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Monday, August 14, 2017

Film Review: The Incredible Jessica James (2017), Relationships and Dealing with the Future

By On 4:30 PM
"So, what? life is just a series of failures in the first place."
Starring: Jessica Williams, Chris O' Dowd, Lakeith Stanfield, Noel Wells
Written By: Jim Strouse
Directed By: Jim Strouse
Release Date: July 28, 2017 (Streaming on Netflix)
In the new Netflix original film, The Incredible Jessica James, our titular character, Jessica James (Jessica Williams) is pretty much a clear, cut example of what it means to be a millennial today. However, as a generation that receives the most flack for simply being themselves, Jessica Williams brings a cool, charming and extremely honest air to the familiar tale of a 20-something trying to make it in New York that anyone of any age can relate to. 
The premise of the film isn't one that is hard to follow. Although there isn't a distinctive plot that we follow, we can see that she's having a bit of a struggle. Jessica James is a struggling playwright. She's also a theatre teacher, but she feels like there is something bigger for her than teaching out there.While she hangs rejection letters up in her room in order to figure out what exactly what that is, she expects her boyfriend to be right by her side as the most, if not only, certain thing that she has in her life. However, after he leaves, the many uncertainties of her life begin to reveal themselves and we, as the audience, are thrusted right in the middle of the mess that is her life as the film begins. This mess is illustrated by the dance routine we see her do at the beginning of the film. It is messy and strange and there's not much development to it, just like her life and just like the film itself. However, putting the lack of the development to both the routine and to Jessica's character throughout the story, they both are fun to watch. Jessica is enthusiastic and highly involved in the routine, much like she is with everything. Though Jessica and the audience may not have a lot of answers about Jessica's life or their own, her finishing the routine and somehow making her way to the top of her complex reflects that she has to ability and the strength to shuffle past the ambiguity in order to fully enjoy what's right in front of her and the same thing goes for us.
 The culture we live in has us programmed us to push ourselves to achieve our goals in a way that doesn't allow us the time to revel in what we've actually achieved. Everyone is always so focused on the future and how they're going to get to the next step in their lives. People are worrying so much about how they're going to get to where they want to get to the point that it overcomes them and it's all they can focus on. Films and TV shows like The Incredible Jessica James and even HBO's Girls prey of the types of anxieties that many viewers may have about their own futures in order to develop relatable characters that appeal to their struggles. Stories about 20-somethings attempting to make it big typically work well because watching people struggle while attempting to make sense of their lives makes it easier for other people to do it for themselves. Jessica's story shows you just how simple and easy being happy with what you have can be if you let the unimportant things fall to the backburner and simply do what want to do.
For example, regardless of Jessica trying get on with her life with an influx of Tinder dates and an unapologetically, charismatic attitude, she still finds herself stuck on her ex-boyfriend. Though she expresses an extreme distaste for the act of dating and marriage because they're tired societal traditions, she still misses the intimacy and physical connection that comes with sharing your life with another person. While she recognizes that this can do all of this with someone else, she unconsciously feels like she has unfinished business with her ex and refuses to acknowledge this fact. During some of film's dream-like sequences, we're shown that not only did Jessica have a lot of questions for her ex while they dated, but that she still has a lot of questions for him currently. Each interaction begins with her attempting to ask him the questions she has and ends with something causing her to come back to reality before they can be answered.
What are we? How do you feel about me? Why aren't we happy? Are we dating exclusively? Are we in a long-term commitment or is this just a fling? These are often the questions 20-somethings like Jessica are often asking themselves instead of the other person. They would rather find the answers themselves and cause themselves stress rather than let it go or talk to the other person about whatever is bothering them directly because they don't want to push certain expectations onto another person and complicate things. Although Jessica says she doesn't care repeatedly, it's obvious that she does, but that's because she feels like she needs these answers in order to move on and she's trying to force them to appear when they honestly don't matter at all. A lot of the answers to most of life's questions will come with time, but what society has done is create a world where waiting has become an obstacle. We are all focused on the future on moving on to the next thing that time has become an enemy. We either don't have enough of it to finish what we need to do or fighting with it because it's taking too long for us to get to where we need to be. But none of that really matters because we are the ones who determine whether or not we are where we need to be. We determine how much or how fast we develop and although Jessica doesn't develop much, the point that the movie is trying to make is that sometimes people don't have to.
Jessica is  trying to find some peace and fulfillment in her career as well as in her love life. Though she can pay the bills and works with very talented and bright kids on an everyday basis, she dreams about winning awards and Oprah remembering her name. All of this is nice, but what would any of this mean for Jessica? What would that change about her and most importantly, why are any of that important and why should these things define anyone's talent? Again, this is all societies doing. It's conditioned people to believe in only one version of success which basically amounts to fame and money, rather than happiness. After a conversation with one of her favorite Tony-award winning playwrights, Sarah Jones, her original mindset shifts. Sarah tells her that even though she's seemingly achieved everything that Jessica wants, she is still just like her. Jessica wants to "make it", but Sarah Jones prompts her to question really what that means in the first place. Jessica has the life she wants in front of her. She has a job that she's passionate about that can pay the bills. She has a loving boyfriend and they're both completely honest with one another and enjoy each other's company. Who could want anything more than that?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Film Review: Girls Trip (2017) and Diversity in Film

By On 1:59 PM
"Today is the last day we will ever be this young."
Starring: Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, 
Written By: Kenya Barris, Tracy Oliver
Directed By: Malcolm D. Lee
Released Date: July 21, 2017
Hilarious, empowering and also surprisingly touching at times, Girls Trip is a film that says a lot without having to do much at all. We can see it when we compare its success with that of films like Rough Night, which follows almost all of the plot of Girls Trip without any of the payoff and we can also see it if we compare its success to other box-office successes, like Bridesmaids. And lastly, we can see it if we compare the success of this film to the success of other films that have black, female leads like Hidden Figures.
The film begins with one of the film's lead (Regina Hall) lamenting about the disillusion of her college friend group: the Flossy Posse. After reconnecting with the other members of her group (Tiffany Haddish, Queen Latifah, and Jada Pinkett Smith), they decide to fly to New Orleans to celebrate the rekindling of their friendship at Essence Fest, a real-life festival that places big-wig, black celebrities like Mariah Carey, Ne-Yo and Ava DuVernay at the forefront of panels and discussions. While the film fails to provide many heart-warming moments featuring the girls reveling in their shared history like Bridesmaids does, there are many larger-than-life, raunchy and hilarious ones that express just how these girls feel about one another. The gags in the film run throughout the full course of the film and they just keep going, but they don't take away from the heart or the comedy of the film as the writers know just how far to push it. Speaking of the flippant humor in the film, Tiffany Haddish is throws herself wholly into her role as the fun-loving, crazy friend and, in the vein of Megan McCarthy's performance in Bridesmaids or Rebel Wilson in Pitch Perfect, she steals every scene she's in. Though some of the character arcs and stereotypes are a bit tired, these ladies breathe life into them with their humor and authenticity, proving that extreme levity can still have value to it.
 Jeremy Fuster of The Wrap calls Girls Trip, "an ode to African American sisterhood" and while you can say the same about Hidden Figures, which follows three African American women working at NASA, what that film lacks that Girls Trip brings to the table is the fact that Girls Trip allows these black women to just have some fun. What made Bridesmaids such a great film was not just the humor.. Friendship and womanhood were some of the film's most prominent themes, but that didn't make the film stray from the fact that those women were just trying to have a good time. Girls Trip does something similar without all the heartfelt moments and more importantly, it does all of this with a group of people that we never really get to see let loose on-screen. This is, interestingly enough, probably why this film did much better than Bridesmaids and Rough Night in the box office. Representation and diversity in film is very important and within the last few years films like Get Out and Hidden Figures have thrust black-led films into mainstream media. 
Black women don't have to be on-screen overcoming oppression or combatting institutionalized racism in order to make a box office hit. White women are featured in films that have them swearing and drinking heavily that make tons of money every single year, but we have yet to hear about any successful films like those featuring black women, which is extremely importnat because both black and white women have vastly different societal experiences. Girls Trip is even clever to touch upon this fact. During a scene featuring Kate Walsh and Regina King, Regina King's character enlightens her white publicist about her miusage of black colloquialisms. While it is just a minor scene in the film, it depicts somethings that black women like myself have to face on an everyday basis, which you definitely would not find in most of the films we're used to seeing.
Adding race as another layer to films like this is what makes films like these fresh and fun, espeically to the people of that race who haven't been able to see things like this on-screen before. A primary reason behind why filmmakers haven't adopted films like this into mainstream media before is their fear of financial gain. Will people of other races go see this film? Will men go see this film? If not, who the hell is going to see this movie?By adopting elements that the majority (i.e white people) will hopefully relate to, filmmakers have a large guanteed audience, even though they've shunned other diverse audience members that dying to see things they relate to on-screen. However, at the end of the day, Girls Trip gives everyone something to look forward to, regardless of race or gender and in relation to that, we can only hope that there are more movies like this to come.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

TV Review: Dear White People (2017-) and Character Studies to Understand a Show

By On 10:21 AM
"The paradox of education is precisely this: that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated."
Starring: Logan Browning, Brandon P. Bell, DeRon Horton, Antionette Robertson, Marque Richardson, John Patrick Amedori
Created By: Justin Simien
Streaming/Airing On: Netflix
Original Release: April 28, 2017
The cleverly titled Netflix original series, Dear White People, is a revamping of the 2014 film of the same name, but those were quick to condemn the film simply because of its name shouldn't do the same here. Though it follows the same characters from the original film, the show is both a continuation and a digression from its source material as it touches on social issues like police brutality and colorism, which were previously ignored. Its examinations of race and society are far more complex and dynamic not only because are they funnier and more well-written, but because they offer a wider perspective on different aspects of the black experience that its predecessor previously ignored.
Samantha "Sam" White (Logan Browning) is our main protagonist. She is not only the leader of the Black Student Union of the fictional college of Winchester University, but she also hosts the show's titular radio show, which mainly consists of her lecturing white people about how they contribute to a racist society. She is a revolutionary leader in many ways, but that does not mean that she is perfect. However, while she and the people around her use the word "woke" far more than I believed to be humanly possible, that is not the issue. This is because much of the show's witty dialogue is taken straight from the Twitter-verse. Slang terms like "bae" and "hashtag-this-and-that" are used ironically to promote the fact that this is a millennial-driven universe. Sam's character struggles with her own bi-racial identity while simultaneously struggling to fight racism. She preaches against sleeping with your "oppressor" to her fellow black female while secretly dating a white guy on the side. She really enjoyed listening to stereotypically "white" music, but will turn on some rap music to fit in with her black social group. She is ashamed of the white side of her identity, so she tries her hardest to appeal to her black peers by shunning her whiteness. Though a lot of what she does is hypocritical in theory, it plays into the extremely militant stance she has in accordance to battling racism because she's also battling herself as well.
Colandrea "Coco" Conners (Antionette Robertson) is presented to us first, as a villain, but we being to empathize with her as we learn more about her. Long, long ago, Coco and Sam were once best friends. They joked around and traded battle stories about how the rest of the world has treated them. And even when they're pitted against each other, their dynamic never revolved around a man. It did, however, revolve around their own deeply-rooted insecurities combatting one another while also being surrounded by a racist institution. Coco is also the one who sets Sam off on her journey to becoming "woke", but unlike Sam, she would rather perpetuate Euro-centric beauty standards to fit in than fight back against it by being content in her own skin. While it's Sam's whiteness that makes her feel out of place in the black community, it's Coco's blackness that makes her uncomfortable around other black people. For years, she has been taught to appeal to her white peers and mimic their attitudes and appearances by getting long, wavy weave and relying on the humility of her blackness to appease the white people around her to succeed. While she only does this to move up the school's social and political ladder, she truly believes that this is the only way she can achieve her goals in a white domineered society. Being darker-skinned comes with a lot more restrictions and Coco tells Sam this when she tells her to check her "light-skin privilege." She sees that Sam's complexion aides her in being so easily accepted within the black community in ways that Coco's cannot.
Joelle Brooks (Ashley Blaine Featherson) embodies the essence of the Carefree Black Girl movement. The Carefree Black Girl is the embodiment of the kind of woman that is completely different from the many negative tropes that are supposed to symbolize black women (*see The Angry Black Woman trope*). The Carefree Black Woman is strong-willed and speaks her mind when she needs to. She's funny and intelligent and wears Forever 21 T-shirts with witty phrases like, "Black: No Cream, No Sugar" on them. She has hair that's to die for, wears brightly colored lipstick and stands up for social justice issues. Hashtags like #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackOutDay will provide you make examples of the strong, black women that care to be highlighted for being themselves and fighting against what's seen as traditionally beautiful. However, she embodies this "carefree" notion to the extent that she's ignored by those around her for her light-skinned counterpart, Sam, which denounces the purpose of the movement. Carefree does not equate to careless. However, because Joelle's character is not fleshed out enough for her to stand apart from Sam, her characterization is written off as a mere stereotype whose job is to take care of Sam when she's in need. When Sam asks her lively, black best friend to "say something funny and specific," she's happy to oblige even though Samantha has just slept with the man she's in love with.
Reggie Green (Marque Richardson), Joelle's love interest, is a male foil to Sam. Like Sam, he also holds a very militant stance when it comes to combatting racism. However, he would rather revolt the system itself than directly punish the people that benefit from it like Samantha does on her radio show. Though he appreciates her efforts, he also sees some problems with her approach at times. This can be seen when he tells her that not everything they do has to include them berating white people. However, being more "woke" and so much more outspoken and passionate about his blackness than some of the other black, male characters on the show causes him to encounter racism on a much larger scale. From smaller microaggression that are more of an annoyance than a real hindrance to his cause to larger, more blatant acts of racism that almost get him shot and killed, Reggie is the character that embodies the everyday black man that's reduced to the "angry black man" simply because of his skin color. And even more importantly, he is the everyday black man that could so easily become the next Philando Castile because of this generalization.
Lionel Higgins' (DeRon Horton) experience is one that is quite different from those of the other characters. He holds not only one marginalized identity, but two. Though he has a rough time accepting the fact he is a gay, black man, the journey that he goes through to accept that side of himself is quite important. It's also important that we see he isn't the only one going through this struggle. Lionel doesn't label himself, or at least this is what he tells his boss when they discuss his sexuality earlier on in the show. When his boss invites him to a party, Lionel is introduced to a man who also doesn't label himself. However, this man turns out to be gay, just like Lionel. Lionel's fear of coming out lies in the assumptions and connotations that come with being a gay, black man. Lionel is shy and reserved and completely unlike how the media portrays what gay, black men are like (*see RuPaul Drag Race*). When he does eventually come out, some stereotypes about gay men are used as jokes here and there, but none are used are the expense of expunging Lionel's autonomy directly. They're used to expose the homophobia and toxic masculinity that have infiltrated the black community that Lionel must overcome to learn to accept himself.
Troy Fairbacks (Brandon P. Bell) is Lionel's roommate and, the dean's son. Like both Samantha and Reggie, he also wants to combat racism on campus, but he wants to do so by encouraging black people and white people to work together. He also encourages those around him to work with administration instead of fighting against it to solve the school's problems, but this is mainly because of the way his father has raised him to be. His father appeases to the administration who allow him to run the school to make themselves look and feel good about allowing black people into their fold. He wants to shield Troy from the truths of the world, so he molds Troy's life how he wants. However, in doing so, he's also inhibiting Troy from becoming his own person. Troy questions his entire identity when all the problems at Winchester University begin to go head-to-head and he begins to realize that he may want something more from life. Throughout the whole show, we really don't get many instances to see who Troy really is because every time he gets a chance to express his own opinions, he's shut down. In the finale, when he finally let’s go and smashes the town hall's window and seemingly breaks free from his father's authoritarian rule over him, he's almost shot and killed like Reggie just a few episodes prior. This is because when he's finally allowed to be himself and express his opinions about the campus' on-going race issue, he's seen as just another angry black man by the racist white people in power around him, which is something his father cannot protect him from.

Though Dear White People offers many more valuable insights that I have probably failed to touch upon in this post, these characters and their development throughout the course of the show's 10 episodes is what moves the show forward. They symbolize the politically correct veil that's shrouded our very world and hidden who we really are as Black Americans. These people, instead of being themselves, project labels defined by the very unjust society that they're trying to combat. And because they're fighting themselves, it's harder for them to get their point across because they don't really know what they're saying. These characters are fighting for the same cause, but none of their approaches are effective because they're all trying to be heard at the same time. They're all trying to be louder, "woker" and blacker than the person before them when none of that is necessary if you want to be heard.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Serious Man (2009) and the Meaning of Life

By On 12:33 PM
"Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you."
Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed
Written By: Joel & Ethan Coen
Directed By: Joel & Ethan Coen
Release Date: October 2, 2009

At the beginning of the film, we meet Vebel, who was helped by a man on his way home. He invites this man over and his wife tells him that the man he speaks of died a while back. Vebel and his wife are confronted by the man moments later and she proposes that the man is a demon and eventually stabs him. The man laughs when he's questioned by Vebel's wife and when she stabs him, but before he leaves he asks Vebel who he believes is possesssed. Is it the man or is it his wife who has just stabbed him? Once the man leaves, Vebel states that they are ruined and this is because he's now been confronted with two different ideas that disrupt everything he knows to be true. Was the man a demon? Should he trust his wife? What should he do? While the answers to these are not important and go unanswered because of it, Vebel's story is an allegory that sets up the entire film. 
Larry Gopnik, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, is a physics teacher struggling to find some serious clarity for his messed up life. His wife, Judith (Sari Lennick) wants a gett, the Jewish equivalent to a divorce, so that she can marry Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), who lost his wife just three years prior. His brother (Richard Kind) is unemployed and stays with him while works on a map of the universe. On top of that, one of Larry's students is trying to blackmail his way into a better grade.
When his misfortune begins, Larry continuously asks himself the one question any rational person in his situation would. Why me? I haven't done anything. He asks this question so many times in film, it almost becomes down-right annoying. However, the film begins to take an interesting turn when he takes it upon himself to ask other people these same questions. He visits a Rabbi first and the basis behind what the Rabbi says to him is that God made it happen simply because he did. He tells Larry that all of the things happening to him, good or bad, are expressions of God's will and that the only thing he can do is change his perspective and accept them for what they are. However, it is because of the way the film is set up, the advice is played off as some absurdest spiel and like Larry, we ignore it. Larry simply refuses to accept that God would let this happen to him without giving some sort of explanation and continues his search for the truth without doing much to actually put his problems to rest, which is why the continue to escalate throughout the course of the film.
It is not until he meets with the second Rabbi that the real meaning behind the film begins to show itself. When he meets with the second Rabbi after not finding what he was looking for with the first, that interaction really sheds light on not only exactly what kind of person Larry is, but how it's inhibiting him from finding peace with his life as well. He tells Larry the story of a dentist that found words carved into his patient's mouth. The story depicts the dentist's search for the meanings behind the words and why they were in the man's mouth in the first place. When the Rabbi finishes the story, Larry asks him what the point of the story was and leaves, like the man, empty handed in his search. The Rabbi points out that Larry and the dentist aren't too different from one another, but the biggest difference between the two men is that the dentist is satisfied in not finding out the answers to his questions while Larry is not.The Rabbi is trying to tell Larry that he is trying to find solutions to questions that don't need to be, much like our interest in whether or not the man was a demon at the beginning of the film. 
But Larry still doesn't get it and this is because of the kind of person he is. Larry, again, is a physics teacher. Everyday, he works with equations and math problems that seemingly have clear-cut solutions which is why he is looking for the same sorts of solutions to his real-world problems. Physics makes up everything in the universe and it's easy for Larry to comprehend because it proposes the idea there's an explanation for everything. However, life doesn't work that way and one can't use math to solve real-world problems, so  Larry attempts to use other "serious" frameworks like religion to do it instead. Unlike physics which includes mathematical explanations to problems, religion induces theoretical explanations to problems. While the first Rabbi tells Larry that his problems are the result of God's will, the many stories in the Bible are the result of some sort of action. There's a cause-and-effect notion in many Biblical stories. Something is typically the result of something else. For example, Adam and Eve betrayed God and that's the reason why they were banished. Larry seemingly hasn't done anything, so he's quite confused about why God would punish in him like this, but sometimes things just happen and it is not in your control.
 But Larry is looking for clear-cut answers as I pointed out previously, and because he isn't getting any, he does nothing to solve his problems. Before all these problems arose, he never had anything to deal with. He believed that simply doing good things like putting his children into Hebrew school and doing whatever anyone asks him would be enough, but evidently it is not because he's still suffering, which scares him into not doing anything because he doesn't want to do the wrong thing.When he has the dream of him giving the bribe money to his brother, it slowly turns into a nightmare and he is scared into inaction even though it is just a dream. However, it's important to note that while actions may have consequences, so does inaction. Complacency, in itself, is just as wrong as doing the wrong thing because you're not actively accepting the situation for what it is and moving on with your life which is why things begin to get worse. Even when he begins to "seriously" look at his life, he, like the many people around him, are asking the wrong  questions and looking in the wrong places for those answers instead of simply living, thinking, doing something about the situation and eventually moving on.
Though the story is primarily about Larry, through cuts at the beginning of the film, we're physically shown the similarities between Larry and his son. Both he and Larry are running away from their problems and continue to live their lives, seemingly ignoring them. His son is being threatened by a bully for some money for weed and it's a seemingly realistic threat, much like Larry's, so we sympathize with his fear to take action. This is also because, like Larry, his son also worries about the consequences for his actions. When he gets the money back, should he repay his sister? Should he give the money to the bully or buy more weed with it? And if he repays the bully, will he still beat him up for taking too long with it? All of his son's problems are embodied in the form of this bully, but like Larry, he's also not doing anything about it and he's not seeing the bigger picture.
He doesn't see that the ultimate problem in life is death, which is something you can't run away from. Everyone eventually will die, but we tend to overlook that and focus on other, more minuscule problems in our lives. It is not until the end of the film when Larry's son chooses to act that the bully turns to face him that he takes a look at the real problem, death at the hand of a tornado. And it's not until Larry changes the grade that he finds out he's been sick all this time and hasn't known it. While neither of them did anything to cause any of these events, Larry will most likely blame himself for them because he did something seemingly wrong. But no matter how many questions you have or how you feel about a situation and it's outcome, what matters is your action. The only thing you can do is what the last Rabbi tells Larry's son. "Be a good boy." We can strive for greatness and do everything right, but bad things will still happen. It's inevitable because we cannot dictate what happens to us, but that doesn't mean we cannot attempt to make things better. Trying to impose a clear-cut framework, like religion or physics, into the craziness of the real world can only undermine all your good work because when you are rewarded, you're still seemingly stuck because of something else. When Larry's wife apologizes and he gets tenure and his son gets his money back, it's all overshadowed by the news of his illness and his son's impending death. The belief that we have control over the things that happen to us can only provide a comfortability that's quite false. All we can do is be a good boy, find somebody to love and sit back and live our lives and hope for the best. None of the answers to the film's issues are easy by any means, but are there really any easy answers in the first place?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Film Review: Lion (2017), Identity, Assimilation and The Reluctant Fundamentalist

By On 11:57 AM
 "I always thought that I could keep this family together. I need you, Saroo."
Starring: Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara
Written By: Luke Davies
 Adapted from "A Long Way Home" by Saroo Brierley
Directed By: Garth Davis
Release Date: January 6, 2017
Who we are and where we come from are fundamental concepts when it comes to creating an identity for yourself. The feeling of belonging is also key when it comes to solidifying. Garth Davis' Lion is a film that examines how the people around us truly affect the way we see ourselves in a world that has us constantly questioning who we truly want to be.  
Lion is the true story of a young boy named Saroo who finds himself lost after he falls asleep on a freight train while waiting for his older brother, Guddo. The tale is broken up into two parts. The first part involves Saroo's struggle to survive after he finds himself on the opposite end of the country hungry and alone, without much knowledge of where he's come from. It's heartbreaking and this is mainly because this part of the film so tightly constructed. In many films about missing children, we typically see the perspective of the family and we feel for them because we can fully understand what they're going through. Here it's the other way around. He has no idea where he is, why he's there or how he can get back. In one scene, Saroo falls with other homeless children, but he's woken up by some strange men. They all flee and Saroo escapes, but the situation is never mentioned again. Both Saroo and the audience members know something is wrong, but he doesn't know exactly what's happened, so neither do we. The world is a big and scary place for a boy that hasn't even hit puberty yet. Leaving out all this information makes it just as scary for us as it is for him.
The second part of the film involves an all grown-up Saroo played by Dev Patel as he searches for his real family. Saroo was adopted by an Austalian family halfway throughout the film. Seeing a treat from his old life at a party brings him right back to the moment he laid eyes on them when he was child. Many years have gone by and these years are omitted from film probably because it would have made the film far too long, but the film's lack of a cohesive narrative structure doesn't deter us from fully understanding Saroo's situation. Who he was during that huge time gap isn't of importance because he didn't know who he because he was assimilating to a new culture. Cultural assimilation is the process in which a person's culture comes to resemble another and when Saroo moves to Australia that's immediately what happens. All of the different elements of this new culture are thrust to him at once and it's why he sort of forgets his family back at home and throws himself into adapting and fully understanding this new culutre as he grows up. He mispronounces words and is mesmerized by the concept of a television, but like his new parents, we're happy him and this is pretty much all we need to see of Saroo's assimilation. When we encounter Saroo as an adult in the second part of the film, some momentum is lost because it is such a huge time jump, but we're slowly drawn back in once the film speeds back up and we see the toll that his assimilation has taken on him. 
When we're first introduced to Saroo as an adult, we see that his life looks great. He was once solid in his relationship with his mother (Nicole Kidman) and girlfriend, (Rooney Mara), as well as his future in the field of hospitality, but soon that all crumbles once he's reminded of the life he once had that he'd forgotten about. Though assimilation seems to have done him well because of the way his life is now going, it's not okay to loose yourself and completely forget where you come from because it will always be a part of you. Saroo not knowing where he came from to begin with or even having anyone to teach him about where he came from as a child is what makes him so succeptible to full cultural assimilation. This is also what makes it overtly difficult for him to realize where he belongs when he's reminded that the culture that he's been submerged in is not his own. 
Who is he now? Who would he have become had he not gotten lost all those years ago? What's happened to his real family? And more importantly, are they still looking for him? These are the questions that Saroo is now asking himself, but is on both sides of the fence because while he enjoys the life he's lived in Australia, he hypothesizes about the life he could've lived had he not gotten lost. The movie's tagline is: "The Search Begins," and while the movie depicts Saroo's search for his family, it's also about the search for his own identity because he doesn't know what he actually wants now that he knows there's another side of him.
In the 2012 film adaptation, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, our protagonist, Changez, has a similar dilemma. He assimilates just as Saroo does and he's confident about the person he's seemingly become until he sees something that throws him for a loop. Saroo's childhood snack sends him searching for himself. Changez' life-changing event was 9/11. The home he's found in America ends up turning on him and now he, like Saroo, finds himself at a crossroads. Unlike Saroo who is ignorant to his life at home because of his assimilation, Changez is fully aware of his life back at home in Pakistan. He enjoys his life in America and acknowledges his culture freely which is how assimilation is supposed to work. Assimiliation is supposed to be the mixing of different cultures, adapting the bits and pieces you wish to adopt in your life. However, after the events on 9/11, America no longer became so accepting of those choosing to assimilate as much or as little as they wanted. Only full assimilaition was acceptable and anyone that did not fit the picture perfect image of an America citizen was targeted, including Changez. This is why he attempts to go back home to Pakistan, but it's not that simple because Changez feels like America is more like home to him as he's adopted so much of the culture.While Saroo is putting most of the pressure on himself to decide, everyone else is urging Changez to figure out what he wants to do because he feels like he belongs in America, but everyone around him keeps telling him that he doesn't. 
The Reluctant Fundamentalist ends with Changez moving back to Pakistan to become a professor and with a voiceover of him saying, "Looks can be deceiving...I'm a lover of America", even though America seemingly betrayed him and forced him to go back home. Saroo ends up finding his way back home and reunites with his real mother, not without a heart-breaking conversation between he and Nicole Kidman. We do not know what's going to happen to these men in the future, but that's not the point. The point is that other people cannot dictact someone else's culture. Assimiliation is an idealogy that may never end up working because everyone feels the need to comment on or control someone else's life because they're different and it frightens us. It also can't really work becuase it can cause people to forget where they came from because trying to adapt to a new culture can be overwhelming. And both Lion and The Reluctant Fundamentalitst are two cautionary tales about what can happen if we push our own beliefs and values on someone without understand theirs.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Film Review: Kong: Skull Island (2017), Terrorism, War and The Genre Film

By On 3:50 AM

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly
Written By: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein & Derek Connolly
Directed By: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Release Date: March 10, 2017
Rating: C

Today's most riveting film about race is a satirical horror flick inspired by The Stepford Wives. Last year, it was an allegorical, animated film about talking animals. Back in 2005, it was King Kong, but that's a story for another day. While this year's reboot of the same film is not about race, it just goes to show that there is more to these genre films than most people think. 

Genre films are films categorized by their similarities, both visually and thematically, to other films and a popular genre that people tend to overlook is the monster movie genre. Kong: Skull Island is a monster movie and that's something no one can deny, but it's much smarter than most people give it credit for. While a giant monkey is this film's main selling point and it sells this in a beautiful, stylistic way, the ideology behind what Kong, his island and the different ways these people interact with him are what make the movie worth watching. Kong is a huge gorilla that lives on the newly discovered, Skull Island. The story begins when an expedition team lands on the island and starts dropping bombs on it; something Kong doesn't really appreciate. Therefore, in return, he massacres a bunch of their crew and destroys their airplanes. Terrible, right? However, John C. Reilly explains that they were trespassing on Kong's land when they came onto the island. He also explains that Kong also protects the island's inhabitants from the many predators that roam the island, which causes some to the crew to rethink some of the things they've been doing. The film could have gone further with the characters' epiphanies to deepen the anti-war metaphor, but it strays away from it the minute it happens in order to keep up with the film's quick pacing. 

After the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the US declared a so-called "War on Terrorism". It alleviated the fears that many Americans had when it came to their understanding of terrorism and how exactly we, as a country, planned on stopping it. What exactly is terrorism and who exactly are we stopping, though? Unbeknownst to many, there are many different forms of terrorist acts that occur today, like the profuse amount of mass shootings that constantly keep happening within our own country. However, after the "War on Terrorism" was conducted, we relaxed and thrust all our worries aside because we believed the military and the government would have our backs. While that seemingly brought us together as a country, it also divided us in a way because the government wasn't giving us much information about who the enemy was. We had an enemy identified and that enemy was the people who committed those heinous acts and the people who put them up to it, but there was no real overall enemy. Instead, we painted our own enemy to relive our consciouses about terrorism because we now believed we knew who we were fighting. However, it just caused more problems within our own country. Islamophobia and racism ran rampant then and still does now all in the name of national security. We created an image for terrorism that was neither accurate or beneficial for defeating terrorism, which is sort of what happens in the film.

The expedition crew painted Kong out to be the enemy when he wasn't. He was protecting his people from an even greater threat when he massacred their people and planes because the bombs would have attracted it to them. Lots of people died at his hand and that's a terrible thing, but technically they were trespassing on his land. The ironic part is that people in America are killed for trespassing on someone else's property, so Kong technically wasn't doing anything wrong. He was living his life the only way he knew how and they that interfered with that simply because he looked and acted differently from what they were used to, so he was instantly painted as the enemy; an enemy that needed to die even though, at the end of day, he was the hero and they the villains. Even when Samuel L. Jackson is told that Kong wasn't doing anything wrong, his ego still wouldn't falter. He continued to try and avenge his fallen soldiers by killing Kong and it's the very thing that gets him killed. 

Going further with this idea of a blood-thirsty, war-mongering military obsessed with placing blame on a specific group of people and creating a war out of nowhere, please note that the film is set in 1973, during the Vietnam War. While "The War on Terrorism" is a hypothetical war and it's more a term used as a scapegoat for our nation's fears about terrorism, the Vietnam War was an actual war and one that was completely unnecessary. And like "The War on Terrorism", we went into the Vietnam War without a clear idea of what exactly we were fighting for. Another huge reason behind Samuel L. Jackson's character wanting to defeat Kong is because of the fact he feels this need to rectify the mistakes make because of the Vietnam War. We lost the war and Jackson was attempting to try and create another one to win because as American's we feel the need to win because we supposedly know best even though that's not always (or usually ever) the case. Though Kong: Skull Island has all this to say, it doesn't say so via its characters. The story, Kong, the location and the way the film is shot says it which leaves little for the cast to do besides fulfilling their archetypical role for the film's lackluster metaphor.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Movie Review: The Bye Bye (2017), Fear and The Concept of the Adaptation

By On 12:50 AM
Starring: Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, Cressida Bonas, Doug Jones
Directed By: Stacey Title
Written By: Johnathan Penner
Release Date: January 13, 2017
Rating: F

My Thoughts:
If you're like me, when you walked out of The Bye Bye Man, you were
 probably thinking something along the lines of: 'What the hell did I just 
pay 12 dollars to see?' And this is just based off of the nonsensical 
plot of the film. However, one thing that caught my attention 
in the credits was the fact that this movie is an adaptation of a short 
story called, The Bridge to Body Island by Robert Damon Schneck. 

In the book, the story is about a some college students who decide
to play a Ouija board which brings them in contact with spirit of
 The Bye Bye Man, who was once deranged serial killer. The board 
also informs them that the more they think or talk about The Bye Bye Man,
the quicker he gets to you. The Bye Bye Man in the film looks just how he's 
described in the novel with the hood and the pale skin, but apparently 
The Bye Bye Man was an albino orphan that got sick of being teased and
 turned to murder. He ran away from his group home and began train hopping,
 murdering tons of people along the way. Trains are a huge motif in the film
and though their constant presence is never explained in the film, it's
important to note that trains typically symbolize adventure and new
beginnings, but 
here they given a completely different representation since The
Bye Bye Man is literally murdering people as they board the train, so they 
never even get to begin their journey. The same things goes for the film
 because hearing a train whistle symbolizes that The Bye Bye Man 
is near. And the closer he is, the closer you are to having your journey 
cut short.

The most interesting factor about the film is the idea that The Bye Bye
 Man can manifest himself and find you the more you think about him. It's 
also quite interesting that he can also manipulate the people who know about 
him into doing unspeakable things. If you don't know his name, he cannot 
affect you. The ideology behind that can be applied to myths and fear in general.
Fear is mental construct. We only begin to fear things in general because 
our brain makes up believe whatever we're thinking about will cause us
harm. If we've never seen or heard about this frightening concept, it's as 
if it doesn't exist. The Bye Bye Man doesn't exist if you don't know about
him, but as soon as you hear his name, regardless if you attempt to forget 
about him, his name is still embedded in your subconscious no matter how far 
back you attempt to push it. It can come back into the forefront of your
brain at any time. This is why The Bye Bye Man does these mind tricks on 
his victims while they attempt to not think about him. Even if you block it 
from the conscious part of your brain, the name is still there. The only way to 
protect yourself is to be completely ignorant of the fact it exists. You need to 
not even find out about the myth. If you never find out about The Bye Bye Ma, 
you're safe 

 A lot of information like The Bye Bye Man's background is
 cut from the film even though most of this information 
probably would've saved this movie from being the mess it was. If 
The Bye Bye Man had followed Schneck's story a bit closer, it may have
been a better film than it was, but a lot of people have problems with
adaptations. When it comes to adaptations, most people are upset that the
film and the novel aren't completely the same. However, you've got to think
 about the differences between a book and a film. A book is told through 
words, so what you'rereading is visualized in your head as if your thoughts
 were a film which is why people tend to get so upset when some movie 
adaptations change things because now the vision they've had for 
the book is now completely skewed. Books are inhibitors for expanding our
imaginations by reading into someone else's world and exploring the way they 
live in our heads. These imaginings are far more personal than the ones we see 
on a movie screen simply because they're coming from our perspective
as if it is us going through these situations ourselves. "Your mind makes it real,"

 On the opposite
side of the spectrum, when it comes to film, you've got to look at how a
 script/novel is read and adapted to the screen. When you
reading something, you're getting a direct link to the character's thoughts
and emotions. You're getting information pulled from the very brain of the
 character, which is something that is harder to do in film simply
because these things have to be told visually. A lot of people feel that 
because of this, film adaptations ruin the film form because when you're 
limited to creating only what's on a sheet of paper, you're stunting  a
 director's creative abilities. This is why director's tend to stray from 
their source material. They want to keep the author's vision alive, as well as
their own. In order to craft this vision, everything is conformed to visualization.
Themes, motifs and certain literary aspects are much harder to put 
to screen as visuals than just having them listed on a page. 

This is why I was so interested about the fact that The Bye Bye Man was
based on a book. The concept of this as a story is interesting, but why they 
chose to leave out so much perplexes me. Adaptations sell. That's a simple fact 
and it's the reason why people keep making them, but no one would realize this
film was an adaptation if they hadn't caught that line in the credits like I did and
I'm glad I did because the story was way more information and chilling than
the movie. Like I stated before, while you already get more information 
from a book simply because it's a book and you can infer more from
words on a page rather than a moving pictures, but if you have something to
work off of, it should make things a bit easier, right? 


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