Michael Fassbender

12 Years A Slave

12-years-a-slave-poster

2013

Regency Enterprises/Film4/Plan B Entertainment

Directed by Steve McQueen

Produced by Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Bill Pohlad

Screenplay by John Ridley

Based on “Twelve Years A Slave” by Solomon Northup

 

Let me say this up front so that you won’t waste your time reading this review: if you’re the type of movie goer whose mantra is “When I go to see a movie I just want to turn off my brain and be entertained” then you should give 12 YEARS A SLAVE a pass. And I’m not saying that to put you down. Your movie choices are your own and God Bless. But 12 YEARS A SLAVE simply isn’t that kind of movie where you can turn off your brain. It won’t let you. It’s not mental bubble gum that you enjoy while it’s on the screen and then can barely remember what it was about the next day. And it’s not a casual date night movie. It’s not a movie you approach as light entertainment. I actually hesitate to call 12 YEARS A SLAVE an entertainment because of the subject matter and the way the story is told. It’s a movie that transports you right into the middle of the hell of slavery. It doesn’t turn away from the brutality, violence and dehumanization of slavery. I honestly haven’t had feelings like this watching a movie since I saw “The Passion of The Christ.” Unlike “Django Unchained” which uses slavery as a backdrop for its pulp spaghetti western inspired revenge epic, 12 YEARS A SLAVE is about the pure horror of slavery from start to finish and never once during its 134 minutes does it let you forget that.

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man living in Saratoga, New York in the Year of Our Lord 1841. Solomon supports his wife and two children as a professional violin player. He’s a true gentleman of education and manners, quiet spoken and compassionate. He’s a man of property who owns his own home and he’s treated with respect by his white and black neighbors alike. So Solomon doesn’t attach any nefarious doings to two seemingly respectable white men who approach him about touring with their travelling show. The pay is good and they assure him he’ll be back home by the time his family returns from their own out of town trip. Solomon agrees.

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Solomon goes out for dinner and drinks with his newfound friends and passes out from what he assumes is too much drink. Actually he’s been drugged and when he awakens it’s in chains as he’s been sold into slavery. His protests that he is a free man only earns him hideously savage beatings. Renamed ‘Platt’ he’s transported along with other Shanghaied free black men and women to New Orleans where he is purchased by William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) and taken to work on his plantation. Master Ford actually isn’t that bad a master, Solomon says to Eliza (Adepero Oduye) whose children have been sold to another plantation. Eliza points out to Solomon with wickedly barbed common sense that just by the very way Solomon speaks it’s obvious he isn’t just another uneducated field nigger but Master Ford pointedly ignores that fact since that means he might have to acknowledge some facts that could land him in jail.

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Solomon’s real trials are still yet to come when in order to save his life from a sadistic overseer (Paul Dano) Ford has to sell him to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) who demands that his slaves pick 200 pounds of cotton a day. Each. If they don’t they are whipped. If that wasn’t horrific enough, the slaves are used as living pawns in a vicious war between Epps and his wife Mary (Sarah Paulson.) The main pawn being Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) a beautiful slave girl Epps uses as a spittoon for his sperm, brazenly flaunting it in front of his wife. Not only does Patsey have to endure being raped by him but suffer frenzied attacks from Mary. Solomon has to walk a fine line with the Epps, both of whom are clearly insane and possibly derive some kind of sexual satisfaction from their mutual abuse of their slaves. Solomon clings to the shreds of hope that somehow, someway he’ll be able to get word up north and get somebody, anybody to come down south with his papers proving he’s a free man and save him from this waking nightmare.

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I can’t emphasize enough that 12 YEARS A SLAVE is a difficult movie to sit through. Some may question if we really need a movie this graphic in its depiction of slave life on a southern plantation and I think we do. Sometimes movies shouldn’t be all about having a good time. It should be about making us feel and think about things we’d rather not feel or think about and on that level, this movie succeeds magnificently.

I really can’t pick out one actor over the other to award the acting honors to as everybody brings their A game to the court. I’ve enjoyed Chiwetel Ejiofor in other movies such as “Kinky Boots” “Serenity” and “Dirty Pretty Things” and in this movie, just as in those three he uses his incredibly expressive eyes to maximum effects, especially in a gutpunch of a scene where through his joining in singing a spiritual with the other slaves we realize that he has accepted his fate and committed himself body and soul to being a slave.

Michael Fassbender is utterly demonic as Epps and never less than believable. It would have been way too easy to have turned Epps into a mustache twirling Simon Legree but the complicated relationship he has with his wife and Solomon allows him to explore his character in interesting ways. Like many of the other white characters in the movie, Epps is aware that there’s something radically different about this slave. It’s that difference that causes Epps to alternately elevate Solomon at times and at others try to kill him.

Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey is nothing less than extraordinary. This is the kind of film debut that earns actors and actresses Academy Awards. There are some really disturbing scenes involving Patsey and Lupita Nyong’o handles them with sensitivity and real emotion. I can’t sing her praises enough.

Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t have a major role here but he more than makes the most of his screen time. This is a guy who I can easily see having a career like Michael Caine or Albert Finney as he’s that good. Michael K. Williams from ‘The Wire’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’ has a pivotal cameo here as does Brad Pitt.

So should you see 12 YEARS A SLAVE. If I could I’d pay for all of you to see it, that’s how important a movie I think this is. But I also have to be fair to those of you who may be too sensitive for the horrendous brutality depicted so graphically and do not wish to see such. And there are many scenes of graphic violence. I can’t put it any plainer than that.

But if you want to see a movie that has the courage to not sugarcoat or trivialize the cruel, soulless brutality of slavery and is relentless in showing the atrocities done then by all means go see 12 YEARS A SLAVE as this is about a true horror story. One we all still live with today.

134 minutes

Rated R for extremely graphic violence

Prometheus

2012

20th Century Fox

Directed by Ridley Scott

Produced by Ridley Scott, David Giler and Walter Hill

Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof

Like most of you, upon hearing that Ridley Scott was filming a prequel to “Alien” I got as giddy as a 10 year old hearing that a law has been passed making every day Christmas.  The current age of filmmaking we live in now is one where movies I never dreamed would be made are coming to cinematic life.  And Ridley Scott returning to the “Alien” universe is most certainly one of those things I never thought would happen.  “Alien” is for me the definitive blending of horror and science-fiction film because it works so well as both.  And so many other thing went into it to contribute to its rightful place as a film masterpiece: the look of the film itself.  Between “Alien” “Blade Runner” and “Outland” we would never again have science fiction movies set in the future that looked like movie sets.  We now had future worlds that looked lived in with machines that looked functional and practical, not like priceless sculpture.  The casting of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley who became the template for female action heroes in the movies.  Surely with Ridley Scott directing a new movie set in the same universe PROMETHEUS would be a cinematic experience worthy to stand alongside that work of art.

Sorry to disappoint you but it doesn’t.  At least not for me.  The look of the movie is spectacular with sets that are absolutely amazing and flat-out beautiful special effects, especially during a terrifying sandstorm and a scene where one of the characters discovers a breathtaking holographic star map showing the way to Earth.  PROMETHEUS is watchable and worth looking at but that’s all it is.

It’s the year 2093 and aboard the trillion dollar starship PROMETHEUS, the crew is awakening from cryonic stasis sleep after two years of travel to their destination.  Which is a small moon that archeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) believe they’ll find evidence of beings they call The Engineers.  Their theory is that The Engineers are direct forefathers of humanity.  To prove this theory,  the billionaire founder and CEO of the Weyland Corproration, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) has had this ship built and sends a crew along with Elizabeth and Charlie.  The crew includes the captain, Janek (Idris Elba) Weyland Corporation executive Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and David (Michael Fassbender) an android who acts as pretty much a glorified hi-tech gofer.  There are other crewmembers but it’s hardly worth mentioning them as they’re there just to have really terrible things happen to them.

Upon landing on the moon, an exploration team investigates a huge structure, discovering that an entire crescent shaped starship is inside.  They discover corpses of humanoid beings they assume are Engineers and strange stone cylinders.  Charlie becomes infected with a strange dark liquid inside of a stone cylinder David has snuck on board the ship and from then on, things continue to go horribly wrong.  So wrong that the crew of the PROMETHEUS are forced to make a decision between their own survival and that of the human race.

Okay, let me get what I didn’t like out of the way so that I can end this review on a high note with what I did like.  PROMETHEUS is one of those movies where people go where they have absolutely no business going and then run around screaming because that decision bites them in the ass.  And in this case I mean that quite literally.  The story really didn’t grab me and the poor characterization didn’t help either.  Most of the characters in this movie are just there, relying on visuals like wearing hoodies and mohawks so that we can tell them apart.  There are some scenes that are meant to be frightening and scary but to me were just laughable.  Especially the scene that inspired me to dub Noomi Rapace’s character ‘Elizabeth the OctoMom.’  If you’ve seen the movie you know what I’m talking about.  Idris Elba, one of my favorite actors is totally wasted in this movie.  At least Charlize Theron gets to have some fun playing the icy executive who makes it clear to one and all she doesn’t want to be on this mission.  Theron’s character is the only one displaying any kind of common sense which makes her stand out even more.

Noomi Rapace continues to add to her resume of solid performances as she plays a women of strength with intelligence and compassion.  Her struggle to reconcile her scientific discipline with her religious faith is well done.  But it’s Michael Fassbender who walks away with the acting honors.  For an android, David displays more personality than anybody else in the crew and has more of a sense of wonder about their discoveries than the humans.  He also has a goofy sense of humor that manifests itself in very unexpected ways.

So should you see PROMETHEUS?  Most of you reading this probably already have and are either wishing a pox upon my house or defriending me on Facebook for some of the things I’ve already said.  But for those of you who aren’t let me say this: I’m not saying PROMETHEUS is a bad movie.  It’s not.  It’s a Ridley Scott movie and the man knows how to make a movie, no doubt about it. The problem lies in the story which simply doesn’t live up to the huge cosmic themes it raises and the lack of characterizations.  Everybody turns in solid performances as best they can (but what was up with that accent, Idris?) and technically you couldn’t ask for better.   But on a level with “Alien”?  Nah.  Not even close.

124 minutes

Rated R

X-Men: First Class


2011

20th Century Fox

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Produced by Gregory Goodman, Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner and Bryan Singer

Screenplay by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn

Story by Sheldon Turner and Bryan Singer

Based on “X-Men” characters created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Chris Claremont

In the interest of full disclosure I should let you know how I feel about The X-Men before I jump into this review.  Only because once you know where I’m coming from you’ll understand why I didn’t have a problem with this movie and indeed, enjoyed it a lot.  In fact, I liked it just as much as “X2” and “X-Men Origins:Wolverine”.  But we’ll get into that in a bit.  First off:

I like the movie incarnation of The X-Men much more than the comic book version.  And I speak as someone who has read and enjoyed the comic book since the 70’s.  It’s just that the whole “hated and feared by a world they’ve sworn to protect” thing makes more sense when The X-Men inhabit a world where it’s just humans and mutants.  It’s harder to buy when The X-Men exist in a world with a couple of thousand other super beings.  Personally, if I lived in The Marvel Universe I’d be more worried about Reed Richards having his own private doorway to a hostile universe in midtown Manhattan than mutants.  But that’s just me.

In any case, I didn’t have a problem with this rebooting of the movie X-Men universe mainly because it’s well done and doesn’t violate the spirit of the X-Men concept.  Particularly the Professor X/Magneto relationship which is the heart of this movie and if we don’t buy their relationship, we’re not going to buy the whole human/mutant conflict.  Yeah, there’s some serious tweaking of the traditional X-Men origin done here along with the line-up of original X-Men, the “First Class” of the title but not enough to prohibit my enjoyment of what is a pretty good superhero movie.  It’s no “Thor” but it was worth my time and money.

In separate storylines we’re introduced to Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) who are both mutants with extraordinary power.  Charles is the most powerful telepath on the planet while Erik can create and manipulate magnetic fields.  But while Charles has enjoyed a life of wealth and privilege, Erik has only known terror, pain, sorrow and loss, beginning with the murder of his mother in a World War II concentration camp.  Surviving The Holocaust and growing to adulthood still not in full control of his abilities, Erik begins a worldwide hunt for Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) a mutant himself with energy absorbing powers.

In the meantime, Charles is contacted by Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne), a CIA agent investigating The Hellfire Club which she learns is a mutant organization, led by Shaw and his right hand henchwoman Emma Frost (January Jones).  Moira can’t get anybody in the CIA to believe her except for The Man In Black (Oliver Platt) who offers Charles and Moira his facility to find other mutants to combat Shaw.

In short order, Charles locates Angel (Zoe Kravitz) Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones) Darwin (Edi Gathegi) and Havok (Lucas Till).  Along with the shape shifter Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) Hank McCoy, the supergenius who will soon be known as The Beast and Erik, they form the First Class of X-Men.  They move to the Xavier family mansion in Westchester where they live, work and train together to control and hone their powers. And this class has one hell of a final test: prevent World War III as Sebastian Shaw and his Hellfire Club are working behind the scenes to manipulate events to bring about The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS almost lost me in the first ten minutes because there’s such a huge plot hole that I couldn’t believe none of the four screenwriters plugged it.  But thanks to the directing of Matthew Vaughn, he keeps the story cracking along so well that after a while, I forgot all about the plot hole until after the movie was over.  Whoever cast January Jones as Emma Frost should be fired.  Her acting style is fine for the TV show “Mad Men” where her character is supposed to be emotionally repressed.  But it doesn’t suit the character of Emma Frost at all.  Now if they’d gotten Christina Hendricks to play Emma Frost…(Insert Derrick’s Hottie Growl © 2007 Derrick Ferguson)

Except for her, the other actors are really good, especially James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender who really have great chemistry and make us believe in the friendship between these two men who have such different dreams for their people.  Kevin Bacon is dynamite as Sebastian Shaw and there’s something to be said for the fact that even though he’s the bad guy, his point of view is ultimately proved to be the right one.  I saw Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone” which was one of the most disappointing movies I’ve ever seen but I liked her performance and I like her a lot more here.

The 1960’s setting is inspired and at times, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS plays like a ‘60’s spy movie with superpowers.  But it never fails to entertain.  If you’re a dedicated X-fan then the way the continuity of the team has been changed and in some cases downright ignored will no doubt infuriate you to no end.  But if you’re willing to relax and enjoy a really well-made superhero movie that is serious without being too dark and filled with solid performances and outstanding action sequences then you’ll most likely enjoy X-MEN: FIRST CLASS.  I certainly did.

PG-13

132 minutes