12 Years a Slave

twelve-years-a-slave08Artist-turned-film maker Steve McQueen in a short period time has become of the most interesting directors around. With 2008’s Hunger he proved himself able to produce a moving, important story while utilising visual elements as well. His impressive debut was followed up with the critically acclaimed Shame, but for me while Shame was visually interesting and well made I lacked sympathy for its main character making it not as successful as many other critics deemed it to be. With 12 Years a Slave though he returns to events of great historical importance and tells a story that is truly one of the most powerful of all-time.

Based on the autobiographical book by Solomon Northup the movie tells the story of a well off, free black man in 1841 who is scammed by some confidence tricksters who send him south and sell him to slave traders with threat of severe physical harm if he speaks up about who he is. 12 Years a Slave is really quite a harrowing tale and while there’s a constant state of horror surrounding the events McQueen provides with some of the most beautiful cinematography I’ve ever seen. On top of this all performers give absolutely stellar performances, especially Chiwetel Ejiofor in his first major lead role. McQueen doesn’t shy away from the brutality and forces you to witness the unspeakable violence that was exacted upon these poor people at the time and he masterfully shows us this in a way we haven’t seen before.

While 12 Years a Slave is the kind of film that whether it’s good or not was always going to garner awards attention, particularly at the Oscars. As we know they love a good true story about a genuinely remarkable man but for once this kind of film is actually a genuine boundary-pushing, intelligently made work of art. Steve McQueen outdoes himself here.

 

CAGE RAGE: The Cotton Club

MV5BMTA5MTMyMzYxMTJeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU3MDU3MDUyMzQ@._V1._SX640_SY430_My latest stop on my Cage mission saw me stop by another Francis Ford Coppola movie with 1984’s The Cotton Club. It tells the story of he famous Harlem jazz club of the same name. Tying in with organised crime, politics and culture at a very interesting time in American history, all the while entertaining us with music and dancing.

The Cotton Club was one of the more enjoyable films I’ve watched so far for CAGE RAGE it’s well produced and has some great, tense scenes of action. However, ultimately I felt the film didn’t flow quite right. The story seemed disjointed and just as you though something good was about to happen you were shown another over-long scene of dancing that, although amazing, doesn’t progress the plot in any way and after you’ve seen a couple of these scenes they get a bit tedious and stop the film from flowing properly. Overall I found the film enjoyable but overly flawed and lacking in the bite that a number of similar films have. When it comes to Cage there wasn’t really enough of him for my liking, he did do some pretty cool stuff though he does go slightly crazy and he’s laying a mob member which you can’t really complain about.

There are a couple of good Cage bits, and some of his best scenes so far on my filmography tour but in the end there just wasn’t enough screen time to make The Cotton Club worthy of being the first 3/5 on the Rage scale. As a film it’s a worth a watch but don’t expect anything classic.

CAGE RAGE rating – 2/5

Lincoln

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Spielberg’s latest film tells the story of America’s sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln in the fight to pass the thirteenth amendment and abolish slavery in the USA. The film has so far, as far as I’m aware, received nothing but praise which has materialised in the form of a number of Oscar and BAFTA nominations including the coveted Best Picture award. Daniel Day-Lewis plays the central figure while support is provided in the form of Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The story is of course a great one but let me tell why I think this film has got it completely wrong.

Let me start by saying that I didn’t hate this film it had it’s share of good moments, the majority coming from Jones’ Thaddeus Stevens in the courtroom scenes where he insults everyone in the most intellectual way possible. Day-Lewis portrayal is excellent as always, as an actor it appears he can literally do no wrong. And at the end of the film when the amendment is passed it’s hard not to feel how big the achievement really was. Unfortunately, though, this is where my praise reaches it’s end and leads on to why the film really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

We all know the story of the abolition of slavery and I was looking forward to the ins and outs of what happened being put up on the big screen but I instead found that the film taught next to nothing I didn’t know already. Every scene seemed to be saying exactly the same thing until the last half an hour, all that was made clear is that Lincoln needs 20 votes from the Democrats in order to pass the bill, that is literally all that is established in getting on for an hour and half of film, it seems no progress is made, nothing much is done just a group of politicians umming and arring about the fact they need these votes. When it comes down to the wire there is one short scene in which Lincoln goes round to the houses of these Democrats that had previously been written off to vote for the passing of the bill says a few sentences changes their minds and that’s it, job done. The character of Lincoln isn’t even particularly celebrated here either despite Day-Lewis’s performance there are perhaps two scenes in which he is really given the chance to shine but for the pivotal courtroom scenes he is not even present and it is left for Jones to steal the show making him the real stand-out of the film. Once the bill is passed in what is by far the best scene of the film being the only one that really has any kind of tension or emotion there is still another fifteen to twenty minutes of running time to go that seems utterly pointless. His assassination is done within five minutes and you don’t even see it happen, nothing is really said about it it happens and then that’s the end of the film. The Gordon-Levitt character makes no sense as well there is one scene in which he is shaken up by seeing a load of limbs thrown into a pit and then for the rest of the film he is almost completely forgotten about.

While Spielberg got the casting right there is not much else to love about this uneven and bland, half-biopic, it would be a great shame if this took the Oscars.

The Pianist

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As part of Tyson Carter’s mission to review all of iMDB’s Top 250 movies I’ve lended a hand by reviewing The Pianist, you should check out his blog Head in a Vice here: http://headinavice.com/imdb-top-250-4/

                Roman Polanski’s 2002 film The Pianist tells the story of Polish Jew, Wladyslaw Szpilman, and his journey through the duration of World War II in Nazi-occupied Poland. Played by Adrien Brody, Szpilman was a concert pianist and his true story is an epic struggle for survival through one of the most horrific events in history. The film garnered widespread critical acclaim and earned three Oscar wins including Best Director and Best Actor amongst a number of other wins and nominations across the board.

I must admit I was apprehensive going in to this film, I has taken me a while to get round to watching it, I questioned whether there was any point in another war film surely you’ve got WWII all wrapped in Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. And then you’ve got Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket providing a more auteuristic interpretation of war albeit Vietnam rather than WWII. The Pianist comes after all of this and the question is what could it do differently? During the films lengthy but not justified 2 hours and 25 minutes it did take me a while to realise the film’s unique charm and new perspective on life in the wartime.

Rather than focus on battle and politics Polanski focuses solely on the personal journey of Szpilman and this is what, initially, took me some time to get to grips with. The opening scenes consist of him and his family in their home in the Jewish ‘ghetto’ and during these scenes it seems that everyone is arguing yet our protagonist seems to sit back and watch on. This made it hard to identify with him at first, as he comes meek and introverted although in retrospect there was much more at play here than first met the eye. What Polanski was doing was building a unique tone to the film, unlike any I’ve seen in a war film before. He was putting in the audience in the scene with him, we were there stood beside him, as outsiders looking in, realising what life must of been like in this time. His quietness is reflecting a sense of what one of us would be like thrown into this situation just watching as things unfold.

It is clear that techniques have been used here in every aspect to enhance this feeling of going on the journey with Szpilman. One of my favourite things about the film is the way the bombings and shootings are always shot from the point of view of looking out from a window down into the street below, putting you in the shows of this character. It gives the feeling of utter helplessness and shock at the injustice that was taking place. You feel as if you’re going on this journey too.

The horrific nature of the Nazi’s is portrayed in a fittingly sickening manner as well. Lining up random Jews and shooting them at will, whipping Szpilman for not being able to carry a huge amount of bricks and while some of the Polish are very kind to them others of them are just as anti-semitic as the Nazi’s themselves. There is no other word for the what life was like for them other than horrific. One of the most affecting scenes has a starving Jewish forcing a woman to drop a container of food onto the floor and then falling to the ground and licking it up off the cobblestones.

Brody’s performance is definitely something to behold as well, his beleaguered pianist is forced to become reclusive and malnourished. We feel every bit of his pain even with dialogue being sparse all the way through. It is in fact made even more personal by the way in which we spent a lot moments with him on his own, in silence which goes some of the way to giving an understanding of the pain-staking boredom and lonlieness he must have experienced. It’s certainly a feat to be able to give such empathy to a character and combine it with a suspension of disbelief and Brody was definitely worthy of his Academy award. It’s a shame I haven’t seen him do anything else of this calibre.

While The Pianist sits fairly low down on the iMDB 250 list, being placed at number 53, fourteen places below Saving Private Ryan and forty-eight behind Schindler’s List, it shows a side of the war that, previously I hadn’t seen before. Polanski directs it so masterfully it really is a great shame that this movie is overlooked due to having those two behemoths to contend with, as it tells a story of personal survival and does it in a way that gives you a much more realistic sense of life as a Jew in the war. Dare I say, this film is most masterful WWII portrayal of them all?