Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave [2013]

12 Years a Slave [2013]

12 Years a Slave [2013]
Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: John Ridley (screenplay), Solomon Northup (based on “Twelve Years a Slave” by)
Genre: Biography/Drama/History
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt
Running Time: 134 minutes

No film this year has left me as emotionally shaken as 12 Years a Slave.

Based on the 1853 autobiography of the same name by Solomon Northrup, Steve McQueen’s latest effort unflinchingly shows the horrific atrocities of slavery in the southern United States. In 1841, Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor, in what is sure to be an Oscar-nominated performance) is a free black man living with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York. An accomplished violinist, he is offered the chance to go on tour with a band in a traveling circus. However, this turns out to be a ruse, as Solomon is drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery during a night out in Washington DC.

12 Years a Slave [2013]

Forced to use a new name, “Platt”, Northrup is now treated as if he were a piece of property, being traded among multiple owners. His pleas describing how he is actually a free man fall on deaf ears. His first owner, William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), appears to have a slight bit of compassion, but make no mistake: he’s still a slaver. An incident on the plantation prompts Ford to send Northrup away to the only other owner who will take him: the brutally violent Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). From there, Solomon’s plight only gets worse.

Epps essentially serves as the film’s main villain, a drunken, religious nutjob with a tough wife (Sarah Paulson) and an obsession with one of his female slaves, Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o). If any of his slaves fail to meet his daily quota in terms of cotton picked, they are taken out back and whipped over and over again. Both Northrup and Patsey feel the rage of Epps, and these moments make up some of the film’s most disturbing scenes.

12 Years a Slave [2013]

By all means, 12 Years a Slave is a difficult watch. McQueen is relentless in exposing us to the heinous reality of slavery, particularly through his signature long takes. One of the most uncomfortable examples of this involves an unhinged Paul Dano (playing a plantation overseer) beating Northrup repeatedly before proceeding to hang him from a tree. Although Dano’s character is forced to stop, nonetheless Northrup is still left hanging, with just the tips of his toes able to support him on the ground. It’s a disgusting sequence, and McQueen makes sure to show us damn near every minute of it.

By the end of the film, I was a wreck. I was so angry at what was happening on screen, and it made me sit down and start to reflect on my country. Although legal slavery in the U.S. and the subsequent Civil War happened 150+ years ago, that’s really not all that long ago. It’s mind-boggling to think that this happened at all, let alone in the not-so-distant past. I felt like I was put through the wringer, and chances are most will feel this same way.

12 Years a Slave [2013]

Everyone involved with this film is in top form here. Ejiofor is sure to get endless acclaim during awards season, and any accolades are well-deserved. I can’t think of a better leading man for this role. Fassbender is terrifying and unpredictable as a sadistic slave owner, further cementing his status as one of the best in the business right now. The supporting cast, which consists of such big names as Brad Pitt and Paul Giamatti, all turn in noteworthy performances, but special mention must be made of two of the most prominent women in the film: Sarah Paulson and Lupita Nyong’o. Paulson is the perfect counterpart as Fassbender’s wife, driven by her intense jealousy, and frightening in her own way. Nyong’o, in her first feature film, is given some of the worst treatment, but she is more than up to the task. She is certainly someone to keep an eye out for in the near future.

12 Years a Slave is one of the most important films I have seen in some time. Not only is it the best 2013 film I have seen this year, it is the best film I have seen all year, period. It’s often a difficult watch, but it absolutely must be seen.

10/10

Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave [2013]

12 Years a Slave [2013]

12 Years a Slave [2013]
Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: John Ridley (screenplay), Solomon Northup (based on “Twelve Years a Slave” by)
Genre: Biography/Drama/History
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt
Running Time: 134 minutes

No film this year has left me as emotionally shaken as 12 Years a Slave.

Based on the 1853 autobiography of the same name by Solomon Northrup, Steve McQueen’s latest effort unflinchingly shows the horrific atrocities of slavery in the southern United States. In 1841, Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor, in what is sure to be an Oscar-nominated performance) is a free black man living with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York. An accomplished violinist, he is offered the chance to go on tour with a band in a traveling circus. However, this turns out to be a ruse, as Solomon is drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery during a night out in Washington DC.

12 Years a Slave [2013]

Forced to use a new name, “Platt”, Northrup is now treated as if he were a piece of property, being traded among multiple owners. His pleas describing how he is actually a free man fall on deaf ears. His first owner, William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), appears to have a slight bit of compassion, but make no mistake: he’s still a slaver. An incident on the plantation prompts Ford to send Northrup away to the only other owner who will take him: the brutally violent Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). From there, Solomon’s plight only gets worse.

Epps essentially serves as the film’s main villain, a drunken, religious nutjob with a tough wife (Sarah Paulson) and an obsession with one of his female slaves, Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o). If any of his slaves fail to meet his daily quota in terms of cotton picked, they are taken out back and whipped over and over again. Both Northrup and Patsey feel the rage of Epps, and these moments make up some of the film’s most disturbing scenes.

12 Years a Slave [2013]

By all means, 12 Years a Slave is a difficult watch. McQueen is relentless in exposing us to the heinous reality of slavery, particularly through his signature long takes. One of the most uncomfortable examples of this involves an unhinged Paul Dano (playing a plantation overseer) beating Northrup repeatedly before proceeding to hang him from a tree. Although Dano’s character is forced to stop, nonetheless Northrup is still left hanging, with just the tips of his toes able to support him on the ground. It’s a disgusting sequence, and McQueen makes sure to show us damn near every minute of it.

By the end of the film, I was a wreck. I was so angry at what was happening on screen, and it made me sit down and start to reflect on my country. Although legal slavery in the U.S. and the subsequent Civil War happened 150+ years ago, that’s really not all that long ago. It’s mind-boggling to think that this happened at all, let alone in the not-so-distant past. I felt like I was put through the wringer, and chances are most will feel this same way.

12 Years a Slave [2013]

Everyone involved with this film is in top form here. Ejiofor is sure to get endless acclaim during awards season, and any accolades are well-deserved. I can’t think of a better leading man for this role. Fassbender is terrifying and unpredictable as a sadistic slave owner, further cementing his status as one of the best in the business right now. The supporting cast, which consists of such big names as Brad Pitt and Paul Giamatti, all turn in noteworthy performances, but special mention must be made of two of the most prominent women in the film: Sarah Paulson and Lupita Nyong’o. Paulson is the perfect counterpart as Fassbender’s wife, driven by her intense jealousy, and frightening in her own way. Nyong’o, in her first feature film, is given some of the worst treatment, but she is more than up to the task. She is certainly someone to keep an eye out for in the near future.

12 Years a Slave is one of the most important films I have seen in some time. Not only is it the best 2013 film I have seen this year, it is the best film I have seen all year, period. It’s often a difficult watch, but it absolutely must be seen.

10/10

Movie Review: World War Z [2013]

World War Z [2013]

World War Z [2013]
Director: Marc Forster
Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof (screenplay), Matthew Michael Carnahan & J. Michael Straczynski (screen story), Max Brooks (novel)
Genre: Action/Drama/Horror
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale
Running Time: 116 minutes

World War Z seemed to be doomed from the start. With production delays, a burgeoning budget and multiple script rewrites, Marc Forster’s film struggled to get off the ground. In fact, it took a good 5+ years of development before the final product came together. Surprisingly, even with these miscues, the film isn’t half bad, though it does fall into some familiar traps.

Brad Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a former UN employee who, after the zombie outbreak hits, is called upon by The Powers That Be to help investigate the source of the virus. Forced to leave his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and two daughters behind, Gerry embarks on the desperate journey that takes him all over the world in order to (hopefully) save mankind.

World War Z [2013]

World War Z crams a lot into its two hour running time, as Gerry and company travel to South Korea, Israel and Wales. With so much globe-trotting, the film never really finds its footing, instead opting to use these jaunts as action set pieces with increasingly unrealistic outcomes. Some characters are seemingly invincible, surviving disasters that would swiftly kill “real” people. Many in the film also act like complete tools (i.e. forgetting to shut off a cell phone while sneaking past a group of zombies), and they are often getting into cheap predicaments meant to rivet the suspense.

Outside of Brad Pitt’s Gerry, none of the characters receive any real development, and they are merely there to fill the screen. Pitt deserves a lot of credit, however, as he is more than capable of shouldering the load. His portrayal of the near-perfect hero works well, and he helps keep the film entertaining even during its slower moments.

World War Z [2013]

World War Z is rated PG-13, and this raises some issues. I don’t have a problem with a film getting this rating, but WWZ so desperately wants to show the usual zombie gore and violence that it seems frustrated in not being able to do so. Zombies are shot in the head, impaled and otherwise brutally massacred, but all of this happens off screen. We know it happens, but the frequent cuts away from the action are distracting.

Now, that’s not to say World War Z is a bad film. In fact, it is quite entertaining, and it moves along at a very crisp pace. It’s just that it is also a remarkably generic zombie movie, one that has been done better in the past. In short, it’s pretty much what I expected from a summer blockbuster of this nature, for better or for worse.

6/10

Movie Review: Moneyball [2011]

Moneyball [2011]

Moneyball [2011]
Director: Bennett Miller
Genre: Biography/Drama/Sport
Language: English
Country: USA

Let me preface this by stating that I am a huge fan of baseball and of the book, Moneyball. It helps to be a fan of both, but the film adaptation was created in a way to appeal to everyone.

The movie, just like the book, focuses on the true story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics and their charismatic general manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). A former baseball player who moved to the front office after he didn’t “pan out”, Beane is responsible for operating a small-budget Major League Baseball team. Oakland’s total team payroll in 2002? A paltry $39 million, the third lowest in all of baseball. Compare this to the mighty Yankees, who had a whopping $125 million payroll that year.

Yet the year before, in 2001, the A’s won seven more games than the Yankees and ended up meeting them in the playoffs. While the team wildly exceeded its expectations, this was still a grave disappointment for the demanding Beane. He was faced with an even greater dilemma that offseason in that three of his best players — Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen — were all leaving via free agency because he couldn’t afford to pay them. Now, not only does he have to follow up a tremendous 2001 season but he has to do it with spare parts in the roles of his former superstars.

Moneyball [2011]

This is where “Moneyball” steps in. After persuading a rival team’s assistant named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to join Oakland, the two collaborate and develop a new way to look at baseball. Instead of listening to gray-haired scouts rattle on about a player having all “five tools” or how good they look in appearance, Beane and Brand decide to focus on sabermetrics and non-traditional statistics. They seek players who can get on base by any means necessary, particularly by drawing walks. Their key stat? On-base percentage. Who cares if a guy is a liability in the field if he makes up for it with his bat? That’s the perception the two executives have, and it is perhaps best illustrated in the form of one player: Scott Hatteberg.

“Hatty”, as he was commonly known (played by Parks & Recreation’s Chris Pratt), is the perfect example of the Moneyball theory. Unwanted by other teams since nerve damage no longer allowed him to play catcher, Hatty is visited by Beane in an attempt to get him to play first base. Even though he is terrified of taking ground balls at the position, he perseveres and puts together some great moments at the plate (including an epic at-bat during the team’s record-breaking 20 game winning streak). Hatteberg’s salary in 2002 was $900,000. Giambi’s? $10.4 million.

It’s pretty freaking incredible that a team patched together with past-their-prime veterans (like David Justice) and defensive liabilities (Hatteberg) could still manage to win over 100 games and make the playoffs once again. It doesn’t matter that the team lost in the first round again — they still went toe-to-toe against teams with payrolls four times as large. Plus the concept of Moneyball revolutionized the league, and its effects are still felt today.

Moneyball [2011]

In terms of a film watching experience, you do not need to be a baseball fan to enjoy the movie (as stated above). Brad Pitt gives Beane a highly likable personality, even as we see how he is a deeply flawed man. Jonah Hill is quiet and subdued as Peter Brand, and it’s interesting to see him take on a role like this. The always excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman plays A’s manager Art Howe, who frequently butts heads with Beane due to differences in baseball philosophy. Chris Pratt also does well with his role of Hatteberg, astutely playing a baseball player who lacks confidence in himself.

The script is both well-written and intelligent, and it also has a surprising amount of humor. Screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian did a fantastic job adapting Michael Lewis’ bestseller.

As far as baseball movies go, this is one of the best. As far as 2011’s movies go, this is also one of the best. Everyone will find something to like about Moneyball, whether it’s the smart dialogue, perfect cast or the baseball philosophy.

9/10