UFC

A tale of two reviews, by Kenny Florian

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender (and Kenny Florian) in "12 Years A Slave".
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Kenny Florian

Kenny Florian is the only UFC fighter to compete in four divisions (Featherweight, Lightweight, Welterweight and Middleweight). After graduating from Boston College, Kenny focused on jiu-jitsu training at BJJ/Gracie Barra in Watertown, Mass. He finished as runner-up on "The Ultimate Fighter Season 1" and ending his fighting career with a 16-6-0 record. Kenny's MMA work can also be found outside of the Octagon as a commentator and co-host for "UFC Tonight."

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A good friend of mine had been urging me to watch “The Crash Reel” for weeks. I’m a documentary buff and being retired, I have a whole list of documentaries to catch up on. Finally, I decided to sit down on the couch on a slow weekday afternoon and push “The Crash Reel” to the front of the line.

The film details the life and career of pro snowboarder Kevin Pearce. From a young age, Kevin was a daredevil and fearless competitor. The “The Crash Reel" documents his childhood all the way up to his rivalry with superstar snowboarder, Shaun White. Kevin has an infectious passion for snowboarding and it’s his work ethic, fearlessness and talent that vaults him to the very top of the sport. He has a wonderful support system in his family and is also driven by his group of snowboarding buddies he calls “Frends”--because they believe there is no “I” in “friends”.

The documentary makes a shift from badass snowboarding clips and hilarious scenes to a horrific snowboarding accident suffered by Kevin as he was preparing for the 2010 Winter Olympics. We then get to see Kevin and his family as they battle back to normalcy. There are countless poignant moments in this film as we hear from other family members, fellow competitors and Kevin himself as he deals with the reality of his traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Striking cinematography along with some well-chosen music are witnessed throughout the film. Beautiful moments between Kevin and his family show what true love is all about. The film also explores the dangers of extreme sports--like skiing and snowboarding--and attempts to define the line between suicidal and pushing the limits of your sport.

After finishing “The Crash Reel”, I remember just taking a big, deep breath and going for a long walk to simply contemplate life and take it all in. It allowed me to be thankful for my health and for all of the loved ones in my life. It allowed me to love the world that much more and inspired me on many levels. I want to thank my friend Raina for encouraging me to watch this documentary and want to thank the amazing Pearce family and others in this film for sharing their stories and truly making a difference in making us aware about the dangers of extreme competition and TBI. Have the tissue box ready and be prepared to be transformed for the better.

***

Over the weekend, I decided to hit the movie theatre and check out “12 Years A Slave”, which is an adaptation of the 1853 autobiography of the same title by Solomon Northup. The film is directed by Steve McQueen and written by John Ridley. Chiwetel Ejiofor brilliantly stars as Solomon Northup.

In 1841, Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) is a free black man living with his wife and children in Saratoga Springs, New York. Solomon is a talented violinist and is lured into a lucrative touring opportunity by two men (Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam). Solomon goes out to dinner with these two shady men and is then drugged. He awakens to find himself kidnapped and chained to the floor where he will eventually be transported to work on plantations in Louisiana.

From the moment Northrup wakes up in chains until to the very end of the film, virtually every scene hits you like a well-placed knee to the gut. One hanging scene in particular has stayed with me and is one of the most powerful I have ever witnessed on film. The realness of the movie is brought to life through superb costume design and sets, beautiful cinematography and brilliant acting.

It is a violent film but a necessary one that shows the brutality and reality of how slavery was in the American South. A good film has a way of putting the viewer into the shoes of the protagonist and the film certainly accomplishes this due to the palpable performance of Ejiofor. The abusive plantation owner, Edwin Epps, is played by Michael Fassbender. I’d put Fassbender’s performance right up there with Daniel Day Lewis’ “Daniel Plainview” from the movie “There Will be Blood”. While I wasn’t a big fan of Brad Pitt’s acting in the film, other performances stood out like those from Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Garret Dillahunt, and Paul Giamatti.

You should be sure that this isn’t one of those “feel good” movies but it is a must-see nonetheless. This film describes a shameful part of our nation’s history and we must learn from our past if we want to avoid future mistakes. It also helps us to understand the present day racial tension that exists in our country. We still live in a crazy world and I believe the world needs more empathy today than ever. Sometimes you need films like this to help people to understand what it was like beyond just reading and learning about it in a text book—films like “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan”. Whether people want to admit it or not, slavery helped shape this country. To understand the United States, you need to understand what slavery was and “12 Years A Slave” gives us a powerful reminder that true morals and human decency should always prevail above any law that our government deems as worthy.

I can’t recommend these two films enough. They truly inspired and enlightened me in very different ways. I believe it is our responsibility as human beings to educate ourselves and to understand the challenges that we as humans face. We must continue to battle fear and help create a world that is filled with empathy.

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