12 Years a Slave (2013)

12 Years a SlaveReleased: November 8, 2013. Directed by: Steve McQueen. Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch. Runtime: 134 min.

Imagine you’re at home enjoying your life as a free black man in upstate New York. Your beautiful wife and kids go away for two weekends, and when two men approach you with an opportunity to make some money, why not say no? One couldn’t predict that by saying yes to making a paycheck, they would then be drugged and sold into slavery. That’s exactly what happens to Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a real person sold into slavery in 1841.

The premise is part of what makes “12 Years a Slave” such a powerful film. In any case, anyone being uprooted from their life is a terrifying reality, even today. Back then, it seems that many were a bit more clever than staging a home invasion. Solomon is backstabbed by business parters he trusted, portrayed by Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam. This film might just be the one to open people’s eyes as to why the black people of today are so protective of their rights.

It’s an educational feature, and the most powerful film of the year. It’s one of my favourite slavery films as well, at least for educational purposes. I’d give this a rewatch with pleasure, which would also allow me to watch a few scenes again that I didn’t comprehend completely. I prefer Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” but that and this cannot be more different in tone. “Django,” to sum it up in so many words, is an entertaining treat. Another similarity is that both films probably hit the 100-mark with using derogatory statements, mainly the ‘n’ word. Paul Dano might have said it about 40 times it one cruel Southern tune.

John Ridley (director of “All is By My Side” which I didn’t like) adapts Northup’s 1853 novel very well, and director Steve McQueen knows what makes humans tick. This film is the platform for a harrowing odyssey of a man’s bravery and will to survive. Solomon’s drive is his family and he is making sure he does not sink into despair, by keeping their memory alive. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever see them again, but he tries to be as cooperative as possible in order to survive – which isn’t very at times, when he cares about fellow slaves. One of his friends is a woman named Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) who plays a critical role in the film. He meets her on Edwin Epps’ plantation/farm.

Epps is portrayed by Michael Fassbender, in a haunting villainous performance. Don’t be surprised to get chills from him in a few scenes. Epps is known famously in those parks for breaking his slaves’ spirits, it seems – even if his wife (Sarah Paulson) thinks he could do a better job. He is a malevolent soul, and he makes a previous slave owner of Northup’s (Ford, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch) look like a saint – and he already was a very considerate man. Northup meets several characters along his long journey, helping this film have a star-studded cast, even if some big-name actors have about seven minutes of screen time (like Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Garrett Dillahunt – to name some).

There’s one main problem that the film has, it never really allows viewers be aware of what year it is. The only clue is the title. It starts out in 1841, and since there’s a scene at the beginning that shows up again in roughly the third act, we know that we’re caught up – but we still can’t tell what year it is. It doesn’t affect one’s enjoyment severely, but even cues like older make-up for Solomon would assist the film. It would give us an idea of how long he has been slaving for. There are some scenes that feel like they will go on forever, but that is purposeful in one scene to show that slaves cannot interfere when someone is being punished, so to speak. That being said, this has quite a few shocking moments – so it’s not for the faint of heart!

The film’s power is greatly prominent in Ejifor’s performance, as he tries to hang onto his humanity, not give up his hope and not sink into despair. Many slaves give up much faster than Solomon Northup, but he has something to fight for; and that’s what makes this film so inspiring and moving. It also helps it become an unforgettable experience.

Score95/100

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Looper (2012)

Looper

Release Date: September 28, 2012

Director: Rian Johnson

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt

Runtime: 118 min

Tagline: Face your future. Fight your past.

Johnson brings us action, and science fiction, moviegoers one heck of a unique ride.

It is the year 2042, where time travel hasn’t been invented quite yet. Thirty years in the future, though, it has been – and criminals send back people they no longer want to deal with. They send them back illegally to a group called ‘Loopers’, where a Looper awaits the victim with a gun. Joe is one of the best Looper’s there is, despite his drug problem. One day, Joe’s future victim turns out to be his future self. In turn, it puts both Joe’s on the run from their once trusted group.

Looper offers a fairly unique experience, and a lot of great action sequences. The character development is pretty awesome, too. It’s a fairly awesome story that can drag on in areas, but is still quite enjoyable.

There isn’t a lot of material that has been done before. This time travel story is fresh and unique. There are a lot of moral dilemmas thrown into the screenplay, so that makes for really good character development.  Jeff Daniels’ character of Abe was sort of awesome; he had the whole nice-crime-boss-who-could-be-ruthless-when-he-wanted-to-be bravado going on. Some of the subplots are a little tired and not explored quite enough.

The performances from the cast are really good, and the whole thing is easily enjoyable and entertaining. Bruce Willis definitely brings his great badass-ness to the feature. Looper brings together elements of great action, science fiction because of the time travel concept, thrilling moments, and there are even a few laughs to be offered.

Even some of the supporting actors did well, like Paul Dano as Seth, Noah Segan as Kid Blue and Pierce Gagnon as the cute child, Cid. The numerous antagonists tended to make some parts of the screenplay a little crowded. It is a film that has a cool concept and it executed itself quite well. That’s admirable because a lot of films have cool concepts, but wasted the opportunity – like Clockstoppers, for example.

Looper stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (with some really cool makeup on to make him look like a younger Willis), Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon, Qing Xu and Garret Dillahunt.

Looper offers quite an action experience that should be cherished because of its unique entertainment value, along with a memorable story and characters. It is one of the finest action films of the year thus far, and the only other great action film so far this year that is nearly as good as this is The Dark Knight Rises. Looper may beflawed because of its crowded areas, numerous antagonists and sometimes lack of non-stop carnage.  It really can be quite easy to follow despite one scene, but I was back on track in a hurry. I thought that was impressive because it seems like a concept that could easily confuse if it got much too complex. The concept is intelligent, and it doesn’t aspire to be any smarter than it has the right to be. Its action sequences are extremely memorable, and don’t drag on too long. It’s a flawed film, that nonetheless offers one of the most entertaining action experiences of the year.

88/100