September 12, 2013

By JAKE COYLE

Associated Press

 

TORONTO — In Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” Solomon Northop, a free man from upstate New York who’s kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, is hung for daring to strike an abusive and imbecilic plantation hand (Paul Dano). He’s cut down, but only just barely enough to reach the ground. McQueen captures it all in one long, agonizing take, as Northop is left dangling, shuffling excruciatingly on his tiptoes.

“I don’t think I’ve seen that on film, and I wanted to make damn sure if it was on film, it was going to be done well,” McQueen said in a recent interview. “It was very necessary for me to use those kind of shots to tell the story. Film is what 115, 120 years old? It’s a baby. There’s no right or wrong way to shoot anything. It’s not style. It’s necessity.”

Film history, however, is long enough that one might expect one of the nation’s most essential chapters to have been depicted on screen more frequently and fervently. “It’s a massive hole,” says McQueen. There have, of course, been a handful of notable films about slavery (“Beloved,” “Amistad,” the miniseries “Roots”), but, it’s safe to say, never before has there been a movie like this. “12 Years a Slave” is the most unblinking portrait of slavery yet seen in cinema: a straightforward resurrection of its atrocities, complications and, most of all, its plain reality.

“I wanted everyone to be Solomon Northup,” says McQueen. “You are on that journey with him.”

“12 Years a Slave,” which Fox Searchlight will release in theaters Oct. 18, premiered over the weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival where it was hailed as a masterpiece and very possibly this year's best picture Oscar winner. It is quickly gathering force as a kind of epochal achievement.

McQueen, the British director of the sex-addiction drama “Shame” and the Irish Republican Army hunger strike tale “Hunger,” had planned to make a film about slavery, but it didn’t take shape until his wife came across Northop’s 1853 autobiography, which straightforwardly tells of his nightmarish odyssey.

Ejiofor (the “Dirty Pretty Things,” “Kinky Boots” British actor of Nigerian roots) plays Northop, a violinist taken from his family and put into servitude on plantations, all the while unable to contact his home or even proclaim his true identity. His journey, “down the rabbit hole” as Ejiofor says, isn’t into a uniformly evil world of slavery, but one peopled by a wide spectrum of human decency, both masters and slaves.

It’s in many ways about how, faced with unspeakable hardship, one reacts. Northop refuses to surrender.

“They’re something about it that I find very heroic,” says Ejiofor. “You could only find that by really confronting his experience head-on.”

The hanging scene is only one of the film’s lengthy moments — a beating that serves as an introduction to life as a slave; a forced whipping of another slave — showed in full, unbroken view.

“If you don’t know what that feels like,” says Ejiofor, “if you don’t get inside that experience of being there all day, out there in the sun, hung by your neck, barely able to stay alive, then you don’t know the depth that this man is prepared to go to in order to keep himself alive.”

The film is often harrowingly difficult to watch. But it’s ultimately concerned with being faithful to Northop’s experience (“Solomon deserved nothing less,” says McQueen), and capturing his undimmed dignity. Northop went on to be part of the abolitionist movement and lecture on slavery throughout the Northeast.

“This is not National Geographic or any kind of scientific exploration to tell you how things actually were,” says McQueen. “It’s about the narrative.”

Though the experience of making such a film, shot in 35 days outside of New Orleans, might be expected to be weighed with the heaviness of its subject, the cast says the process was too focused, too fast-moving for such a mindset. Says McQueen: “If you start thinking about it in such a way, it will paralyze you.”

Michael Fassbender, who starred in both of McQueen’s previous films, plays Edwin Epps, the far harsher of two plantation owners. (The other, more benevolent plantation owner is played by Benedict Cumberbatch). He’s described with understatement as “a man of hard countenance.”

Fassbender sought to find the humanity in Epps, who’s torn by his love for his most prized cotton-picker (Lupita Nyong’o, in a shattering performance).

“You are going to places that are uneasy, but it’s my job,” says Fassbender. “Of course the emotional elements follow, and they do have an effect and there’s a residue going home with them. But concentrating on the work sort of protects yourself from that.”

The film, made with a budget of $22 million, was produced by Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B, and the actor appears in a small but pivotal role, warning Epps of a coming “day of reckoning.” Speaking to reporters at Toronto, he expressed his deep pride in having been a part of “12 Years a Slave.”

“If I never get to participate in a film again ...” he said, trailing off. “This is it for me.”

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

September 12, 2013

By RYAN PEARSON

Associated Press

 

LOS ANGELES — John Legend has one more thing to do before launching his fall tour: get married.

The 34-year-old R&B singer is engaged to 27-year-old model Chrissy Teigen, the subject of most of the romantic songs that make up his new album, “Love in the Future,” released last week. The wedding will be some time before he kicks off his tour Oct. 20 in Mashantucket, Conn., and marks a turning point for the piano-playing crooner, who since 2004’s “Get Lifted” has been crafting songs about hook-ups, cheating and heartbreak as well as long-term commitment.

Appropriately, the nine-time Grammy winner’s latest takes an overall more optimistic perspective on affairs of the heart, so much so that he says he’s already considering how married life will affect his writing: “My fans probably don’t want to listen to everything being awesome all the time.”

Legend reconnected with longtime collaborator Kanye West for his fourth solo album, which includes hip-hop drum patterns and moments of humor the singer credits to West. “I finally got to take the night off, so we can make some little tax write-offs,” he sings in “Caught Up.”

Legend recently sat down with The Associated Press to talk about fame, stability, wedding plans and international policy.

AP: Your fiancee is very witty on Twitter, and you slide some jokes into many of your songs. How important is humor to you?

Legend: Chrissy is hilarious and I’m a big comedy fan. We go to comedy clubs ... I wish I was funnier myself ... I surround myself with people who are different from me. Obviously, people always ask me, “How are you and Chrissy together?” And then people also ask me, “How are you and Kanye working together for so many years because you’re so different?” But I think I gravitate toward people that are a little more outrageous than I am. And we complement each other well.

AP: Do you want Kanye-level fame?

Legend: I want Kanye-level success. I don’t think I’m craving any more fame. But success and being recognized for making great work all around the world, I think it's a great thing. And I’m already not far from there. But Kanye has been a really singular artist that's made a unique contribution to pop culture, and I respect that and I wouldn’t mind being known for that as well.

AP: What’s your vision for your wedding? What do you want from it?

Legend: I’m excited to get married, but I look at it as just a fun party where I want my friends to have a great time. ... I guess we should look good, too, so the pictures come out nice. But other than that, I feel like it’s no pressure.

AP: Are you going to sing?

Legend: We’ve got a DJ and most of the night, it’ll be a DJ. But we do have a piano set up at dinner. So I’ll probably sing a song or two. And who knows who else will jump on the piano?

AP: Some songwriters make their best music when they’re not in a stable relationship. It can also go the other way. Is that something you’ve thought about?

Legend: I’ve written some of my better songs about the ups and downs of relationships. ... I’ve thought about, you know, what am I going to do two years from now? ... But I imagine that we’ll have some ups and downs too, so I’ll tell those stories, too.

AP: You’re a supporter of President Barack Obama, but covered several anti-war songs from the 1960s and 1970s on the 2010 album you created with The Roots called “Wake Up!” Are you worried about U.S. military intervention in Syria?

Legend: I am not anti-war in general. I am just anti-wars that I think are not a good idea. I didn’t think the Iraq war was a good idea. ... I do understand the impulse to want to punish countries for using chemical weapons. I do understand the humanitarian impulse when you see 100,000 people getting slaughtered ... but we have to be very cautious about getting into another long conflict in the Middle East. ... We know that al-Qaida’s infiltrated the rebel forces in Syria. We know that either way, no matter who wins, there are significant groups within each side that might not be pro-America. So I think it’s a very difficult decision to involve ourselves militarily in Syria.

AP: After doing “Wake Up,” do you wish there was more political pop music today?

Legend: Looking at the radio right now, you just hear nothing that’s the least bit socially conscious or aware, and I think artists are doing that because they don’t feel like the fans want to hear it. So what we have to ask ourselves (is), “Why don’t the fans want to hear it?” ... It’s not like there’s nothing going on. We had the war in Iraq, which you could parallel to the war in Vietnam. Perhaps the biggest difference is there’s no draft — because when there was a draft, everyone felt the war.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

September 05, 2013

By Antonio Harvey

Special to the NNPA from the Sacramento Observer

 

It is likely that a near-fatal incident can change a person’s entire outlook of life. Local artist and 3-D sculptor David Alexander knows this by experience. Today, he’s glad to be alive to share his “Body of Life” as well as his “Body of Work” art exhibit with others.

In 2009, Alexander was in a car accident. A vehicle going in the opposite direction jumped lanes on the highway and hit his Mazda 300 Z head-on. He survived, though unknowingly, he suffered a broken bone in his neck among his injuries. From that point, Alexander was out of commission and began dealing with a long recovery.

“The doctors had me on different kinds of medications to deal with depression, help me sleep, and to help me wake up,” Alexander told The Observer. “I just went through a period where I wasn’t doing anything.”

Long before the accident, Alexander started sculpting and drawing in art classes at Highlands High School in North Highlands. After high school, Alexander enlisted in the U.S. Army and traveled around Europe during his stay. Being an artist was the farthest thing from his mind until idleness took its toll after the car accident.

Alexander discovered his artistic skills did not erode him. He would also find out that his life interruption wasn’t a disruption at all. It allowed him to improve his skills immensely.

“I needed something. So I went to this sculpture class (Art Foundry) in downtown Sacra­men­to,” Alex­ander said. “That’s when I started my work. Luckily, art was there for me.”

Alexander’s artwork is totally magnificent for someone who just got back into mixed media in the last couple of years. He currently has an art exhibition entitled, “Body of Work,” at the Barton Gallery in midtown. All of his 3-D sculptures of bronze are intricate in detail and are displays of monumental importance.

Art lovers will see at the Barton Gallery 3-D images of jazz musicians Dizzy Gillespie, Grover Washington, actor Vin Diesel, and U.S. President Barack Obama. Alexander also has a few drawings on display including Louis Arm­strong and NFL Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe. His body-builder brother-in-law also has a spot in the show named, “The Roc.”

Alexander’s first 3-D art, “Into the Abyss,” he made long after the accident is a part of the exhibit as well. The sculpture is of a muscular male with one arm extended (the hand looks as if it wants to grip something) and the features in his face expresses the writhing of pain. The artist said the image was created to convey his true feelings of the car accident.

“It was pretty much how I felt at the time…I felt like I was drowning,” Alexander said of “Into the Abyss.” “I was on unemployment for a whole year at that point and it didn’t seem like anything good was happening for me. I just felt like a drowning man.” 

Alexander has been commissioned to do a bronze statue of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and he and fellow art colleague Adam Reeder are working on some art pieces for the Sacramento Kings that won’t be revealed until the organization is ready to do so, Alexander said. One of the projects is a 3-D, life-size bronze sword and an aluminum gladiator helmet.

Alan Osborne, who co-owns the Art Foundry and Gallery at 10th and R streets, saw from the moment Alexander began talking workshop classes with him that he was ingrained with a high aptitude of art. Osborne, a sculptor himself, said Alexander has been with him ever since.

“He’s an extremely and naturally talented guy,” Osborne said. “I think he has been in some other group shows we’ve had at the gallery. But this is the first show where he put his whole body of work together.”

By the look of Alexander’s physical appearance he looks absolutely fine for someone who was able to walk away from a traumatic accident. However, he is resolved to the fact that he has developed into a brand-new artist. He has done this by faith and commitment.

“After thinking about it, I think (the car accident) enhanced my skills quite a bit,” Alexander said. “Mainly it was just focus…I believe. Back in the day I would draw something, get bored with it and stop. It would never get done. Now, I can focus and finish all my projects.”

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

September 12, 2013

By Bria Feliu

Special to the NNPA from the Tri-State Defender

 

In case you have not yet realized, there is no stopping Mr. Shawn Carter in his attempt to dominate every aspect of the entertainment industry. After much speculation that Jay Z would be forced to sell his 0.067 share of ownership in the Brooklyn Nets to pursue his Roc Nation Sports Agency, the music mogul decided Jason Kidd was the perfect person to sell his small stake to.

A source shared with the New York Post,

“Other owners want to give Jason a part ownership of the team, and urged Jay to sell his shares to him.”

The deal comes months after Jay started his Roc Nation sports agency. By selling his share of ownership, Mr. Carter has successfully avoided the ‘conflict of interest’ talk he was bound to hear due to his personal and professional investments. Roc Nation has signed New York YankeeRobinson Cano, Oklahoma City Thunder’s very own Kevin Durant and WNBA newcomer Skylar Diggins.

Kidd has signed on as the coach of the Brooklyn Nets for this forthcoming season. Unlike Jay Z, Kidd’s ownership will not be seen as a conflict of interest.

What can we say? Jay knew about these new rules!

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

September 05, 2013

 

ARIES

Confusion exists over some question, and every time you think you’ve got the answer, circumstances will change and new information will come to your attention. Don’t worry, things are going to clear up and work out. Take it easy. Change the question. Soul Affirmation: I make myself an inspiration to others this week. Lucky Numbers: 12, 19, 20

 

TAURUS

Communications flow smoothly this week and your word is golden. A wild idea for money making could come to you, but you should let the strictly material walk on by. Stick to your current plan and use your imagination for ways to up-level your spiritual outlook. Soul Affirmation: I celebrate freedom of mind this week. Lucky Numbers: 33, 42, 49

 

GEMINI

A party or gathering with friends from the past will give you the opportunity to see how much you are loved. You’ve made tremendous strides and accomplished much in your life, so be pleased with yourself this week. Pass some of your wisdom along to others. Soul Affirmation: I give thanks for who I am this week. Lucky Numbers: 40, 48, 55

 

CANCER

An afterglow will surround you this week if you summon it up from your subconscious, and you may not feel like getting immediately into work-mode on several days this week. It’s okay to go with your feelings; the world will wait for a little while. Treasure

happy moments. Soul Affirmation: My smile gives light to everyone I meet this week. Lucky Numbers: 9, 21, 38

 

LEO

Your mind will be extra busy this week with thoughts of new projects and the things you want to get done. Best course of action is to clear up pending and overdue items. You’ll have a clean slate in no time and will feel genuinely content and ready for the new stuff. Soul Affirmation: Light from my soul shines in many directions. Lucky Numbers: 11, 13, 51

 

VIRGO

You should know by now that trying to be in two places at once is very taxing to your nerves! Slow down a bit and trust that you’ll get what needs to be done accomplished. Give yourself a head start on all road trips so that you have time to enjoy the view. Love promises much this week. Accept the promise. Soul Affirmation: My mood is created by the company I keep. Lucky Numbers: 12, 19, 36

 

LIBRA

A friend from the past could suddenly appear in your life. This could be a highly beneficial reunion for both of you. Let bygones be bygones, and renew this friendship. Love isn’t used up just because it’s shared. Soul Affirmation: My blessings come through others this week. Lucky Numbers: 8, 24, 53

 

SCORPIO

Drive the speed limit this week or you could wind up with a ticket. Why rush? Serenity is available if you only stop and listen for it inside of you. Discharge your usual obligations with dignity and silently count your blessings. Soul Affirmation: Friendships are the shock absorbers on the bumpy road of life. Lucky Numbers: 4, 52, 53

 

SAGITTARIUS

Trust! – that’s what you need to do. Sure people lie sometime but when you know their hearts you know what to expect and therefore you’re not deceived. Be prepared for lots of compliments this week. Most of them will be sincere, so plan to accept them gracefully. You may be planning a summer trip. Make it a nice getaway Soul Affirmation: I take a chance on new beginnings. Lucky Numbers: 22, 28, 29

 

CAPRICORN

Live free and large, and cherish good friends. Financial matters are highlighted during working hours. Everything to do with your money, or money under your care, goes smoothly. A party invitation arrives. . . say YES! Soul Affirmation: I open myself up to the good news that wants to come to me. Lucky Numbers: 33, 46, 55

 

AQUARIUS

Creative mental energy makes this a banner week for you. An ambition that you thought you had left behind years ago suddenly resurfaces, and you’ll see similarities between what you are doing now and what you dreamed of back then. Enjoy! Soul Affirmation: Laughter is strong medicine against any disease. Lucky Numbers: 34, 46, 55

 

PISCES

No need for rowdiness, wild ones! You can make your point without jumping up and down and waving your hands and arms in the air! Speak your wisdom softly, gently this week, so that others can hear it and benefit, smooth one! Soul Affirmation: Wearing three different hats is easy for a person like me. Lucky Numbers: 18, 27, 39

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

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