Archive | February, 2014

12 Years a Slave

17 Feb

12 Years a Slave

Synopsis:  In pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty at the hands of a malevolent slave owner, as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelf… Moreth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist will forever alter his life.

 CAST

Chiwetel Ejiofor (Solomon Northup)

 Michael Fassbender (Edwin Epps)

 Benedict Cumberbatch (Ford)

 Paul Dano (Tibeats)

 Garret Dillahunt (Armsby)

 Paul Giamatti (Freeman)

 Scoot McNairy (Brown)

 Lupita Nyong’o (Patsey)

 Adepero Oduye (Eliza)

 Sarah Paulson (Mistress Epps)

 Brad Pitt (Bass)

 Michael Kenneth Williams (Robert)

 Alfre Woodard (Mistress Shaw)

 Chris Chalk (Clemens)

 Taran Killam (Hamilton)

 Bill Camp (Radburn).

 Review:  Steve McQueen directs the story Solomon Northup, and gives us a compelling, unrelenting tale of abduction and slavery in pre-civil war years starting in 1841. The film is based on Northup’s memoirs entitled, “12 Years a Slave, Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853, From a Cotton Plantation Near the Red River, in Louisiana.”

Chiwetel Ejifor plays Northup as both a slave and an outside witness looking in. He does what he has to survive, thinking only of contacting his family left behind and his friends up north who can help him. He is abducted  in Washington, DC and sold by an English slave trader named Freeman. (Paul Giamatti). His first master Ford is played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Ford has sympathy for the slaves but is helpless and can do nothing for them. He favors Northup and grants him every courtesy. During his time with ford he is taunted by the Ford’s overseer. When Northrup fights back, the overseer strings him up on a tree. It takes hours for Ford to come to his rescue, McQueen prolongs the shots of Northup hanging there, sweating in the sun with little water. Ford has no choice but to sell Northup in order to save his life. It is with his next Master, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), a mean, drunk, piggish, bigoted cotton plantation owner, that we see the reality of slave ownership in the deep south.

Lupita Nyong’o plays a slave girl named Patsey who Epps favors and Epps wife despises. She puts up with all manner of shame in order to survive. Nyong’o gives a bravura performance that tugs at your sympathies as she is whipped half to death at Epps’ wife’s request over a bar of soap.

Northup has a chance meeting with a Canadian Abolitionist, Bass (Brad Pitt) who after hearing Northup’s story sets the wheels in motion to get him released and sent home to his family.

McQueen breaks every Hollywood convention about slavery; this is no Gone with the Wind, or say The Little Rebel with Billy (Bojangles) Robinson tap dancing up a staircase with Shirley Temple. We see whippings, hangings and rape in a ways that are hard to take, but the restraint shown by Northup in long shots focused on his face as he internalizes his predicament, puts a human face on the chaos making it easier to swallow. You might say the same thing about Liam Neeson’s  performance as Oscar Schindler in Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

The movie is harrowing, brilliant and a contender for a best picture Oscar.

Recommended:  camera-film-icon11camera-film-icon11camera-film-icon11camera-film-icon11camera-film-icon11

Advertisements

The Monuments Men

17 Feb

The-Monuments-Men-UK-Quad-Poster

Synopsis:  Directed by George Clooney and based on the true story of the greatest treasure hunt in history, The Monuments Men is an action drama focusing on an unlikely World War II platoon, tasked by FDR with going into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. It would be an impossible mission: with the art trapped behind enemy lines, and with the German army under orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell, how could these guys – seven museum directors, curators, and art historians, all more familiar with Michelangelo than the M-1 – possibly hope to succeed? But as the Monuments Men, as they were called, found themselves in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1000 years of culture, they would risk their lives to protect and defend mankind’s greatest achievements.

 CAST

George Clooney (Frank Stokes)

 Matt Damon (James Granger)

 Bill Murray (Richard Campbell)

 John Goodman (Walter Garfield)

 Jean Dujardin (Jean Claude Clermont)

 Bob Balaban (Preston Savitz)

 Hugh Bonneville (Donald Jeffries)

 Dimitri Leonidas (Sam Epstein),

 Cate Blanchett (Claire Simone)

 Holger Handtke (Colonel Wegner)

REVIEW: George Clooney has directed a likeable film, in the old school, familiar style reminiscent say of a Guns of Navorone. George, (Frank Stokes),  leads his band of men through Europe during the last days of World War II. His job, as assigned by President Franklin Roosevelt, was to find and return the world’s art and cultural treasures, stolen by the Nazis under Hitler’s orders. It reminds us that Hitler didn’t just want to kill the Jews but destroy their culture and any knowledge of their existence off the face of the Earth. Most of the art was owned by private Jewish collectors, and Jewish families, past down generation to generation, the art priceless, the cost of lives, infamous, heinous and we must never forget the result of the Nazi holocaust.

In the telling of the tale, Clooney treaded the fine line of heavy handedness and lightheartedness. Given the implications of the subject matter these are hard issues to navigate and in this regard the movie becomes uneven. The film remains buoyant by the all star cast, Cate Blanchett as Claire Simone a Parisian who is forced to document every art piece taken by the Germans, also works for the French Resistance. Her performance transcends the material she is given and you understand her as she trusts no one, even Matt Damon, (James Granger), who tries to enlist her help for the Monuments men. Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban and Jean Dujardin add to the light heartedness of the characters, their mission is clear and they are all experts in their creative fields. Each one has an ironic sense of duty vs. reality.  Murray and Balaban are experts at playing irony and are a joy to watch. John Goodman is always winning and teaming him with Jean Dujardin works on so many levels.

Hugh Bonneville, (Donald Jeffries) is the British counterpart who works with the Monuments Men, and is a friend of Clooney’s. Clooney enlists him as a way of saving him from a fall from grace he has had with bouts of alcoholism. Bonneville, who is so wonderful in Downton Abbey, adds certain class to the film as he tries to recover Michelangelo’s,  Madonna and Child statue.

The story becomes a race against time as the Monuments Men  must recover the last of the art before the Russian Army takes claim to it for war reparations caused by the lives lost by the war. The story could have been more involving, the pace perhaps a little quicker as the sense of urgency, however, the Monuments Men is a good story and deserves a look-see just to be reminded of what could have been, if not for brave men and freedom fighters, like these.

RECCOMENDED:camera-film-icon11camera-film-icon11camera-film-icon11camera-film-icon

The Wolf of Wall Street

5 Feb

Wolf-of-Wallstreet-585x370

Synopsis: Martin Scorsese directs the story of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort. From the American dream to corporate greed, Belfort goes from penny stocks and righteousness to IPOs and a life of corruption in the late 80s. Excess success and affluence in his early twenties as founder of the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont warranted Belfort the title “The Wolf of Wall Street.” — (C) Paramount

 CAST

Leonardo DiCaprio (Jordan Belfort)

Jonah Hill (Donnie Azoff)

Margot Robbie (Naomi)

Matthew McConaughey (Mark Hanna)

Kyle Chandler (Patrick Denham)

Rob Reiner (Max Belfort)

Jon Favreau (Manny Riskin)

Cristin Milioti (Teresa)

Jean Dujardin (Jean-Jacques Saurel)

REVIEW:  Martin Scorsese has directed a controversial, raw story, of greed, debauchery, and addiction, filled with humor, shock and  lots of sex thrown in. The story is based on the autobiographical book, The wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort, the founder of the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont.

Within the first few minutes, the film introduces us to Belfort, played brilliantly by Leonardo DiCaprio, he describes his life as images depict him snorting blow off the posterior end of a prostitute, crashing his helicopter down on the front lawn of his Long Island mansion  and various othe unbridled deeds of debauchery. The story grabs you and never lets  you go, it is at once comedic and tragic.

The film in flashback , recounts a young married Belfort getting his first job on wall street where his naiveté is obvious. His boss Mark Hanna, played by Matthew McConaughey, takes Belfort under his wings and explains the ropes of large commissions in what is possibly the funniest luncheon moment I have ever seen. Hanna starts to do a primal chant, to raise his energy and urges Belfort to do the same. He also urges Belfort to do cocaine as an brain opener followed by self release to temper the energy. The scene is hilarious and starts Belfort on his road to greed, addictions and debauchery.

When Belfort loses his job, due to the stock market crash of the 1980’s,  remembered as black Monday, he finds a job as a penny stock salesman in his home town on Long Island. He literally becomes their best salesman ever, 50% commissions on every sale, he decides to start his own company. He puts together a team of cronies and phonies, which also happen to be some of the best character actors around, the first person he recruits is a nebbish, Donnie Azoff, played hysterically by Jonah Hill. The two of them create an empire of selling selling junk stocks to the rich by first offering them blue chip stocks to gain their confidence. The commissions they make are staggering and the money seems to pour in.

Belfort creates the firm of  Stratton Oakmont as his success continues. He hires con-artists and salespeople with no brokerage background and makes them all millionaires with his schemes. As a reward he throws big parties with hookers, drinking ,drugs and becomes the leader and spokesman of his cult of believers.  His addictions grow exponentially with his power and greed, he and his cohorts partake in bacchanalian orgies, he downs Quaaludes like candy, divorces his home town wife, marries a super model, is stalked by the FBI for insider trading  and so on and so forth. Scorsese does not miss any sordid or hilarious detail. One question comes to mind, is this comedy about American business as usual?  If so, should we as a species ask ourselves what motivates people to act this way and is this a true look at who we really are?

The film never disappoints and has a energy and a style that only Scorsese can deliver. DiCaprio is becoming a true super-star and his bravura performance, supported by a superb ensemble of character actors, makes this a must see, to believe  film. Some people may be offended by the themes of misogyny and addiction, but the film does deliver with a one-two punch. The film has been nominated for a best picture Oscar for the upcoming 2014 academy awards.

Recommended: camera-film-icon11camera-film-icon11camera-film-icon11camera-film-icon11camera-film-icon11