Archive for the 'Film Reviews' Category

Robocop (2014)

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

***

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 3.00 out of 5)
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I’d buy that for a dollar‚Ķ and not a penny more.

RoboCop 2014

The H-Bomb:¬† In the year 2028, America’s wars are fought by combat droids developed by the robo-tech giant, OmniCorp.¬† Having proven to be very successful overseas, OmniCorp’s CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) wants to bring the droids stateside, rewire them for urban pacification, and deploy them in the crime ridden streets of America’s cities, starting with Detroit.¬† The problem is, the use of these robots on U.S. soil is illegal, because, as some in congress see it, police work should be left to human beings, who actually have a conscience and are capable of making moral decisions.

Sellars, the enterprising fellow that he is, finds a loophole to this law: Why not put a human inside a robot?  So, with a legal enough solution at hand, Sellars puts his top scientist, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) on the case of finding a maimed police officer to fit the bill.  Enter Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a Detroit detective who was recently blown to bits via car bomb while investigating a gun smuggling ring.  The good Dr. Norton is able to salvage the parts of Murphy that still work, the heart, the lungs, the spine, the right hand, and perhaps most importantly, the brain.

Norton fuses those living components with a slick robotic body and thus, RoboCop is born‚Ķ almost.¬† See, Murphy’s brain, his intelligence, personality, and memories are all intact, so when he gets a gander at his new body, it takes him some time to readjust, as I’m sure you can imagine.¬† After some vigorous training and programming at their facility in China, OmniCorp thinks they have a robot cop they can control while giving Murphy the “illusion of free will,” and they bring him back to Detroit to start cleaning up the streets.

At first, all is well, with RoboCop kicking criminal ass all over the Motor City.¬† He’s a big hit with the public, and OmniCorp stands to make a ton of money, since it looks like their combat droids may very well be sanctioned for use in the U.S., after all.¬† But, an issues arises, Murphy starts thinking about his wife (Abbie Cornish) and son (John Paul Ruttan), who have been kept away from him for weeks.¬† He then defies his programming when he stops following company orders, and starts investigating his own murder.

OmniCorp has a very real problem on their hands; a part man, part machine that’s beyond their command.¬† Sellars is going to have to keep this contained while quietly disposing of Murphy.¬† Sadly for Mr. Sellars, this is fucking RoboCop we’re talking about, and he’s not about to be disposed of by anyone.

Just to lay it all out, this RoboCop ain’t shit compared to the 1987 original.¬† That film, directed by Paul Verhoeven, is a bullet-to-the-balls satire of 80’s corporatism and is hands down one of the greatest action movies ever made.¬† This remake/reboot/re-whatever-you-want-to-call-it, is a watered down, defanged, and downright pussified version that doesn’t have a fraction of the original’s potency.¬† However, watching this re-imagining as a standalone movie, it’s not half-bad.¬† It will never be the classic that the first movie is, but it could have been far, far worse (ahem, Total Recall refake).¬† I’ll put it this way, it’s far better than either of the wretched RoboCop sequels from the early 90’s.¬† At least this one had the decency not to include any robot ninjas or psychotic 12-year-old crime bosses.

Directed by Brazilian filmmaker Jose Padilha, who made the brutally fantastic Elite Squad films, the remake updates the backdrop from the Reagan 80’s to a post-war on terror world.¬† The action is mostly bloodless, and while it’s passable for the most part, it’s really nothing amazing.¬† I did like the agility of this new RoboCop, who’s able to jump, dodge, and dive, as opposed to simply lumbering about.¬† Robo’s new physicality is cool to watch, but most of the action sequences, particularly the climax at OmniCorp, are lacking any real oomph and seem weirdly half-baked.

Also lacking are the movie’s villains, with the single exception of Keaton, who gets the best role he’s had in years as OmniCorp’s duplicitous CEO.¬† He is slimy good and I loved him.¬† The other bad guys, including Jackie Earle Haley’s assholish mercenary, are sketchily defined and under-used.¬† Not to keep going back to the original, but that one gave us such memorable cretins as Kurtwood Smith’s cooly sadistic Clarence Boddicker, and Ronny Cox’s ruthless corporate cut throat, Dick Jones.¬† This one gives us a couple of bland crooked cops and some boring Rutger Hauer lookalike.¬† YAWN.

So, while Robo’s villains score a big fat zero, the movie does make up for it, to an extent, with its media satire, which is mainly delivered by Samuel L. Jackson as a blowhard TV commentator.¬† Unsubtly named Pat Novak, he is very much a jab at the Fox News style of host, but Jackson plays him with relish and gets just about all the laugh out loud moments in the film.¬† That bit where he blows his stack and starts screaming “Motherf(bleep)” towards the end is classic SLJ.

Another aspect I like is something that hasn’t been explored since the first film, Murphy’s humanity.¬† I say the remake actually one-ups the original on this point.¬† Here, Murphy retains his human personality, so we see his pain and anguish when he realizes he’s been stripped of his body and his life.¬† The fact that he is fully aware of who he used to be, and has to struggle with that throughout, is an interesting new angle that adds depth to the character.¬† Some will say that this approach makes Murphy seem more like EmoCop than RoboCop, but I beg to differ.¬† I say it makes Murphy more complex, and performance wise, Kinnaman nails it.¬† He may not be Peter Weller, but he’s not trying to be.¬† This is a new take on the mechanical crime fighter, and I’m down with that.

Other touches that work in the movie’s favor are the inclusions of Murphy’s wife, Clara, and the good natured scientist, Dr. Norton.¬† Only seen in brief flashbacks before, Clara is fleshed out into a full on supporting character, a woman who refuses to give up on her husband, and is played to perfection by Cornish, who is clearly giving it her all.¬† As for Oldman, as the well meaning Dr. Norton… well, he’s Gary fucking Oldman, what else is there to say?¬† After decades of wowing us by playing creeps and weirdos, he shows us, like he did in the The Dark Knight Trilogy, that he can be every bit as compelling in a sympathetic role.

In case you haven’t caught on, it’s the cast of RoboCop that carries it such a long way and makes it a much better movie than it has any right to be.¬† As a staunch lover of the original film, I went into this expecting, and even wanting, to hate it.¬† But I honestly didn’t.¬† Now, when I start comparing it to the original‚Ķ yeah, it suffers big time.¬† The first film gave us so many memorable moments that were just money, from the failed ED-209 demonstration, to Robo shooting a would-be rapist in the crotch, to the guy melting from the toxic waste, and the car that hits him‚Ķ the remake gives us nothing that even comes close to any of that.

The fact that Robo trades his signature Auto-9 for a souped-up taser is a telltale sign that this lacks all the edge and bite of Paul Verhoeven’s masterpiece.¬† But, again, judging it on its own merits, I say that RoboCop, the remake, is a solid, though somewhat forgettable, action flick.¬† A decent way to kill a couple of hours‚Ķ just make sure you kill those hours at a matinee showing.

 

 

The Lego Movie

Friday, February 7th, 2014

*****

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (2 People gave this 5.00 out of 5)
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“Everything is awesome!”

The Lego Movie

Swift shot: For the record, I love Lego – watching my son put a Lego set together makes me the proudest dad.¬† And now at six, he doesn’t even need my help anymore. But the Lego brand isn’t for everyone, and watching little plastic toys dance around for almost two hours would be considered torture to some.¬† Thankfully, the writers knew this and actually created a solid story with real drama and compelling characters.¬† Wait, Rick, we are talking about toys here . . . right?

In Bricksburg, everything is easy, because your entire life is planned out for you.  Everybody fits in.  But not one very unremarkable character, Emmet (Chris Pratt) who follows all the rules, does everything the right way, and still manages to find himself an outcast in a Utopian society designed to accommodate everyone.

Naturally, the whole universe is led by a ruthless dictator, President (or Lord) Business voiced by the insanely popular Will Ferrell.¬† On the surface, Bricksburg is perfect, but the truth is everything is held in place by brutal secret police that spy on the citizens and keep them lulled into complacency by always maintaining their need to be happy.¬† The citizens repeatedly enjoy “Where Are My Pants?” – a sit-com that entertains the masses so they don’t ask questions.¬† Those that do ask questions get to meet Bad Cop (Liam Neeson).

Of course, whenever there is a dictator, there is a resistance, and Elizabeth Banks voices the rebel leader, Wyldstyle Рa pupil of one Master Builder Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman).  There is an ancient prophecy that binds the characters together (getting sick of these puns yet?) and shatters the illusions of the people of Bricksburg.

Enlisting the help of Batman, who Will Arnett plays as a straight-up dick, they team up with just about every pop-culture Lego minifigure ever created to do battle with Lord Business and his secret army.  Emmet is mistakenly labelled the chosen leader. But, he has a special skill that none of the other Master Builders possess.  And it is his uniqueness that ultimately makes him special.  Perhaps he is the chosen one.

The Lego Movie used “virtual bricks” but I thought they were actual Lego pieces, because it was flawless! Lighting effects were used to add a theatric element.¬† But even the “bullets” were Lego bricks, the soap bubbles, just about everything in the film was made up of real Lego bricks of one variety or another.

While the conflict (and conclusion) is predictable, there are some plot twists that I dare not reveal, but it will mention that parents will get more out of this film than they bargained for.¬† Ultimately, The Lego Movie, directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller is a film with lots of action, a sharp sense of humor, and a warm fuzzy hug towards the end – you’ll love it!

 

 

The Monuments Men

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

***½

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 3.00 out of 5)
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“What is art? It’s people’s lives.”

The Monuments Men

Swift shot: Loosely based on “The Monuments Men” by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter, George Clooney unveils a little known legacy of World War II as he directs an all-star cast of motley, middle-aged heroes.¬† Their heroism isn’t defined so much by their actions in the film, rather in their willingness to simply be there . . . to protect the very culture Hitler was trying to erase from the fabric of history.

With a deliberately slow pace and a sometimes exhaustive exposition, The Monuments Men tends to suffer in places because it has such talented actors all vying for screen time.¬† There are almost too many to list here, but I will.¬† Bill Murray, John Goodman, Matt Damon, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett, and Clooney himself dot the film which takes the audience across Europe in every major battle on the German Front.¬† As the team hunts for stolen masterpieces, they learn that the Nazis are just as determined to keep the treasure of the reich.¬† And the Nazis aren’t the only ones looking for riches.

Explored in the film is the very notion of sacrificing a life for a painting, for a piece of marble, for a thing.¬† In the end, isn’t art just a collection of things left behind?¬† Perhaps to some, but not to the men (and women) of Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section, known as the “Monuments Men.”

I actually saw this film surrounded by members of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Norton Museum of Art, and as some of the more dramatic moments played out, I felt a genuine sadness engulf the theater.¬† I can’t say it will leave a mark on everyone, but it should serve as a reminder that an entire culture was almost wiped off the earth by a failed artist with a Napoleon complex!

 

 

Labor Day

Friday, January 31st, 2014

*½

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (Give us your rating!!)
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Labor Day

Written & Directed by: Jason Reitman
Cast: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Tobey Maguire

Labor Day is a labor to watch, laborious, protracted, and an almost complete time suck. I’m tremendously appalled that a director of Jason Reitman’s stature would produce what amounts to cinematic toilet paper. The only saving graces to this, least I say film, are the vague observations it makes about the nature of family, the allure of a father image, and the necessity of human touch. And believe me, even that’s stretching it.

What appears to be a chilling ‚Äėhome invasion thriller‚Äô quickly descends into a bad Nicholas Sparks novel, but without the heart he endows his work with. Here‚Äôs the storyline:

Set in small town New England, Labor Day struggles to be a story of love, passion, and betrayal as viewed through the eyes of a teenage boy. Looking back on the events in his life at age 13, Henry (Narration by Toby Maguire) muses on the time he lived alone with his reclusive divorced mother (Winslet) and the pivotal moment when a stranger changed the course of their lives. It is the end of summer and the start of the Labor Day weekend. Henry and his mother take their once weekly excursion to the market and encounter an injured man (Brolin) who asks for refuge in their home. Over the intervening four holiday days, they’re sort of taken ‘hostage’ by this man, an escaped convict, who ultimately charms the mother and wins over the boy.

To say we‚Äôve seen this all before is to insult the films we would compare it to. There‚Äôs no denying that Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin are a very compelling pair, they are good actors both, but even their appeal and chemistry can’t quite rescue Labor Day from the insipid melodrama it becomes. However, to their credit we really do want to see their characters find happiness together. Tobey Maguire‚Äôs narration is so superficial it‚Äôs almost laughable (not his fault, it‚Äôs the script), and the flashbacks to the past are so predictable and unnecessary they slow the already staid action to a snail‚Äôs pace.

I think the fault here lies with Jason Reitman, he’s just to damn good to sink to the level of lightweight melodramatic escapism. Why do it when he’s so good at giving us subversive dramedies about disenfranchised and disconnected individuals (Up in the Air, Juno, Thank You for Smoking)? This direction he’s taken is off his usual mark, perhaps that’s why this film seems so disjointed. He’s created a piece of sentimental craptrap.

My take, stay away. Don’t spend your time or money on this film. There are better movies to catch up on that you’ve probably not seen yet. Or better yet, if you really want good melodrama, re-watch The Notebook.

 

 

That Awkward Moment

Friday, January 31st, 2014

**½

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (Give us your rating!!)
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“So…….?”

That Awkward Moment

Swift shot: In every relationship these days there is that awkward so, so what are we doing here? So, are we going anywhere with this? So, what do I tell my friends? . . . And so on. That Awkward Moment¬†is really just that, a series of awkward moments strewn loosely together to form a patchwork of a romantic comedy. There isn’t anything spectacular about it.

Zac Efron pulls out a full frontal assault as he plays Jason, the most self-absorbed character of 2014. His friend Daniel (Miles Teller) is only one degree less selfish. And Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) is a struggling true romantic who is facing a serious challenge with his marriage to Vera (Jessica Lucas).

Daniel and Jason actually have a cool job, designing book covers, which is perfect as a metaphor for how Jason treats women – only doing the surface work. But when he first meets the sophisticated Ellie (Imogen Poots) he may finally have met his match.

As Ellie and Jason traverse the romantic meanderings of Gramercy Park, and their friends’ stories meld with the film, directed by Tom Gormican, the audience really only sat waiting (less than patiently) for the next vulgar joke or site gag.

If vulgar jokes and less than stimulating romance comedies are your thing, this won’t disappoint. But, I really didn’t care how the characters’ stories ended. And I wasn’t surprised or genuinely moved once. ¬†I do get a kick out of saying Poots, though.

 

 

The Wolf of Wall Street

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

****

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (2 People gave this 4.50 out of 5)
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Nothing exceeds like excess.

The Wolf of Wall Street

The H-Bomb: Who is Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio)? Well, long and short of it, he’s a coke head, a pill popper, a drunk, a sex addict, an asshole, and one of the most successful brokers on Wall Street. He came from humble beginnings, starting out in the 1980’s as “pond scum” at a brokerage firm, but before the first day was out, he was taken under the wing of hotshot, smooth talking trader Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), who showed him the tricks of the trade and taught him a most valuable lesson: how to make money. Not to make money for the client, fuck the client, but how to make money for himself.

Jordan took the lesson to heart, and for a while, things were going great. Then the market crashed, his firm went under, and he was out of a job. But Jordan isn’t about to let something like that get him down. After all, he was put on this Earth to get rich, period. So, he takes a position at some store front firm selling penny stocks, and before long, he’s showing everyone in that rinky dink office how to spin worthless stocks into thousands of dollars with smoke and mirrors, and some silver tongued sales talk.

Pretty soon, Jordan is starting his own firm, Stratton Oakridge, with a new right hand man, schlubby Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) in tow, and starts making money hand over fist. Next thing Jordan knows, he’s the king of the world; throwing decadent parties in his office, snorting cocaine out of a hooker’s ass crack, popping quaaludes like their baby aspirin, buying yachts and mansions, and best of all, courting, banging, and marrying Naomi (Margot Robbie), a blond bombshell who turns heads everywhere she goes.

By the mid-90’s, Jordan is living the dream. But every dream must come to an end, as a number of Jordan’s business ventures have been less than legal, and the authorities, the FBI in particular, are starting to take notice. On top of that, his hard partying and substance abuse are getting completely out of hand. Maybe Jordan will finally learn that there’s more to life than drinking, drugging, and fucking. Maybe he’ll learn that money, as the saying goes, can’t buy happiness‚Ķ then again, maybe not.

Awards season is once again upon us, and as per usual during this period, I am seeing many a critic compiling top ten lists of what they feel are the best movies of the past year, and one title that seems to be appearing on every single list, often towards the top, is Martin Scorsese’s latest picture, The Wolf of Wall Street. Well, not to be contrarian, but if I were to compile a top ten list of my own, then The Wolf of Wall Street would not be on it. It would make my top twenty list, but even then, it would be somewhere towards the bottom.

I’m not saying that it’s in any way a bad movie. I did rate it four out of five stars, which, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, is a positive rating, and as entertainment, the movie does deliver in spades. Adapting the real life Jordan Belfort’s memoir, Scorsese employs his typical cinematic trickery; his snappy montages, his striking visual eye, his dark sense of humor, and his pop music soundtrack, to create a visceral, non-stop orgy of excess. A twisted morality tale revolving around a major league douche bag consumed with unquenchable greed and ambition. And for the most part, the film works.

For the first two hours, it’s wickedly funny, brutally audacious, and just wildly entertaining on every level. If Scorsese had ended it after two hours, then he very well could have had one of the very best films of the year. Unfortunately, he inexplicably felt that the movie needed to be three hours long, and by the third hour, the non-stop decadence just became too damn much. I can only watch this guy snort so much coke, give so many bombastic pep talks, and fuck so many women, before it starts to feel repetitive and numbing. When the film finally reaches its overdue conclusion, I had long stopped having fun, and I long stopped caring. Towards the end I was thinking, “Will the feds please just throw this piece of shit in prison so I can go have a cigarette?”

I might be ruffling feathers by daring to criticize Scorsese the Great and Powerful, but I’m not budging on this point, three hours is way too long to spend with a cretin like Jordan Belfort, and the fact that Scorsese didn’t really seem to have anything to say about the guy didn’t help. Like I said, it is a morality tale, but the hedonism is heaped on so heavily, that I can’t help but wonder if the moral of the story gets buried under all the mountains of blow. Scorsese would have had a much more effective film if it weren’t so indulgently overlong.

But, the bloated running time and sense of repetition aside, The Wolf of Wall Street is still one hell of a good movie, featuring yet another knockout lead performance from DiCaprio. He’s once again up for the Best Actor Oscar, and though I don’t think he’ll be taking home the statue this year, it won’t be from lack of trying. With Belfort, he takes a positively scummy guy, a human cockroach that I would normally want nothing to do with, and actually makes him charismatic and quasi-tolerable. He pulls out all the stops playing this amoral, chauvinistic shit bag of a character, and his scuffle with Jonah Hill while they’re both bombed on quaaludes is absolutely hysterical.

Speaking of Hill, he too is terrific as the slimy, cousin marrying Donnie, who at first seems to be played entirely for laughs, but as the movie progresses, some semblance of humanity comes through. McConaughey gets a fantastic scene where he takes Belfort to lunch, I just wish he hadn’t disappeared from the film so soon. Kyle Chandler is solid in his smallish role as the FBI Agent who investigates Belfort over the course of several years, and Rob “Meat Head” Reiner gets some laughs as Belfort’s temperamental father, who is a little disgusted by his son’s lifestyle.

Looking at everything The Wolf of Wall Street has going for it, from the first rate performances, to the profane, razor sharp writing, to Rodrigo Prieto’s splendid cinematography, it should have been an absolute slam dunk. Sadly, for me, it overstayed its welcome. Again, I still liked it quite a bit, it just isn’t among my absolute favorites of the year. It’s had the pedigree to be a truly great film, if only Scorsese knew when to say when.

 

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

***

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 3.00 out of 5)
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JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT

What do you do when life throws you a curve ball? In January 2014, Jack’s curve turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him.

Directing this 105 minute action/drama/thriller is Kenneth Branagh.

So some of the cast you’ll see is: Chris Pike as Jack Ryan, Keira Knightley as Cathy Muller, Kevin Costner as Thomas Harper, Kenneth Branagh as Viktor Cherevin, Peter Andersson as Dimitri Lemkov, Alec Utgoff as Aleksandr Borovsky, Gemma Chan as Amy Chang, Lenn Kudrjawizki as Constantin, Mikhail Baryshnikov as Interior Minister Sorokin and Colm Feore as Rob Behringer.

After his helicopter is shot down in Afghanistan, Second Lieutenant Jack Ryan is left severly wounded. During his rehabilitation, Jack meets Thomas Harper of the CIA, who offers him a job due to Jack’s ability to recognize patterns. Years later, Jack now works on Wall Street, watching the numbers, looking for any evidence that could lead to possible terrorist activity. That’s when Jack notices something funny going on with billions of dollars in Russian assets. All of the accounts Jack is watching can be traced back to a man named Viktor Cheverin.

Wanting to take a closer look, Jack hops a plane and travels to Moscow so he can audit Viktor’s secret accounts. After digging deeper, Jack realizes the situation is bigger than he thought. Now, Jack must figure out what Viktor is up to, and why, before it’s too late.

So, Tom Clancy fans, we get hit with another shot of Jack Ryan. The last time we saw Jack in action was in 2002’s The Sum of All Fears. The story-line was pretty cool, and carries a real life fear which adds to the film. The cast does a really good job and Branagh, who not only directs but stars in this film, did great pulling double duty. Now, Chris Pike is the fourth man to take on the Jack Ryan character and does a really good job. Since the character has been played by others, I gotta say Harrison Ford still reigns supreme as Jack Ryan.

While this is a good movie and pretty entertaining, it’s not the super hit I was expecting and waiting to see. Overall, it falls into the average good film category, with a good cast, story and play through. Yet, it’s missing something that would make it that blockbuster I was hoping for. So, it’s something you’re going to want to see, but it’s not really worth the money to rush right out for.

 

 

12 Years a Slave

Monday, January 20th, 2014

******

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (3 People gave this 5.00 out of 5)
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Lest we forget…

12 Years a Slave

The H-Bomb: Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man living in 1840’s New York. Married with two children, and working as a successful violinist, Solomon seems to be leading the ideal life. All of that, however, is about to change, when he accompanies a couple of fellow musicians to Washington for a prospective job. As it turns out, these musicians are in fact con men, who drug him, abduct him, and sell him to slave traders. Stripped of his name, and unable to prove who he is, Solomon is put on a southbound boat, where a fellow slave warns him to keep his head low and his mouth shut, about who he is and the fact that he can read and write.

Upon his arrival in Louisiana, Solomon, now given the name Pratt, is sold to Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), a southern gentleman who treats his slaves with more kindness than most (he’s a nice slaver‚Ķ how sweet). It would seem as though Solomon, given the circumstances, could have done far worse, but after a nasty mishap with one of Ford’s more abusive slave overseers (the ever weaselly Paul Dano), Ford is forced to sell Solomon to plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), and this is where Solomon’s true nightmare begins.

Edwin Epps has a reputation. He is what they call a “slave breaker.” A cruel, vicious, hard drinking son of a bitch who is hot tempered and quick to take a whip to the ass-side of anyone who he feels has crossed him. To Epps’ way of thinking, slaves aren’t people, they’re his “property,” and as he explains, he will do with his property whatever he pleases, be it raping the women, working the men until they drop, or beating any one of them within an inch of their life, just for the hell of it. And his wicked witch of a Mistress (Sarah Paulson) isn’t any better.

This is Solomon Northup’s world now. Far, far from his family and home, being forced to work for nothing, being endlessly taunted and humiliated, and worst of all, being another man’s property. All the time he thinks about escaping, but he’s seen what happens to runaway slaves. He’ll have to bide his time, wait for the right opportunity‚Ķ but will that opportunity ever come?

Adapted by screenwriter/novelist John Ridley (U-Turn, Three Kings) from the autobiographical book by Northup, 12 Years a Slave is a searing look at one of the darkest and most shameful chapters of American history. As directed by Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame), the film dares not look away from the ugliest aspects of its subject matter, even though we the audience may often feel compelled to do so, particularly during a gruelingly brutal scene in which a young female slave is whipped for what feels like an eternity.

Some critics have accused McQueen of “going too far” in depicting the violence, claiming that it’s so gratuitous it becomes manipulative and offensive. I say those critics are absolutely full of shit. Slavery was a fucking atrocity (trite, I know, but still), and any attempt to sanitize it (or “white wash” it) for the sake of making it more palatable for the moviegoing masses would be, in my humble estimation, far more offensive. The only honest way to tell this story is in the most raw, unflinching manner possible, and that is exactly what McQueen has done. By never flinching once, he delivers a film that is, again, very tough to stomach, but that is undeniably honest and deeply moving.

However, as commendable as McQueen’s direction is, the real driving force behind 12 Years a Slave is the fearless lead performance by Ejiofor. He’s an actor who has impressed me in the past, particularly in Dirty Pretty Things, but this time, he pulls out all the stops and delivers a turn that puts him in league with the finest actors working today. His portrayal of a man who struggles to hold on to his humanity while enduring a living hell is utterly captivating and, by the final scene, just heart breaking. Ejiofor carries the movie from beginning to end, and If there’s a performance out there that’s more deserving of a Best Actor statue, I haven’t seen it.

An actor who has far less screen time than Ejiofor, but whose performance is every bit as powerful, is Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey, the young female slave who suffers an immeasurable amount of abuse at the hands of Epps and his wretched Mistress. The scene where she makes a dire proposition to Solomon in order to escape the plantation is simply devastating. She has been nominated for an Academy Award for this performance, and in a just world, she will win.

As the loathsome Epps, Fassbender is positively chilling, and reminds us why his star is on the rise. The aforementioned Cumberbatch, Dano, and Paulson, along with Paul Giamatti, Garret Dillahunt, and Alfre Woodard all put in stellar, if regrettably brief, supporting turns. The only member of the ensemble I didn’t care for was Brad Pitt, and it had nothing to do with his performance so much as his character. [Sort-of Spoiler] Basically, he turns up late in the movie as the great white savior. Now, I have no idea if he was a real character or not, but he essentially made the end of the film a bit pat and anti-climatic. Again, it could have very well played out the way that it’s portrayed here, but to me it seemed not entirely believable and just too damn convenient. [End of Spoiler]

All things considered, though, the film up to that point was so bloody terrific that this character/plot device didn’t do any real damage in my eyes. As I told a friend on Facebook the other day, I didn’t think I would see a better film than Gravity this year‚Ķ and I was wrong. As great as Gravity is as a visceral and immersive movie going experience (I still think Alfonso Cuaron deserves Best Director), 12 Years a Slave is far and away the most wrenchingly powerful film that I’ve seen in years. I often tend to scoff at “Oscar Bait” pictures, but when one is done this well, it really doesn’t matter. A great film is a great film, and 12 Years a Slave is one hell of a great film.

Nebraska

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

****

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 4.00 out of 5)
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Old age can be a real drag.

Nebraska

The H-Bomb: Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is a cantankerous old boozer whose years of heavy drinking have made him halfway senile. One day, he receives a letter from a sweepstakes informing him that he has won a million dollars. While it’s obvious to his wife, Kate (June Squibb), and two sons, David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk), that this letter is a complete scam, Woody insists on making the 900 mile trek from Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska, where the sweepstakes outfit is located, to claim his prize. Even though Woody can no longer drive, he remains hell bent on making the trip, so David reluctantly agrees to go along with him.

After some mishaps involving an overnight stay in a hospital and a search for lost dentures, the father-son duo finally make it to Nebraska, where they decide to stop over in Hawthorne, the small town where Woody grew up, and spend a few days with his brother (Rance Howard) and some other relatives. David warns his dad not to say anything about the money, but old Woody just can’t keep his dang old mouth shut and tells an entire tavern full of local beer bellies all about it.

Before long, Woody becomes the talk of the town, as the news of his good fortune spreads like wild fire. He’s getting pats on the back everywhere he goes, and a local newspaper, The Hawthorne Republican, has even requested an interview with him. As much as David tries to explain that it’s all just a misunderstanding, that his father hasn’t really won a damn thing, the good folks of Hawthorne will hear nothing of it, and soon some old “friends” and family members come crawling out of the woodwork, looking to take a piece of Woody’s non-existent winnings…

After his escapades in California Wine Country (Sideways) and Hawaii (The Descendants), director Alexander Payne returns to his home turf with Nebraska, a new dramedy about family, growing old, and discovering what’s really important in life. Working from a screenplay by Bob Nelson, this is the first film of Payne’s that he has not written himself, however, it does have quite a bit in common with the filmmaker’s past work, in how it follows the story of utterly ordinary people as they live their utterly ordinary lives, and in how it finds poignancy and humor in the seemingly mundane. In this case, it’s the story of a father and son bonding over a road trip, and in typical Payne fashion, things shift, quite naturally, from heartfelt to hilarious, with his signature undercurrent of melancholy running throughout.

The digital black and white cinematography by Phedon Papamichael, which gives the rural Midwest a look that is drab yet beautiful, goes a long way in setting the film’s sad-but-funny tone. It seems as though a lot of modern indies that are shot in black and white are only done so because the director thinks it makes the film look cool and artistic, but in the case of Nebraska, Payne expertly uses it in a way that is entirely¬†unpretentious and appropriate for the story. In the world of filmmaking, that’s the kind of thing that separates the boys from the men, and that is but one reason why Payne is one of the best directors working today.

In addition to impeccably creating the perfect mood, Payne also elicits some finely nuanced work from his talented cast, led by Dern, who is absolutely pitch perfect in a role that one would swear was tailor made for him. At the tender young age of 77, Dern gives what is easily the performance of his career as Woody, the somewhat out of it old timer who has to know that his million dollar prize is a scam, but who is so desperate for something to live for, aside from drinking, that he is willing to travel far and wide to obtain it. Having, in recent years, seen many family members grow old and a little aloof, I can attest that there is not a false note to Dern’s performance. The way he often seems lost in his own daydreams, and how he answers everything with a jarring “Huh?” or “What?”, despite not being hard of hearing, is authentic through and through. As a character we laugh at and pity in equal measure, Woody is the embodiment of the film’s bitter-sweet nature, and I’ll be damned if Dern’s performance isn’t award worthy.

Also making a strong impression is SNL’s Forte, as the much put upon son who accompanies his father for the whole journey. Having only seen him in the (very unfunny) feature length version of MacGruber, he is a revelation in what is essentially the straight man role, reacting to his unpredictable father’s antics sometimes with shock, other times with frustration, but ultimately with a sense of understanding and patience. He is the film’s anchor, and a sturdy one, at that. The other standout in the cast is Squibb, as Woody’s crass, loud mouthed, and exasperated wife. Most of the laugh-out-loud funny moments in the movie belong to her, in particular, the cemetery scene in which she pays a visit to some of Woody’s deceased relatives. I can’t give away what exactly is said, but it’s an absolute show stopper.

The rather languid pace and low key nature of Nebraska may be a put off to viewers who prefer their motion pictures with a little more pizazz, but for those who appreciate smaller, character driven stories, there is quite a lot to take away here. If I had to liken Nebraska to any of Alexander Payne’s previous films, I would say it’s most reminiscent of About Schmidt, both tonally and thematically, about men who are in the twilight of their lives and looking for some sense of purpose. It’s a meditation on old age and relationships that is, perhaps, a bit too dry at times, but is overall disarmingly charming, exceptionally acted, and, as a whole, quite rewarding.