Month: February 2014

FILM REVIEW: “12 YEARS A SLAVE”

“12 Years A Slave”

Written by: John Ridley, Solomon Northrup (novel)

Directed by: Steve McQueen

Starring: Chiwetel Ejifor, Lupita Nyong’O, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt

Story: After being kidnapped and sold into slavery, Solomon Northrup spends twelve years trying to prove he is a free man from New York.

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It seems impossible to know where to start when reviewing one of the most acclaimed movies of the year. ’12 Years A Slave’ has already received over fifteen notable awards and is hot tipped to take home the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar on Sunday night. The film has demanded so much attention, it seems unlikely that anyone would not enjoy it.

But alas, that is the curse of the ‘Best Picture’ nominee: quite often those films who win are not traditionally enjoyed by the wider commercial market.

The performances are certainly worthy of the attention they have been given. Chiwetel Ejifor is remarkable as Solomon Northrup, but is completely overshadowed by newcomer Lupita Nyong’O. Fassbender rounds out the notable performances. Not to be forgotten, though, is Paul Dano who makes the most of his screentime by offering a truly chilling portrayal as white supremacist Tibeats. Brad Pitt is also in this movie, but is neither relevant or memorable. His complete lack of chemistry even puts a dampener on the scenes in which he appears, somewhat stifling Ejifor in the process.

Having said this, 12 Years A Slave is not a film that is altogether enjoyable to watch. McQueen chooses to give us long shots, periods of silence and one could even feel that McQueen is solely trying to make his audience uncomfortable. Indeed, some of the most graphic scenes almost appear exaggerated or drawn out as if to try and drive his point home. Watching the film is awkward, tense, and a melancholic experience. By the two hour mark, one may even start to lose their sympathy for the Northrup character: he seems more concerned with the injustice of his own capture than with the situation of slavery in the US as a whole. This is more than a race issue, but Northrup distinguishes himself from all others int he film because he was ‘wealthy’. Less than a race issue, we now are faced with Northrup’s views on a class society. It would be interesting to see, as this film is integrated into school curriculum’s, how much this particular issue is developed.

Dealing with such an issue as slavery, something that continues to haunt the hearts and minds of both black and white Americans, there almost needs to be a certain sensitivity with which you present it. Watching 12 Years one may feel that McQueen has forgotten this in favor of trying to shock, startle, and upset his audiences more than any filmmaker has before. One might walk out of the cinema feeling angry at the injustices presented, but the true point of the film is ultimately lost.

While 12 Years A Slave is a good movie, with stunning landscapes and phenomenal performances, it leaves a bitter and sick feeling in the hearts and minds of audiences, making us feel like we were not entertained, but mocked.

 

Rating: 3.5/5

 

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FILM REVIEW: “FRUITVALE STATION”

“Fruitvale Station”

 

Written by: Ryan Coogler (Based on true events)

Directed by: Ryan Coogler

Starring: Michael B Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer

Story: A look at the true events of the shooting of Oscar Grant at Fruitvale Station in the early hours of January 1st 2009.

 

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It is difficult to find a negative review of Fruitvale Station. After premiering at Sundance in 2013, the film was the recipient of three awards nominations, and went on to receive nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards, Black Reel Awards, and countless others. A first feature length film by writer and director Ryan Coogler, it soon becomes very clear that Fruitvale Station is an absolute triumph.

Michael B Jordan gives a mature and human performance as Oscar Grant. Through Jordan we are given insight into a man desperate for redemption. He is supported flawlessly by Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer who come together as a family unit to remind all of us of the connection shared between parents and their children. The complexity of these characters is revealed through a terrific screenplay put together by Ryan Coogler

The story and film itself is simple. There isn’t really anything in the way of sub-plots or plot twists, and rightfully so. We are given tiny glimpses of the myriad of problems that are plaguing this 22 year-old father: from his criminal background to infidelities, but these are not the overlying point of the story. What we are given more than anything is this message of hope; a fresh start; and a future.

Audio and cinematography give this film a real “slice of life” feeling as if we are watching a documentary. There is nothing fictional about what we see and nothing is given a ‘Hollywood affect’. The reality of the film really is what drives it home.

Some scenes are uncomfortable, but all builds to the climactic ten minutes at Fruitvale Station which hammers you with complete uncensored truth. Michael B Jordan and Melonie Diaz act perfectly together to charm their way into the hearts and minds of any audience. Seeing the film unfold before you is tense: you may indeed find your whole body is still frozen solid long after the credits roll.

It took a while to recover from the very truth of Fruitvale Station which absolutely punches you in the stomach. While Coogler really does not hesitate to let the audience know what he wants you to feel, sometimes that feeling is inevitable. This is a story of peace and hope, but is only so in showing cruel injustice.

 

Rating: 5/5

OSCARS 2014: WHO WAS THE BEST ACTRESS?

Part four of five in our Oscar Predictions! This is undoubtedly the most competitive category in this year’s awards season. In fact, the only nominee here who has not previously won an Academy Award is Amy Adams. Does this mean she will secure the title for 2014? Here is what we think…

“BEST ACTRESS”

 

Amy Adams- American Hustle: Once seen as a frontrunner in this category, Adams now seems to be the most likely to ‘upset’ the predicted winner. While her performance was solid and perhaps one of the most removed, it is unsure whether the film itself has the gravitas to carry her to the win. American Hustle has scored ten nominations here, but it seems highly unlikely that Adams will win if her co-stars do not.

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine: The definitive favorite! Many are putting Blanchett at up to 90% likely to win this year for her moving performance in Woody Allen’s ‘Blue Jasmine’. The only thing really that could hurt her chances is if the Academy starts to feel that voting for Blanchett would be voting for Allen (in light of his recent personal troubles), however chances of this happening are slim to none. If we could put our money anywhere, it would be with her.

Sandra Bullock – Gravity: While a great film, Gravity has unfortunately (and perhaps inevitably) been over shadowed by later releases like American Hustle and The Wolf Of Wall Street. Bullocks performance carried most of this two hour film and has been widely praised. Having said this, historically Academy voters have tended to overlook the performances when the film relies heavily on special effects. The film as a whole will most likely be recognized, but not Bullock.

Judi Dench – Philomena: Far and away the nicest and most relatable performance in this year’s Best Actress Category, Dench’s Philomena is a heart warming individual that has been celebrated by critics. There is, though, the issue of Philomena being perhaps too human and far too nice to win the statue, particularly against Blanchett’s mentally unstable Jasmine.

Meryl Streep – August: Osage County: The issue here is that aside from Streep and Julia Roberts, August Osage County has been panned by critics and viewers alike. Many say that the only great thing about this film is the performances from the two women. For this reason alone, we put Streep unfortunately as a total outsider in this category. Despite the Acedemy’s love for her, chances of winning remain very very low.

 

It Should Be.… Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

It Will Be…. Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

 

NEXT POST: BEST ACTOR


You can view our reviews of some of these films below!!

PHILOMENA

AMERICAN HUSTLE

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

FILM REVIEW: “NEBRASKA”

“Nebraska”

Written by: Bob Nelson

Directed by: Alexander Payne

Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb

Story: David Grant (Forte) takes his alcoholic, aging father (Dern) on a road trip to Nebraska in order to help him claim his million dollar marketing prize.

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Alexander Payne certainly has a distinctive style which is impossible to ignore. Films like ‘Sideways’ and ‘The Descendants’ garnered critical acclaim and even awards nominations, and with his latest offering, Nebraska, we are truly shown that Payne has no desire to slow down. Partnering with writer Bob Nelson, they have together created a film that has been nominated for five Golden Globes, six Independent Spirit Awards, and two SAG Awards among others. Not bad for Nelson’s third screenplay.

We have seen a few films lately that have attempted something poignant, dramatic and character driven, but all have fallen short by offering something that is ultimately slow and lifeless. This is where Nebraska thrives. The film itself is patient, considered, and beautifully carried by stellar performances from Dern, Forte and Squibb. Nelson has done well to create characters who are mirror images of true Americana and real life in the mid-west.

Dern is in fine form and it can be said that this will probably be the capstone of his career. His performance is soulful and captivating providing both joy and sorrow. He is complimented perfectly by Will Forte. The risk here might be to peg these two performances against each other, however approaching them as part of the same gives us a beautiful symphony. Often when we see a comedic actor take on a more dramatic role it can be almost akin to a dog walking on it’s hind legs, but Forte slips into this role with ease and maturity. Juen Squibb tops off the main cast with comic relief: her approach to dark comedy is touching.

The film is shot in black and white, and curiously there is no real explanation as to why. While the cinematography is stunning, we might get caught up in wondering why Payne made this distinct decision. We can perhaps come to our own conclusion, however, that it is to represent the timelessness of the story of family, sacrifice, and generation.

The soundtrack does seem to add length to this film and you might find yourself slightly restless towards the one hour mark: perhaps a more poignant or relevant score would have made this film perfect. There is no doubt, though, that this movie is very close to it.

It would be very easy to write Nebraska off as a boring, slow blast from the past. However, the more we look at he simplicity of the story and the intricacies of the performances the more we realize that Nebraska is something that can strike a chord with nearly anyone: that is what film-making is about.

 

Rating: 4.5/5

OSCARS 2014: WHO WAS THE BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR?

Part three of our five-part Oscar Predictions series sees us review some of the best supporting actors of the last year. One of the most talented categories of this year, it will definitely be hard to pick, but we will do our best! Have you got an opinion? Let us know in the comments!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips: A first time actor, Abdi is the first Somali in history to be nominated for an Academy Award. This alone is a pretty impressive feat. With a BAFTA under his belt in this category and especially given the Academy’s tendency to favor the newbie, this puts Abdi in with a good shot. However, seasoned professionals such as Jared Leto and Bradley Cooper have scooped more awards and critics favor this year which could mean losing out this time.

Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club: Famously losing 30 pounds to play an AIDs infected transgender is certainly both risque and committed enough to put Leto as the front-runner for this year. He won the SAG Award and Golden Globe for this role as well as a plethora of other gongs and his performance has been hailed as one of the best of all time. One would be crazy to think that Leto is anything other than the favorite. Having said this, missing out on even a nomination for the BAFTA could damage his momentum.

Bradley Cooper- American Hustle: If there was an Academy Award for tightest curled locks, then Cooper would be a shoe in. His performance in the award-winning American Hustle has garnered quite a bit of attention despite the film being so highly criticized. Nominated last year for Silver Lining’s Playbook, one might think that now is Cooper’s time to win, however in such tight competition it seems unlikely that this unevenly received performance will be the one to nab the statue.

Michael Fassbender – 12 Years A Slave: In a film that has rallied such attention and support, Michael Fassbender has been almost famously overlooked. Praise for Lupita Nyong’O and Chiwetel Ejifor have completely overshadowed Fassbender’s supporting role. This is a great example of a very strong ensemble cast who are separated by the fact that breakout performances make the Hollywood Veterans look disappointing. Further to this, Fassbender has taken on a role that is inherently unlikable and is never redeemed: that itself is a tough stigma to crack.

Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street: Hill became famous in this role after admitting that he worked for a low fee of just $6,000 because of his overwhelming desire to work with Martin Scorsese. Truly committed to the part, Hill tried to convince Producers to let him eat a live goldfish to add more of a sense of realism. Though Hill provided moments of sheer hilarity and added an undeniable chemistry to the Wolf of Wall St cast as a whole, this movie is and always will be Leonardo DiCaprio: If any award is given to WOWS this year it will go to him.

It Should Be… Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips

It Will Be… Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

NEXT POST: Best Actress

FILM REVIEW: ‘LONE SURVIVOR’

‘Lone Survivor’

Written by: Peter Berg (Screenplay), Marcus Luttrell (Book)
Directed by: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch
The Story: Marcus Luttrell and his team of highly trained Navy SEALs go behind enemy lines to capture Taliban leader Ahmad Shah and find themselves engaged in a dangerous battle.

 

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If there is one thing that sticks in your mind after watching Lone Survivor, it is the haunting feeling that this was a true story. After watching a brutal take down of so many US Soldiers we are left with a certain distinct thought that we are indeed lucky to be alive.

First kudos in this review has to go to Colby Parker Jr, who edited the film in such a ruthless manner we flinch in even the less gruesome scenes. Combined with exquisite sound editing it is one of the standout elements. The pair do, however, make the film difficult to watch for anyone who is squeamish so we must warn that the realism presented here is not for the faint hearted.

Wahlberg gives a solid performance as Marcus Luttrell, and I am sure that it is something that Luttrell himself will be proud of. He is supported with mature offerings from both Kitsch and Hirsch as well as Ben Foster, who make an extremely patriotic foursome. Even though the men make decisions that seem timelessly frustrating it is impossible not to root for them, luckily we can root for them and still end the movie thinking “well, they shouldn’t of done that in the first place”. Despite this we feel the heart in these characters and can develop a real connection particularly to the character of Luttrell. Wahlberg did well in expelling a human element to his performance which continually reminds us that all of this was real.

The only real issue with this film is that it is what it is: a bang-bang, shoot em up, all American war movie. For the two hour running time we can almost taste the fact that Berg is trying to create something different here, but he falls down. What we are left with, at the core of all of this, is one continued gun battle with little to no time to process. As soon as we feel like we are getting time to breathe, the onslaught begins again. Maybe this is Berg trying to put us in the shoes of the soldiers. Maybe it’s just an action movie.

All in all, this is a fantastic movie for action lovers and patriots. If you are squeamish or easy bored by extended battle scenes then skip it.

Rating: 4/5

 

FILM REVIEW: “THE MONUMENTS MEN”

“The Monuments Men”

Written by: George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Directed by: George Clooney
Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett
Story: Based on the true story of a team of soldiers who go behind enemy lines in World War 2 Germany to retrieve and return artwork stolen by Nazi thieves. 

 

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Marketing behind ‘The Monuments Men’ has talked a big game and projected it to be one of the most anticipated films of 2014. Unfortunately, and somewhat predictably, it does not live up to the hype. 

The script is based on a true story, but unfortunately leads our star studded cast to pull off what looks like the easiest heist in history. The only real obstacle given against retrieving this art is not knowing where to look: Once a traditionally great Cate Blanchett blows this wide open, we are left to simply watch this band of merry men to get in and get out with barely a scratch. Don’t get me completely wrong: there is occasional gunfire and certain elements of danger that go with being in Nazi Germany, but this has all been seen before.

The performances are mediocre and we struggle to find any real soul to any of these characters. This is a good opportunity to see George Clooney play himself, and for some reason encourage Matt Damon to do the same. The only reprieve is found in the chemistry between Bill Murray and Bob Balaban who behave well together an an unlikely pairing. Goodman is wooden and uncommitted, a far cry from his hilarious performance in recent ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’. 

The cinematography and soundscape are somewhat dull, and nothing that we haven’t seen in war movies before. There is something a little ‘deja vu’ about Monuments Men which makes us feel that this ‘different’ story of war is not that different at all.

We could perhaps give ‘The Monuments Men’ an A for effort, because the film is made enjoyable by the likes of Bill Murray.Those who appreciate his sensitives as both a comedian and dramatic actor will watch as he lifts the performances of his co-stars. There are moments of comedy, and perhaps a few uplifting moments, but it is a consistent struggle to not get bogged down with one long ‘motivational’ speech after the other. 

This is a great film for a rainy Sunday afternoon with nothing much to do, but you won’t find me rushing to replay it over and over.

Rating: 2.5/5

FILM REVIEW: “LABOR DAY” (2013)

“Labor Day”

 

Written by: Jason Reitman, based on the novel by Joyce Maynard

Directed by: Jason Reitman

Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin

Story: When single mother Adele and her son Henry give a ride to fugitive Frank, they begin to learn more about his story and the truth behind his crime.

 

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Anyone familiar with Jason Reitman’s work might go into this film expecting a quirky and surprising comedy along the lines of ‘Juno’ or ‘Up In The Air’.  If this is, in fact what you are looking for, then give Labor Day a miss.

Jason Reitman has adapted Joyce Maynard’s novel almost to a tee, bringing to the screen the sentimentality and emotional vulnerability of each and every character. Kate Winslet once again proves she is one of the best actresses of this time, giving us an Adele who is all at once broken and very together. Her maturity is both impenetrable and very hard to ignore. Brolin compliments her nicely, though there is a chemistry between the two which is undoubtedly missing. 

What really lets this story down is the thin narrative, which offers the unnecessary subplot of Henry and his first love Eleanor, who seems to be somewhat of a lighthouse for abandoned and unstable children. The dialogue becomes dull at times, as if inserted to stretch the story. The film plays incredibly slowly: two hours almost feels like three or four when we are stuck with moments of silence, and a film that somehow never really builds but keeps steady momentum for it’s entirety. 

We cannot help but wonder if the whole thing would have been more enjoyable if the story had been somewhat remotely believable. The novel itself was indeed fiction, but it seems to test the realms of imagination when an escaped fugitive takes up home with a single mother and somehow a fierce love affair forms in the space of three days. Even watching this convicted murderer who suddenly turns handyman, sports coach, and master chef is enough to shake your head at. If you have a keen imagination and can let yourself fall into a story which plays very close to reality but with a few major flaws, this might be the right movie for you.

The cinematography is stunning, and is perfectly partnered with a soundtrack by Rolfe Kent (‘Up In The Air’). These two combined could perhaps generate a lump in the throat of those not completely distracted by the far too predictable ending to the story.

Labor Day is a very grown up story and can perhaps grasp a few of us for a second, but it is enjoyable at best and probably one of the least exciting films you will see this year.

 

Rating: 2.5/5