Tag Archives: film

Film review: 12 Years a Slave

 Title: 12 Years a Slave
Year: 2013
Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Brad Pitt
12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave


12 Years a Slave is director Steve McQueen’s third feature film following Hunger and Shame and was written by John Ridley (U Turn, Three Kings). Based on true events, taken from the protagonist’s memoirs, it tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free man living in New York during America’s pre-civil war decades. Northup was captured and sold to slavers in New Orleans for twelve years before being rescued and returned home.

12 Years is a harrowing, fascinating and shameful recital of this epoch in recent history. McQueen does the subject matter justice, as one would expect. This is a solid film…yet something is missing.

To begin on the positive, and there is lots to draw from. Ejiofor, Fassbender and Nyong’o give stunning performances, you could probably call them perfect. The set design and attention to historical detail is second to none, from the colours of the cotton fields, to the constant beads of sweat betraying the southern heat, to the straw hats, mud stains and log cabins. The viewer is invited into the world of blood, sweat and tears that is slavery. McQueen’s past as an artist is, of course, forever present and notable. In the slave ship bringing them to the servitude of south, from the freedom of north, McQueen adopts Caravaggio inspired light and shade, as they get inextricably further into the deep dark shackles of bondage.

Yet, where Hunger is a piece of art, a slightly avant-garde and quite stylized piece of work, 12 Years is cinematic in a more traditional and accessible sense. He lets the camera linger (a device fast becoming McQueen’s trade mark) but not long enough. In Hunger it lingers until you itch, you can’t stand it, you beg him to stop, it’s excruciating because he is portraying something excruciating. Time moves so slowly in prison. In 12 Years, it cuts just before we quite get there. We need to feel that pain, to be uncomfortable, to feel anxious.

12 Years is a good-looking film, the lighting and cinematography, the colours. But I wanted more. I wanted lens glare, orange light, long shots and super close ups. In Hunger there are so many perfectly symmetrical, grey-toned shots, to put you in prison, to make you feel the oppressive structure of being imprisoned, the claustrophobia, the lack of freedom or flexibility. I don’t remember anything like that from 12 Years. It looks beautiful and this is juxtaposed with gritty violence and blood, which works quite well on a level. But this is the least we expect from McQueen.

With McQueen there is an expectation of artistic ability, to get the deepest feeling across by drumming the emotion into you, something intangible, something expressed by the visual through the transcendence of it, his use of dialogue (or lack thereof), his use of continuous takes, the camera waiting patiently. The moment when Northup ‘becomes’ a slave (when he starts to sing at a fellow slave’s funeral) is reminiscent of this, the pure emotion, the focus on the eyes, the shift in his demeanour from stoicism to emotive loud singing. But even this was too quick and too obvious.

The relationship between Ejiofor as Northup and Fassbender as Epps, his main slave ‘master’, is probably the most important of the film. We are given a glimpse into Epps’ impossible love for Nyong’o and biblical fetishes, but this could have been better explored with a little more depth from Epp’s perspective. Did Epps feel divinely justified to beat and rape her, or just to own her? Did he have moments of conflict? His tears during the rape scene touch on this, he wipes them away and slaps her, but more would have been interesting. The character was so fascinating and unbelievable, we needed something more insightful relating to his humanity.

12 Years is a solid film. It is entertaining, thought provoking and quite brilliant in terms of performances and overall direction. But I think I should have been reeling from it for days, I should have been dreaming about it and obsessing over it, wanting more and yet scared to explore it – how and why we did this, so recently, so horrifically and incomprehensibly. I thought about it a little the day after I saw it and not too much since.

Gratuitous comedy…

Shadow Pico featuring One Direction. I must be the last person to not know this. It’s bloody funny.

Egyptian Lover

Egyptian Lover at the Sugar Club, Dublin, tomorrow night. 

Should be a blast…this must be one of the best videos ever:

Little Ox Gallery: Film…

Ivor, here’s my shriver…

I recently watched a documentary about Ivor Cutler so thought I’d post a link to his work here, to cheer up these grey spring days…everyone could do with a wee bit o’ Ivor in their lives:
Youtube clip of ‘Walking To a Farm’
Youtube clip of ‘I’m Happy’

Ivor Cutler 1923 – 2006

Lists on ‘Den of Geek’…

I’m writing for nerdy (ie. cool, to folks like you and me) website Den of Geek at the moment…they cover movies, games, tv etc, and they have a big ‘List of Lists’, which is great fun. So I thought I’d share some lists with you, just click to have a look:

Top 10 Classic Ad-lib/ Off-script Movie Moments

Top 11 Classic So-bad-they’re-good B-movies

Hope you enjoy…

In the original script Schrader had simply written “Bickle speaks to himself in the mirror”

Film review: Synecdoche, New York

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Synecdoche, New York

Title: Synecdoche, New York
Released: 2008
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams

Charlie Kaufman is arguably the most exciting, original, vital, and intelligent American screen writer around. His screenplays for films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Being John Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation (2003) are some of the most innovative of the last decade. They were surreal and post-modern in nature. But they also were not so abstract as to lose their beautiful treatment in portraying and documenting aspects of the human condition. Themes like self-worth, relationships, conscience & conscientiousness, responsibility, art, modern life and (of course) love, crop up. And are dealt with in a thought-provoking and utterly original way. This was bolstered through the aesthetic of the most interesting directors of our day. Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) and Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). So, through unique and beautiful visual cinematic devices, Kaufman’s scripts came to life and played out in front of us like pieces of wonderful art. Then we come to Synecdoche, New York, Kaufman’s directorial debut. Continue reading

Film review: The Dead Zone

Walken: super-cool in The Dead Zone

Title: The Dead Zone
Released: 1983
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Martin Sheen

Adapted from Stephen King’s book of the same name, The Dead Zone accomplishes three impressive feats. One, it is possibly the best film adaptation of a King novel; two, it is probably Christopher ‘the undisputed king’ Walken’s most fantastically engaging lead role; three, it sees Cronenberg adopt an absorbing maturity in a more mainstream effort than lots of his other work. Of course we all love Cronenberg for his resplendent, quirky, surreal, black humour (The Fly, Scanners, Videodrome), but The Dead Zone shows us that there is also substance bolstering his unique style. And Walken is simply, pardon my french, fucking amazing. It was the role he was built for. Playing Johnny Smith, he acquires psychic abilities after a car accident leaves him in a coma for five years. By touching people, he sees into their past or future. This is then played out upon a plot involving local mystery murders and political commentary, with the subplot including a surprisingly heartfelt and genuine emotional pull between Walken and his girlfriend, who married someone else while he was comatose. In one of the most memorable moments he ‘sees’ a boy playing on thin ice, which then cracks. With the walking stick he has used since his accident (giving a strange, sickly edge to his character – a physical devise prop which works incredibly well), he tries to convince the boy’s parents to stop him going onto the ice. Continue reading