Film Friday #164

12 Years a Slave (2013)

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a black freeman living in Saratoga, New York with his wife and children making a living as a musician. After getting an excellent offer to travel to Washington for a performance he is tricked by a pair of unscrupulous men, kidnapped and sold into slavery.  He begins his life on a plantation under Master Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is a relatively civilised master… for a slaver, however after an altercation with one of the overseers (Paul Dano), he is sold to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) and his wife (Sarah Paulson), a couple known for being “n*gger breakers” and his tribulations truly begin. This is a heart-wrenching story of epic proportions made that much more powerful by the fact that it’s based on a true story. Ejiofor gives what can only be described as a career defining performance in the role of Solomon taking you on a journey with him as he goes from being absolutely incredulous at his situation to a slow and desperate almost acceptance of his new terrible lot in life. The amount of emotion he is able to silently convey is utterly breathtaking. At the same time Fassbender is brilliantly grotesque as Epps, a man of voracious appetites, teetering on the edge of sanity and brutalising everyone and everything around him. Although it would be a serious oversight not mention Lupita Nyong’o, playing Patsey, the object of Ford’s combined lust and hatred. It was her utter despair that affected me the most deeply and her abandonment that stayed with me the most strongly after the credits rolled. While this is ultimately the story of a few people the film is a comment on what it means to be slave or master, the fleeting nature of freedom and just how much a human being can accept or endure in order to survive. Some of the most powerful scenes are those where one or other slave is being tortured and the others go on about their work as if oblivious. It’s also not often I comment on things like camera work because I haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about but I found director, Steve McQueen’s use of intense close-ups really added to the intentionally oppressive atmosphere of the film, creating a sense of unease and foreboding that something worse was constantly about to happen. All of this does not mean there are no flaws though. Dano gives a performance that borders on caricature, which stands out in a film so densely packed with outstanding acting ability. I also got the impression that Brad Pitt just desperately wanted to appear in this film as a kind of “white saviour” and his role comes across as oddly gauche. These are small complaints though and 12 Years a Slave is an absolute must-see – a hard watch, but a must-see. 5/5

And so it turns out she had hidden the hat pin in a cake, case closed.

And so it turns out she had hidden the hat pin in a cake, case closed.

47 Ronin (2013)

In feudal Japan, Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) is jealous of Lord Asano’s (Min Tanaka) territory so he uses the trickery of a witch (Rinko Kikuchi) to engineer his death, leaving his 47 loyal samurai as masterless ronin with their leader Ôishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) imprisoned. Eager to ensure peace, the Shogun (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) commands Asano’s daughter, Mika (Kô Shibasaki) to marry Kira after a year of mourning. When Ôishi is released from prison he decides to bring together not only his fighters to avenge their master’s death but also Kai (Keanu Reeves), a halfbreed foundling Asano took in as a boy. Kai is widely hated by the samurai because they believe he was raised by demons but he might be their only chance to defeat Kira and his witch. What can I say? This film looks beautiful and the witch is pretty awesome in that she basically travels in in the form of a moving blanket. On the other hand, it’s also pretty boring mostly because there is zero character development, which makes it hard to care what happens to any of the characters, especially the plank-like Kai. I also couldn’t really understand why Ôishi was released. I mean if I were Kira, I would just have left him to rot… oh and they skeleton tattoo guy on the all the posters is in it for like 4 seconds. Anyway, apparently this is based on an ancient Japanese legend but the whole thing feels very Hollywoodised. I’d be very interested to know what someone Japanese thinks of it from a cultural perspective. In the meantime, just watch 13 Assassins  instead. 2/5

Even though I am pushing 50 I can still play the action lead... because I am a man

Even though I am pushing 50 I can still play the action lead… because I am a man

Moonstruck (1987)

Cher plays Loretta Castorini a widowed bookkeeper from Brooklyn, a very practical woman in all respects except one, she believes that she is cursed by bad luck because her first marriage lacked some of the normal traditions. Seven years after her husband’s death she decides to have another go at wedded bliss with one of her clients, funeral director Johnny Cammareri. The only problem is Loretta doesn’t actually love Johnny. After proposing he heads to Italy to visit his sick mother and insists that Loretta should contact his estranged brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage) in his absence and invite him to the wedding. Initially Loretta finds the bitter Ronny challenging but soon they develop a blistering and unstoppable chemistry that will shake Loretta’s beliefs about love to the core. This is a sweet and engaging romantic dramedy that earned Cher an Oscar and the film a nomination for best picture. It’s a really interesting look into Italian-American families and Cher gives a great performance, but I’m not entirely sure I’d consider it Oscar-worthy. 3/5

XXXXXX

Look, I know you’re hungry but I’m perfectly capable of walking to the the oven on my own

Con Air (1997)

Ah… more Cage. This time Nic is playing Cameron Poe, a former Army Ranger who is convicted of involuntary manslaughter after killing a man while defending his wife in a bar brawl. He is finally paroled after seven years and ends up on a flight full of convicts heading to Alabama to be reunited with his wife and daughter. Unfortunately some of the criminals, lead by Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom (John Malkovich) have been plotting to take over the plane and Cameron finds himself in a catch-22 situation where he must play along, while still trying to stop the plane from leaving the country. His only help comes in the form of US Marshall, Vince Larkin (John Cusack), who has a struggle of his own trying to stop his colleague, Colin Malloy (Colm Meany) who just wants to blow them all up. There’s no doubt that Con Air is thrilling and has an all star cast – Steve Buscemi also pops up playing a very creepy psychopath – but it’s also utterly ridiculous in a way that only an 80’s or 90’s action film can be. It also doesn’t help that Cage turns in a performance that is as flat as a pancake, sporting a southern accent that borders on embarrassing but at least Malkovich is having a whale of a time being bad, as he always does. Fun if you can suspend your disbelief for 2 hours. 3/5

Shut your pie hole or the bunny gets it!

Shut your pie hole or the bunny gets it!

20 Comments

  1. MIB

    I’ve yet to read one positive review for 47 Ronin! 😛 BTW, you don’t need to be Japanese to know this film is a load of guff, just watch the Japanese films on the same subject or read about their history! 😉 😀

    1. Abbi

      Yeah… it’s a bit of a mess. I meant more from how it comes across from a cultural perspective. For example as a South African I find watching Hollywood movies like Catching Fire or Cry the Beloved Country about my country’s past very different to how an American or British person, etc might see it. There’s a kind of cultural resonance that I think is challenging to get right. I felt like 47 Ronin was probably on the wrong side of that.

      1. MIB

        That’s always going to be difficult to achieve. It is a shame that the Japanese cast couldn’t speak up (or boycott the project completely) but there is that irritating arrogance that Hollywood has about making everything accessible to their home audience first and foremost.

  2. Great work here Abbi. Really can’t wait to see 12 Years a Slave and even though I was looking forward to 47 ronin, I reckon I’ll leave it out.

    1. Abbi

      Thanks! I rarely give fives but 12 Years as a Slave is genuinely exceptional. I think 47 Ronin is definitely a VOD option. No point in seeing it in the theatre.

  3. Excellent review. I mostly agree.

    Though I will say neither Dano nor Pitt bothered me. Especially not Pitt. His appearance and disappearance are sudden, but I think that is stylistically intentional. By the time Bass arrives, Solomon has mostly lost hope, so he’s flailing, desperate. He sees an outside shot at getting help and goes for it without really knowing the man who’s giving it. He just gets lucky that this time it works.

    1. Abbi

      I think that’s a fair comment. I guess the role was so small that it seemed like showboating to me but it’s such a minor quibble.

  4. theipc

    I said . Put. The bunny. Back. In. The. Box.

  5. Great post! Loved Cher in Moonstruck and I really enjoyed reading your review of 12YAS. Can’t wait to see that one!

    1. Abbi

      She does an unexpectedly great job. 12YAS is incredible. Honestly both Fassbender and Ejiofer’s performances are a revelation.

      1. Yeah. I wasn’t a big fan of Cher before I saw Moonstruck, and now I am. At least as an actress, anyway. Don’t like her music.

        Can’t wait to see 12YAS!

  6. “Nothing makes me sadder than when the agent lost his bladder on the airplane!” I still randomly get that line stuck in my head YEARS after watching Con Air.

    1. Abbi

      Loss of bladder control is never pretty.

  7. Moonstruck never did it for me..but 12 Years a slave? Can’t wait! xxx

  8. I haven’t seen Moonstruck in such a long time. But I recall the size of the moon in O. Dukakis bedroom and I remember how hot Cage was for me and when she shows up at the opera I felt swooned. However, I was shocked when Cher won best actress that year. 12YAS is highly respected all over, isn’t it? It sure seems likely to big a player at the Oscars. Nice post, Abbi 🙂

  9. Great post, I’m seeing 12 Years a Slave soon.

    1. Abbi

      Thanks! I really hope you enjoy it. It’s a really special film.

  10. Oh man – I really know I SHOULD watch 12 Years, but…. Urgh. Disney is more my speed. ; ) I might try to force myself. Con Air is a guilty pleasure. Don’t remember Moonstruck. 47 Ronin looked promising in trailers – too bad it sucks. I’d love to see another good Keanu movie again someday.

    1. Abbi

      I was also reluctant because it’s so emotionally draining but it’s definitely worth the investment. Best film I’ve seen in a long time. It would be great if Keanu took in something a little more challenging. He’s not the greatest actor but in the right role he can really shine. This was not it.

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