12 Years a Slave reviews

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Re: 12 Years a Slave reviews

Postby ksrymy » Sun Oct 20, 2013 7:04 pm

Mister Tee wrote:Oddly, if one thinks about a split (unlikely, as always), Gravity/McQueen would fit the pattern better (tough subject matter wins director, popular favorite takes best picture). But, thinking of Cuaron's work as more bravura, I'd prefer it the other way around.

I agree. I would prefer a 12 Years/Cuarón slate if there needed to be a split; however, I think Cuarón will win due to the sheer gravity of his film's style.
"Men get to be a mixture of the charming mannerisms of the women they have known." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Re: 12 Years a Slave reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sun Oct 20, 2013 6:42 pm

mlrg wrote:If it finally goes down between this and Gravity, who do you think will take best picture?

12 Years seems to have all the makings of a best picture -- weighty subject, great reviews, strong box office. But of course one could have said the same of Lincoln last year.

Oddly, if one thinks about a split (unlikely, as always), Gravity/McQueen would fit the pattern better (tough subject matter wins director, popular favorite takes best picture). But, thinking of Cuaron's work as more bravura, I'd prefer it the other way around.

There's so much excitement over these two films, Captain Phillips' excellent reviews and easy road to $100 million barely register. Plus we have two advance-acclaimed films by Oscar veterans (Inside Llewyn Davis and Nebraska), a wildly touted foreign entry (Blue), and as yet unseen efforts by Scorsese, Clooney and David O. Russell. Can you imagine, if we were still in the five nominees era, how interesting this race would be?

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Re: 12 Years a Slave reviews

Postby mlrg » Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:49 pm

Great review Tee.

I still have to wait 3 months before it opens in my country.

If it finally goes down between this and Gravity, who do you think will take best picture?

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Re: 12 Years a Slave reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:34 pm

This is a solid piece of work, with very strong moments. But I wasn’t overwhelmed by it the way many critics appear to have been, and I’m puzzled by the hallelujah chorus.

Begin with the positive, of which there’s plenty. McQueen adapts his style – very much art-film, in his two previous features -- to a more standard narrative surprisingly well. In fact, some of those art house touches work in his favor. His knack for isolating on small objects, for instance, lends an economy to his storytelling that helps him cover ground quickly – as when shots of a turning water wheel and pulsating waves work as a kind of synecdoche for the entire voyage down the Mississippi. And his penchant for long-held shots creates what I think most will view as among the film’s most memorable moments: the scene of hanging from a tree while daily life goes on in the background, and the slow rotation from character to character during the bar of soap confrontation. There are many other memorable images along the way, all lit extremely well by his cinematographer. There’s no question McQueen is a filmmaker.

He also gets a ton of solid performances from actors, some in tiny roles (like Paul Giammatti and, especially, Alfre Woodward, whose few minutes make you wish you could see another film more focused on her). Adepero Oduye makes for a strong presence in the early part of the film as the inconsolable Eliza (for a while, I thought she might be the black actress everyone was highlighting). Benedict Cumberbatch strikes just the right note as the most-benign master – he’s too ineffectual to be cruel, but shows, in his final moment, that he’s just as invested in the system as those more blatant.

It’s in the second half of the film that the narrative springs to fuller life, however, and for me that’s where the strongest acting takes place. Michael Fassbender is completely reprehensible, but also manages to project some hail-fellow-well-met bonhomie that is, in the end, even more scary (his “so I hear you write letters” scene with Ejiofor is full of quiet menace). Sarah Paulson is also memorable in this segment – her character is poised somewhere between decency and venom, with a hairpin trigger. And of course there’s Lupita Nyong’o, whose Patsey conveys a sense of her impossible situation that’s heartbreaking.

Front and center is Chiwetel Ejiofor. I like alot of what he does – most particularly that arm-on-the-shoulder scene with Fassbender, where he displays quick wits on his feet (while in the process becoming just the sort of conniver he’s despised others for being). His attempt to maintain some of his humanity despite the inconceivable horror going on around him is very touching. For all that, I don’t think he gives the great-great performance some have been claiming. He’s a very solid central character, but a fair amount of what he does is passive -- maybe analogous to Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter? He’s good, and would be a perfectly acceptable best actor nominee, but he doesn’t strike me as exceptional.

So, what are my problems with the film? First, a small issue: without the title, I’d have had no sense of 12 years going by; it seems like maybe a year and a half. Some of this may arise from the fact that Louisiana has a consistent climate, so there were no seasons-changing moments to make one feel time rushing by. But there was no use of much else, either – changes in appearance, etc. – so the story felt tightly contained.

Which also was one of the things that, for me, kept the film from being the Schindler’s List of slavery it’s been purported to be. Schindler just had a far grander scale; it felt like it was about the entire Holocaust, despite mostly focusing on what happened to a small number of people. I imagine 12 Years a Slave wants to achieve that same expansiveness – and for some critics it does -- but for me the story remained fairly contained. Especially in the second half, it was largely about what it would be like to be subject to the whim of two people locked in a psychotic marriage -- which is compelling and gripping, but somewhat tangential to the overall slave experience.

There are also some limitations to McQueen’s method. I read this on another site, and think it’s germane: based on McQueen’s (now) three films, his overall subject appears to be the degradation of human flesh – by starvation, by sexual indulgence, and now by cruel subjugation. And certainly the physical treatment of the slaves in the film is appalling (and the ultimate source of the overseers’ power). But the horror of slavery goes well beyond that, and I don’t think McQueen always gives as much emphasis to the other, more subtle cruelties. There are certainly moments – starting with Ejiofor awakening in chains – where the mere fact of essential captivity is highlighted. But, push comes to shove, McQueen’s impulse always seems to be to throw another physical atrocity our way. Which works on an audience (me included), but doesn’t feel like it’s offering new insight into it subject.

Again, none of this is to suggest this is anything but a good film. If it were to meet all blogger expectation and win best picture next March, it’d be for me the best choice since No Country for Old Men (given my lack of enthusiasm for The Hurt Locker). But it’s not a film about which I’d be truly enthusiastic because, solid as it is, it didn’t take me anywhere that felt completely fresh, the way Schindler’s List unquestionably did. Something I’ve found interesting in the wildly enthusiastic reviews, which do advocate for the film as ground-breaking: many of them call it the best film ever made about slavery (which it may well be), but their reference point appears to be “as opposed to Gone with the Wind”. And it made me wonder: are there many critics around who ever watched Roots? For that matter, are there many here, who watched it in full sequence (as anything but part of a history class)? Because, for the gazillions of us who watched it in real time in 1977, Roots offered a full corrective for the gauzy GWTW view of plantation life. I’m not saying Roots was anything like great art – 12 Years is certainly a superior creation – but in terms of making it clear that slavery was a psychological and physical horror, with no soft-coating, the show was a major cultural event. And, even though the 14 or so hours had plenty of kitschy moments, there were also some – like LeVar Burton being beaten till he accepted his slave name, or Leslie Uggams being driven off, permanently separated from her parents – that are burned in my memory as indelible examples of the psychological cruelty of the slave years. I don’t think McQueen achieves many comparable moments of emotional engagement in 12 Years – with the exception of the final moment between Northrup and Patsey, and then the unavoidably moving finale. That may well have been his and Ridley’s intent: they appear to be anti-sentimentalists. But somehow they’ve got critics to rave about the film as if it WERE emotionally powerful…and part of me wonders if there’s just a touch of critics reviewing the subject matter rather than the film onscreen.

One more quibble: Kubrick made the famous remark that Schindler’s List isn’t really about the Holocaust, since the Holocaust is about 6 million Jews who died and Schindler is about a few hundred who lived. Couldn’t we make the same snide evaluation of this film?

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Re: 12 Years a Slave reviews

Postby flipp525 » Sat Oct 19, 2013 7:31 am

More later, hopefully, but I can't imagine anyone besting Lupita Nyong'o's searing, unflinching performance in this for Best Supporting Actress this year. Ejiofer and Fassbender (as well as stand-out Sarah Paulson) are all superb, but it's the Nyong'o performance that I can't stop thinking about. It's simply unforgettable. One of the most haunting elements of the film, I think, (and one I think will resonate with Academy voters) is [SPOILER] not knowing whatever happened to Patsey. I'm sure that must have plagued the real Solomon Northup for the rest of his life.
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Re: 12 Years a Slave reviews

Postby mlrg » Sun Sep 01, 2013 5:35 pm

Big Magilla wrote:We may well be getting our first look at this year's Oscar winner for Best Picture, Actor (Eijofor), Supporting Actor (Fassbender), Supporting Actress (Nyong'o), Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography and Score. It will almost certainly be nominated in all those categories with McQueen the first serious black contender for Best Director.


I think it's too soon to call the winner, specially this year. Honestly I can't remember a year with so many rave reviews on different films (and many are still sight unseen, like August Osage County, American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street, Dallas Buyers Club, etc...)

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Re: 12 Years a Slave reviews

Postby Big Magilla » Sun Sep 01, 2013 2:17 am

We may well be getting our first look at this year's Oscar winner for Best Picture, Actor (Eijofor), Supporting Actor (Fassbender), Supporting Actress (Nyong'o), Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography and Score. It will almost certainly be nominated in all those categories with McQueen the first serious black contender for Best Director.

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Re: 12 Years a Slave reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Aug 31, 2013 10:55 pm

Hollywood Reporter

12 Years a Slave: Telluride Review

7:04 PM PDT 8/31/2013 by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line

A strong, involving, at times overstated telling of an extraordinary life story.

The recent popular revenge fantasy Django Unchained notwithstanding, there have been so few good and strong films about slavery in America that, for this reason alone, 12 Years A Slave stands quite tall. With director Steve McQueen dedicating himself to detailing the “peculiar institution” with as many dreadful particulars as he can, Chiwetel Ejiofor leads a fine cast with a superior performance as the real-life Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into Southern slavery until being miraculously rescued. Perhaps the nature of the story is such that the film can’t help but be obvious and quite melodramatic at times, but it gets better as it goes along and builds to a moving finish. Despite the upsetting and vivid brutality, Fox Searchlight has a winner here that will generate copious media coverage, rivet the attention of the black public, stir much talk in political and educational circles and appeal to film audiences who crave something serious and different.

Northup published a memoir of his 12-year nightmare in 1853, the year after Uncle Tom’s Cabin came out, and it was so successful that he went on to participate in two stage adaptations. The book dropped from sight in the twentieth century, but the movie tie-in will certainly reestablish its virtually unique status as a work by an educated free man who managed to return from slavery.

British director McQueen, whose striking first two features, Hunger and Shame, remained restricted to the art film world, paints on a much bigger canvas and with a much broader brush here, befitting a subject that defined the structure of American society before the Civil War. The nature of the outrage, villainy and human suffering on display is entirely genuine if also familiar, but it is never far removed from the direct experiences of Northup, who, near the beginning of his ordeal, decides, “I don’t want to survive, I want to live.”

For him, this means getting back to Saratoga, New York, where he has lived with his wife and children in well-to-do fashion until Northup, who plays the violin, is induced by two self-described entertainers to join them in Washington, D.C., to makes some quick money. They get him drunk and he wakes up in chains and, soon enough, is on a boat to Louisiana, where he is renamed Platt Hamilton by a slave trader (Paul Giamatti) and sold to plantation owner Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch).

That any of this could happen seems shocking, of course, but it was not uncommon in the years after the federal government banned the import of any further slaves. One of the most wrenching occurrences in any slave-era narrative is the forced separation of parents from children and this happens in Platt’s group to mother Eliza (Adepero Oduye), who almost never stops crying about it thereafter.

A cultivated religious man, Ford is impressed by Platt’s intelligence and fiddle playing, which only arouses the ire of Platt’s immediate boss Tibeats (Paul Dano), who provokes Platt to the point that the black man savagely beats him. To save Platt from revenge, Ford sells him to cotton plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender, the star of McQueen’s first two films), who, like Uncle Tom’s Simon Legree, likes to believe he can break slaves of any defiant or hopeful thoughts.

Up to this point, Northup/Platt is pretty strictly seen as a simmering victim, while the whites, with the exception of Ford, are mercenary businessmen at best and outright villains at worst, figures little different than the caricatures that have come down through the years in books and films. There are grace notes, to be sure, such as startling scene in which, deep in the bayou, a group of slaves encounter some Indians, or when the relatively enlightened Ford reads from the Bible to family members and slaves together.

But it is only at about the one-hour mark that matters deepen and therefore become more interesting. Fassbender’s Epps (a real person who, later in life, read Northup’s book and declared that what he wrote was basically the truth) initially seems like the most evil creature in the South, a drunk prone administering severe whippings and having his way sexually with slave women, notably the slender Patsey (a very fine Lupita Nyong’o), whom Platt also befriends.

However, Fassbender reaches down to make him a more complex creation, a sometimes shrewd observer of character in a tortured marriage with a wife (Sarah Paulson, superb) who belittles him as a eunuch in front of the slaves and takes out her hatred on Patsey. The latter, in turn, begins to ask the impossible of Platt, of whom Epps becomes suspicious of trying to send messages to the outside world, which, in fact, he is.

In the end, it’s only the chance arrival of an itinerant Canadian carpenter, Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt), who with Platt will put up a new building on Epps’s plantation, that provides the slave with the hope of an escape. An ardent abolitionist given to universal truths rather than local notions, Bass is not afraid to argue with Epps or the rouse his ire by saying things like, “There is a fearful ill resting upon this nation.” Although he’s been betrayed by many a white man before, Platt takes a chance by entrusting his fate to this seemingly sincere fellow.

Quite a few scenes, of Platt’s near-lynching and some others’ actual hangings, of terrific whippings and other punishments, are pretty rough. The everyday drudgery and misery of plantation life and the arbitrariness with which slaves are moved around are readily apparent and, the sentiments of the likes of Bass to the side, there is not a whiff of any change to come apparent to anyone. This particular story may have, after a fashion, a happy and inspiring ending, but very few other slave lives did.

Ejiofor is terrific in a demanding character who’s put through the wringer physically, mentally and emotionally. One feels his determination to get back to his family virtually at all times even though he doesn’t talk about it, and toward the end there is an unusual extended close-up of him in which he looks out toward the unknown future as his eyes express a quicksilver array of emotions, from wonder to fear to hope.

Louisiana location work provides the perfect heated setting for a story expertly physicalized by production designer Adam Stockhausen, costume designer Patricia Norris and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. Hans Zimmer’s score combines with occasional religious music sung by the slaves to provide effective backgrounding, but students of the composer’s work will quickly realize that the main chord progression here is almost precisely the same as the central one he used on what may be his greatest soundtrack, that for Inception.

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12 Years a Slave reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Aug 31, 2013 11:40 am

Variety

Telluride Film Review: ’12 Years a Slave’

12 Years a Slave August 31, 2013 | 01:20AM PT
This epic account of an unbreakable soul makes even Scarlett O’Hara’s struggles seem petty by comparison.

Peter Debruge
Senior Film Critic@AskDebruge

Had Steve McQueen not already christened his previous picture thus, “Shame” would have been the perfect one-word title to capture the gut-wrenching impact of his third and most essential feature, “12 Years a Slave.” Based on the true story of free black American Solomon Northrup’s kidnapping and imposed bondage from 1841 to 1853, this epic account of an unbreakable soul makes even Scarlett O’Hara’s struggles seem petty by comparison. But will audiences have the stomach for a film that rubs their faces in injustice? As performed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Northrup’s astounding story is too compelling not to connect with American audiences, and important enough to do decent business abroad as well.

The first thing fans of McQueen’s “Hunger” and “Shame” will notice here is the degree to which the helmer’s austere formal technique has evolved — to the extent that one would almost swear he’d snuck off and made three or four films in the interim. Composition, sound design and story all cut together beautifully, and yet, there’s no question that “12 Years a Slave” remains an art film, especially as the provocative director forces audiences to confront concepts and scenes that could conceivably transform their worldview.

If “Django Unchained” opened the door, then “12 Years a Slave” goes barreling through it, tackling its subject with utmost seriousness. The film opens in a world where slavery is a fact of life and Northrup has no recourse to challenge his captivity. Duped and drugged on a bogus job interview, he awakens in shackles and is beaten ferociously when he dares to assert his status as a free man. Some may wonder why he doesn’t continue to protest, forgetting that the word of a black man in pre-Civil War America had almost no legal currency, especially if said individual was unable to produce his free papers.

Assuming Northrup wants to survive, a fellow hostage advises, he must do and say as little as possible, in addition to hiding his ability to read and write. “I don’t want to survive,” Northrup bellows. “I want to live!” Separated from his wife and children, he faces a situation where the entire society is stacked against him. While not every white person in the film is evil, they willingly participate in a system that demeans their fellow man, and the injustice is too great simply to forget and move on (as Hollywood and society would evidently prefer).

Alarmingly, the few films of the past century to engage directly with the institution of slavery have nearly all come from the exploitation sphere, fetishizing aspects of violence and sexual abuse that McQueen endeavors to cast in a different light. An early scene in which slave trader Theophilus Freeman (Paul Giamatti) prods naked slaves for the benefit of prospective buyers offers an alarming yet in-no-way-arousing corrective to an equivalent sequence in the tasteless 1971 mock-doc “Goodbye Uncle Tom,” which lingers on the nudity and degradation of such a market. There’s little ambiguity in these unflattering depictions, though neither is there opportunity for audiences to misconstrue them as erotic.

To simplify Northrup’s memoir, John Ridley’s script lets the character — stripped even of his identity as he is redubbed Platt Hamilton en route to market — change hands just three times over the course of the film. Two of those owners, played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Bryan Batt, are as decent as the circumstances permit, even going so far as to encourage the fiddle playing with which he previously earned his living in upstate New York. The third, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), becomes the bane of Northrup’s existence — a man who justifies his actions according to scripture and prides himself in “breaking” disobedient slaves.

On Epps’ plantation, “Platt” is expected to pick 200 pounds of cotton each day and is savagely beaten every time he falls short. For sheer productivity, none of the slaves comes close to Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), a soft-spoken beauty of whom Epps is especially fond, much to the consternation of his severe wife (Sarah Paulson). This jealous big-house matriarch is a familiar character among such exploitation movies as “Mandingo,” constantly jealous that her husband prefers the favors of a slave, and yet Paulson dodges the caricature, even when throwing a heavy crystal decanter in Patsey’s face or urging her husband to beat the life out of her.

Such cruelty is commonplace in the film’s first two hours, and though audiences might not pick up on the technique, McQueen applies the same unflinching approach to these moments that he used in “Hunger” and “Shame”: long uninterrupted takes that force us to absorb the full impact of human mistreatment, as when Northrup survives a lynching attempt, only to dangle from a noose for several minutes while his fellow slaves move about in the background, too nervous to cut him down. This scene also perfectly illustrates McQueen’s knack for letting the characters’ behavior inform the sociology of the situation, rather than explaining things overtly through dialogue.

Though arguably too harsh for young eyes, “12 Years a Slave” will serve as an important teaching tool, giving audiences who’ve never witnessed the dynamics of slavery an impression of how the system worked. As in Northrup’s near-hanging, we see that even though slaves far outnumbered their white masters, harsh discipline could serve to discourage organization by playing upon their survival instincts. Few scenes this year could be more depressing than Patsey begging Northrup to end her suffering, unless you count the one in which Epps forces him to beat her nearly to death — another exchange heightened by the way McQueen constructs the entire sequence within a single shot, as the agitated camera circles her abuse.

Actors like Nyong’o don’t come along often, and she’s a stunning discovery amidst an ensemble that carves out room for proven talents such as Paul Dano, Alfre Woodard and Brad Pitt to shine. Though the film brims with memorable characters, the show ultimately belongs to Ejiofor, who upholds the character’s dignity throughout. McQueen shrewdly limits everything audiences see and feel to the sphere of Northrup’s direct experience, drawing us into his head and keeping us there by including occasional shots in which this hyper-intelligent individual (in many ways the superior of his captors) struggles to make sense of his station.

When it comes time to bestow awards, voters tend to prefer characters who suffer to those who abuse, and yet, this actorly transformation may be Fassbender’s most courageous yet, tapping into a place of righteous superiority that reminds just how scary such racism can be. In many respects, “12 Years a Slave” works like a horror movie, beginning with a “Saw”-style abduction and proceeding through subsequent circles of hell, the tension amplified by a score that blends chain-gang clanging with those same foghorn blasts Hans Zimmer used in “Inception.” As captured by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, however, a rare beauty suffuses even the most infernal situations.

This radiant aesthetic, coupled with the rousing use of spiritual songs, provide a beacon of optimism amidst so much hate, once again proving cinema’s place as the ultimate human-rights medium. It’s a shame that such injustice was allowed to exist for so long — 12 years for Northrup and nearly 250 for those less fortunate — and an even bigger disgrace that it takes a British director to stare the issue in its face.


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