Film Pop: 12 Years a Slave

Year:  2013
Director:  Steve McQueen
Stars:  Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o
IMDb

Following Her, the second Best Picture nominee I managed to see on the weekend was the film everyone’s been talking about, the early favourite for the victory, 12 Years a Slave.  Both my girlfriend and I had been eagerly awaiting its UK release, even if our local cinema couldn’t make up its mind when it was going to have it in.  Based on the memoir of the same name written by Solomon Northup in 1853, 12 Years a Slave is the third feature film from British director Steve McQueen (and the third to feature Michael Fassbender).

12yasSolomon Northup is a black man living freely with his wife and children in Saratoga Springs, New York in the year 1841.  One day he is approached by two travelling entertainers who want him to join them as a violinist, only to be plied with alcohol one night and find himself in chains the next morning.  Now in the possession of white strangers, he is shipped down to New Orleans, given the new name “Platt” and sold to plantation owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch).  Ford is (relatively) civil towards Northup, but is forced into moving him on after Solomon’s altercation with vicious carpenter Tibeats (Paul Dano).  He comes into the possession of Edwin Epps (Fassbender), a violent drinker who puts Northup to work in the cotton fields along with the rest of his slaves, the best picker among whom is young Patsey (Nyong’o).  Vulnerable Patsy becomes the object of Epps’ infatuation and he soon rapes her, defying the attempted protection of Solomon and the efforts of Epps’ wife Mary (Sarah Paulson) to revile her at all times.  Northup, aided by travelling worker Bass (Brad Pitt), finally makes his companions in the north aware of his situation and is brought back to his family, not before being forced to brutally whip Patsey under Epps’ coercion.

12 Years a Slave is for certain a good film; it goes further than almost anything before it in depicting the cruel reality of slavery in America.  Ejiofor produces a masterful, moving performance as a man fighting the worst injustice imaginable to be reunited with his family.  However, overall I felt a little let down by the hype surrounding the movie. It didn’t really shock me like I was expecting it to, but maybe that’s less the film’s fault and more the result of the industry’s tendency to fill feature after feature with awful human behaviour and the media’s subsequent eagerness to shout about how shocking it is.  Maybe it’s just me, but I know I’m not the first to say this.

12yas2 As well as this, It has been criticised by some for the fact that the director and lead actor are black British rather than African American, because they don’t have the heritage rooted in slavery to draw from; I admit to being too inexperienced to comment on this meaningfully.  It’s also received a decidedly mixed reception for its historical accuracy, variously being praised for its brutal depiction of the treatment of slaves and condemned for its omission of important themes from the book (such as the slaves’ never-ending attempts to escape).

Ultimately there’s nevertheless no denying that 12 Years a Slave is a film that will go down in history for the right reasons, and it’s a film that you need to watch.  To me it’s a victim of great overhyping, but it’s still a very good film and one of the top contenders for the top prize at this year’s Academy Awards.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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Film Pop: Her

Year: 2013
Director:  Spike Jonze
Stars:  Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson (voice), Amy Adams
IMDb

After the recent announcement of the main nominees for the 86th Academy Awards, I made it my goal to get up to date with as many of the films nominated for the leading categories as possible before the ceremony on March 2nd. This has admittedly gotten off to a relatively slow start due to my newly-acquired busy schedule, but this weekend I did manage to see two of the Best Picture nominated movies, beginning with Her, the fourth feature-length picture from acclaimed herposterdirector Spike Jonze.  Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay (although not Best Director), Her is a movie I knew very little about before viewing other than the general premise (and critical recognition).

Some time in the not-too-distant future, Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) is employed as a writer of (mostly love) letters for people unable to express themselves emotionally.  Theodore, having recently broken up with his wife (Rooney Mara), leads an ironically miserable life alone until he installs an artificially-intelligent operating system onto his technological devices (which were already omnipresent in his life).  Samantha, as she soon names herself (Johansson (voice)), is smart and funny, although initially very naïve. The two soon become fast friends, and after Theodore returns from a blind date gone bad, shortly enter into a romantic relationship.  This is not without its difficulties.  Despite the support of old friend Amy (Adams), Theodore and Samantha struggle against obstacles like the lack of physicality. But as Samantha grows it’s only a matter of time until Theodore is outgrown along with the rest of the human race;  Theodore is not alone in his circumstances, but he is nevertheless once again alone.

hergrab

Her is a very strange film; although marketed as a comedy-drama, what humour there is is very dark. From a futuristic take on “phone sex” right at the beginning of the movie it’s clear that Jonze isn’t going to hold back in making this film into exactly what he wants, and this is refreshing.  This also helped me connect with the characters, as the candidness of the perspective made them seem more real and relatable despite the surrealism. This was true to the extent I actually felt invested in the relationship between Theodore and Samantha to a greater extent than I do with many “real” on-screen couples; when Samantha is suddenly and unexpectedly unreachable I truly empathised with Theodore’s panic.  The casting is excellent and Phoenix is very believable as a lonely guy a little on the odd side (I’m very surprised at his lack of an Oscar nomination for the part).  There is however an odd feeling that there’s something missing that keeps the film as a niche drama and holds it back from blockbuster status; I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it might be linked to the general unease I felt from the story (this seems to be a strong theme in Jonze’s work).  Perhaps it’s because it’s a little too believable as the possible future of technology.  Nevertheless, I definitely enjoyed Her, and I would undoubtedly recommend it for a watch.

 

My Rating:  8/10

Pop News: 86th Academy Award nominees announced

oscars-2013-670The nominations for the top awards for this year’s Oscar ceremony, to be held on March 2nd, are as follows:

Best Picture
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Director
Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Actor
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Best Actress
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Best Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Best Supporting Actress
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska

More to follow, and I’ll add links to any reviews of mine as and when they are created.