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

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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

Horror Movie Roundup #3: Slither, An American Werewolf in London, Eden Lake

The first two films in this batch of horror reviews work quite well together, but Eden Lake is definitely an outlier here. Nonetheless, here are my takes:

Slither [2006]
Slither [2006]
A loving tribute to early 80s horror B-movies, Slither tells the tale of a small town that is over-run by a plague of worms that is turning its denizens into all sorts of creepy monsters. There’s a little bit of everything in this horror-comedy, including zombies, blobs and other grotesque freaks, and fans of Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks and Michael Rooker will get a kick out of this. Rooker, in particular, is as enjoyably creepy as always. The special effects are over-the-top and rather well done, and they enhance the film’s cheesiness. Some jokes fall flat, and the story is full of cliches, but Slither is good for what it is. Worth seeing for fans of the genre. 6/10

An American Werewolf in London [1981]
An American Werewolf in London [1981]
I was pleasantly surprised by this cult classic. When two Americans backpacking through England are attacked by a werewolf, one of them turns into a werewolf himself. The locals refuse to acknowledge the existence of the monsters, so it’s up to the American to figure out a way to put a stop to his own potential killing spree. There’s a lot to like in this film, as John Landis’ script is full of great lines (“A naked American man stole my balloons.”), and the Oscar-winning special effects still hold up today. It’s a fun watch overall, and I’m glad I was finally able to track it down. 7.5/10

Eden Lake [2008]
Eden Lake [2008]
“Relentless” is the perfect term to describe this lesser-known British horror film. When Steve (Michael Fassbender) and Jenny (Kelly Reilly) leave the city for a romantic getaway at a rural lake, their dream weekend goes awry when they run into a group of young hoodlums. Rather than move to a different location, the bull-headed Steve confronts the youths, and it doesn’t take long for things to escalate. The film gets increasingly violent (as evidenced by the image above), and it essentially becomes a game of cat-and-mouse between the kids and the couple. It’s a very bleak, punishing film, and I can’t recall ever being as angry afterward as I was with this. Some of the actions of all involved were questionable and left me frustrated, but there is no denying that this is both well-directed and well-acted. It’s just hard to recommend a film so full of despair. 6/10

Have you seen any of these films? What are your thoughts on them?

Movie Review: Prometheus [2012]

Prometheus [2012]

Prometheus [2012]
Director: Ridley Scott
Genre: Action/Horror/Sci-Fi
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Green
Runtime: 124 minutes

Ridley Scott’s latest film is one that I had minimal interest in at the beginning of the year. Sir Ridley has been very much hit-or-miss with his work in the last decade, and a return to the deteriorating Alien universe seemed to have all the makings for another disappointment. But then the viral marketing kicked in.

First it was a video of Guy Pearce, as the character Peter Weyland, delivering a speech about his vision for the future. Soon after came a new batch of breathtaking promotional images. Longer trailers were released, as were teaser clips. In April, a video clip introducing the David 8, a robot played by Michael Fassbender, began making its rounds. My level of anticipation began to grow with each new piece of promo material, and by the end of May I was genuinely excited to see what Prometheus had to offer.

While the movie’s marketing campaign ranks as one of the all-time greats, it may have been a little *too* good. Could a film looking this awesome possibly deliver the goods? Well, yes and no.

Prometheus [2012]

As far as recent sci-fi films go, Prometheus is one of the better ones I have seen. I am generally not a huge sci-fi guy, but I was hooked right from the beginning. It helps that the film’s concept is an intriguing one — one that asks all sorts of questions.

Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green star as Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway, respectively, an archaelogist couple that has discovered an amazing star map that may shed some light on the origin of mankind. After receiving funding from the Weyland Corporation, the duo join the crew of the scientific vessel Prometheus to follow the map and see if their findings are legit. When they reach their destination, it doesn’t take long for the shit to hit the fan. They quickly realize that they are not alone.

Who/what else is on this moon? Why did the star map point in this direction? Is this really the home of the creators of the human race? What’s up with this black gooey stuff? Why is there a giant statue head inside this large dome? Why is there a decapitated body inside? What does all this mean?

Prometheus [2012]

The characters, not to mention all of us viewers, ask so many questions but get so few answers in return (certainly not unexpected given that Lost creator Damon Lindelof co-wrote the script). There are some serious thought-provoking ideas in place here, especially when it comes to religion and evolution. Prometheus is one of those movies where you’ll want to talk about it with your friends immediately afterward. There are just so many big ideas mentioned that it would be impossible to get answers for all of them. Undoubtedly, this will infuriate some, but it will at least lead to some fruitful (albeit often polarizing) discussions.

Prometheus is hampered a bit by its batch of characters. With such a large crew on board, it’s difficult for the majority of them to receive fleshed-out storylines, and therefore we don’t really feel too attached to most of them. They also have a habit of falling into sci-fi/horror stereotypes, occasionally acting irrationally for no reason. In a way, this is expected for the genre, but it does feel a bit out of place when compared to the cerebral nature of the overall film.

Prometheus [2012]

Regardless of their actions, not enough can be said of the very impressive cast. Noomi Rapace is tremendous to watch as her character evolves into a spiritual successor for Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, and it’s great to see her continue to succeed in Hollywood. The other absolute highlight of the film is Michael Fassbender’s performance as the android, David, in a role not too far off from 2001‘s HAL 9000. Quite simply, he owns the screen every time he makes an appearance. Charlize Theron fits in well as the supervisor from Weyland Corporation, a strong assertive female with a strict set of rules for her ship. I was also particularly pleased with Idris Elba (Stringer f’n Bell) and his charismatic ways as the vessel’s captain.

Prometheus is a visually stunning film that delivers some impressive eye candy (which everyone can enjoy), and it has a killer concept with a bunch of great ideas. It doesn’t quite live up to its lofty potential and excessive hype, but it’s still a damn good sci-fi film that is engrossing from beginning to end. Fans expecting a direct prequel to Alien will be disappointed, but if you go into the movie with an open mind you should walk out mostly satisfied.

8/10

Movie Review: X-Men: First Class [2011]

X-Men: First Class [2011]

X-Men: First Class [2011]
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

I feel obligated to admit right away that I am not much of an X-Men fan. I know very little about the series and its characters, and I have only seen the original 2000 film. It’s not that I am opposed to the series in any way, it’s just that I could never be bothered to dig into it. Until now.

X-Men: First Class is a prequel to the original movies, and it focuses on the origins of the groups led by Professor X and Magneto. This concept intrigued me quite a bit simply because it would tell me, a non-fan, how exactly everything came to be.

X-Men: First Class [2011]

The movie takes place predominantly in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. A young mind-reading Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) meets a fellow mutant, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), who shows him that he is not alone in the world. Their paths intersect with Erik Lensherr (aka Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender) who is on a revenge mission to kill the Nazi bastard (Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw) who murdered his mother. The two future leaders team up and recruit a bunch of other mutants including Dr. Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), Angel Salvadore (Zoë Kravitz) and Sean Cassidy (Caleb Landry Jones) to take out Shaw and his small band of accomplices, the most noteworthy being Emma Frost (a terrible January Jones), who are now attempting to start World War III.

While the majority of the characters get their fair share of screen time, the bulk of the action is placed on Professor X and Magneto. McAvoy and Fassbender are more than up to the task for their roles, as they both deliver strong performances with impeccable chemistry together. The acting is generally pretty good all around, except for the aforementioned January Jones, whose only duty is seemingly to show off the movie’s required amount of cleavage. Jennifer Lawrence in particular is quite good as Raven, and she is certainly building momentum after last year’s brilliant performance in Winter’s Bone. I also enjoyed Rose Byrne’s role as a CIA agent who is working with the mutants.

X-Men: First Class [2011]

X-Men: First Class doesn’t have any major “holy shit” moments and relies more on dialogue than action, but it still moves at a brisk pace even considering its 132 minute run-time. I found the back story to be quite fascinating, and this movie has inspired me to continue delving into the series — something the 2000 film couldn’t even do. While I feel more could have been done with the film’s 1960s setting, it still made good use of the ongoing Cold War and offered an interesting fantasy alternative as to what really happened. As far as summer blockbusters go, this is one of the better ones to come out this year.

8/10