Tag Archives: Racism

No Confederacy, No Common Sense

SOURCE: Ringo Chiu/Getty Images

I was 12 years old when I saw a confederate flag for the first time outside of a classroom. I was at first disoriented by the sight: confused that after a war had ended for nearly 150 years, a flag was still being hoisted that wasn’t our own. I asked my dad why that flag was hanging on the back of our neighbor’s truck. He said that she was “representing her Southern pride.”

I’ve never understood why someone would be proud enough to represent the Confederate flag. It makes no sense. Take away the racial and historical implications behind the flag for a second. Who in their right mind would be proud of something that is most known for losing? That would be like admitting that you’re a Detroit Lions fan, or that you like listening to Nickelback. Once those opinions have left your lips, everything else that comes out afterwards has an embarrassing odor of stupid trailing it everywhere. You support the Confederacy? Good luck being taken seriously after confessing that, folks. I would probably find it funny, if it wasn’t already so pathetic.

Regardless of what you think, the open display of the Confederate flag is a debate that rages on, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to deescalate anytime soon. The more recent controversy spurring on the discussion is the “Unite the Right” protests going on in Charlottesville, VA, where white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members flooded the streets and caused a state of emergency before killing three people and injuring 38 others.

“Unite the Right”? Ha. More like “Unite the White.”

I’m not going to lie, when I first heard about these protests, it broke my heart. I lived briefly in Charlottesville for a time last year, and the city that I remembered leaving was a bright, friendly place where you could strike up a conversation with anyone you met on the street. It wasn’t a hateful, divisive place. It wasn’t unsafe or shady. It was simply a beautiful city, and I roamed the downtown restaurants and venues freely and with ease. I will always have fond memories of Charlottesville and even plan to revisit at some point in the future, preferably before David Duke blows it to hell with a wooden cross burning over it.

So when I heard that once again racist and hate-fueled bigots were protesting in the town, the first thing I asked myself was why? Why were they making all of this fuss? Of course, racists like the KKK don’t need much reason to destroy public property, but nevertheless I was curious of their reasoning. What led them to such a violent escapade?

Well apparently all of this started when the Robert E. Lee statue was reportedly being taken down back in May. After news came out, white supremacists took to the streets in June, July, and August before their most violent outing yet on Saturday. By the way, after all of their protesting, Lexington mayor Jim Gray said they’re going to bring down two more confederate statues in response to their protests, and many more are following in his example. The “Unite the Right/White” march ended up harming the supremacist’s cause rather than helping it.

Like I said, an embarrassing odor of stupid trailing them everywhere.

Cartoon by Andrew David Cox

But it did get me thinking. White supremacists are very protective of their Confederate paraphernalia when it is threatened by the masses. Seriously, they turn into the most fragile little snowflakes you’ve ever seen, turning red anytime they see a pixel of blue floating near their precious flags. This overprotective mentality shows a rare vulnerability in white supremacists. At that point, you would reasonably think that the best way to disarm white supremacy would be to tear down confederate artifacts. After all, Germany doesn’t have Nazi symbolism publicly displayed anymore. Why would America have Confederate symbolism still exist 150 years later?

This is where things get really confusing, because while white supremacy is still very much a real threat, people continue to defend these supremacists and their hateful symbols. That to me is even weirder, because who in their right mind looks at a Nazi beating up somebody in the street, gives a thumbs up and says “You keep doing you, sir! You have every right to hate whoever you want!”

There are many arguments that pro-confederate advocates use to defend their claims. Allow me to deconstruct each of them.

“It’s for historical preservation.”

First of all, there’s a big difference between remembering history and reliving it. Remembering history means recounting past events and allowing them to influence your future decisions. Reliving it means re-enacting past practices to keep those ideologies alive.  A good way to differentiate is by judging the quality of the object’s preservation. Is the object properly stored away and maintained in a proper condition? Or is it constantly in use and faces regular wear-and-tear damage?

This is why the “historical” argument makes no sense to me. The core argument is based on preserving history, but the open public use of the flag is not even for preservation. It’s for decoration. And who in their right mind would want to decorate their belongings with something as ugly and putrid as the Confederate flag?

Then asks the Neo-Nazi “But if we can’t fly it, where do we put it?” You know, there are these amazing institutions called MUSEUMS that are specifically made for the purpose of storing and preserving ancient artifacts. You should try visiting one sometime, you might learn something for a change.

“Those people are exercising their freedom of speech.”

Nobody is denying that someone has the right or ability to openly share and express these ideas. That’s not the point. The point is should they express them? And if they do, does that automatically take away our right to speak out against them?

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence. If you’re going to say or represent hateful ideas, you should reasonably expect blow back from your critics, and you equally shouldn’t discourage those people for exercising the same rights as you do.

Here’s another way to view it. Say a man walks up to a woman in the middle of the street and calls her fat. The woman starts crying, local on-lookers start rushing to her defense and criticize the man for his hateful words. Now, with you bearing witness to all this, are you more likely to defend the woman for being victimized, or are you more likely to defend the man and his right to free speech?

The correct answer is, of course, the woman, because any decent person would defend those who are being unnecessarily harassed. If you, however, answered the man under any circumstance, then you misunderstand the rights that our constitution grants us and should never be allowed to comment on politics ever again.

“We have to remember history so we don’t repeat it.”

Well we pretty much failed in that mission, haven’t we? After all, 46 percent of the country elected a president who was publicly endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, hate groups have grown by 17% since election season began, and literal Nazis are marching in our streets. At this point, preventing history from repeating itself is no longer an option for us. We’re living in it right now.

COURTESY: The Inquisitr/ Rob Cotton

Look, I could counter every point thrown in my direction, but it’s not like it would make any difference. If this political season has shown anything, it has shown that people would rather sit inside their sheltered echo chambers instead of getting out and facing reality as it is. And right now the reality is we are living in one of our nation’s most divisive times in modern history.

Everyone is saying we need to end the hate and come together as one. This much is true. However, the people who divided us with their hate in the first place must be proactive in taking the first steps towards healing our nation. Because of this, white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and the KKK must allow themselves to be disarmed as we tear down the symbols that inspire their racist-fueled agenda. This includes publicly displayed Confederate and Nazi artifacts.

I don’t want it to be like this. I would like a nation that is civil with each other and allows free, respectful discussion of these issues. But if one side is going to be intolerant with their movement, they cannot blame us if we in turn refuse to tolerate their insolence. It’s okay to tolerate different political ideas. It is not okay to tolerate overt racism and hatred. Unfortunately, our nation has come to that point.

I understand that the removal of Confederate and Nazi images won’t stop the issues this country is facing. Still, we need to take a stand. We must. If we claim that America is for the land of the free and home of the brave, then we must demonstrate that by being brave and fighting for those freedoms.

Removing Confederate symbols won’t cure this country of the hatred that has infested it. But it’s a good place to start.

– David Dunn

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“CRASH” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Lionsgate Films

There is no us against them. It is only us.

“It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.”

– Detective Graham Walters, Crash.

I couldn’t sleep the night that I watched Crash. That’s because I crashed into somebody.  26 different people, in fact. In life, we are so self-consumed by the business and burdens of our lives that we never stop to think of how we might affect the lives of the people around us. So we crash into them. Sometimes it’s just a fender-bender. Sometimes it’s a straight-on collision. But it always has repercussions, whether it’s an exchange of flurried insults, or the breaking down of someone’s worth and self-esteem.

There are no characters in Crash, only faces that you remember. Those faces belong to Don Cheadle, Jennifer Esposito, Shaun Toub, Bahar Soomekh, Chris Bridges, Larenz Tate, Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser, Matt Dillon, Ryan Phillippe, Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton, Michael Pena, Yomi Perry, Ashlyn Sanchez, Karina Arroyave, Loretta Devine, Beverly Todd, William Fictner, Keith David, Greg Joung Paik, Nona Gaye, Bruce Kirby, Tony Danza, Kathleen York, Sylva Kelegian, and Marina Sirtis. I list all of them out only because they all matter. You’ll only recognize a few by name or from another film. But you care about all of them, no matter how small their role may seem.

To cover the full scope of Crash would be impossible. It takes place over the course of a few days in downtown L.A. and features an assortment of people that affect each other’s lives in one way or another, whether they realize it or not. I use “people” instead of “characters” because these are not fictionalized troupes that could only exist in a movie. These people feel, breathe, talk, and behave like any real person would. Even though the movie is classified as fictional, you can easily see the events happening to someone else in real life. In many cases they’ve already happened, and more than likely they’ve happened to you.

One of them already happened to writer-director Paul Haggis, who was inspired to write Crash after having his car stolen by a pair of carjackers. Playing it back in his head, he creates a path that starts with the carjackers, then it follows to the theft victims. Then it follows the locksmith at their house. Then it follows one of his customers that got his store broken into. Then it follows his daughter at her night job and et cetera, et cetera until it paints a beautifully written, tragic path between all of its subjects, creating a recurring pattern of judgement and apprehension that each person shares, that each person is guilty of.

And none of these people are innocent of prejudice. None of them are blameless for contributing to the problem. All of them are guilty of judging based on appearance, no matter if they’re White, Black, Mexican, Latino, Persian, or Chinese. It shows very vividly that there is not a difference between the perpetrators and victims of racism. There are only victims.

This perspective is so important because it humanizes everyone in the film, no matter what malice or misdeeds they commit. Imagine, if you would, if every character in this film were one race. White, Black, Mexican, Indian, Asian, whatever. Now imagine all of them throwing their same prejudice and judgements on each other even though they all look the same. The movie would look pretty silly, wouldn’t it?

Yet the movie makes complete sense, because of the stereotypes and the xenophobia we learn growing up. How sad is it that as a person, you can identify and understand why these people behave and react the way they do? How maddening is it when in one moment we get angry at a character for calling someone a criminal, a gangster, a hoodlum, or a terrorist, then we look at the mirror and realize we do the same thing? The people in the movie see each other for what they look like, but the movie never does. It only sees them as fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, family, friends, people.

I felt genuinely ashamed while watching Crash. Guilt-ridden, heartbroken, frustrated, upset, angry. That’s because I saw myself while watching it. Perhaps not at the level of a racist cop or an opportunistic district attorney, but in the small, subtle moments. When one woman wants to get the locks changed again because she doesn’t trust the Mexican locksmith “homie” over there, I quietly gasped to myself saying “Oh shoot, I do that too.” And then you see “homie” go home, quietly comforting his daughter when she hears gunshots, kissing her forehead, telling her he will protect her. That’s when you realize “homie” isn’t Mexican or gangster. He’s a father. He’s human.

We don’t want these judgements passed on to us. Yet, we pass them on to others. Why? Because that’s our nature, I suppose. We’re engineered at an early age to judge and be cautious of people based on appearance, so this security mechanism is instilled in our mindset to be wary of someone just because of what they look like. It’s saved our lives many times. It’s also ruined the lives of so many others.

Yet, through this brilliantly interwoven narrative that Haggis creates, he also demonstrates the same remedy for this problem. Kindness. Compassion. Empathy. Many times, at the hands of the people who were cruel or inhumane only a few scenes ago. There’s this genius reversal of character between where someone starts at the beginning of the film versus where they are at the end. In the movie, there is a racist cop who ends up saving the life of a black woman in a burning vehicle. There’s a spoiled housewife who’s wary of Mexicans who ends up saying her best friend is her Mexican housemaid. There’s a black man who demonstrates disregard for Asians, only to save the lives of multiple Asians by the end. A white man who saves a black man’s life, only to take another’s later on. Whether they are on one end of the spectrum or another, by the end of the film, they exist on the other end.

This is so important because it demonstrates that we’re capable of that same kindness and cruelty, whether we want to admit it or not. How many times have you been more open to someone of your race rather than another? How many times have you acted more cautious because of someone’s skin color? How many times do you say “I don’t want to be around this person” because of a generalization or an assumption you have on their character because of their appearance? We don’t want to admit that it’s about race, but what else could it be about? Whether they’re matching colors on their outfit?

The movie technically ends on a cliffhanger, because there are still many things that we don’t know. Does John’s dad ever get the medical treatment he needs? Does Graham ever find the man who killed his brother? Does Anthony find redemption or fall back into a life of crime? Does Farhad ever manage to reopen his store? Does Tom remain in the police force?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, just like I don’t know the answers to my questions or to your questions about the future. Perhaps that’s the point. In life, we don’t know where we’re going, where we’re traveling to, or who we meet on the way. We can’t control the people that come into our lives. We can only control how we react to them. And instead of reacting with fear, maybe we can react with curiosity. Confidence. Belief in the best of people. By doing this, we begin to create an atmosphere of change.

And change doesn’t come in big steps. As Crash demonstrates, they come in small doses of change, whether they be positive or negative. If we focus on those changes being kind and compassionate as opposed to cold and fearful, we change many things at once until we change the world entire. That’s the one that I want to be a part of: one where we won’t have to crash into someone ever again.

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“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” Review (✫✫1/2)

En Sabah No.

The biggest problem X-Men: Apocalypse faces is one it isn’t even responsible for. X-Men: Days of Future Past was and will always be one of the most definitive superhero experiences at the movies. Asking for follow-up to that is unreasonable, let alone damn near impossible, and to its credit, X-Men Apocalypse tries. It tries too hard, but at least it tries.

Taking place ten years after the events of Days of Future Past, Apocalypse shows an ancient threat that reawakens deep within the pyramids of Egypt. The first known mutant to ever historically exist, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) awakens to a world ran amuck in chaos and disorder. Political corruption. Poverty. War. Violence. En Sabah Nur sees all that’s wrong with the world and decides that, in order to save it, it must be destroyed and rebuilt.

Back in Westchester, at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) awakens from a horrible nightmare. Witnessing horrible visions of the end of the world, Jean is convinced that these visions are real and that they will come to pass. Her professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) thinks these are just dreams. Yet, as one thing happens after another, he begins to think there is something devestating going on that even the X-Men might not be able to stop.

The third movie for the newly rebooted X-Men universe, X-Men: Apocalypse boasts a lot of the strengths that its predecessors have. For one thing, the performances are superb, and the actors exemplify their characters down to the molecule. McAvoy is earnest and well-intentioned as Xavier, while Jennifer Lawrence is motivated and sharp-shooting as Mystique. The actor I noticed most, however, was Michael Fassbender, once again adopting the role of Magneto. Every time I watch him, I am reminded of this character’s tragic history and how other people’s cruelty has driven him towards violence and extremism. Without giving too much away, there is one moment where Magneto sustain a crippling loss that comes to define his character the most throughout the picture. These moments remind us that Magneto is not a villain, but rather a tragic hero who fell through grace, and Fassbender is brilliant in capturing both the character’s regret, penance, and guilt throughout the movie.

The action is also incredibly polished, especially for an X-Men film. En Sabah Nur himself is the most omnipotent, wiping enemies away with a dash of his hand or the white glow of his eyes. Havok (Lucas Till) reappears alongside his brother Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) for the first time, and their red energies run amuck obliterating anything in their path. The most fun X-Man to make a return, however, is Evan Peters as the speedster mutant Peter Maximoff. You remember his signature scene at the Pentagon in X-Men: Days of Future Past. His scene in this movie blows that one out of the water. I won’t give much away, but saving over 30 people at superspeed is much more impressive than taking out six security guards in a kitchen. This sequence was funny, exciting, and most importantly, entertaining. His scenes were easily my favorite from the film.

The action and the characters culminate together fluidly, similar to the other X-Men films. The differences lie in its story, or more specifically, in its lack of focus. There are about five different stories packed into one in X-Men: Apocalypse, and most of them are unnecessary. You have so many unraveled narratives trying to weave together into one that quickly falls apart once the plot starts picking up speed. 

Take, for instance, the plight of Magneto. His story is pure tragedy. His hearbreak, his pain, his loss, it echoes of Magneto’s earlier history and builds into a climactic moment between himself and his transgressors. The scene should have been a moment of suspense and satisfaction, but then all of a sudden, En Sabah Nur appears on the scene and completely disjoints the narrative.

The whole film is like that, building up to big moments and then suddenly switching to other ones. There’s Xavier’s arc, then there’s Mystique’s, then Magneto’s, then Jean’s, and then Cyclops’. The most dissapointing to me is Peter. His story has to deal with his true parentage, but it never even leads anywhere. Screenwriter Simon Kinberg and director Bryan Singer build all of this effort up for nothing. No conclusion. No resolution. No payoff. That’s because they don’t have a focus, and the picture ends up losing our interest, despite all of its spectacular action.

X2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past remain to be the best entries of the franchise, while X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the unoquivocal worst. This movie falls in the middle ground. Like its predecessors, X-Men: Apocalypse has great action pieces and performances, but it collapses under the weight of its narrative while simultaneously lacking in depth and development. As Jean Grey observes after seeing Return of the Jedi, “At least we can all agree that the third one is always the worst.” You read my mind, sister.

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“ZOOTOPIA” Review (✫✫✫)

And don’t forget the Zoopocalypse.

Zootopia is a movie just about as good as a movie titled Zootopia can be. There’s animals, a cute bunny protagonist (although she doesn’t like to be called “cute”), an underdog story for her to go through, and a colorful city, of which the title derives its name from. Kids will love it, adults not as much. But Zootopia has enough uniqueness to distance itself from the rest of the competition, and make itself stand out in a long line of successful Disney movies.

The plot takes place in an alternate reality where animals have evolved from their primitive, savage states into civilized, anthropomorphic beings, allowing predators and prey to coexist peacefully in the same society. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a young rabbit who’s wanted to be a police officer ever since she was a kid, dreams of going to Zootopia, the heart of this new co-existing world. But as she soon finds out, Zootopia is not the city of paradise and tolerance that she had hoped. She quickly discovers that the big guys overpower the little ones on almost every block and street, and considering she’s just a wee rabbit, she quickly gets slapped onto parking duty in her district.

Enter Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sniveling fox that is so coy in his craft that he could give Gordon Gecko a run for his money. Wilde becomes a witness to a kidnapping that Hopps is suddenly thrown into investigating. As this unlikely duo burrows deeper and deeper into the investigation, they discover a secret that may impact the future of Zootopia forever.

A question I wondered while watching Zootopia: where are all the humans? The animals have been on the Earth long enough to evolve into a more civilized state. Where did they learn to be civilized from? Did the animals overthrow the human race in an epic revolution? Did the humans become extinct as the animals evolved? I thought of all of these possibilities while Hopps stared in awe at Zootopia, which may or may not have been built on top of piles of human corpses. Of course, these are probably thoughts only I would think of, and a mystery I’ll have to be content with being unsolved, just like with what happened to the humans in Cars.

How do you expect Zootopia to play out? Whatever you’re thinking, the answer is yes, it plays out like that. Like every other animal-loving animated movie out there, Zootopia is filled with cute, cuddly creatures and colors that will liven up a child’s day. Are the beats too familiar for those who are experienced moviegoers? Of course they are, but at least we can still have fun with it.

Let’s run through the cast of characters, shall we? The rabbit is excited, energetic, and optimistic? Check. The fox is sly, slick, and wickedly sarcastic? Check. The Cape Buffalo is big, blunt, and a to-the-point, no-nonsense bovine? Check. Most of the animals you think of will fit their stereotypes, with one notable exception: Benjamin Clawhauser (Nate Torrence), an obese cheetah who works as a police dispatcher and has an obvious obsession for donuts. See the irony here? The fastest animal alive, now being the fattest animal alive. There’s a self-awareness to his character that makes him fun to watch and laugh at. Watching him makes you wish there was as much self-awareness in the entire movie as there is with this one character.

Still though, there are elements to appreciate with this movie. There’s a good reason why kids will enjoy it: it’s because the animation is vivid, detailed, and colorful. Not much of a surprise, considering all of the colorful worlds we witness in Disney movies like Tangled, Frozen, and Wreck-It Ralph. But the other thing I like with this movie is the creativity of its premise, in how vast Zootopia itself is and how different cultures of animals interact with each other.

In the movie, there is a big divide between the animals that are natural predators and prey. Watching this conflict draw out reminded me of the Black Lives Matter movement in today’s world, and the sharp disagreements that sprout in between black communities and the police force. You might find it funny how an animated movie can demonstrate a message of equality, but it pulls it off with immediate relevance while not straying away from its family-friendly tones. There was one moment where an animal shouted at a leopard to “Go back to Africa.” The leopard replies in shock “I’m from Zootopia.” I sadly wondered how many Americans have to repeat a similar conversation on a daily basis.

In its whole scope, Zootopia is a fun movie that is even more fun for the kiddies. I enjoyed it, but I wish it could have escaped from some of its conventions, and even further explored some of the deep ideas that it was already exploring. I guess I’m thinking too much like an adult though and not enough like a kid. Adults already have FOX and CNN. The kids can have Zootopia.

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“THE HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY” Review (✫✫)

Plus a few hundred feet more.

There are a few films that can take you out of one moment and immerse you into another, such as the fine aromas and delicacies of a French cuisine resteraunt. The Hundred Foot Journey is not one of those movies. By the time the movie ends, you find yourself thinking less about the main course and more about the half-cooked ingredients that went into it.

The plot follows one Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), a young Indian chef who was forced to flee from his home after it was destroyed in a political riot. After gathering together his family, which includes his hard-headed Papa (Om Puri) and his four siblings, they pursue the legendary city of France, only to have their brakes suddenly stop working a few miles out of the city. “Brakes break for a reason,” his father tells them, words that we can take away as the best piece of dialogue out of the entire movie.

They soon meet Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), a stubborn French connoisseur who owns the one star French resteraunt that is exactly 100 feet across from their home. (Ahhhhh, now you get the title. “The Hundred Foot Journey,” har-dee har-dee har.) Now with Hassan’s family working to open their own Indian resteraunt, a rivalry forms between the two resteraunts as both of their cultures and cuisines clash with one another.

I’m sorry, did I make this sound relentlessly boring? I didn’t mean to, but hey: at least you’re getting an accurate depiction of my experience. The Hundred Foot Journey starts with a lack of interest and ends with just as much a lack of interest. Like many failed feel-good dramas, this movie meanders from point A to point B to point C, D, E, and so on and so forth until you’ve reached the end of the alphabet. There’s nothing in this story to compel you to care for the characters, no great sense of conflict or urgency that draws you in to its setting or premise.

Waitaminute, I take that back. There is one thing: Manish Dayal, the young actor who portrays Hassan. He handles his portrayal with genuity and earnesty, the only actor to do so out of the entire production. He’s the curious sort, an eager and passionate young chef who is drawn to all tastes of the senses, whether it is Indian or French. He demonstrates the most versatility in the picture, showing an excitement and enthusiasm so pure that we (briefly) slip into his mind to feel what he is feeling before the rest of the film rips us out of it. He’s a talented young actor, and his presence makes me eager to see how the rest of his career pans out. That is, once he finds better material than The Hundred Foot Journey. 

The rest of the cast members are paper-thin and forgettable. Yes, that includes the talented and charismatic Helen Mirren, who can’t help but look and feel like she’s phoning it in here. I suppose that’s not entirely a bad thing, considering I’d rather forget a mediocre performance rather than remember a bad one. But the plain fact of the matter is I don’t care about these characters, and their performances don’t help remedy my disinterest in the slightest. The most tragic case comes in French actress Charlotte Le Bon, who portrays Hassan’s love interest with a cute smile and sweet laugh to bump. Her performance is not the problem, it’s the one that she’s asked to portray. And she’s asked to portray a ditzy, typecast love interest that would be more entertaining if it were a Chef Barbie doll instead of a live actor.

The actors can’t help but give such bland performances. It’s not their effort that’s the problem, its the material that they’re given. The screenplay, written by Eastern Promises scribe Steven Knight, is complacent and predictable, and asks us to simply go through the motions instead of challenging us by making new ones. The direction by Lasse Halstromm is especially mediocre, as it seems the most involvement he had in directing was just pointing the camera and saying “action” to his castmembers. 

Halstromm’s involvement isn’t so much surprising as it is disappointing. He’s done great movies before (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules, Hachi), and yet, he’s equally had many lackluster ones as well (Dear John, Safe Haven, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen). What is with this guy? Does he make one great movie, then decide he’s on break for the next three? He can draw out great performances from his actors. He’s not only done before in previous movies, but in this one too. In one scene, after finding massive success as a professional chef, Hassan tastes a friend’s fried curry, and the spices and the freshness of the tastes brings him back to the memories of his home, his family, and the joy he once found in cooking. This was the most magical moment from the picture, as the tears Dayal gives in the scene feel genuine, honest, and real. Why couldn’t the rest of the movie be like that? What excuse does Halstromm have to make one great scene, then five bad ones after that? Is it just plain lack of effort? If that is the case, then that is the most pitiful excuse for the state of this movie. Many ambitious filmmakers can’t make the films they wanted simply because of a lack of budget or resources. To have the budget and resources and not skillfully use them is a slap in the face for all of the up-and-coming filmmakers out there.

There was one moment in the film where Madame Mallory dipped her spoon into one of Hassan’s sauces, took one taste, then threw the entire meal in the trash. Helen Mirren should have done the same thing to the script.

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“THE HATEFUL EIGHT” Review (✫✫✫)

Quentin Tarantino sticking up his bloodied middle finger. 

You could not have picked a better title for The Hateful Eight if you had a team of eight Quentin Tarantinos working on the script. It’s simple, straightforward, and to the point: you take away everything you need to know about it, just like Tarantino’s writing. There’s eight killers, they’re all hateful, and they blow each other up in bloody, gory Tarantino-esque fashion. Whether you’d like that sort of thing depends on if you like Tarantino. I do, and I had just as much a blast watching this movie as Tarantino did writing it.

As already mentioned, The Hateful Eight pits eight character’s wits and murderous instincts against each other, all with unique names that accurately reflect their histories and personalities. They include The Bounty Hunter (Samuel L. Jackson), the Hangman (Kurt Russell), the Sheriff (Walton Goggins), the Mexican (Demian Bichir), the Little Man (Tim Roth), the Cow Puncher (Michael Madsen), the Confederate (Bruce Dern), and the Prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the last of which the plot more or less focuses around. Trapped in a cabin during a harsh winter storm, these eight killers need to keep their wits intact so that they don’t start murdering each other.

This being a Tarantino movie, however, that obviously doesn’t work out very well.

For a lack of a better word, Quentin Tarantino went through hell to get this movie made. First, his script got leaked a few months before he was supposed to start production. Then, he decided to turn his screenplay into a book. When he finally resolved to make it a feature film, he received threats from police officers for participating in a Black Lives Matter protest in New York. Oh, and he had to battle being released in the same month as Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It has not been an easy year for Quentin Tarantino.

With that in mind, I appreciate that Tarantino is still able to make a quality film up to his standards, despite everything he’s been through this year. What is it you love most about Tarantino’s movies? The performances? The dialogue? The characters? The dark humor? The grit? The violence? The shock value? The Hateful Eight has all of that just as much as Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained, and Pulp Fiction does. To classify it as a western or a comedy or a mystery doesn’t do it justice. Tarantino movies are almost a genre all their own.

That much is how The Hateful Eight is similar to its counterparts. The differences lie in its mystery element, in the characters trying to find the one person slowly, yet violently, killing off everyone else in the cabin. That being confined to eight people makes it difficult to keep this a mystery, as we already know more or less who the “good” guys are, if such a thing can exist in this movie. Regardless, it’s fun to hypothesize and figure the plot out, as there is the added element of mystery that gives The Hateful Eight a sense of intrigue over Tarantino’s other pictures.

As always, the make-it or break-it element comes down to Tarantino’s almost insane obsession with on-screen violence. At times, it gives it that extra shock value that is so ridiculous, you can’t help but laugh about it. At other times, it’s just sick, and it makes you want to throw up the more you think about it. That’s what happened with me and Django Unchained after watching too many nut shots for my own comfort. The Hateful Eight is just as guilty for being violent as Tarantino’s other motion pictures, and while it doesn’t get away with all of its violence (such as the uncomfortable nut shots), it’s still smart enough to survive beyond its onslaught of blood, guts, beatings, bruisings, stabbings, and gore that’s enough to fill up The Shining’s elevator lobby.

Do you like Quentin Tarantino? If the answer is yes, then you will want to see The Hateful Eight. If no, then you definitely don’t want to find yourself alone in this cabin with these eight murderous psychopaths.

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“STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON” Review (✫✫✫✫)

The biography of the boyz in the hood. 

Perception is reality.

That’s a motto my newsroom lives and dies by. That’s also a truth that the boys from Straight Outta Compton live and die by. The only difference between us is that we experience it figuratively: they experience it literally.

We witness this early in Straight Outta Compton; as early as the first scene, in fact. Eric Wright, a.k.a. Eazy E (Jason Mitchell) confronts his cousins, who hasn’t paid him yet for the dope that he sold them a few weeks ago. Suddenly, like an Earthquake striking a town, the police ram into the house and start raiding it, arresting any African-American they can find in there. E slips out of the window and onto the roof just in time. He’s survived. For now.

We switch to a less tense scene. Andre Young, a.k.a. Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) is sitting on his bedroom floor, listening to classic funk and R&B records on his record player. Dre isn’t like the others in the streets. He doesn’t want to sling dope or be in a gang. He just wants to produce beats and music: a mozart to his suburbs.

His mother Verna (Lisa Renee Pitts), however, isn’t so enthused about his career path. He has a family and a daughter to care for, and he isn’t going to do it sitting on the floor listening to a record player, DJ’ing for a club at night. Dre, however, has his mind set. His future doesn’t lie in cleaning toilets and taking fast food orders. It lies in a DJ mixer and a pair of headphones. Dre knows what he needs to do.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Compton, O’Shea Jackson, a.k.a. Ice Cube (played by his own son, O’Shea Jackson Jr.) is sitting on a bus waiting to go to school. He sees the white kids in another school yard, all dressed in nice clothes, all with newly-bought school supplies and slick cars. Meanwhile, Cube sits in his creaky bus seat, looking at his clothes he probably wore yesterday, and his worn pencil and notepad, which is the only school supplies he has.

He takes his pencil and notepad and starts writing.

These three men, alongside Lorenzo Patterson, a.k.a. MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and Antoine Carraby, a.k.a. DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) make up the notorious hip-hop group N.W.A. The last two words stand for “With Attitude.” You can imagine what the letter “N” stands for.

Here is a film that, by any standards, is morally despicable. I go on and on in some of my reviews how movies are either incredibly violent, shamelessly sexual, or blatantly vulgar. This movie is all of those things and more. F-words fly out of their mouths like bullets in an uzi. Nude and scantily-clad women flock to these rappers in herds. In some scenes, they engage in sexual intercourse with many attendants watching, all with drugs and alcohol present. Police and gang violence is also present in the film, with crips, bloods, and officers shoving, punching, shooting, assaulting, and harassing each other in very violent, confrontational fashions.

Do not be fooled. This is not an easy film to watch, and if you don’t have a strong moral compass, you will get lost in the violent, sexual, promiscuous, profane, and blatantly explicit content you will find in this motion picture. If you hate hip-hop, you will hate Straight Outta Compton.

That being said, Straight Outta Compton is one of the most compelling films I’ve seen so far this year. The movie is more than the problems it poses. In fact, I’m happy that the film shows the content that it does in the film. It shows the destructive lifestyle these people experience, both on and off the streets, and they confront very real issues that hits them hard at home and at heart. The most significant issue that the movie covers is, of course, police violence. In one of my favorite scenes from the film, one of the police officers that was harassing these young men was not white, but black. My jaw dropped as he continued to berate these men as they were walking away: “Listen to your master!” he said, referring to their white manager.

What I love most about this movie, though, is that it isn’t biased. It isn’t pro-police or anti-police or pro-gangs or anti-gangs. It shows the ugliness of every side of Compton, whether it exists on a badge or on a bandana. Police cruelty is an obvious focus of the film, because it’s a recurring theme in hip-hop and rap culture. I was pleasantly surprised, though, to find at how much the film delved into hood culture and how damaging it is to these young men’s lives. The biggest instances of cruelty came from record producer Suge Knight, portrayed here by R. Marcus Taylor, whose business tactics include physical intimidation, humiliation, fear, confrontation, and violence. If the movie is anything to go by on how the real events transpired, Suge is a monster. He is painted as nothing less than the Godfather of suffering in this movie.

The parallels this movie draws on is ingenious, and director F. Gary Gray is exemplary in realizing the African-American struggle in a poverty-stricken neighborhood and in their aspiration to escape from it. Jackson does very well in portraying his father, and demonstrates the same snarl and attitude with such accuracy that it made me laugh at how similar he looked to his father. Hawkins is passionate and driven in portraying Dre, and while he physically looks smaller than the real-life Dr. Dre, his performance and his versatility in emotion more than makes up for lacking in physical similarities.

The greatest performance, however, comes from Jason Mitchell. In hindsight, he is the character with the most problems. He’s egotistical, he objectifies women, he betrays his friends, he resorts to violence, and he flourishes in the most destructive lifestyle as he bathes himself in a plethora of drugs, alcohol, and sex. In comparison to his N.W.A. companions, he is the most flawed character. But with his flaws comes his emotions to those flaws, his own moments of self-reflection that makes him think back at his decisions, his career, and the life that he’s trapped in. E goes through many emotions in this film, from fear, to anger, to happiness, to sadness, to heartbreak, and Mitchell portrays all of those emotions perfectly. If he doesn’t deserve the Academy Award for best supporting actor, he definitely deserves a nomination.

But at the heart of this movie is the struggle, the struggle that these five young men go through together, apart, individually, and inseparably. Their struggle being not having enough money. Their struggle being having too much money. Their struggle of not having a place in the world, and their struggle of what to do after establishing their place in the world. Like hip-hop, this movie will stir some major controversy for its content and for what messages it sends to its younger viewers. But it’s important to understand that this movie doesn’t set out to prove who is right and wrong. This movie sets out to show a reality. This movie sets out to show their reality.

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A Reflection On My Racial History

How do you think it feels knowing that your race caused decades of inhuman suffering and cruelty on a group of people that didn’t deserve it?

It’s the end of Black History Month, and after African-American citizens spent four weeks reflecting on their own history, I thought it was important that I took a moment to reflect on my own.

When I was thirteen, my great grandmother informed me that her father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Wearing the white robe of evil and judgement as if he were as clean as snow, he marched with his brothers in uniform against those of a different color from him with a sign filled with spite in one hand, and a torch burning with hatred in the other. She never learned if her father quit the organization or not. She found his uniform in the attic later on when she was an adult.

The rest of my family’s history isn’t much better. My dad’s uncles thought African Americans were selfish, lazy human beings, sputtering racial slurs at them while they drank their glasses full of whisky. Friends of my mother’s parents jokingly called them “jungle buddies.” Things only started getting better for my family when my mother stood up to her white classmates for her black friends when she was eight years old in elementary school. She was ridiculed and called by her classmates a “nigger lover.”

Bad as that is, I know it isn’t half as bad as what some of her friends had to face during that time.

Nowadays, with everything that has been going on in Ferguson and Staten Island, I sometimes find some people judging me and labeling me as a racist just because of the color of my skin. They don’t say this in words, but in silence: in the eerie, guarded ways they stare at you and in the sharpness in their breathing that feels like blades to your character.

I understand their contempt, and if I were in their shoes, I would probably judge myself too.

I’m not proud of the things my ancestors has done. I’m not proud of the things my entire race has done. In fact, I have to live with the fact that I’m living in a former slave state back when the south was considered the Confederate States of America. How can I say I’m proud to be a Texan, when I know all of the gross, unforgivable things we’ve done as a state?

But here’s what I need to keep reminding myself: it’s not me. I am not my family. I am not my origin. I am a passionate citizen of the United States of America. I love my brothers and sisters of all ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. I smile when I see them exercising their rights of freedom of expression, and I cry when I see them discriminated for their beliefs and appearances. I am filled with joy when their voices are heard, and I am filled with grief when their voices are silenced.

I am not my history, and for that matter, neither are you. We all should be proud, equal citizens of the United States. It’s high time we start acting like it.

– David Dunn

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“X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” Review (✫✫✫✫)

The next stage in superhero cinema evolution. 

X-men: Days of Future Past ranks among the best superhero sequels I’ve ever seen, one I would instantly compare to that of Spider-man 2 or The Dark Knight. There were so many things that needed to be done, so many risks that needed to be taken, and so many ways this movie could have failed. It didn’t. From the opening sequence to its last breathtaking moment, my mind was blown and the comic-book nerd in me was absolutely filled with joy. The movie did more than simply expand the franchise: it redefined it.

We open on a post-apocalyptic future that hasn’t been this catastrophic since James Cameron’s 1984 film The Terminator. Years after X-men: The Last Stand took place, humans are now being hunted by the same weapons they created in the first place: the Sentinels, a coalition of dangerously armed robots who can track and exterminate any mutant they can find on planet earth. Amongst the ruins of battered buildings and fallen icons, the human race has now been collected into a sort of concentration camps: all that’s left for the mutants then is the mass graves filled with the dead bodies of their kin.

Lifelong frenemies Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) collaborate on a plan they would like to enact. Besides having the ability to phase through walls and objects, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has recently developed the ability to transfer someone’s consciousness into their younger bodies in the past, allowing them to change the future and avoid the unfortunate outcomes that might become of them. Kitty has been able to use this ability on multiple occasions now to save her friends, but now Professor X and Magneto want to go back into the past (1970, to be exact) to prevent the event that triggered this horrifying future and save human and mutantkind as they know it.

Problem is, Kitty can only send someone back a few days or weeks at a time. Any further than that and she risks tearing apart the mind of the person she’s sending back to the point beyond repair. Luckily, Wolverine (played by Hugh Jackman, who else?) has the ability to heal himself at a faster rate. So Professor X and Magneto decide to send Wolverine back into the past to coerce their younger selves (portrayed by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively) to stop the triggering event and save the future.

Serving as a sequel to both X-men: First Class and X-men: The Last Stand, and incorporating characters and actors from both translations, X-men: Days of Future Past is, in a word, a game changer. It brings in all of its key players, from the original cast members and its most revered director Bryan Singer, to the newcomers who’ve newly defined their roles, including McAvoy as Xavier and Fassbender as Magneto. Everyone meshes so perfectly with each other, especially Jackman once again, who essentially has to react to characters from two different time zones. There hasn’t been a cast this big since Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, and I’m tempted to say the movie is better because of it.

Do I really want to stand here though, and compare Days of Future Past to that of The Avengers? Yes I do. The Avengers was a bold, brave step forward in comic book evolution, combining characters from five different movies to make a superhero epic that hadn’t been tried before. Days of Future Past follows that same model, bringing in characters from six of its movies, but the end result is vastly different. There’s a much deeper plot going on here, a vastly intelligent and contemplative story that elaborates on its recurring themes of racism and, once again, bringing in the consequences of discrimination to the forefront. I loved X2 for this very reason, for it being more than just a comic book movie and focusing itself more as a political thriller with comic book elements thrown into the mix. This movie is that to, like, the tenth power.

Oh yes, this movie will fill comic fans with glee everywhere. Similar to the small little easter eggs that can be picked up in other Marvel movies (Note: The Doctor Strange reference in The Winter Soldier), this movie too has sweet little moments that comic fans can pluck from the ground and take a moment and appreciate the aroma. My favorite had to be a moment where a mutant named Peter (Evan Peters), who can run at supersonic speeds, rests in an elevator with the younger Magneto as he’s helping him escape from prison, and makes a comment about his long-lost father. That’s just the tip of the Bobby Drake-iceberg. There’s so many moments I can pull from that filled me with joy and happiness, while others filled me with dread and angst. The film orchestrates its emotions wonderfully, and in every fabric of the film I felt what I was supposed to feel.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is the best X-men movie in the series so far. Bold claim, I know, but it deserves it. From its first moment to its last, Days of Future Past is completely, utterly, fascinatingly mind-blowing and involving. From its quietly hinted-at themes of xenophobia and extermination to its climactic action scenes where we don’t see how on earth our heroes can win, Days of Future Past combines the best parts of all of the movies and makes itself the best entry out of them. Many audiences have recently been experiencing superhero movie fatigue, with movies such as Man of Steel and The Amazing Spider-man 2 recently being met with mixed reaction amongst audiences and in the box office. Days of Future Past is one of those movies that restores your faith in the genre.

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