Stars: Pilou Asbaek, Soren Malling, Dar Salim, Roland Moller
Release date: September 20th, 2014
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Running time: 99 minutes
Best part: The intensifying hostage negotiations.
Worst part: The two-dimensional pirate characters.
Our world is chock-a-block with protagonists and antagonists. Serving specific purposes and motivations, both ‘groups’ fight to stay alive. Despite the unique perspectives, all political, social, and cultural groups believe wholeheartedly in their grand visions. Despite their allegiances, actions, and reactions, every soldier, terrorist, politician etc. is a human being. Following similar biological and cognitive functions as everyone else, we each inhabit this world for all-important reasons. These facts and beliefs, to me, sum up several of this-and-last-years’ Oscar contenders, well-crafted crime-thrillers, and intense docudramas. With Hollywood painting black-and-white strokes about particular factions, races, and classes, other film societies intently delve into other narratives, perspectives, and opinions. When comparing Captain Phillips and A Hijacking (Kapringen), these points become painfully relevant.
Johan Phillip Asbaek.
With Hollywood’s immense power producing larger-than-life thrills and escapist fare, foreign film industries put every dollar into filmmaking’s most important intricacies. This may seem one-sided, but it’s true. A Hijacking, forming an inventive and exasperating identity despite its distribution dilemmas, is a confronting, methodical, and powerful docudrama. Despite the movie’s ugliness and intelligence, its realism elevates it above other, more prominent, docudramas. Here, we follow multiple perspectives trudging through the same nightmarish ordeal. On Danish cargo ship MV Rozen, Cheerful and optimistic cook Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbaek) calls his wife and young child. Laughing and arguing over the phone, Mikkel’s life appears fruitful. En route to India, the ship’s arduous journey is almost complete. Whilst passing by Africa, Somali Pirates hijack the ship. Threatening their captives with machine guns, the pirates seize control with vast monetary gain in sight. This arduous ordeal, defined by the crews’ extraneous living conditions, becomes a hellish and disastrous experience. With the ship’s captain (Keith Pearson) falling ill, Mikkel and Jan (Roland Moller) must stick together to survive. With pirate crew translator Omar (Abdihakin Asgar) keeping this situation under control, this hostage crisis may never reach a successful conclusion. Meanwhile, back in Copenhagen, the shipping company’s CEO Peter C. Ludvigsen (Soren Malling), before learning about the hostage crisis, runs this prestigious corporation like, ahem, a well-oiled ship. Sealing high-priced deals with other big-name companies, Peter is a multi-talented and straight-laced professional. After addressing the captives’ families about the ongoing situation, Peter hires a well-known hostage crisis manager (Gary Skjoldmose Porter) to help solve this all-important crisis. Volunteering to communicate with the pirates, Peter becomes intellectually and emotionally invested in this ordeal. The situation pushes Peter to breaking point as allegiances, reputations, and personalities are tested on both sides of the globe.
Blurring the valuable line between fiction and reality, A Hijacking is a sincere and intense surprise. Hidden by this year’s Oscar heavyweights, this intense docudrama is devoid of climactic and electrifying Hollywood blockbuster tropes and manipulative docudrama cliches. Despite the all-important subject matter, verisimilitude, and appropriate earnestness, these movies sport several overwhelming and profound differences. In comparing these movies, it’s tempting to explore Hollywood and foreign film industries’ vast and intriguing differences. Obviously, budget, scope, purpose, and stylistic choices separate these wholly separated realms. This subject matter captures political and societal attention. Both movies compare and contrast everything within each frame. However, this Danish production is a meticulous and purposeful drama-thriller. Peeling back visceral and politically dense layers, the movie focuses on the topic’s most emotionally gripping, fastidious, and polarising aspects. Captain Phillips, though relentless and confronting, is a bigger, bolder, and brasher movie than A Hijacking aspires to be. With a thundering score, slight patriotic streak, and kinetic action sequences, Paul Greengrass’ feature is an appealing and punchy action-thriller. Here, the laboured pacing and documentary-like visuals serve a specific and confronting purpose. The deliberate length and tempo establishes this situation’s most heartening and slight aspects. Writer-director Tobias Lindholm (R, co-writer of The Hunt) is one of Europe’s most alluring and thought-provoking writer-directors. Taking on discomforting and gutsy material, his style and intentions are remarkably insistent and original. Here, Lindholm explains certain details whilst keeping the audience at a distance. Jumping between opposing story-lines, Lindholm refuses to display the narrative’s most important moments. The hijacking itself is brushed over via dialogue and sharp editing. Thanks to Linholm’s efficient story-telling motifs, we are exposed to this crisis’ more humanistic and methodical elements.
“We can’t rush these people. Time is a Western thing. It means nothing to them.” (Connor Julian (Gary Skjoldmose Porter), A Hijacking).
The narrative’s all-encompassing plot-threads and Lindholm’s systematic style wholeheartedly establish his ordeal’s immense length. Covered in dust, sweat, and decayed clothing, the crew-members and pirates, despite the opposing ideologies, become trapped in this nightmarish setting. Startlingly, this situation highlights social, cultural, and political divides unlike other recent docudramas. This authentic, meaningful, and in-depth docudrama is boosted by Lindolm’s attention to detail. In this Hollywood-obsessed universe, movies like A Hijacking become effective and ingenious surprises. Avoiding explosive action, chokingly tight jump-scares, and gratuitous messages, this movie’s subtle and deft style develops an enthralling and richly textured drama-thriller. Here, we witness determined characters undertaking realistic actions. On the ship, Mikkel and Jan never become John-McClane-type action heroes. In fact, the white characters don’t devise plans rebel and violently recover the ship. In doing so, these characters battle wavering emotions, disease, dwindling supplies, and tempers throughout their 134-day ordeal. Befriending certain pirates via singing, fishing, humour, temptations, and commercialism, Mikkel and Jan embody the movie’s seminal messages. Here, the Western world becomes a looming presence over this harrowing situation. Peter’s towering corporation steadily transitions from money-powered saviour to greedy conglomerate. Throughout this punishing docudrama, the scrupulous negotiations extend this ordeal beyond comprehension. This slow-burn thriller is boosted by its over-the-phone negotiation sequences. With several fat-cat executives watching on, Peter leans forward intently whilst talking to Omar. With the ransom drastically shifting, the divide between the company’s low-level employees and high-minded executives becomes increasingly noticeable. These scenes never cut back-and-forth between both parties. Peter and co’s facial expressions and mannerisms illuminate certain scenes’ overwhelming potency.
Though comparable to recently released big-budget counterpart Captain Phillips, A Hijacking forms its own unique and enrapturing identity. With tensions, ideologies, and allegiances slowly simmering, Lindholm’s attention to detail and intensifying direction highlights this subject matter’s immense political and social relevance. With believable characterisations and starting authenticity, this nightmarish ordeal solidifies this emotionally powerful and confronting cinematic experience.
Verdict: An intensifying and methodical drama-thriller.
Writers: Adam Cozard, David Koepp (screenplay), Tom Clancy (series)
Stars: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley
Release date: January 17th, 2014
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 105 minutes
Best part: The dynamic performances.
Worst part: The convoluted plot.
By rebooting the ever-engaging and eternally popular Jack Ryan series, Paramount Pictures, obviously, has all-eyes on the potentially gargantuan rewards. With an intriguing spy-action premise, cracking cast, effective marketing, and franchise-level reputations to uphold, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit contained the perfect ingredients for a kick-ass reboot. After all, action movies usually obtain hefty profits and franchise-boosting opportunities. This is Hollywood – where uninspired, critically lambasted action movies receive sequels, prequels, and reboots thanks to overwhelming commercial success. Unfortunately, Shadow Recruit, though enjoyable, is another forgettable spy-action flick with healthy box-office returns in sight. Despite the positive elements, this instalment becomes an irritating, confused, and uninteresting action-thriller.
Despite the deceptive marketing campaign, Shadow Recruithad the potential to be a lively and eclectic reboot. As is Hollywood’s ravenous nature, reboots are, essentially, designed to remove debilitating/franchise-killing cells whilst injecting an electrifying cure into a near-lifeless corpse. Admittedly, this drastic studio-executive/focus-group driven methodology has re-configured and enhanced several big-budget franchises. Given a high-tech facelift and energising boost, this action-thriller franchise, once again, comes out swinging. Despite my analogies and comparisons’ bizarreness, these comments are somewhat accurate. The reboot presents one of pop-culture’s most celebrated and cunning super-spies’ origins. Here, the story dodges the previous instalments whilst acknowledging their significant entertainment value. This instalment kicks off in 2001, with an adolescent Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) studying in London. Following loud footsteps and chatter, Ryan dashes to the nearest TV. He watches on in horror as two planes crash into the World Trade Centre. Fuelled by patriotism and pragmatism, Ryan joins the US Military in 2003. Serving in Afghanistan, Ryan proves, to his comrades and himself, that he belongs in active duty. Ryan, quickly becoming a Marine Corps Second Lieutenant, suffers horrific injuries when his helicopter is shot down over mountainous regions. Recovering from his debilitating injuries, with physiotherapy and medical student Cathy Muller(Keira Knightley)’s assistance, Ryan is determined to head back into military service. However, CIA agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) has other ideas. Luring Ryan into CIA operations, Harper believes that terrorist cells are using stock exchanges to transfer vast sums. Sent into the New York Stock Exchange undercover, Ryan ably investigates the system to uncover suspicious activity.
Unlike Hanna and The American, this spy-actioner doesn’t strive for originality, charm, grit, or ambition. To continue on, I’ll stress that the plot, as time passes, becomes considerably more convoluted and uninteresting. Ryan is then sent to Moscow to meet with Russian businessperson and playboy Viktor Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh). With Ryan and Cathy’s relationship issues threatening the mission’s stability, Harper reins everyone in to stop Cheverin’s diabolical scheme. It would be simplistic and predictable to lambast this action-thriller for being bland and unimaginative. However, despite the resources on offer, the movie never strays from conventional spy-thriller material. Ryan, one of author Tom Clancy’s creations, is one of literature and entertainment media’s most intriguing characters. Born from Clancy’s impressive knowledge of covert operations, sleeper-agent programs, government methodologies, and military intelligence, Ryan is a cunning, nimble, and modest spy. Adapting Clancy’s works, this franchise once increased action cinema’s worthiness. As pulsating and impactful action-thrillers, The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger succeed thanks to tightly wound narratives and entertaining performances. Unfortunately, The Sum of All Fears and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit are nonsensical and unintentionally laughable. Explaining this narrative’s core ingredients is like asking a cat to explain astrophysics. Once Ryan’s motivations are established, the extended prologue awkwardly veers into uninteresting corporate-espionage territory. From there, Ryan’s analytical mind is tested on screens, charts, and numbers. To Wall Street aficionados, the first third will be delightfully entertaining. However, the movie quickly loses focus, purpose, and character.
With Tinker Tailor Solder Spy‘s alienating coldness and The Fifth Estate‘s computer-reliant plot mechanics, the first third won’t keep action-movie-obsessed viewers entertained. With befuddling exposition, debilitating jargon, and joyless characters, the dramatic aspects also become steadily tiresome. However, after Ryan lands in Moscow, the movie hurriedly transitions into a mindless action romp. With its convoluted techno-espionage plot eviscerated by explosive action sequences, Shadow Recruit switches form one spy-action sub-genre to another. In the following two thirds, this instalment borrows from the Bond, Bourne, and Mission Impossible franchises. Lacking the previous Jack Ryan instalments’ edginess and balance, Shadow Recruit is a frustrating and egregious 2-hour distraction. Like Salt and The Bourne Legacy, the disappointing narrative, wavering pace, and derivative revelations severely dampen this otherwise diverting experience. Lacking Spy Game and Breach‘s intensifying darkness and socio-political relevance, Shadow Recruit becomes yet another tedious and expansive action flick. Although brash preconceptions overwhelm most action flicks, plot-holes, contrivances, and stupefying characterisations become increasingly distracting. Throughout this befuddling spy-thriller story, the character’s questionable and perplexing antics pull the audience out of this experience. The movie, though slick, stylish, and picturesque, depicts the American and Russian Governments as childish and moronic factions. With another Cold War approaching, our characters lack intelligence and agency.
“You Americans like to think of yourselves as direct. Perhaps you are just rude.” (Victor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit).
Despite these desperate situations, no one follows basic protocols or ethically sound methodologies. Why does Ryan tell Cathy he’s a CIA analyst? How do the characters jump between settings without being stopped by authorities? Also, why doesn’t Harper tie off loose ends? Despite the nonsensical screenplay, Branagh’s direction is derivative of Sam Mendes, Martin Campbell, and Paul Greengrass’. The action sequences tumble and fall tirelessly. Shaking cameras and quick cuts distort the energetic set pieces. The standout sequence, involving Ryan and a heavy-set assassin, is a rare highlight. However, the motorcycle/car stunts and chases boost this movie’s schizophrenic tone. Punches, stabs, and bullet wounds add some impact. Shadow Recruit‘s cinematography and production design provide several eye-catching moments. Copying Skyfall‘s emphasis on nighttime sequences and mesmerising compositions, the immaculate settings and locations widen this banal action-thriller’s scope. In addition, the cast excels despite the derivative and underwhelming characterisations. Pine, sporting his Captain Kirk swagger full-time, is a charismatic and commendable on-screen presence. His boyish charm, physicality, and range solidify this engaging role. With smarter material, Pine could’ve cemented another major franchise. Costner’s resurgence delivers this intriguing and entertaining character. This impressive casting solidifies Ryan and Harper’s friendship. Branagh elevates his racially insensitive antagonistic character. With a thick accent and purposeful mannerisms, he overcomes the character’s wafer-thin motivations. However, Knightley awkwardly adjusts to her irritating and nosy character. On top of Knightley’s wavering accent, her character is a nonsensical and unnecessary hindrance.
Shadow Recruit, despite the glowing positives and immense potential, can’t overcome the genre’s overblown and stupefying conventions. With its been-there-done-that story, underdeveloped characters, and derivative direction, this action-thriller doesn’t delve beyond the surface. With this series’ more memorable instalments becoming action-movie gems, Shadow Recruit doesn’t match its predecessors or this century’s most influential spy-action flicks.
Verdict: A punchy yet generic and confusing action flick.
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara
Release date: December 18th, 2014
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 126 minutes
Best part: The tender love story.
Worst part: The obvious symbolism.
Technology – the first world would crumble without it. It drives human endeavours, basic living practices, and overwhelming paranoia. With capitalism and globalisation driven by exponential technological achievements, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have become gods among men. I could proceed with this preachy commentary on technology’s societal and cultural impact for all eternity. In fact, this review is aided by my shiny new Apple Mac. However, occasionally, people need to stop, go outside, and inhale some much-needed fresh air. This theme, prevalent in a significant number of sci-fi flicks over the past 20 years, is grasped at, wrangled, and controlled in the latest sci-fi romantic-drama Her.
Her, throwing the audience into an alluring, soulful, and realistic love story, delivers an infectious and thrilling commentary on life itself. With its strong performances, kinetic direction, and punchy script, this ambitious drama speaks out against our infatuation with love, lust, technology, and anti-social behaviour. Influenced by enrapturing romantic-dramas like Lars and the Real Girl, Ruby Sparks, and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless mind, Her is an engaging movie fighting to survive this year’s Oscar race. With 12 Years a Slave and Gravity overshadowing this modest sci-fi effort, this drama deserves infinitely more credit. Lacking similar Oscar contenders’ obvious Oscar tropes and manipulative gut-punches, Her becomes a bizarre, sincere, and creative experiment. Revelatory romantic-dramas, including Her, kick-start by immersing us into their peculiar and recognisable universes. Here, we become alienated outsiders – restricted to witnessing these interesting and confronting events. Opening with a close-up of Theodore Twombly(Joaquin Phoenix)’s face, Her introduces to a relatable and beguiling lead character. As the opening scene expands, we discover he’s an employee at Beautiful Handwritten Letters.com. This particular publishing house relies on uniqueness and emotion. Writing heartening messages for paying customers, Theodore reaches into others’ subconsciousness’s to craft pitch-perfect love/Dear John/other-important-event letters. Forced to help complete strangers achieve happiness, Theodore retreats to his attractive apartment at shifts’ end. In addition, he’s divorcing childhood sweetheart and soulmate Catherine (Rooney Mara).Continually running into his neighbours, married couple Charles (Matt Letscher) and Amy (Amy Adams), Theodore pushes himself to interact with people outside his small social circle. With phone sex and blind dates turning into disastrous nightmares, he purchases a state-of-the-art operating system to improve his existence. The OS, built to emotionally connect with its users, converses with Theodore. Calling itself “Samantha” (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), the OS organises his loose threads, cluttered livelihood, and internal quarrels. Forming a surreal bond with the system, Theodore realises that an exhilarating lifestyle is wholly valuable.
Deconstructing Hollywood romantic-drama conventions and mechanics throughout its significant run-time, Her is an important and enlightening sensory assault. Relaying important life lessons, the movie examines each viewer whilst providing guidance, empathy, and inspiration. Fortunately, director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) masterfully constructs several fascinating narrative and thematic structures. Analysing well-known principles, ethics, spiritual guides, and moral quandaries, Jonze continually creates impassioned and cinematically-compelling dramas. Jonze’s artistic endeavours place mirrors in front of his lead characters. In doing so, he necessarily establishes bewildering conflicts and revelations. With his characters facing doppelgängers, parallel universes, and epiphanies, Jonze provides spiritually-and-ethically-motivated concepts for each project. Part of the enthralling 1990/00s American indie-drama auteur movement, Jonze constructs Her with stylish decadence and deft touches. Like with his previous efforts, Her‘s quirks and kinks develop a relevant and thought-provoking examination of humanity, chaos, control, freedom, and regret. Relationships, as Her suggests, become gangrenous if left untreated. For sci-fi aficionados, the parallels to Phillip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov’s seminal works ring alarmingly true. Artificial intelligence, anthropology, human biology, and wisdom are Her‘s greatest endeavours. This romantic-drama, despite injecting lively comedic bursts at opportune moments, wallows in self-pity. With love guiding humanity’s existence, we see several promising and doomed-to-fail relationships here. Theodore’s story becomes a slice-of-life tale about redemption, heartache, and acceptance. Drastically improving upon his life’s work, the curmudgeonly Theodore becomes a shining light in the midst of his friends’ debilitating issues. This romantic-drama embraces such cognitive aspects as meet-cutes, honeymoon phases, jealousy, and argument-fuelled conflicts. Though inevitable, this sci-fi drama places us in Theodore’s shoes. Reflecting upon modern-relationship mechanics, the movie clutches onto its heartening subtext. Ruled by screens, headsets, and holograms, Her‘s universe becomes a recognisable and frightening vision. Theodore, looking beyond the camera, almost begs us to save Earth from this anti-social and misanthropic future. Appropriately drenched in sunlight and neon-lit vistas, Theodore’s emotional and moral transformations deliver tangibly effecting moments.
“I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.” (Amy (Amy Adams), Her).
As red as roses, Jonze’s style, however, occasionally veers into obviousness and sugar-coated tyranny. With colours, images, and messages flying across each frame, Heralmost descends into sappy Oscar-bait territory. Thankfully, despite the first-two acts’ cynical outlook on relationships and humanity, Jonze’s intricate direction crafts a soulful, influential, and identifiable masterpiece. Shattering movie-making conventions and tiresome clichés, Jonze deliberates on the ever-frustrating film production process. Tackling this gargantuan challenge, without screenwriter Charlie Kaufman or director Michel Gondry’s assistance, his eclectic screenwriting and eye-catching direction reach full potential. Treading fine ground throughout, his direction echoes Lost in Translation‘s ghostly charm. The movie, like its main character, looks beyond the horizons for purpose and visual splendour. With Theodore’s apartment drenched in technological advancements and expensive decor, the direction reflects the characters’ dark and hollow psyches. The movie’s cold yet immersive veneer illuminates the narrative’s brutal conflicts. Despite admiring this universe’s Ikea-like clutter and enviable settings, Theodore’s cynical outlook delivers a degraded and distant aura. Jonze’s electrifying composition lends patently distinctive identities to specific scenes. Jumping between flashbacks and relevant story-threads, slight details separate light-hearted moments from dark, reflective sections. In addition, our characters push this courageous and insightful story into overdrive. Theodore, despite the silly exterior traits, is a realistic, charming, and likeable man. As an average Joe, this fearful and gracious figure becomes an unlikely avatar. His interactions and reactions highlight his zany and exhilarating personality. Phoenix delivers yet another mannered and appropriate turn as a broken and reckless individual. Johansson delivers a touching performance by overcoming obvious restrictions. Phoenix and Johansson’s chemistry speaks wonders for this fascinating premise. Adams and Mara showcase intensifying range and charisma in supporting roles. Meanwhile, Kristen Wiig, Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde, and Brian Cox are magnetic in breath-taking minor roles.
Set in the not-too-distant future, Hertells a familiar story in an intensifying, apprehensible, and complex manner. Unlocking Theodore’s heart with devastating screen-wipes, Jonze delivers an ambitious character study and subtle sci-fi drama simultaneously. Love, hatred, sex, and philosophy, like Theodore, must be tested before being declared useful and sufficient for all mankind. Her takes one step toward a more enlightening future.
Verdict: A heart-warming, empathetic, and detailed sci-fi drama.
Writer: John Ridley (screenplay), Solomon Northup (book)
Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano
Release date: January 10th, 2014
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Running time: 134 minutes
Best part: McQueen’s direction.
Worst part: The slightly exasperating run-time.
Docudramas, popular during Oscar season, take exasperating true stories and transform them into celluloid masterpieces. From small-screen mini-series’ to big-screen historical epics, these docudramas strive to inspire, inform, and enlighten. This description may seem clichéd, but the information is necessary and appropriate for this review. Docudramas, despite the vast number of them released each Oscar season, provide interesting insights into shocking and influential events. Several holocaust, slave, and war dramas – 1977 TV special Roots, in particular – have re-shaped Hollywood conventions. Before heading into highly anticipated slave-drama 12 Years a Slave, filmgoers must understand just how inhuman and confronting this topic is.
Though this topic has been depicted before, this exasperating and meaningful docudrama is significantly more astonishing and enrapturing than this season’s other docudramas.12 Years a Slave becomes a truly enthralling experience!Based on Solomon Northup’s influential 1853 memoir of the same name, 12 Years a Slavechronicles Northup’s painful, revelatory, and transcendent journey against all odds. Despite the colossal preconceptions, viewers should drop their guards before absorbing this artistic endeavour. The story kicks off in in Saragota Springs, New York in 1841, with Northup embracing his enviable and likeable existence. Living a peaceful life with his wife and two children, his financial, spiritual, and moral wealth becomes irreplaceable. Hurriedly, he’s offered a fruitful gig with a travelling circus by two advantageous figures, Brown (Scoot McNairy) and Hamilton (Taran Killam). After an infectious celebratory dinner, Northup is drugged, kidnapped, and sold to slave owners for a hefty profit. Tortured, abused, and re-named “Platt” by his captors, Northup must stick close to his fellow prisoners whilst avoiding his masters’ violent bursts. Shipped from Washington DC to Louisiana, Northup comes across malicious slave trader Theophilus Freeman (Paul Giamatti). With Freeman’s despicable personality inflicting his ‘property’, slave owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) saves Northup from Freeman’s overwhelming grasp. Sharing bible passages and gracefully interacting with his workers, Ford becomes a kind-hearted and honourable plantation owner. However, the plantation’s other inhabitants aren’t impressed with Northup’s presence and skills. With the other slaves keeping to themselves, the white employees treat their black counterparts with disdain. Pushed to breaking point by disgraceful carpenter John Tibeats (Paul Dano), Northup, after beating Tibeats, seeks Ford’s council. Ford, believing Northup to be an honourable individual, trades him to fellow slave owners Edwin and Mary Epps (Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson). Coming across downtrodden slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) and carpenter Bass (Brad Pitt), Northup must defend himself and seek justice during his time under the Epps’ control.
The bible, for a text so heavily lauded and practiced by people across the world, describes slavery as a natural condition. In fact, verse one, Peter 2:18 specifically states: “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh”. Every so often, a Hollywood production comes along that illustrates cinema’s over-whelming power and potential. Breaking down cultural preconceptions and social barriers, 12 Years a Slave compromises between ambitious moviemaking and its heart-wrenching story. This docudrama, forming a unique, potent, and tangible identity, wholly detaches itself from the Hollywood system. Wholeheartedly, it deserves its already overwhelming critical and commercial success. This courageous docudrama explores controversial and sickening depths. This extraordinary and intelligent artistic achievement enhances cinema’s courageousness and tenacity. Escaping from cinema’s commercial, moral, and ethical confines, this experience violently buries itself under the skin and into the mind. Here, we are exposed to a disturbing and despicable period of human history. With Slave-dramas normally classed as Oscar bait, this narrative removes the genre’s manipulative and obvious trappings. Embracing its prestigious opportunities and glorious advantages, the movie paints an honest and distressing portrait of one of history’s bleakest periods. The story immediately states is discomfortingly direct intentions and startlingly solid viewpoints. With Northup’s journey being a profound, terrifying, and heartbreaking tale, the movie examines vital periods and facets of his fascinating existence. During his twelve-year ordeal on four plantations, Northup’s tale becomes a heartbreaking reminder of mankind’s most disgusting shades. The movie considerately and thoughtfully chronicles Northup’s inconsolable transition from respected upper-middle class citizen, to broken object, to deprived yet honourable slave. Northup, with his ideologies and identity traits destroyed during several violent beatings, becomes a blank slate for white upper-class men to contort, distort, and manipulate.
Director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) is unafraid to inject his own ideologies, morals, and principles into this chilling narrative arc. Throughout this gritty slave-drama, McQueen defines history, religion, and entertainment as life’s more note-worthy aspects. Despite holding onto Steven Spielberg’s emotionally gripping story-telling ticks, McQueen turns this brutal slave-drama into a confronting, visceral, and philosophical masterpiece. Eclipsing Spielberg’s The Colour Purple, Schindler’s List, Lincoln, and Amistad, 12 Years a Slave exclaims that man was, is, and will always be Earth’s greatest and yet most deplorable creature. With humans controlling, harming, and tricking one another throughout time, the movie depicts and describes our worst tendencies without blaming the audience. Slave owners, whether they were good samaritans or psychopathic Neanderthal-like monsters, eternally condemned themselves through obvious malpractices. Modern cinema’s greatest Black directors, including McQueen, Spike Lee, Lee Daniels, and Ryan Coogler, create thought-provoking dramas heartily discussing race, gender, class, and the human condition. This ambitious and emotionally powerful slave-drama, living up to the true story’s emphatic potential, is bolstered by McQueen’s uncompromising direction. Directing with brains, braun, heart, and moral fibre, McQueen’s unquestionable talent and commendable intentions develop an original, heart-breaking, and revelatory slave-drama. Here, like with his previous films, McQueen, with screenwriter John Ridley’s assistance, illuminates the narrative’s most gruelling aspects without creating an overwrought and gratuitous Hollywood feature. Analysing and deconstructing slavery’s overwhelming negatives, he explores this issue’s many controversial, neglected, and dangerous shades. Embracing this story’s socio-political insight and emotionally affecting moments, McQueen and Ridley deliberate on this harrowing topic’s facts, intricacies, and perspectives. Despite the noticeably exasperating run-time, McQueen, refusing to inject fantastical elements or overwrought opinions into the narrative, presents an objective and engaging account of this potent true story.
“I will survive! I will not fall into despair! I will keep myself hardy until freedom is opportune!” (Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), 12 Years a Slave).
Comparable to Paul Thomas Anderson’s work in There Will Be Blood, his style scours this story’s most promising aspects by crafting memorable sequences. Pushing the camera into each pressing situation, extended takes linger uncomfortably on unflinching images. These moments, complimented by raw silence, illuminate the characters’ degrading situations. McQueen pierces vital settings whilst conveying powerful messages and viewpoints. The noose sequence is comprised of several nail-biting shots. Wide angles establish the characters’ predicaments and the sequence’s relentlessness. Smash cutting and splicing contrasting images together, the poetic editing style links symbols to valuable story-threads. Outdoing himself at each twist and turn, McQueen alleviates this heartbreaking story with artistically conquering montages. These near-wordless vignettes, depicting this poignant journey’s most captivating moments, become enthralling and disconcerting flourishes. However, gruelling sound effects elevate McQueen’s sumptuous and edgy style. With each whip crack, hammer and nail, and buckling shackle, the movie’s intensity is drastically heightened – defining the movie’s most shocking moments. Hans Zimmer’s score also elevates certain sequences. The music cues’ percussive rumbles and beats throw vital sequences into overdrive. However, the actors also craft this confounding drama’s ingenious and cognitive aspects. Ejiofor delivers a powerful and awe-inspiring turn as the degraded lead character. Tenaciously devouring several enthralling sequences, he delivers the decade’s most valuable performance. Fassbender and Cumberbatch excel as slave owners with vastly different Methodologies. Paulson, Dano, and Giamatti steal scenes as despicable and polarising figures. However, newcomer Nyong’o provides an insatiable and unique performance as Epps’ favourite slave and Northup’s guiding light. Meanwhile, Pitt, Killam, McNairy, Garret Dillahunt, and Alfie Woodard succeed in one-or-two-scene roles.
Examining one of history’s most distressing time-periods, movies like Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave become compelling Oscar-worthy treasures. Though its graphic violence and sickening darkness may prove too much for some, 12 Years a Slave‘s compelling story, enrapturing directorial flair, and fascinating performances classify it as one of the decade’s greatest cinematic accomplishments. With subject matter this valuable; McQueen’s blood-sweat-and-tears approach has crafted an appropriate and chilling portrait of America’s darkest era.
Verdict: A powerful, haunting, and rich slave-drama.
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman
Release date: January 16th, 2014
Distributor: CBS Films
Running time: 105 minutes
Best part: The memorable soundtrack.
Worst part: The abrupt resolutions.
Movies about music, due to an artist, movement, or genre’s immense popularity, regularly take on lives of their own. Launching cult classics, trends, and modern re-inventions, these movies range from musicals (Dreamgirls), to dramas (Walk the Line, Ray), to comedies (Oh Brother Where Art Thou!). Despite aiding specific movies’ soundtracks, how exactly does music launch certain big-budget efforts into the cultural stratosphere? Tapping into pop-culture’s infatuation with nostalgia and popularity, Inside Llewyn Davis chronicles one genre’s immersion into the public’s line of sight. Folk music’s long-awaited return to the spotlight is illuminated in this hysterical, insightful, and charming dramedy. Kicked off by chart-topping groups like Of Monsters and Men, Mumford and Sons, and Passenger, folk music’s resurgence has boosted the once-neglected genre’s range, influence, and relevance.
Oscar Isaac & cat.
Despite being a polarising genre, folk brings ageless intricacies and nuances to this kinetic slice-of-life character study. Here, music, love, life, and regret interweave to form an eclectic and meaningful rhythm. Inside Llewyn Davis, bolstered by ingenious performances, poetic directorial flourishes, and, of course, a catchy soundtrack, becomes one of the past decade’s most distinctive dramedies. Touching upon music’s profound social and cultural impact, this movie speaks to the toe-tapping samaritan inside us all. This purposeful narrative chronicles insatiably irritating yet well-meaning simpleton, and former merchant seaman, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac). After his musical partner’s catastrophic suicide, Davis struggles to make ends meet. Crashing on friends’ couches or random periods, job prospects run afoul of Davis’ abrasive personality. With downtown club ‘the Gaslight Cafe’ keeping him afloat, burgeoning crowds and unique musicians frustrate Davis. Davis finds a new partner after his friends’ cat escapes from their cluttered apartment. Davis and his feline companion scurry across New York looking for shelter and company. Keeping out of the cold, Davis soon finds sanctuary in his musician friends’ apartment. Briefly staying with Jim (Justin Timberlake), Jean (Carey Mulligan), and their other guest Troy Nelson (Stark Sands), Davis witnesses Jim and Jean become Peter, Paul & Mary-esque Gaslight celebrities. However, Davis, thanks to his irritable agent Mel (the late Jerry Grayson), sleazy Gaslight owner Pappi Corsicato (Max Casella), and friend Al Cody (Adam Driver), hatches an ambitious plan to travel to Chicago. Reaching for a ground-breaking opportunity in the windy city, Davis comes across Johnny Five (Garett Headlund) and crippled jazz extraordinaire Roland Turner (John Goodman).
Though writer/producer/director maestros Joel and Ethan Coen need no introduction, I’m going to give them one anyway. The Coens, ever since Blood Simple shocked film-lovers across the world, have drenched themselves in blood, sweat, laughs, existential angst, and Middle America’s most unique musical movements. The dynamic duo’s range, richness, and tenacity are evident in every project. The Coens, leaping from westerns (No Country for Old Men, True Grit), to hardened gangster flicks (Millers Crossing), to sickeningly dark comedies (Burn After Reading, The Big Lebowski), to frenetic dramedies (A Serious Man, Fargo), place their hearts, souls, and perspectives into each narrative. Their polarising yet compelling efforts, despite the cloying moments, launch horrifying sequences and ambiguous characterisations into the consciousness. Fusing classic and modern Hollywood cinema conventions, their honest direction and ambitious writing tropes shine throughout Inside Llewyn Davis. Giving bluegrass roots a heaving kick-start with Oh Brother Where Art Thou!, the Coens apply their talents and wisdom to the opportunistic folk scene. Fortunately, despite the dour marketing campaign, this slice-of-life drama, from go to woe, is a winning, thought-provoking, and modest examination of the human condition. Pitting man against the cold weather, lacklustre employment prospects, fate, and the future’s ever-looming uncertainty, the Coens inject heart into this comedically callous journey. With slapstick humour and shocking expletives highlighting the first-half’s kinetic formula, the movie kicks off with style, panache, and grace. Moving from one underwhelming destination to another, Davis’ journey is one of heartache, self-discovery, and determination. However, the second half becomes a philosophically powerful yet sombre road-trip-based adventure. Meeting peculiar characters and bizarre revelations, the final third slowly sheds the first two thirds’ malevolent wit and optimistic aura. Ultimately, the Coen’s latest effort discusses our infatuation with varying entertainment mediums. Genres and movements are ably presented as impressive creations crafted by inspiring artists. Here, Davis and co. craft life-changing works out of impulse, burgeoning motivations, and extraordinary ideas.
“If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song.” (Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), Inside Llewyn Davis).
John Goodman & Garrett Headlund.
Refusing to answer its thesis by the half-way mark,Inside Llewyn Davishurriedly delves into pop-culture’s fascination with nostalgia. Davis and co’s mental, spiritual, and emotional angst paints a haunting picture of the past, present, and future. Nostalgia may bring back fond memories, but won’t play a show-stopping track or put a coat around Davis’ shoulders. The Coen’s statements are illuminated by the movie’s awe-inspiring and memorable musical interludes. Describing key moments of this all-encompassing narrative, the soundtrack is crafted out of love, admiration, and care for this immaculate genre. Conceived by the Coens, Isaac, T-Bone Burnett, and Marcus Mumford, Inside Llewyn Davis becomes a quirky and enlightening musical minus the genre’s insufferable tropes. From the opening frame, music plays a vital part in emphasising and re-shaping 1960s-America’s social, political, economical, and cultural landscapes. The first track, ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’, is a distinctive, impactful, and poetic gut-punch. With Isaac’s haunting vocals carving into the soul, the track potently and engagingly examines Davis’ existential and emotional conflicts. Fortunately, the seceding musical numbers elevate the moody and eclectic material. Yet another Coen Brothers classic is humanised by its characters. Davis, though prickly and distinctively sarcastic, is a strangely likeable presence. Slimily weaving into friends’ lives, this irritable and harmful musician follows a dingy path. Isaac, placing egotism and aura aside, is revelatory in this complex role. Mulligan provides another touching and multi-layered performance as the dismissive friend. Throwing expletives and criticisms at our bewildered antihero, Jean is an exasperating and unconscionable character. Suitably, David and Jean deliver twists, turns, and haunting lyrics. Meanwhile, Timberlake builds charisma and range as the blissful nice-guy. Timberlake, Isaac, and Driver deliver the movie’s most enlightening musical number. ‘Please Mr. Kennedy’, featuring stirling vocals and electrifying lyrics, provides refreshing relief from this heart-wrenching tale. Once again, Goodman electrifies a small yet significant role. Throwing hysterical insults at Davis, his character revels in life’s most intriguing pursuits and absurdities. His comedic lines (“Folk songs? I thought you said you were a musician?”) relieve this dark road-trip story.
With the Coens up for Oscar contention yet again, Inside Llewyn Davis, like its lead character, deserves some much-needed love and care. As a concentrated dose of Coen-Brothers-moviemaking tropes, Coen fans, film buffs, folk aficionados, and average filmgoers will absorb this visceral and confronting dramedy. Laugh-out-loud moments, attention to detail, and tenderness transform this slice-of-life drama into an infectious and award-worthy artistic endeavour. Like the best folk songs, Inside Llewyn Davis‘ poeticism, narrative, and inherent charm will put a song in everyone’s hearts.
Verdict: An intelligent, hysterical, and enlightening drama.
Stars: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell
Release date: December 13th, 2013
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 125 minutes
Best part: Thompson and Hanks.
Worst part: The flashback-fuelled structure.
One of the English language’s most complex words can’t be found in a dictionary, award-winning autobiography, or dissertation. It doesn’t even come from an advertisement. It originates from one of history’s most beloved family movies. The word in question is ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’. Once said out loud, fond memories pour into the consciousness like tea into a cup. According to well-meaning yet underwhelming dramedy Saving Mr. Banks, it’s the word we use after we exhaust our intellectual powers. Mary Poppins follows this word’s creativeness and blatant absurdity to the letter (all 34 letters, to be exact). The movie’s kooky imagery and emotionally impactful scenes develop an engaging and revelatory musical.
Tom Hanks & Emma Thompson.
Admittedly, nothing I say can do the movie justice. Unfortunately,Saving Mr Banksfails to do it justice also. With children across the world growing up on this fantastical creation, Saving Mr. Banks needed to tap into its viewer’s souls to reach everyone’s inner children. Despite the enjoyable moments, its over-sentimentality, frustrating plot, and irritating characters undermine the intriguing premise. Buying into this Oscar season’s overwhelming glow, the movie rests entirely on nostalgia, conventional direction, overly sentimental screen-writing, and whimsy. Despite the notorious pre-production schedule and baffling personalities on offer, the fascinating real-life story is transformed into a sorely treacle docudrama. The plot itself, like the movie’s lead character, doesn’t stick to the courage of its convictions. The movie kicks off in Australia in 1906. Helen ‘Ginty’ Goff (Annie Rose Buckley), daughter of Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) and Margaret Goff (Ruth Wilson), is a precocious and engaging youngster looking for inspiration. Reaching to the skies for guidance, Helen seeks an inspiring adventure and sustainable future. Unfortunately, she’s forced to witness her dad’s transition from enthusiastic banker to drunken layabout. With this likeable family unit facing a painful demise, not even Aunt Ellie (Rachel Griffiths), despite fixing the family’s irritating flaws, can stop Helen from becoming a cynical adult. The movie then jumps to the 1960s, and Helen, changing her name to ‘P.L. Travers’, is a curmudgeonly middle-aged spinster. Travers (Emma Thompson), living a lonely existence in a minuscule house in London, is facing bankruptcy.
B. J. Novak & Jason Schwartzman.
Inspired by her aunt and father, she turns her life story into a fantasy novel series chronicling a magical nanny, broken-down family, and talking umbrella’s adventures. With writer’s block and diminishing sales eviscerating her bank account, Travers is forced to grant Hollywood the rights to her beloved novels. Promising to succinctly and accurately adapt Travers’ creations for the cinematic realm, multi-talented and intriguing media mogul Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) pulls her into the mega-studio system. Working with screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and composer/lyricist/siblings Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak respectively), Travers dismisses every idea and tool at her disposal. Turning smiles into frowns throughout Los Angeles, Travers’ irritating attitude may erode her and this adaptation’s immediate futures. Guided by chauffeur Ralph (Paul Giamatti), Travers must conquer her demons before signing off on this potentially successful project. Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), with his eyes on the prize, delivers another treacle and uninspired docudrama. Reflecting upon Hollywood’s greatest efforts, movies chronicling infamous film productions, from the opening frame, must be intensifying and entertaining. With the end result embedded in pop-culture and the consciousness, this hurdle, admittedly, is extremely difficult to overcome. Unfortunately, super-conglomerate Disney casts a sickeningly dark shadow over this docudrama. Disney immediately reveals its despicable intentions. As an ethically questionable project, Saving Mr. Banks credits Disney for single-handedly saving Hollywood. Applauding its own 20th-and-21st-century achievements, this unsatisfying effort becomes a deluded, self-affirming, and desperate PR stunt. Despite these obvious conundrums, the branding-fuelled company refuses to spoil its own image.
Sticking to Disney’s family-friendly roots, the movie can’t break through the cloying restrictions and conventions. The story and characters are doctored to fit the movie’s fantastical nature. Aiming for a bombastic narrative and fairytale-like aesthetic, the movie removes wit, darkness, heart, and depth from this enthralling premise. Unfortunately, this version of events lacks cinematically compelling aspects. As a cookie-cutter Disney creation, this Oscar contender becomes a predictable, sanitised, and tepid dramedy. The contrivances, obvious references, and broad slapstick hijinks fall into Disney’s more saccharine, stereotypical, and unambitious cinematic endeavours. Developing an immensely cheesy narrative, certain sub-plots and character arcs, despite hinting at compelling concepts, are picked up and dropped without warning. In addition, the pacing wavers when Hancock presses the flashback button. Jumping hastily between contrasting settings and time periods, the flashbacks add little to the narrative. Repetitive and uninteresting, these moments throw in several underwhelming plot-twists. Like Hitchcock, this nostalgic endeavour inexplicably switches from sentimentally dramatic to frantically comedic. Relying heavily on the original production’s songs and footage, this docudrama becomes forgettable faster than you can say “Dick Van Dyke”. Relying on critical, commercial, and Academy acclaim, the movie lacks the relevance, kinetic direction, intelligence, and charm of this year’s other Oscar contenders. I kept asking myself: “Who is this movie for?!”. The pre-production jargon will bewilder children while the unengaging story will bore adult viewers. As artificial as dancing penguins, the movie’s themes are hurriedly plastered across certain scenes. At one point, Travers criticises the original script by claiming it lacks heart, gravitas, and realism.
“Well come on! When does anybody get to go to Disneyland with Disneyland with Walt Disney himself?” (Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), Saving Mr. Banks).
Regrettably, the movie lacks these valuable elements. Tapping into modern criticism’s commentary on movie-making practices and the money-hungry studio system, the movie displays slight shades of life. However, capitalisation and globalisation are described as minor hiccups in this movie’s fluffy universe. Despite the relevant complaints, this movie’s glorious visual flourishes aid this otherwise conventional docudrama. Painting L.A. as a glowing cityscape, the production design develops rich, textured, and kinetic settings. In addition, the eye-popping costume designs elevate certain sequences. Suits, dresses, and mascot uniforms romanticise this valuable time period. Introducing Saving Mr. Banks with the original Disney/Buena Vista logo, the tiniest details make a significant difference throughout the 2+hour run-time. Despite the small scope, these bubbly aesthetic touches develop and imaginative and charming 1960s-obsessed universe. In addition, Disneyland is a sun-drenched, lively, and eclectic vista. Travers and Disney’s stroll through the tourist attraction is a charming moment. Credit belongs to the A-list cast for delivering monumental and well-meaning performances. Elevating themselves above manipulative material, Thompson and Hanks’ thespian qualities pit two gargantuan forces in a culture clash driven by wit, intellect, intent, and courage. Thompson’s purposeful mannerisms and inherent watchability make up for the character’s irreverence, cynical outlook, and irritating personality. Hurling insults at everyone in earshot, the character becomes tiresome by the half-hour mark. Hanks brings levity and charm to his controversial role. Stripping Uncle Walt of his anti-Semitism, cigarette addiction, and money-grubbing ways, Hanks’ charismatic presence develops a likeable and enigmatic go-getter. He delivers his best line – “Well when does anyone get to go to Disneyland with Walt Disney himself?” – with style and aplomb. Giamatti provides the movie’s most enlightening moments as Travers’ latest admirer. Novak, Schwartzman, and Whitford become engaging comedic foils. Farrell excels in his enthusiastic and well-meaning role. Meanwhile, newcomer Lily Bingham is appealing as Disney’s sickly-sweet receptionist.
Saving Mr. Banks, claiming that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, pours a pound of it down its viewers’ throats. With big-budget movies based on novels, classic feature films, TV shows, video games, and board games, the movie should’ve commented on this business-driven trend. Resting on nostalgia and marketing, this fictionalised account lacks cinematic appeal and relevance. Saved by Oscar-worthy performances, an attention to detail, and tiny heartwarming moments, this uninspired, dreary, and corny low-2½-star docudrama doesn’t match the Oscar-worthy competition.
Verdict: A well-acted yet uninteresting and meandering docudrama.