Movies and TV

Film Review: I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

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When I first heard about the documentary I Am Not Your Negro that is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and directed by Raoul Peck, centering around the work of James Baldwin, I knew I had to find a way to see it.

The documentary opens with a James Baldwin interview from 1968 that sets the stage. We then cut to footage from 2014 in Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Samuel Jackson’s distinct timbre narrates Baldwin’s words–excerpts from unpublished as well as published works. The novelist was working on a non-fiction work about the lives of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Medgar Evars, all of whom were murdered. To say this documentary is brutally graphic would be an understatement, as would it be to refer to it as unflinching, but it is both of those things. A grisly image of a murdered Malcolm X’s corpse is just one of the examples of this.

Baldwin describes Bill Miller, a White woman who the local police and most townspeople reviled, because she taught underprivileged youth of colour such as Baldwin. Growing up, he looked to her as a more balanced voice of reason that taught him to consider a multiplicity of perspectives.

The documentary is filled with clips of the most problematic depictions of African-Americans in all kinds of media, from some of the most horrifyingly racist advertisements, including one in which an African-American man emerges from within a gigantic banana, reinforcing the monkey/sub-human framework as well as extending the disarming/non-threatening image tactic, which portrayed African-Americans as docile and meek.

Baldwin despised the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852), which is now recognized as incredibly racist. However, in its era, the novel was hailed the same way that the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Dickens were. One of the reasons Baldwin reviled Stowe’s novel is because instead of fighting back or exacting vengeance on the White characters who hurt him, Uncle Tom continuously turned the other cheek. By contrast, Baldwin struggled with the fact that almost every character John Wayne played in his films depicted him as taking vengeance as he saw fit and without batting an eyelash.

As his works gained more notoriety, Baldwin gave more lectures and participated in a number of interviews, most of which are peppered throughout the documentary at key points in the narrative. We see the evolution of how Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. started out on polar ends of the spectrum as far as their views but eventually came to see eye to eye.

Two interesting stylistic choices I want to touch on include the use of typewriter key sound effects while typewritten documents are being shared on the screen, as well as the addition of audio to still photographs such as the sound of fire burning in the background or the horrifying sound of rope swaying back and forth after a lynching.

Secondly, I’m not sure if this was a strategic choice or had to do with the original format of the interviews and clips, but I found it to be an interesting tie-in with the discussions of colour in the film to show Baldwin in black and white almost exclusively until near the end of the documentary when he is shown in colour twice. It may be that this was not a stylistic choice but rather a consequence of the fact that the earlier Baldwin recordings and appearances were filmed in black and white and thus are only available in that format whereas his later clips were filmed in colour. Nonetheless, it added another dimension to the film for me.

Although Baldwin did not and could not have predicted Obama as the first African-American president of the United States (an emotional moment in the film from his inauguration was very difficult for me to watch given the current political climate), or to have predicted the events of Ferguson, his words have a very prophetic association which the film strategically highlights by juxtaposing Baldwin’s words with current events to show just how relevant the things are that he was writing about decades ago, and how even though we feel that advancements have been made, we realize how little has changed.

It is fascinating, but it is also incredibly grim and not for the faint of heart. It is unflinching. It is unwavering. It is fierce. It is unapologetic. And it should be mandatory viewing across schools everywhere for Black History Month, as well as on channels such as PBS or The History Channel. It is even more relevant today than it was when Baldwin first wrote it.

 

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TV Review: Supernatural Season 12

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Spoiler disclaimer: This post will discuss some spoilers from Season 12 of Supernatural, so if you haven’t watched the season finale yet or aren’t caught up, skip this post and come back when you’re caught up. 

After I watched the final episode of Season 11 of Supernatural, I did the equivalent of throwing a book across the room in reaction to the set-up for yet another season of the long-running (and I mean long) CW drama. But I recently got around to watching Season 12 to see if it would pique my interest in the show again, and I can honestly say that I was surprised at how interested I was in each episode. Some fans have lamented that the series has gone on for this long, and cite Season 5 as the true ending of the show for them, and that’s fine, while others have stuck around to see what else the show has to offer. Although I was ready to throw in the towel after the somewhat uninspiring and lacklustre Season 11, I’m glad I gave Season 12 a chance because it’s the most interesting that the show has been for years.

This is the first season in a long time where I found myself actually genuinely interested in each episode and I think it was because even in the episodes where there was a “Monster of the Week,” it somehow related to the current drama that was going on with the Winchesters and their involvement with the dastardly British Men of Letters or with the Lucifer subplot.

To be frank, I was surprised that the show had never done a “Lucifer is going to have a baby, we have to stop that thing from being born” narrative before, but I think the writers and/or showrunners considered it would be a good angle to pursue since so, so many others shows and films and books have explored that territory before. Although it remains to be seen in the upcoming “lucky” Season 13 what the consequences will be of such an event, it’s safe to say that Castiel’s visions of sugarplums and rainbows probably won’t be it. I will say that the mother of this child, Kelly, annoyed me to no end, I did prefer it when Lucifer chose the vessel of the fictitious former Hair Metal Glam superstar, ably played by Rick Springfield, which was a very cool addition this time around.

I’m not going to spoil the ending of the season finale, but I will say that I’ll be interested to see whether the two (wait, make that three) characters who we are convinced are dead actually are in fact dead, because as we know on this show, the concept of death and being gone can be fluid and not exactly absolute. Lucifer’s schtick is starting to wear thin on my patience, and I wanted to see a deeper, more personal subplot with Crowley where they really get into the meet of the feud as opposed to just skimming the surface. Still, it provided for a good looming threat in addition to the mostly stuffy British Men of Letters. Speaking of which, most of them did a good job getting on my nerves, especially Lady Bevel (I preferred the actress’s turn as Valerie on Season 7 of The Vampire Diaries), but I thought Mr. Ketch deserved more characterization and more exploration as to why he became the way he did. And of course, with Mik (sp?), at least there was an interesting layer of knowing that the British Men of Letters were definitely up to no good but that there was some grey characterization mixed in so it wasn’t all black and white.

With the return of the boys’ mother, Mary Winchester, nee Campbell, who used to be a hunter in her own right, I know there have been some mixed reactions with some fans being not too keen on her involvement, but for a show that has been on as long as this one has, and that keeps on chugging along, the writers constantly need to be doing something new, and I think this was definitely interesting territory to explore at times. I was expecting the whole time for something to go horrifically wrong–she would be yanked away from Sam and Dean as quickly as she had come back, that it would be a demon in disguise playing a cruel joke, that it would be like a clone or not really her, that she would turn against them at one point. I don’t think she answered enough about her involvement with Azazel, but nonetheless, it’ll be interesting to see what happens to her in the next season.

The episode in which Dean is hit by a memory spell and as a result starts to forget everything about himself, including his name, could have gone a very schlocky route but I thought it was a nice turn that allowed Jensen Ackles to show more of his acting chops, and although the cause was supernatural, it turned from comedic to very serious as the affliction mimicked the effects of watching a loved one go through dementia or Alzheimer’s, and it was very painful.

Two other things I really liked about this season were the plotlines involving hunters all across America becoming the hunted thanks to the British Men of Letters, and the introduction of more Princes of Hell, including Dagon and Remiel. I’m not gonna lie–I was totally panicking at first and thinking, “Wait…but they killed Azazel! How can this be?” for a moment or two. The introduction of the cool lance as a weapon which had very real consequences made me wish it would stick around. Speaking of weapons, although I did like seeing the Colt in action again, I thought that with the Alpha vampire episode, it served a very good purpose and the tension was real, but in the following episode with the God Pan, it felt like overkill and like the weapon was getting kind of overused by that point.

And of course, there’s the question of a certain beloved character who we saw again in the final episode when Castiel discovers that the impending birth of Lucifer’s son created a rift between earth and some sort of Bizarro world alternate dimension. It begs the question of how the two worlds will co-exist or function alongside one another, similarly to the sections we saw of Limbo when Dean was stuck there a few seasons ago.

This season’s big plot hole: So, since Castiel killed Billie, aka the Reaper, aka Death, who took her place as Death? Last time the Winchesters tangled with the first version of Death we saw on the show, there was a time when the dead weren’t going where they were supposed to go and it was creating huge problems. I expected the characters to address this plot hole in the following episode, but it wasn’t really mentioned in a big way since then. Theoretically, shouldn’t Castiel become the new Death? Or shouldn’t another Reaper pop up to take Billie’s place? I hope they’ll address that in Season 13, because it’s a pretty big plot hole.

For those who watched Season 12, what did you think? Overall thoughts? Ideas for what will happen in Season 13? What did you like or dislike the most about this season? Sound off below!

TV Review: Vampire Diaries Season 8

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WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven’t watched any of the Season 8 (final season) episodes of The Vampire Diaries and don’t want spoilers, skip this post and come back once you’ve seen the whole season.

The CW supernatural drama The Vampire Diaries has wrapped up its eighth and final season, the second one not to prominently feature series mainstay Elena Gilbert (well, until the end anyway). This season’s “Big Bads” were essentially two Sirens and a “Devil” (even though the character of Cade/Arcadius is called the Devil several times and is said to be in charge of Hell, he was more like a glorified demon rather than having the full-on gravitas of The Devil).

Also, just when you thought that a certain villain had been dead and buried for good after multiple instances of mysteriously always finding a way to scurry back to life, it turned out they weren’t in what would turn out to be one of the most over-the-top and pointless character returns in recent memory. I’m not going to rant about this character, but let’s just say they should be on a list of “Top 100 villains who started out as compelling characters but quickly became repetitive and annoying with each subsequent return.”

This time in the “let’s spin the wheel and see which brother will be evil for the season” it was Damon Salvatore‘s turn–well, for the first half of the season, then it was Stefan‘s turn. I will say that even though this was one of the more annoying parts of the entire season, Stefan had some good dialogue and quips here and there.

The mystery from the final episode of Season 7 revolves around what happened to Damon and Enzo when they stepped into the creepy tunnel room in the Armory, AKA Alaric’s Indiana Jones-inspired playground. We find out that a woman called Sybil is controlling Damon and Enzo and getting them to be her errand boys by virtue of her psychic abilities and mind control. Because both of their humanity switches are off, they don’t really care about the implications of all the terrible things Sybil is forcing them to do.

Eventually, we find out that Sybil is a (wait for it) siren. A siren. Seriously. I mean, I’ll give the show some credit for introducing the ability of mind control through song and adding a sort of almost shade of a dimension we haven’t seen to sirens before, but where it gets murky for me is when Sybil just becomes increasingly annoying and irritating. This is a problem that villains on The Vampire Diaries have had since Seasons 3 and 4 pretty much. After the Original vampires headed for their own show, the writers have had a tougher time making other villains stick. I’m not even going to get started on Kai/Malakai. The show has given us some truly awful villains, but in my mind he’s one of the absolute worst (and not in a good way).

So once we find out that Sybil is a siren, we find out that the innocent-looking nanny to Alaric’s children, Selene, is anything but. She’s the siren sister to Sybil, but it is also soon revealed that the two have something of a sibling rivalry and do not see eye to eye. The reason she has been keeping such a close eye on Alaric’s twin girls is because it turns out that she and Sybil work for an even douchier villain, a guy named Cade, who was accused of being a witch and then burned at the stake. But as he burned, he cursed the townspeople, blah blah seen-it-a-thousand-times-before blah. Just as a refresher, Alaric’s twin girls are part of the Gemini Coven and are siphoners of magic though they have no idea they’re doing it most of the time. The sirens were kicked out of their villages years ago for, basically, cannibalistic behaviour. This is how Cade found them. He got them to be his soul collectors. But Selene has wanted out of the gig for some time. Her scheme is to try to offer up Alaric’s twin girls to Cade as a switch.

But, oh, I haven’t mentioned the ever-sanctimonious and permanently in competition to see who can be the whinier martyr brothers, Damon and Stefan yet. While Damon’s Evil switch is still on, Stefan offers Cade a counter-bargain: he’ll take the place of Selene and Sybil if Cade will leave Alaric’s twin girls alone. Cade accepts. Stefan turns off his humanity switch. *sigh*

This season, witchy character Bonnie Bennett spends much of her time trying to get the love of her life, Enzo, to turn off his Evil switch. He does, but the consequences are that Sybil hounds him constantly. While Season 7 gave me a harder sell in terms of getting interested in the episodes, Season 8 was a bit of an improvement in that respect: the stakes were clear, and the adrenaline was always coursing.

Eventually (and you knew this was coming), Damon’s Evil switch starts flickering on and off and the goal for much of the second half of the season is to get Stefan to turn off his Evil switch and to stop being such a Ripper. It’s sort of cute that The Vampire Diaries has consistently tried so, so hard to make their version of a “Ripper” seem scary or distressing.

Some things I liked about this season:

  • This time around, the rumours started to float early on about the fact that Season 8 would be the show’s last. Vampire Diaries fans received confirmation of this at some point and so the rampant discussion became whether Nina Dobrev would return to reprise her role as the central character, Elena Gilbert. Well, spoiler alert, we knew with some certainty that she would. Still, it grated on my nerves in a big way that Elena Gilbert is one of those characters who can be the central focus of an entire season with barely being in it.
  • Stefan’s dialogue when he had his Evil switch on was entertaining in some parts.
  • The mystical Bell that was made by the Maxwell family (which filtered down to become the Donovans, i.e. Matt) in a sirenly attempt to destroy Mystic Falls. I thought the historical connection to this relic and its abilities were interesting, and the tie-in to the dimension of Hell was also intriguing. I also thought it was cool to bring in more of the Bennett witches into play again–they were always one of the most interesting aspects of each season, and I would have liked to see even more of them during the show’s run.
  • Even though the constant back and forth between Stefan and Damon about who would be the biggest martyr of them all annoyed me to no end, the lengths both of them were willing to go to in the name of destroying Hell and saving Mystic Falls was noble, and after shedding that much blood and causing centuries of pain and misery to countless people around the world, they both atoned in the end.
  • That this was the final season. My interest in the show began to wane sometime around Season 4 or 5, and the show hasn’t had a compelling villain since the Original vampires took a hike (see above). I know I’m supposed to be focusing on things I liked, so I’ll say it was good to get a sense of resolution with this story.

Some things I wasn’t so crazy about this season:

  • Bonnie’s constant insistence that she has lost her magic only for her to *gasp* magically have it after all. Can you sense the sarcasm? Just checking 😉 Also, just the fact that the show continued to screw with Bonnie in general and the whole thing where she tried to die a bunch of times but it wasn’t her time yet. Sure, it’s okay for Elena to have her happy ending with sunshine and rainbows, but Bonnie has to settle for some creepy Ghost scenario with Enzo. *sigh*
  • The string of one annoying villain after another. The writers have relied far too much on flashbacks and backstory to try to convince viewers why their villains are supposedly so epic, but instead of building sympathy in the minds of viewers for the whole “wronged baddie” schtick, it ends up turning viewers off (this is the thing where the villain in this series always seems to be the same variation of “I used to be good but people were cruel to me so I turned bad”).
  • “I’m so eeeeeeevvviiiilll” Damon (and Stefan): Because the show has overused this plot point so many times over the course of the entire series, it lost its impact a long time (and a few seasons) ago. When his Evil switch eventually stopped flickering and stopped at “off,” his next battle became to see who could be bigger martyr for their crimes: him or Stefan. They both lost, incidentally 😉 Although I hoped the return of Evil Damon would lead to a more interesting character arc this season, it disappointed in that regard. Of course I knew he would eventually go into full-blown good guy mode, but again, this is something that lost the impact because it happened so often on the show prior to this season.
  • That villain at the very, very end: No. Just no. My first reaction when I figured out where they were going with it was…you’ve got to be kidding me. Again? I understand the reason, but it felt like the actor was just going through the motions and as a result, it had no impact. The introduction of this villain was brilliant but after the events at the end of Season 6, that’s where things should have wrapped up. Nuff said.
  • In my review of Season 7, I had mentioned that I got a distinct Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe from the entity in the Vault of the Armory. I had originally thought viewers would be treated to something similar to The First Evil. That, uh, well, that didn’t quite happen. And the funny thing is that also in that review, I’d lamented the recycling of the “Oh no, what are we doing to do? Stefan is evil!” plotline except for Damon and Enzo, but it turned out that they applied it to Stefan yet again. Suffice it to say, I did not find it interesting at all to see where they went with this because they had gone there so many times before.
  • There’s not really any way they could have ended the series except with a Happily Ever After, but most of it made me feel like I was watching the Hallmark channel and not the CW.

Throughout its history, The Vampire Diaries had a big habit of repeating itself and recycling its own plot devices and tropes. No show is perfect, but I think that at the end of the day, this is a show that was made by the same people who produced Dawson’s Creek (well, at least one of them anyway). The emphasis on the love triangle between the three characters, which then became the “will the two of them get their happy ending? and what about that other one?” continued into a narrative focused on wrapping everything up as neatly and as tidily as possible in the 16 episode span of the last season.

As their characters made the transition from high school to university, the show did its best to present efforts to more maturity and more serious plotlines. And in some ways, they did well, but by the end, the show became one increasingly ridiculous plot twist after another. The writers very much adopted the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach. Part of that stems from the fact that this was the last season, so the creators wanted to end on a high note and try to tie up as many loose ends as they could.

I think that in a sea of so many vampire shows and films that have saturated the airwaves and theatres for the past 40 years, the show tried its best to offer something different or in some way unique, and I would say that from Seasons 1 to 3, that’s when things were at their most interesting for the most part–the peak of the show’s overall story arc.

Although some of the villains this show has introduced such as Katherine, Klaus, and Silas provided much entertainment and suspense when they were first introduced, it’s difficult to sustain that kind of momentum for any character and there were only so many times the show could achieve the shock factor with them. Still, they produced some addictive storylines that kept viewers coming back for more, and it was a fun ride while it lasted.

What about you, readers? Did you tune in to Season 8? What did you think? What were your thoughts on the series as a whole? Sound off below!

 

TV Review: Vampire Diaries Season 7

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WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven’t watched any of the Season 7 episodes of The Vampire Diaries and don’t want spoilers, skip this post and come back once you’ve seen the whole season.

The CW supernatural drama The Vampire Diaries has wrapped up its seventh season, the first one not to feature series mainstay Elena Gilbert. This season saw more exploration into the Heretics (who are both vampires and witches), led by the mother of Stefan and Damon Salvatore, as Mystic Falls did its best to enforce the police-imposed ban on vampires.

We also saw the introduction of yet another villain who had potential at the outset but quickly showed wafer-thin character development. This season’s honor went to Rayna Cruz, a vampire hunter who has been alive for centuries thanks to a Shamanic spell. Her mission, due to the Hunter’s Curse she was afflicted with, was to find and kill all vampires she marked with her sword to put their souls into the Phoenix Stone (which puts vampire souls in a Hellish prison).

This season focused heavily on the witch character of Bonnie Bennett, particularly the latter half of the season. She figured prominently in the plans of The Armory, which is an evil guinea pig lab for supernaturals. While I liked seeing the renewed emphasis on Bonnie for a change, there were many elements of this season that didn’t interest me. I didn’t start feel any serious interest in this season until Episode 12 rolled around and things started to pick up.

Some things I liked about this season:

  • Some Vampire Diaries fans were very disappointed with the fact that Elena Gilbert wasn’t the focus of the show this season, and some fans welcomed the change. I was glad to get a break from the show making Elena the center of everything (even though that has been the point of the show since the beginning), and felt the show made a decent use of reminding viewers of her presence when necessary, but that doesn’t mean the show was better without her. Just different.
  • The alternating timelines between the present and the past of three years ago. Some people haven’t been so keen on this, but I thought that it added a bit of mystery to the mix and enhanced some of the plot elements.
  • Enzo. Okay, okay, so he’s had a bit of a Spike from Buffy schtick going on since Day 1, but after spending much of the first part of the season making me wonder why he was involved, he made things interesting when he got involved with the Rayna Cruz situation and I questioned his motivations. Did he get a bit mushy-gushy toward the latter half when it was revealed how he and Bonnie got together? Yes, but it felt nice to see this character choosing something other than paranoia, mistrust, and revenge as his goals.
  • Klaus‘s cameos–he added to the plot in the episodes where he was involved and it was fun to see him again.
  • The consequences and stakes (no pun intended): Vampire Diaries has trained its viewers to become skeptical of everything that happens on the show and to good effect. Every time the characters manage to fix one problem, another even worse problem crops up to take its place. Nothing is ever simple on this show, and while that can sometimes be a detriment, it keeps the fans interested in the storylines.

Some things I wasn’t so crazy about this season:

  • Mopey Damon: Need I say more? He spent much of the first half of the season mucking about and just being generally sullen. I understand that he went into a personal Hell as a result of the Phoenix Stone, but it felt a bit like “Here we go yet again” so I was glad to see him taking more action toward the latter half of the season. And after the direction he’s headed with the season finale, it will be fun to see where his character goes next season.
  • Stop trying to make “Yellow Crayon” happen: (Episode 21 and the hashtag #BonniesYellowCrayon) The “Yellow Crayon” moment is a reference to the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Xander helps Dark Willow become regular Willow after he shares an emotional childhood memory to remind her of who she really is. I’m not going to compare the two shows because it’s apples and oranges, and it’s not a fair comparison to make because Buffy set an impossibly high bar that few shows have managed to pull off. Vampire Diaries did a poignant and well-acted version, but for me, Buffy‘s Yellow Crayon moment will always resonate with me more.
  • Speaking of Buffy the Vampire Slayer…, I’m getting a distinct vibe that whatever entity is in The Vault of The Armory that can never be let out because it’s so dangerous is going to be something similar to The First Evil. Maybe not, but it’s kind of recycling the whole “Oh no, what are we doing to do? Stefan is evil!” plotline we saw many seasons ago except this time with Damon and Enzo. Still, it’ll be interesting to see where they go with this.

There’s a lot of speculation about whether Season 8 will be the show’s last, but for the moment, it’s all just rumors. Will you tune in when the new season rolls around? Did you enjoy Season 7? Sound off below!