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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Grown Ups 2 (2013)

GROWN UPS 2Release Date: July 12, 2013. Director: Dennis Dugan. Stars: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade. Runtime: 102 min.

The mystery of why Adam Sandler has never previously done a sequel has been solved. “Grown Ups 2” is worst than his average movie, but it’s about on par with “Jack and Jill“. (That’s no compliment if you’ve seen “J&J”.) If Sandler has become one thing lately, it is reliable. We can always rely on him to bring us one of the year’s worst comedies. If anyone was hoping for a Sandler movie game-changer with this one, they’ll only receive something familiar. “Grown Ups” is a guilty pleasure of mine, but I don’t know how anyone could find pleasure in this.

There isn’t any plot. If one has trouble describing the plot of this film’s predecessor in casual conversation, they’ll damn well blow a blood vessel trying to explain this film’s plot. Even the people over at IMDb don’t know what this is about. Even the filmmakers don’t know what this one is about! The IMDb plot is this: After moving his family back to his hometown to be with his friends and their kids, Lenny (Adam Sandler) finds out that between old bullies, new bullies, schizophrenic bus drivers, drunk cops on skis, and 400 costumed party crashers sometimes crazy follows you.

Yup. It’s as stupid as it sounds. It just feels like a bunch of comedy skits thrown together. Just because one’s main cast (Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade) is composed of SNL veterans, does not mean it should feel like a long episode of Saturday Night Live. I have been told that SNL sketches range from bad to good to the occasional great. The sketches here are just plain bad.

This film is at its funniest when Sandler channels mannerisms similar to Billy Madison. It’s also funny when Jon Lovitz shows up as a character that is very similar to the pervert he played in “Little Nicky”. Sandler is showing us that he and his friends can still be funny with their observational humour; so why is there so much god-awful, low-brow humour in here? The good moments are hidden in so much utter dreck, that they are cancelled out. At the somewhat funny jokes later on, I wanted to laugh – but I only could bring myself to smirk slightly. I knew that for that one decent joke, there will be twenty-five pathetic attempts at humour. Seeing Sandler’s comic genius in his recent movies is as rare as seeing the sun on a cloudy day; you might see it once or twice, but then again, your mind is probably just playing tricks on you.

“Grown Ups 2” reaches to the bottom of the barrel for its laughs. There’s many jokes including bodily functions: peeing, pooping, vomiting, masturbation, and a running joke about trying to burp, sneeze and fart simultaneously, coined by Kevin James… I’m not sure why anyone would laugh at it. But then again, some of the people in my audience laughed at the mere sight of the deer in Lenny’s bedroom. (Oh yeah. The thought of a deer being in a bedroom instead of the wild is real hysterical. Since he’s not supposed to be there, it’s an odd occurence that’s supposed to make the audience laugh, apparently!) At least the only recycled joke is someone peeing in the pool and a mist of blue shows up. This time, though, it doesn’t make much sense because 1) it’s a myth, and 2) if there was such a chemical, there’s really no need to put it one’s own private pool.

There are a lot of visual gags to “Grown Ups 2”. Markus has a thirteen year-old son (the terrible Alexander Ludwig) who has a beard. The joke seems to be that Ludwig is supposed to be terrible as a 21-year-old playing a 13-year-old; but there isn’t anything funny going on there. He has a bunch of “tattoos” that are practically permanent marker. It’s ridiculous. I’ll have an easier time believing that Maggie Grace can convincingly play an eighteen year-old. There’s also a main gag where the family of Malcolm (Tim Meadows) is all bald. Everyone is losing their hair. His wife and son have noses that look like they’re made out of Play Doh. I get it. They’re funny looking. They say “Whaaaaat?” whenever they get offended. It’s supposed to be funny. But nothing about them is funny. The joke is rather excruciating.

Since there are so many celeb cameos here, it makes me believe Sandler thinks featuring these celebrities in his movie is a punchline. There are many familiar faces; his buddies Nick Swardson and Peter Dante show up. (MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD, BUT THESE CAMEOS HAVE BEEN IN EVERY TV SPOT.) Shaquille O’Neal has an extended cameo. Will Forte, Andy Samberg and Taran Killam, among others, wash Lamansoff’s car, in a scene where you’ll just want to look away. To the sound of Warrant’s “Sweet Cherry Pie”, no less. Taylor Lautner shows up as an annoying Frat boy who barks, flips around, and has a stupid handshake with Milo Ventimiglia. (Even though he’s good on TV’s “Heroes”, I’ve grown to hate him after seeing him here and in “That’s My Boy“.) (END OF MINOR SPOILERS.) Sorry, Sandler, this won’t make many of us laugh. These people are celebrities. Celebrities are in movies, because they’re famous. It’s nothing new.

There is a line of stupidity movies just cannot cross. “Grown Ups 2” crosses it, and then some. I like stupid comedy. You’ll find a lot of stupidity going on in this god-awful film, but only a limited amount of comedy. Sandler’s latest is the poster child for stupid comedies. It begins with a deer pissing on Adam Sandler and ends with a seriously dumb bodily function joke. If that sounds like something you’d find hysterical; well, then, you might have to re-evaluate your taste in movies.

Score: 12/100

I do usually like Adam SandlerI’m considering watching all of Adam Sandler’s movies, and re-watch the ones I can stand to watch again, and review them. In the meantime, here are my reviews of some Adam Sandler films that have received good scores: 50 First Dates” (2004), “Billy Madison” (1995).