Tag Archives: Xenophobia

“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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“X2” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

A social commentary disguised as an action blockbuster.

X2 is science-fiction brilliance, a sequel that is relentlessly exciting, smartly written, intelligently designed, and jam-packed with so many involving action scenes and stunning visual effects that it could potentially work as a stand-alone movie, rather than a direct sequel to its predecessor X-men. Like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, this movie serves as an expansion for the universe that it is in and as an opportunity to provide fan service to its dedicated readers and lovers of the iconic source material. I’m not very much for sequels, and I definitely don’t want this to become a superhero monopoly, but if we have to have sequels packaged with every superhero installment in the near future, more filmmakers should pull inspiration from X2.

X2 picks up just short of a few months after X-men originally left off. After the combined efforts of the X-men defeated Erik Lenshurr, a.k.a. “Magneto” (Ian McKellan), and imprisoned him within a special plastic cell (Countering his ability to manipulate metal), the X-men go about their (ab)normal lives as teachers at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, educating mutants on how to control their powers and not be afraid of who they are. Only Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) sets out to Canada to seek out answers for his long-forgotten past, and even then he comes up empty: the lab where he was supposedly experimented on has long since been abandoned.

Soon, however, a new figure from everyone’s past re-emerges: William Stryker (Brian Cox), a government official who has experimented on mutants for as long as mutants existed. After pitching his program to the President and revealing that Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters is a front to the X-men operation, the X-men and the Brotherhood of Mutants must band together to save each other from Stryker’s plot, and quite potentially the rest of mutant kind with them as well.

Directed and co-written by Bryan Singer, who also directed X2’s predecessor X-men, X2 is a highly involving, irreverently fascinating superhero epic. Functioning just as much as a political thriller as it does a superhero action flick, Singer is careful to deliberate and balance everything effectively in the movie, from its themes of xenophobia and racism to its highly-exciting action sequences where mutants go flying, flipping, and teleporting in every which way and under.

Funny, the first time Singer tried X-men, balance was a problem for him. He put a greater emphasis on the action and the visuals of the mutant’s powers more than what they meant for them individually, quite possibly because that’s more of what the audience wants to see anyway. Here, balance is not an issue. He does a great job at both not only giving us a healthy dose of action-packed sequences of grandeur and excitement: he also does a great job giving us heartfelt, genuine emotion, showing these character’s internal reactions just as much as their external.

Example: After escaping from an attack on themselves and the rest of the X-men earlier in the movie, Wolverine takes himself and a small group of mutants to Bobby “Iceman” Drake’s (Shawn Ashmore) home, where he’s forced to essentially come out to his family that he is, in fact, a mutant. After seeing the emotion and disparity of his family reeling in with the shocking revelation of Bobby’s abilities, the police pull up to the house, and an explosive battle results between these X-men and the officers.

See, this is what I’m talking about: there isn’t a single moment in the movie where the action outweighs the drama, or the drama outweighs the action. For every scene where something emotionally weighty or significant is revealed, there is another scene where something exciting or thrilling happens that jump-starts your interest all over again. Whether it’s a scene involving dialogue between characters, a narrator giving exposition on a conniving plot, or another scene where some sort of grand, explosive battle takes place doesn’t matter. It’s always moving, it’s always doing something different, it always keeps up its interest and it is never boring.

I’m very happy with this movie. In a world where so many sequels make the mistake of replacing genuine emotion with an overdose of action and visual effects, X2 is a clear standout. While not necessarily perfect, and still incapable of escaping from some of the cheesy, ham-fisted moments that I rued in the first movie, it definitely stepped up its game as a far as drama goes, and has deeper contexts to offer regarding the xenophobia/racism issue that inspired the series as a whole since its comic book creation. In that sense, X2 is more than a superhero blockbuster. It’s a social commentary on judging another person for who they are and the destructive consequences that can come from it as a result.

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