Category Archives: Pop Culture

Just how good is “12 Years A Slave?” – Movie Review(with NO spoilers)

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Slavery is a rough, evil & dark piece of world history.  Like others before him, Director Steve McQueen (Shame) tries his hand at bringing the monstrosity that was slavery in the United States to the big screen. 12 Years a Slave is not only a look of the domestic slave trade in the United States, but also a view of the great cotton boom that flooded the deep south and deepened the pockets of many a slave trader.

Although 12 Years a Slave will be compared to Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained(2012), they are very different films. Django was escapism at its finest. A film focused on slavery  that managed to lean more on the cartoonish side and still remained entertaining.  12 Years is the realistic account of Solomon Northup, a free and educated black man living in New York, who gets kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. The story of Northup’s kidnapping is not totally common but is something that was documented to have actually happened to free black men.

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Solomon is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a British actor best known for his work in films such as American Gangster, 2012 & Children of Men. This may be the film that propels his career to new heights. Ejiofor was amazing as Solomon, able to convey a wide range of emotion without using long-form speech. It was his large eyes and body language that told the story of what Solomon was feeling, as most of the time his mouth would earn him lashes. The thought of revealing his true identity and then being resold into further obscurity was too much for Solomon to bear. As stated more than once in the movie, a literate slave was a dangerous one. Amongst a cast full of more notable names, Ejiofor was able to stand out on his own.

Michael Fassbender, a frequent collaborator of Steve McQueen’s, gives his finest performance of his career as the cruel slavemaster Edwynn Epps. As horrible of a person Epps appears on screen, appparently this was only the tip of the iceberg as he was reportedly a much worse person in reality. The character of Edwynn Epps is McQueen’s example of a deeply flawed man somehow in charge of other human beings. It doesn’t help that his character is constantly berated by his wife, played by Sarah Paulson of American Horror Story fame. In my opinion, Paulson was the most cruel character in the movie;  she spends each minute of her on-screen time showing no positive human emotion. As a fan of Paulson’s work, it was refreshing to see her play someone totally different from her usual roles.

There are many other actors and actresses who make an appearance, including Brad Pitt, who is also one of the producers of the film.  Lipita Nyong’o may invoke some Academy Award murmuring after her astounding performance as the slave “Patsey,” the object of Epps’ desire and anger.

One of my favorite things about this movie was the imagery. There were several long and steady camera shots that really let emotion sink in with viewers. If there was a painful reaction shot of Solomon, you felt the emotional pain also.

Warning to those with simple stomachs, the movie doesn’t hold back. The reality of slavery was harsh and 12 Years doesn’t hold back on the violence or language. It also takes a look at slavery not only from the slave point-of-view but also the view from the plantation owners.

I believe in confronting problems head on, versus ignoring issues. As harsh and real as slavery was, it’s a part of history and I applaud filmmakers who attempt to tell the story without holding back.  There will be cringe-worthy moments and points where you wonder if you will remain haunted by the brutal images on screen. I urge you not to turn away or skip out on this film. If you do, you’ll miss an almost masterpiece from Steve McQueen and one of the most powerful films released this this decade.

Final Grade: A-

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Breaking Bad Showdown: Walt vs. Jesse; Why I choose Jesse

As Breaking Bad nears the middle point of the second half of the final season, the line has been drawn very clearly in the sand: Jesse Pinkman versus Walter White.

Fans of the show are more divided than ever over these two pivotal characters in television history. Who is right? Who is wrong? Is Walt truly evil? Is Jesse really “good?” Some fans are referring to their showdown as reminiscent of Batman versus The Joker. Although I can see a point or two, the more accurate comparison would be Robin versus The Joker. A former sidekick decides to take matters into his own hands against the most evil of the evil. Jesse connecting the dots about the swiped ricin cigarette was the moment in his mind, where Walt was confirmed as the source of Jesse’s emotional pitfalls. Robin is attempting to thwart The Joker’s plans, but will he succeed?

While there are many fans rooting for Jesse to get his revenge, there is a strong contingent of fans rooting for Walt. This group sees Jesse as annoying and ungrateful. Jesse wouldn’t be where he is “without Walt.” While there is some truth in that statement, you could also switch the names around without clouding the meaning. It’s Walt who keeps talking Jesse back into the game. Sure Jesse is weak, he’s supposed to be. There are two types of people in this world, leaders and followers. To understand why Jesse deserves fan sympathy more than Walt, you have to understand the difference between leaders and followers.

Followers always have an excuse…
Leaders always have an idea…
Followers always blame others…
Leaders fix the situation….
Followers make promises…
Leaders keep commitments…
Followers let it happen…
Leaders make it happen…
Followers say, ‘Why don’t THEY do something about it?’
Leaders say ‘Here’s something I can do.’
Followers live in the past…
Leaders live in the here and now.” ~Unknown

When I see Jesse making brash decisions such as throwing millions of dollars out of a moving car, instead of seeing the surface(a guy doing something 95% of people wouldn’t do) I see the interior. What do we know about the character of Jesse Pinkman that has never wavered? He’s emotionally unstable. He doesn’t go through the same process of thought as Walt does when making a decision. He’s been the wild-card since day one that Walt has to help guide along.

Jesse fits no description of what it means to be a leader. When working and dealing with Walt, it is Mr. White who makes the decisions and deals. When Gus Fring wanted to do better business, he tried his hardest to convince Walt to cook without Jesse. Gus saw from the very beginning the weaknesses of Jesse because they’re not hard to find. You would think with the money Jesse has made, he would at the very least be able to put together a decent furniture setup in his home. Instead, calling his home a “pigsty” would be a disgrace to pigs as he’s done nothing but throw parties and listen to elaborate Star Trek theories from his friends. The one time he thinks he’s found an opportunity to escape the game with a girlfriend and a young son, Walt schemes him back in.

So when someone is frustrated by Jesse’s “stupid and ungrateful” behavior, I ask you this, what do you expect from him? He is a representation of most people you will ever meet, weak-willed and easily manipulated. He’s been in a funk because he’s living a life that he doesn’t know how to escape. He realizes his only way out is death. It’s hard for me to dislike someone who is behaving the way their character says that should act. I’ll have a problem with Jesse when he starts behaving out of the ordinary and ordering hits on people. While Aaron Paul has already received two Best Supporting Actor Emmys, I will argue that his work this season should be hard-pressed not to earn him a third statuette.

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Walter White on the other hand, knows very well how his words affect others. He understands the influence he has on Jesse, being his former teacher. Walt casually underestimates the cognitive abilities of Jesse as he has tricked and lied to Jesse on more than one occasion. Walt’s understanding of how to bend the will of those in his way is what makes him closer to evil than good. No matter the situation, Walt has a lie, scheme or a formula to free himself from trouble. What he lacked in street smarts, it seems Walt has gained to go along with his brilliant chemist mind. Watching Walt try and convince Jesse in their desert conversation that he isn’t such a bad guy reminds me of what goes on in many forms across the world. Whether it’s a gang member convincing young kids to join in or the roided-out baseball coaxing another player into doing something to advance his career. A person in a position of power bending the will of a weaker person. It’s sick and it’s a character trait of a bully. You can try and argue that the point of the lily of the valley was to make Brock sick and not kill him, but the fact that he even thinks of that leans towards the evil side of the spectrum.

The beauty of this show lies in creator Vince Gilligan’s ability to create compelling characters who go against the typical story arch of a hero and a villain. In his rise from naive science teacher to meth kingpin, Walter White has transformed from a follower into a leader. He has become every bit of Gustavo Fring the chicken man that he once feared, right down to the car wash cover as his version of Gus’ chicken restaurant. In the progress, he has destroyed every relationship in his life outside of his bond with his son. Once he’s either caught by his brother-in-law Hank or killed and his life is uncovered, he will lose that relationship also. Jesse is hell bent on taking down Walt for poisoning a child however he can, with or without the help of Hank. Will he take down Walt? Ask comic book fans what happened the last time Robin met up with The Joker.

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Three Television Shows I Need to be Watching

As a fan of television, I feel as if it is my duty to watch the best shows available. Ever since I’ve been able to speak, I’ve always found myself learning more from television than any other medium. I can tell you exactly where a clutch is a located on a vehicle from watching Doug, first learned of the SAT college entrance test from Boy Meets World and the deadly combination of E! True Hollywood Stories and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has taught me more about murder and crime scenes than I’d ever like to know. It took one fateful day in 2009 for me to realize at the time that “reality” television had taken over my life. It was then that I decided to watch better television. Continue reading

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Question: Where Are the good Horror Movies?

Can someone please give me a good answer?

The horrifying Michael Myers, of Halloween fame has no idea

For those of us who find a certain satisfaction in paying for a movie with hopes of getting terrified, we have been left unsatisfied for the most part. Horror movies of the last decade for the most part have been unable to leave me checking dark corners. They have been unsuccessful in spooking me so much that I don’t feel safe within the confines of my own home….and this worries me.

Now a question that I seem to get from people who don’t enjoy the horror genre, “Why would you want to get scared while watching a movie?” I suffer from what is known as THE HORROR PARADOX. For me, watching a unexpectedly great horror movie is an incredible experience. It is equivalent to how a person who loves roller coasters feels when they find a bad-ass coaster inside of a seemingly unflattering theme park. It’s the same feeling for me as it is for an avid snowboarder when he or she finds that perfect, steep slope in the middle of a snowy, Colorado winter day. It’s enough to leave me excited for the next six months after seeing the movie. Continue reading

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