MARCH 4TH, 2014
12 YEARS A SLAVE // There’s no getting around it, “12 Years A Slave” is an intense journey of a free man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the 1800s. Directed by the ever incredible Steve McQueen (“Hunger”, “Shame”), the film has a rich, emotional foundation that McQueen thrives in, with lingering close-ups and uncomfortably long takes, the cinematography that accompanies his work is always impeccable. What will really cause for jaws to hit the floor are the performances. Chiwetel Ejiofor more than locks an Oscar nomination with the incredible performance as Solomon Northup, the free man turned slave. His inner struggles are projected masterfully on his face and with no wasted lines, everything this man delivers is either powerful or heartbreaking.
Michael Fassbender also gives an award-worthy performance as cotton plantation owner Edwin Epps, who is ruthless with his slaves and sloppy with his drinking. His dark and tortured performance gives you chills and the balance that Fassbender finds with Epps in giving unreserved explosive deliveries mixed with a coy or solicitous demeanor makes this one of the most layered performances of the year. Add in tremendous turns from Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, and Garrett Dillahunt, who play white men along Solomon’s journey and you not only have the most epic drama of the year but a showcase for all these men. With devastating tones and a white guilt that will be hard to shake, “12 Years A Slave” is by far the most in depth and blatantly truthful depiction of the slavery movement in the 1800s and with a visionary director like Steve McQueen at the helm, it not only becomes an important film but an artful film as well.
THE GRANDMASTER // Kung-fu is not a genre of action film that I am often drawn to. Even when I saw the trailer for “The Grandmaster”, I wrote it off slightly, but the pacing, the storytelling, and the lore of Ip Man achieves greatness no matter what the genre. Nominated for two Academy Awards, in Best Costume Design and Best Cinematography, the film reaches admirable levels of both, but reaches much further, producing amazing performances and an intriguing story of a nation divided and a man that is less a hero and more a temple of martial arts knowledge. A man that weathered the storm and went on to teach the greats, including one of the most popular martial artists of our time, Bruce Lee.
Beginning in the pouring rain, we are subject to witness Ip Man (played by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) fight a number of combatants. Kung-fu is hard enough to catch on film correctly, but it becomes a dance for Le Sourd, involving the camera movements gliding gracefully along the masters as they battle one another from room to room from street to street. With the camera dancing alongside the fighters, producing rich visuals throughout the choreography of fighting, it’s hard to deny the actors in these roles, convincing the audience that they are grandmasters, indeed. Soon, Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang) from the North arrives in the South to announce his retirement and his successor, but places a challenge for a South successor as well. With Ip Man picked to represent the other grandmasters, the passing of knowledge from a handful of fellow grandmasters commences in one of the most appealing bouts of storytelling of the film. Along with Gong Yutian comes his daughter Gong Er, played by the gorgeously talented Zhang Ziyi of “House Of Flying Daggers” and “Memoirs Of A Geisha” fame. Let the untouchable romance begin.
A battle of wits ensues between Ip Man and Gong Yutian, leaving Ip Man victorious. Sharing a few moments together, Ip Man and Gong Er decide to keep in touch, despite Ip Man already being married. The Second Sino-Japanese War of 1938 breaks out in the South, forcing Ip Man to take work in Hong Kong, never actually keeping in touch with Gong Er. The rest of the film plays out like a Greek tragedy. To top it all off, this entire film is based on some sort of fact, mythology if you will, despite its fantastical nature. With a convincing cast and visual styling that breathes authenticity, you forget you’re watching a film and begin to experience the feeling of watching archival footage play in front of your eyes. The costumes are memorable in “The Grandmaster”, especially that of the women, and in particular, the leading lady and her fur coats. But the costumes become part of the story as Ip Man brings to the audience’s attention that he never wears suits, except for a single ID photo and the winter coats he purchases but then has to sell to feed his family. Zhang Ziyi, alone, is worth viewing the film for, on top of some of the most amazing displays of martial arts you’ll ever see on film. Filled with impressive kung-fu battles and with some stellar scenes in the pouring rain, there is a distinct feel to the visuals in this film captured by Philippe Le Sourd and for that, “The Grandmaster” becomes a kung-fu film that breaks its boundaries and produces a period piece action film that I highly enjoyed.
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE // Embodying many of the same issues I had with the original, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” does take a step up from its predecessor and delivers plenty more suspense and a much better cast with much stronger performances. One key aspect to focus on is that Jennifer Lawrence now has an Academy Award between this and her previous performance as Katniss Everdeen. Bringing that year of new found acting knowledge, she’s able to completely take hold of this role and go full force. The hokey nature of the film and its source material still pokes through in characters like Stanley Tucci and the erratic and bumbling nature of the forced elements in the Games, this time involving poisonous fog, killer apes, and spinning clock of death. Isn’t the “Running Man” nature of the film, with people hunting people suspenseful enough.
Why author Suzanne Collins finds it necessary to add these strange elements is beyond me. That being said, “Catching Fire” does take a much darker approach to the material, with executions and a sadness radiating from the districts as Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) go on their winners tour. The stakes eventually reach higher levels, as previous winners are picked to return to the Hunger Games, as President Snow (Donald Sutherland) wants revenge on Katniss for showing him up during last year’s games. The newer cast members also steal the show, with Philip Seymour Hoffman becoming the new Gamekeeper, Plutarch Heavensbee, and although his real involvement will come in the future installments, his performance in this film is just subtle enough to be worthwhile. Also, the ever attractive Jena Malone enters the Games as former winner Johanna Mason, bringing another much needed strong female role to the film. With impressive performances from returning stars like Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, the deck is stacked with high caliber performances.
The scenes leading up to the Games are built with a suspense unmatched by the original film. With the marketing straying away from the actual Games, I had absolutely no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. With the “Harry Potter” mentality that Katniss is “the one”, the constant shifty looks and telegraphed changes of heart do make for some entertaining reactions from Katniss herself, but in the ends comes off once again too black-and-white in the good versus evil spectrum. With an interruption in the game eventually leading to a somewhat anti-climatic end, I’m still impressed by the change of pace in such a big blockbuster. Although it ends up making the entire 75th annual Hunger Games seem a little unnecessary in the end, the concept has eventually grown on me. Also, with a strong original soundtrack from popular artists, like Coldplay, Of Monsters and Men, The Lumineers, and Imagine Dragons, especially apparent in the credits, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” takes an even bigger step in becoming that much more relevant to me. Again, with the same dislikes in both of these films, I can appreciate where this series is coming from and its willingness to change in the second adaptation and with strong performances, especially from Academy Award winning Jennifer Lawrence, I am appreciative of this film and look forward to its next installments.
OLDBOY (2013) // Nowhere near the masterpiece that is Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy”, Spike Lee gives an admirable attempt at bringing the 2003 cult classic to life in American cinemas. Josh Brolin embodies the drunken misogynist, Joe Doucett that we eventually root for after he’s framed for his ex-wife’s murder and imprisoned by an unknown person for 20 years. However, his revenge rampage that follows is nothing like what we experienced in the South Korean version of the film. Instead of a street gang hustling the main character for money to show off Oh Dae-su’s new found fighting skills, a harmless football team is brutalized for trying to check on the female Joe is harassing. The long take fight sequence that the original film is known for is also mishandled, as it becomes a lesson in bad stunt-fighting, with ghost punches and bad props filling the entire take. I do extend a slight appreciation for certain scenes that Lee chooses not to recreate, like the humorous drunken bout at the police station and the elevator sequence when Oh Dae-su is first released. These are moments that just wouldn’t translate to American cinema.
The element of “Oldboy” that I appreciated most was the casting, especially Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, and even Samuel L. Jackson. Even though Jackson felt typecast in this mean spirited, shady business owner, he fits the part so well its hard not to justify. Elizabeth Olsen is fantastic in the role of Marie Sebastian, who becomes attached to Joe after helping him with his injuries and joins him as he searches for his daughter and the man responsible for locking him away. Sharlto Copley displays his true acting prowess, as The Stranger, a true villainous force to be reckoned with, capturing a hint of what we’d see in a James Bond villain. Copley, a man that often feels on the lesser side of an actor, grabs such hold of this role, that he becomes one of the highlights of the film. With a strong cast covering up many of the flaws of the remake, Spike Lee’s venture into this story is at least more enjoyable that I had anticipated. Whenever a great film is remade, the bar is set so high that the remake cannot possibly live up to its standards, but “Oldboy” at least remains an entertaining film and reaches just a little bit further than the disaster it could have been.
|12 Years a Slave|
|Cold Comes the Night|
|Girl Rising (2013)|
|The Hunger Games: Catching Fire|
|The Last Days On Mars|
- TV Box Set
- Columbo: Seasons Five to Seven
- Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor
- Mr. and Mrs. Murder: Season One
- Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States
- Poirot: Season Eleven
- Venture Brothers: Season Five
- Special Editions/Other Releases
- Big Bad Wolf
- Blood Rush
- Broken Bullet
- Ninja Turtles The Next Mutation: East Meets West
- Snowflake the White Gorilla
- Soldier of Destiny (2014)
- The Facility (2012)
- The Iran Job
- Rabid Love
- The Visitor (1979)
- Vikings: Dark Warriors
- Wicked Blood
- Zombie Dawn