Why Black People Use The ‘N’ Word

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I recently read a very touching book by author John Green called The Fault In Our Stars. The story follows a young girl and a group of friends in their struggle, living but with Cancer. Needless to say the book was very moving. Among the many brilliant subtleties, I noticed the author’s efforts in the Cancer stricken characters adopting a sort of trivialisation of their plight and often humour was used to tackle the very serious issue. One example of this, when one character spoke of another character not really being coordinated enough to drive but having been given a driving licence anyway, they called it a ‘Cancer perk’. And the same character, insisting on having an unlit cigarette between his lips most of the time, explains that it is symbolic – to take ownership of the thing that threatens him.

I found this very intriguing and somehow noticed the similarities between this and other issues (in no way saying they are the same thing). Though a well person couldn’t, a person dealing with Cancer may trivialise their illness and the idea of death. They may make jokes about their or a friend’s symptoms and in some ways it could possibly bring solidarity between them, reinforcing that they recognise the group the world now sees them in, but their joke at the illness’ expense separates them from it as free will having individuals.

This quite natural attitude towards opression strikes me as the same as when the first free black men and women continued to use the ‘N’ word to one another, even away from the former slave masters. It’s something that identifies you and your fellow struggler, almost a nod to express you understanding your common circumstance. Over time it’s been blurred and is sometimes used as this odd term of endearment, sometimes as an insult, sometimes as an unintentional derogatory term by another black person. The problem with it being used at all is that when misunderstood it can serve as a negative affirmation, “This is what I am and all I am.”

I suppose the ‘N’ word is very similar to the book’s unlit cigarette, by having it on your lips you have some control over its power but you must remember to explain to everyone why it is unlit and why only you can own it.

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Film Review – Elysium

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If you’re thinking that extremely versatile Matt Damon bringing another action film, but this time in a cool futuristic setting with a utopia-like residential spacestation all sounds like a great premise for a film you’d be completely right. If you’re thinking it actually makes a good film, in this case, you’d be wrong.

Sadly it seems like the film’s producers either forgot about these assets or simply thought they were enough and stopped trying with the rest. Damon’s character Max, is a hard working, rehabilitated criminal who lives in one of Earth’s slums, some bad things happen to him and the only way to fix it is for him to break into the home of the privileged – the luxury space outpost, Elysium. As things aren’t going his way, desperate measure are taken and action ensues. If you think that’s a blunt summary, then you’ll think it’s a blunt film – and that’s the issue.

With action movies you don’t mind if the story is a bit weak as long as you sympathise with the main character and the scenes are tense. This ‘paint by numbers’ lead-up to action leaves you distanced from the characters and not really caring if they survive. An example of this, Max finds a love interest in a hospital, instead of showing their relationship build, the Director decides the two already know each other from childhood and that they’ll meet one more time, briefly, before she goes on to tick the film’s ‘helpless female to give the hero a cause’ box.

At least we have the action scenes, or do we? If you’re directing a fight scene you might ask your actors to train for months on end, raising their fitness and perfecting the routine for maximum reality and effect. Though, an alternative would be to get the fight scenes nearly ready and treat them post-production with a lovely ‘shaky camera’ effect. The plus side is that the scenes look very lively and give the feeling of chaos, the down side is that the viewer can’t see anything useful. Quite a few directors take the latter approach but this case is quite odd as we know Jason Bourne, I mean, Matt Damon is so handy with his fists on screen.

If you look through the blurred screen, there are a few positives to be found, Jodie Foster plays the ambitious governer of Elysium, and delivers the character with an ice cold edge. Also, Sharlto Copley (that guy from District 9) is an animalistic mercinary and though he’s a bit one dimensional he’s still good fun.

4/10

An okay watch when in the mood for some mindless action but you may find yourself scrolling Facebook or Twitter at the same time.

See the movie’s trailer here

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Movie Review – Iron Man 3

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A fearful looking Iron Man

I’m annoyed at myself for getting excited at various parts in this film. All things considered it’s a poor take on the Iron Man series but you can still easily be seduced when watching this Avenger’s wittily commentated action scenes. The whole experience is something like a meal from Mcdonalds; walking past the window you’re drawn in by the provocative pictures and what you get for your money is fast and comes with the exact list of extras you’d expect. Only ten minutes later you start to feel like you should have chosen something more substantial.

It seems like quite a departure from the other Iron Man and Avenger movies and the film’s creators haven’t stayed true to the source material. Tony Stark, by nature is bursting with confidence and self worth. This is usually shown with his well timed sarcastic comments throughout the series of films and with Downey Jnr delivering them so well, it’s helped make the films so popular. So what confuses me is that it seems so obviously unnatural for Stark to begin suffering from debilitating panic attacks. The ‘hero has to overcome his demons’ idea has been passed from Bond, in ‘Skyfall’, to Tony Stark, and in each case it’s completely out of character. In the same way Bond shouldn’t start feeling sorry for himself and forget to bed women, Tony Stark should remain full of himself and ready to battle at all times.

On the other side of the war, Mandarin, who poses in the film’s trailers as a seriously intimidating antagonist, is hugely underwhelming – especially if, like me, you’ve seen numerous Marvel comics and cartoons and expected one of the Marvel universe’s most infamous villains to cause mayhem. To say any more may spoil it, but you shouldn’t expect much from him. Inconsistency is also an issue in that the essential iron suits seem so easily broken and torn to pieces at times, to create a sense of danger, but then when the plot suits they’re almost indestructible.

CGI suits and explosions are what this film is all about and the final fight scene has no shortage. It’s action on top of action and any fan of the iron-clad genius won’t help but to get excited at the sight of Stark’s next gadget or inventive way of using the arsenal.

In keeping with the rest of the film the ending seems questionable too, but it’s safe to guess it has no real meaning and is just a dramatic way to close the show. This is one of those films you have to watch as ‘it’s the latest Iron Man film’ and you’ll probably enjoy it, just have a more substantial movie to consume nearby.

5/10 You’ll enjoy it, then soon forget about it.

See the the Iron Man 3 trailer here

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Movie Review – Brothers

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This film is responsible for making me burn my rice and gravy! It’s a pretty odd statement I know, so I’ll start at the beginning. Still disillusioned that he played Spiderman I really wasn’t a Tobey Maguire fan. Someone who looks like they couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag doesn’t seem fitting for a superhero, and likewise an authoritative Marine Captain, as he plays in ‘Brothers’. So I pressed play on my laptop, less than excited about this barely talked about film, and began to cook my dinner. Somewhere in between putting the rice on and putting the frozen veg’ on, I lost track of cooking and became completely drawn in as this gem of a story began its very personal journey. It’s fair to say that the name of this movie doesn’t really describe the premise very well – skirting around the relationship between two brothers, this story seems much more about what war does to officers and their families in every day life.

Tobey’s character, Sam Cahill, goes to war, leaving his wife at home with his two daughters. After a serious helicopter crash, Sam is believed to be dead but has actually been captured by a group of rogue terrorists. Dealing with his absence, Sam’s brother Tommy, played by ladies’ man Jake Gyllenhaal, spends more and more time with the Captain’s wife and family (Mrs C is played by the beautiful Natalie Portman after all). This is all until Sam is found by fellow Marine officers and returned home, and the story truly starts.

I won’t do the movie any justice by attempting to explain the detail but it’s safe to say that Sam has seriously been affected by what’s gone on. This is where all the great acting comes in to play. Actress Bailee Madison is surely one to watch; at such a young age she plays a daughter distanced from her father, perfectly. At least from what I’ve seen, she’s outperformed others her age in the last few years. Maguire, on the other hand, uses this last stretch of the film to show exactly how he earned this part. His everyday guy looks – especially compared to Gyllenhaal’s – seem to help him show you how the everyday guy can be tipped over the edge.

This is a gem of a film, one that everyone should watch when in a reflective mood. It’s best enjoyed as a complete surprise, when no one has told you what a moving tale it is…

Side note:
My suspicious nature tells me that the film producers knew a film openly named ‘How war will ruin your daily life’, or similar would upset a few people.

6/10

You can click to view the film trailer, here

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PS3 Game Review: The Last of Us

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To describe this game I should start with “Wow”. This has to be one of the best games I’ve ever played. There are a string of well considered, technical aspects that contribute to this game’s offering but what really sets it out from the rest is the emotional gravity of these complex characters and their desperate situation.

The great – often missed – bi-product of Zombie or post-apocalyptic storylines is how your idea of right and wrong is thrown out of the window when fighting for survival. The wild blood-thirsty zombies themselves are always a nice touch but what really makes the difference is what that does to humans’ minds and the better stories are of how humanity changes when civilization has gone and fear is omnipresent.

The Last of Us handles this extremely well, gruesomely and maturely with an in-depth focus on two main characters, an unlikely duo thrown together by circumstance. The main protagonist, Joel, has had bad things happen to him (you’ll find out in the game’s eventful first 10 minutes) and is definitely no saint because of it. His standoffishness shows that he’s very affected. This is mirrored in the actions of so many other humans you encounter. A particular conversation Joel has with his survival partner, Ellie, sums this up well. Following an ambush that starts with a man pretending to be injured, Ellie asks how Joel knew it was a trap, to which Joel replies “I’ve been on the other side of those ambushes”. I was surprised to have to fend off as many live foes in this game as I did the undead, and most of them niether good nor bad guys.

Ellie, your sidekick throughout, was born after the outbreak so only knows this life and every one of her decisions seems to stem from that troubled orphan-like distrust of people. While distrusting you, though, the polygons and pixels that make Ellie manage to let you know you’re supposed to look after her.

Aside from this unusual partnership, you’re never able to forget that it’s every man for himself and you have to do whatever it takes to survive – toward the end you may choose to be quite cut-throat about it all, almost literally. You won’t want the story ruined, but you should know that it’s subtly and beautifully told from beginning right through to the unorthodox, short but moving ending.

The gameplay itself is very engaging. All the buttons are in the right place and it’s set at just the right pace for the story so there’s no running and gunning, you’ll be torn to pieces by a horde in no time. You’ll need to choose when to fight head on, use a stealth attack or try to creep past unnoticed. When you get it wrong and die (which you will over and again) you won’t be sent miles back forcing you to redo the last half an hour, you’ll be set up perfectly to die again at the same spot fairly promptly – keeping the atmosphere going just perfectly.

Across the journey you’ll pick up mellee weapons, handguns, and long range guns as well as less usual weapons such as a bow and arrow, makeshift bombs and molotov cocktails (my bread and butter). The characters move in third person very naturally and the climbing and hiding behind the aspects of the environment works well.

Progress through the game’s universe is all predetermined but here’s another accomplishment of producers’, Naughty Dog, the game’s environment design gives you enough of a feeling of space and veering off course – the small amount you can – will reward you with that last ingredient to concuct a much needed bomb or one of the secret dog tags you’re collecting. You never feel like the game is on rails and you never get bored through being lost off-track.

A pleasant surprise in this game is the beautifully crafted music. Weeks after completing it, the game’s score plays in my mind on the drive to work or without cause in the shower. I was that spellbound by it that I did a few searches, to find the chap responsible has gone and won himself a few awards plucking many a heart string in his career as a musician and Movie Music Director. You can find one of his other scores here.

The game plays really well and through that alone it’d be a good game but what tipped it into greatness for me was the poetic story that was told in the process. I got to the end credits, glazed over in retrospect and knew that it was all very real, aside from the crazy zombie-like population, of course.

There’s the usual question of whether they’ll make a sequel or not but in a way I hope they don’t. After seeing what happened to my beloved Resident Evil franchise, The Last of Us is best left uninfected.

10/10

Take a look at the game’s trailer here…
The Last of Us PS3 trailer

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After Earth Film Review

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With Will Smith’s list of amazing films in recent years, I really wanted to like this movie. Sadly Id already heard about its mediocrity and decided never to watch it. Curiosity eventually got the better of me though, and I endured it anyway. With my expectations suitably low, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t that bad. I was still able to enjoy it, but need to ask myself, is this because of my unconditional Will Smith fandom?

The main hole is that storyline is noticeably basic and at about three quarters into the film you may, as I did, get the slight inkling that you could have written it yourself. Well learn more of this later but first Ill sum it up

Sometime in the future, Earth and the majority of its inhabitants see fit to become inhospitable to humans and so we take the sensible decision to leave. We settle on another planet and in the process get quite handy at space travel. Will (I’m on first name terms with him) plays a fearless space ranger, Commander Cypher Raige. During warfare with another alien race our new enemy produces a breed of human-hunting alien beasts. Here comes the film’s philosophical angle. These aliens’ only way of sensing humans is by smelling fear, which all the storys hurdles are written around  it also gives birth to the superbly cheesy line “the only thing to fear is fear itself”. On one of their expeditions, Commander Raige and his son Kitai (Jaden) come into turbulence and end up crash-landing onwait for it Earth, which after a thousand plus years still doesnt like humans. Kitai then has to venture out and retrieve a lost beacon on his own due to his fathers broken legs and the fact that everyone else died in the crash. Along the way he finds plenty to be scared of but battles to conquer his propensity to fear.

So you see its not the most complex story youve ever had to unravel. That said, the films basic -premise does lead to the fantastic thought-provoking quote by Smith senior Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist.

The second obstacle in the way of really enjoying this movie is the acting. You have the hugely successful, talented lead actor type playing a cold, emotionless support character, ultimately requiring very little of his huge facet of skills. Meanwhile, young buck Jaden gets to use this experience to brush up his portrayal of a whole selection of emotions, I wouldnt describe it as the best formation. Also, in an attempt to show the development of humans, all the characters have adopted a strange accent, which is American English most of the time but a Jamaican or southern lilt will appear every now and again, inconsistently.

As well as the film itself, the end credits tell a long tail about this movies conception and does a lot to explain all the above. The story is by Will Smith and its produced by him too, along with Jada Pinkett-Smith and some other chap with the surname Pinkett. My interpretation of all this is that Will and Jada wanted to create a film that starred their son Jaden and everything else fell around that desire.
Also on the roster is M. Night Shyamalan, who does an adequate job of conjuring up a perilous version of Earth. The end result is a perfectly watchable, easy going adventure and though not at his ground-breaking best, Shyamalans contribution may have saved this film from becoming a real crash-landing.

4/10

After Earth
Cypher Raige  Will Smith
Kitai Raige  Jaden Smith
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Story by Will Smith

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See the trailer here
After Earth Film Trailer