Movie Review: 12 Years A Slave

 Slavery of any kind is inhuman and against the nature of humanity and still we come across it even today. There have been many movies in the past that dealt with this subject and the one that comes to mind is ‘Django Unchained’ that released last year.

I watched Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave about slavery in 19th century America based on a true story of a man called Solomon Northup who was kidnapped in Washington DC and subjected to slavery in the year 1841. The movie is based on a 1853 memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup who worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana for twelve years before his release.

The movie is a heart wrenching tale and I must say made me emotional in many of the scenes. The true life portrayal of Solomon Northup by Chiwetel Ejiofor is something words fail to describe. His pain, his desperation to survive, his loneliness, his hope to be free again is something very true to life and no wonder he is a mighty contender to this year’s Academy Award

Coming to the story, in 1841, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free negro working as a skilled carpenter and fiddle player, and living with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York. Two men (Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam) offer him a two-week job as a musician, but they drug Northup and he wakes up in chains, about to be sold into slavery.

He is shipped to New Orleans, and is re-named “Platt”, the identity of a runaway slave from Georgia. Beaten repeatedly, he is ultimately sold by upscale, unrepentantly callous slave-trader Theophilus Freeman (Paul Giamatti) to plantation owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). Northup manages to stay on good terms with Ford, a relatively benevolent master which in turn is despised by the racist carpenter John Tibeats (Paul Dano) who begins verbally harassing him.

The tensions between Tibeats and Northup escalate; Tibeats attacks Northup, and Northup fights back. In retaliation, Tibeats and his friends attempt to lynch Northup, but are driven away by the plantation’s foreman who leaves Northup to suffer in the noose. Northup is eventually cut down by Ford and he later wakes up on the floor of Ford’s house, being protected from Tibeats and his friends by Ford with a gun. Ford explains that in order to save Northup’s life he must be sold to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Northup attempts to reason with Ford, explaining that he is actually a free man but he is still sent away.

Epps believes his right to abuse his slaves is biblically sanctioned, and encourages the slaves to accept their allegedly predestined, divinely-sanctioned fate by frequently reading to them various pro-slavery Bible verses, both real and fraudulent. Epps also requires each slave to pick at least 200 pounds of cotton every day, or be beaten. A young female slave named Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) daily picks over 500 pounds and is praised lavishly, and coveted lustfully, by Epps. His wife (Sarah Paulson) is envious of the attention her husband pays to Patsey and violently abuses the girl at every opportunity after Epps publicly declares that he’d choose the slave-girl over his wife, if forced. Epps repeatedly rapes Patsey, who asks for Northup’s help in committing suicide, but he refuses.

The days pass until one day he sees a ray of hope in the form of Bass (Brad Pitt) a Canadian carpenter who is against slavery. Northup requests Bass to help him out who does so risking his life by sending a letter to his friends in Saratoga Springs. The rest of the story reveals the quest of Northup getting his freedom and returning back to his family after 12 years of slavery.

McQueen does a fantastic job by sticking true to the actual story and leaves out the reprieve and Northup’s weak attempts at objectivity completely. McQueen uses silent and lingering wide shots, and close-ups of subtle shifts in facial expressions as mood-inducing hyphens in his narratives. One of the most memorable scenes in 12 Years a Slave is of Solomon, named by his employers Platt, hanging from a rope tied to a tree, his muddy feet just about touching the soil to keep himself alive. The frame captures other slaves going about their business. Shot from various angles in wide sweeps, set in grey light, this image distills the terrifying banality of the slave condition at that time.

Acting is first rate whether it is Chiwetel Ejiofor or  Michael Fassbender who plays his cruel master Epps or Lupita Nyong’o who plays Patsey (she even won a best supporting actor award at the Golden Globe Awards). The scene where Nyong’o has an outburst before she is whipped tied to a post is quite powerful. The supporting cast is also wonderful especially Brad Pitt in a cameo who also happens to be one of the Producers of the movie. The language used in the dialogues has the formality and grace of that age, which makes the inhumanity of the story even more difficult to digest.

The movie is such that missing it will be a crime. Everything about the movie for me wins, the performances, the technical aspects, story & screenplay, dialogues, costumes, background score etc…

My Verdict: ***** A must watch.

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Movie Review: Dallas Buyers Club

Continuing the trend of watching and reviewing notable movies that released in 2013 (that are in the running for Oscars), today I bring forward ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ starring Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner.

The movie directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y, Young Victoria and Black List fame) tells the true story of a real life AIDS patient Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), whose homophobia attitude at first prevents him from accepting the fact that he is suffering from a disease that is more commonly associated with gays. He is slowly distanced by his close set of friends and he is left to fend for himself without any help, even as the doctors tell him he has 30 days left to live.

In a bid to keep himself alive he studies and reads up materials and articles on the disease. He comes across a particular drug company that makes the anti-retroviral drug AZT that could help him live longer. However in few days he is denied any further doses of the life giving drug.

Woodroof who is desperate to keep himself alive by whatever means necessary, after traveling to Mexico to consult with a doctor who prefers the method of Antoine Béchamp to that of Louis Pasteur (i.e. the idea of keeping the host healthy, as opposed to the medicinal treatment of a sick host). He discovers that certain vitamins and proteins are more beneficial than the doses of AZT he has been taking. So he decides to transport the as yet FDA-unapproved supplements to the United States, and opens the Dallas Buyers Club to help similar patients like him.

The club is a provider of alternative medicines, on average much more effective than the AZT peddled to AIDS patients for an arm and a leg. But even though the supplements pose little to no threat to the members of the club (who pay a fixed amount per month for as much medication as they require), the U.S. government becomes paranoid about their efforts to discredit the efficacy of AZT and therefore shuts them down.

Jared Leto stars as Rayon, who is transgender and becomes unlikely friends with Woodroof, acting as a connector between him and the rest of the individuals in the area affected by HIV/AIDS, most of them gay. The other main role is played by Jennifer Garner, starring as Dr. Eve Saks, who sees the rotten insides of the pharmaceutical industry and is torn between her desire to see her patients healthy and the FDA’s determination not to make the supposedly effective AZT too readily available to the public. Garner is perfect in the role as a curious and empathetic but slightly shy individual who senses her own helplessness in the face of the regulations of a big and callous government.

Woodroof’s desperate search for answers and his humanity in helping others who are in the same, nearly hopeless situation as him, stirs our empathy, and McConaughey, almost unrecognizable here as an emaciated version of the image he has cultivated over the past 15 years, is mostly successful in the slow process of letting us care about his plight.

The movie touches an emotional chord with the audience as you see time ticking off for these characters especially Rayon’s death. Vallée does a wonderful job and no wonder McConaughey has already won couple of awards for his portrayal of Woodroof so does Jared Leto with his sensitive portrayal of Rayon.

My verdict: Please watch it as it is worth every minute and money you spend on this masterpiece.

Movie Review: Jai Ho!

 After a year long wait Salman Khan returns to screen with this week’s release ‘Jai Ho’ directed by Sohail Khan. On the onset would like to clarify that if you are going to the theaters expecting another Dabangg, Wanted, Ready or Bodyguard then you will be heavily disappointed. However the movie has its staple dose of mass entertaining fight sequences and one liners as seen in previous Salman starrers but this one comes with a social message.

Jai Agnihotri (Salman Khan) is a suspended Army Officer who along with his bunch of friends played by (Ashmit Patel and Yash Tonk) starts a mission of helping people and asking them to help three people each and give rise to a chain of goodness. In his endeavor of helping people he ruffles few feathers and in turn encounters a block in the form of the ruling Home Minister Dashrath Singh (Danny Danzongpa) and his group.

The movie has a good message however on the script level the movie falters. The first half of the movie seems to drag along as Salman is shown helping victim after another with the same set of dialogues repeated to form a chain of goodness. Instead a voice over with montages would have helped to fasten the pace of the movie and also to establish the fact that he has helped a number of people and the formation of the ‘Goodness Chain’.

There are many sub-plots and a number of actors from the 90’s (who have been out of action) like Vatsal Seth, Sharad Kapoor, Ashmit Patel, Nauheed Cyrusi, Aditya Pancholi, Tulip Joshi, Mukul Dev, Yash Tonk etc., gets a break in them.

Newcomers Daisy Shah and Sana Khan gets less screen time and they seem to do well in their parts. Danny Denzongpa and Nadira Babbar are good and Tabu after a long hiatus seems to be the perfect actor to be cast as Geeta (Salman’s sister). Child artist Naman who enthralled us in Zoya Akhtar’s segment in ‘Bombay Talkies’ and ‘Chillar Party’ does a fantastic job. Genelia D’souza does a fantastic portrayal of a disabled college girl who commits suicide, would love to see her more on screen.

However the movie belongs to Salman Khan, Salman Khan and only Salman Khan. If it was any other actor the movie would have fallen flat on the face. Salman showcases a wonderful performance which is not reminiscent of his earlier outings. 

The cinematography is good, fight sequences are thrilling, editing could have been crisper especially in the first half, background score is good and sound designing is wonderful.

Director Sohail Khan does an average job but shows some good streak in the emotional scenes. Music is plain average compared to normal Salman movies however two songs “Tere Naina” and the “Photocopy” are good.

On an average the movie is a good one time watch for every Salman fan.

American Hustle: Movie Review

As predicted by me in my last review Jennifer Lawrence won the Golden Globe for the best supporting actress for ‘American Hustle’. Yes and it was the third best performance oriented movie I watched in recent times.

It has become a trend with Jennifer Lawrence to bag awards for her performances in a David Owen Russell movie. Last year it was ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ that won her all the coveted best actress awards including the Oscar and this year it is again for a David O Russell movie which is ‘American Hustle’.

Now coming to the story – FBI agent Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper) and con artists Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are posing as advisors to a fake Sheikh. Sydney improves Irving’s scams, posing as British aristocrat “Lady Edith Greensley.” In flashbacks, Irving meets Sydney, they bond over Duke Ellington records and eventually fall in love. However, Irving is reluctant to leave his adopted son with wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), who will not divorce him.

Richie catches Irving and Sydney in a loan scam but proposes to release them if Irving assists him with four additional arrests. Sydney is against the agreement. Richie believes Sydney is British, but has proof that her claim of aristocracy is a fraud. Sydney tells Irving she will seduce and manipulate Richie, distancing herself from Irving.

The movie, an intentionally overripe comedy about corruption, duplicity, loyalty, and love, is a series of astonishment. Russell, rewriting a script developed by Eric Singer, takes off from the Abscam affair—the bizarre criminal investigation of the nineteen-seventies in which the F.B.I. called on a swindler named Mel Weinberg to help ensnare public officials. (Six congressmen and a senator were among those ultimately convicted.) The bureau’s elaborate sting involved two “Arab sheikhs” (both F.B.I. employees) eager to invest in Atlantic City’s nascent casino industry and willing to bribe officials in order to procure operating licenses. (“Abscam” was short for “Abdul scam.”) Russell has both simplified and juiced a tale that is already close to preposterous; he has created a fantasia told from the point of view of two con artists, a man and a woman (based loosely on Weinberg’s mistress). Not just the crooks but virtually everyone in the movie seems slightly crazed by ambition. The one person who’s ordinary in temperament, an F.B.I. supervisor played by Louis C.K., could be a member of a different species.

Christian Bale is in top form so is Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams. However as I mentioned earlier Jennifer Lawrence steals the show. The movie is slow at times however it doesn’t take the audience attention away from the main drama. The movie on the whole is a good attempt by Russell and will lead in almost all the awards functions with maximum nominations and wins. The movie also scores big in the technical department especially the music (Danny Elfman) and Cinematography (Linus Sandgren).

My Verdict: *** A Good Watch – Watch Out for Jennifer Lawrence 😉

 

August: Osage County – Movie Review

Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts (two of my favorite actors) coming together in a movie was a big treat for me. August: Osage County was the second brilliant performance oriented movie I saw recently and I must tell you Meryl Streep is top notch playing a dysfunctional woman high on drugs suffering from mouth cancer. If Cate Blanchett has any competition this year for the coveted best actor awards then it is from no one but Meryl Streep. Julia Roberts who plays Meryl’s eldest daughter Barbara fighting her own personal demons is someone who is going to fight hard for the Supporting role awards along with Jennifer Lawrence for her brilliant performance in ‘American Hustle’.

In ‘August: Osage County,’ when a crisis descends upon the Weston home, Violet (Meryl Streep) cries out for her daughters – or at least one of them – to help her through this difficult time. Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) was the one that stayed behind when her sisters escaped, but her devotion is little appreciated or acknowledged. Karen (Juliette Lewis) is the family screw-up, leaving her and her new beau (Dermot Mulroney) to be ignored at the dinner table. Barbara (Julia Roberts) is the most responsible, returning to pick up the pieces of her prescription-addicted mother. With the summer’s heat already putting everyone on edge, this gathering will be far from congenial.

The punches never stop coming in this picture. Whether it’s Violet spewing poison at her children or a deep family secret being unburied, they just keep exchanging one bad turn for another. Opening on the unhappily married couple, Violet does not even shield strangers from her venom as she walks in on her husband (Sam Shepard) acquainting a new caregiver with their situation. She pops one pill after another, claiming to be attempting to control cancer-related pain but generally just feeding her habit. And when she sets out one day looking for a fight, Barbara gives her one – literally.

Director John Wells does a great job converting a play into a full fledged movie and extracting wonderful performances from every member of the cast. On the whole, the movie although slow is a wonderful one to watch  just for the performances.

My Verdict: *** Go for Meryl and Julia…

Blue Jasmine – Movie Review

The Awards season is soon approaching and I was fortunate enough to watch three magnificent movies laden with some superb performances. The first one out of them is Woody Allen’s ‘Blue Jasmine’, a much acclaimed take on ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ (1951) starring Vivian Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden.

In Allen’s take Cate Blanchett plays the role that was immortalized by Vivian Leigh in the 1951 original. However Cate doesn’t disappoint, she is right up there and I am hoping she wins all the Best Actor awards if she is not upstaged by Meryl Streep with her dynamite performance in ‘August: Osage County’ (more about it in the detailed review of the said movie).

Blanchett plays a former New York socialite Jasmine whose life goes Topsy-turvy in the wake of her husband’s imprisonment and subsequent death. Jasmine is forced to go and stay with her Louis Vuitton luggage in the incongruous surroundings of her adoptive sister’s San Francisco apartment, with corrosive results. Attempting to “move on” and make a new start, Jasmine is finally out of her depth as she careers between ill-fitting employment, ill-judged social climbing and abysmal interpersonal relations.

Meanwhile, writer-director Woody Allen darts back and forth between past and present, interlacing scenes of extravagant privilege with the dawning realities of a midlife meltdown beyond the protective bubble of the Upper East Side.

From the opening moments, in which Jasmine is seen compulsively unburdening herself in an arrivals terminal talking to a stranger her lives events, to later scenes of still talkative park-bench isolation, her increasingly desperate presence (vocal, physical, emotional) barely lets up. Constantly reaching for a drink, her mouth set in a cracked smile, eyes darting with cornered panic, Jasmine fills a room just as she fills the screen. She’s an exhausting character to be with, to watch and, presumably, to play. However Blanchett takes on the challenge head on making the character her own and at no point as a viewer will you be deceived that Jasmine is not Blanchett or vice versa making a real life enactment than acting.

The supporting cast played by Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Andrew Dice Clay etc is top class. Although Blue Jasmine would not be one of the most accomplished works of Woody Allen but the performances are worthy of stand-up-and-cheer ovations all round.

My Verdict: **** Go for it 🙂