importance of civics education. The study of our rights and duties as citizens is just as important [and in some cases, probably a bit more important] as the other subjects taught to students. If our world’s education systems aren’t properly teaching the future generations of voters about the importance of being informed and prepared prior to voting, issues such as the Brexit will undoubtedly happen again. If we constantly teach the importance of exercising your right to vote and making your voice heard to make a difference, then we need to be teaching to inform yourself before you vote as well. Educate yourself first, and then cast your vote.

“I’d go so far as to say it’s [civics] more important than other subjects. Most students choose their classes and their majors to serve themselves or their careers. A good civics education may not have a direct effect on a student’s earnings potential or employability, but it would certainly have an affect on the community’s well being, future direction, etc.,” stated Assistant Professor of English Dr. Chris Friend. “Other subjects help students learn how to do whatever that one subject is about. Civics is, at its core, all about getting along with others and supporting a community. Those skills seem universally necessary,” continued Friend.

The importance of being informed prior to voting could not be more prevalent in today’s day and age, as our nation is on the brink of the most pivotal presidential election in our history. Potential voters need to be informed about the candidates and issues they’re going to be presented with at the polls, because it is not going to be as simple as checking one candidate or the other.

We are also in the midst of numerous congressional races all across the country and have the power to completely change who represents our states in Congress in the upcoming primary elections. Additionally, there are always specific issues on the ballots to be voted on such as the legalization of marijuana and sales tax increases, depending on the specific state.

This issue also brings up the decision to not vote. People can be intimidated by their lack of understanding of the candidates/ issues at hand or they simply lack the desire to exercise their right or the concern for the political process. These factors have the ability to convince people to refrain from voting altogether. But which is worse, being uninformed but voting anyways or not voting at all?

“They’re equally bad. Not voting at all is an indictment against the voter; uninformed voting is an indictment against the system,” stated Friend. “If someone chooses not to vote, that person essentially says that their views are unimportant. They opt-out of their inherent influence. That’s a pretty bold statement for someone to make within a political system designed to protect and support its citizens,” he added. “If someone votes without being informed, it shows a lack of concern — on the part of the voter and the candidates. The voter chose not to do research, or the candidates failed to market their positions sufficiently. When voters cast uninformed ballots, we set ourselves up for scary results. The televised reactions to Brexit are only the most recent example.”

The time that we’re in and the people that could potentially get elected to run our nation’s government are all too important to go into the polls blind. If voters are educated on the candidates and issues they’ll be faced with deciding among and are confident in the choices they’re going to make, we’ll have the ability to make positive change beneficial to the country as a whole.