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12 Years a Slave (2013)
Slavery is an evil that should befall none
12 Years a Slave tells the true story of Solomon Northup, an educated and free black man living in New York during the 1840's who gets abducted, shipped to the south, and sold into slavery. It is a film that stimulates at both an emotional level and an intellectual one.
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup. He's been a "that guy" actor for sometime film-goers may know his face but not his name. After this film his name will be known. He gives, quite simply, the best performance from a leading actor since Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood. Because of his character's position as a slave he is usually unable to speak his mind unless he is prepared to be beaten. As a result Ejiofor is forced to utilize body language and his eyes, which become enormous pools of emotion to express himself to the audience. He's forced to endure terrible things, but he always maintains a certain dignity and nobility that makes his plight even more affecting. It's a performance of incredible subtlety that may leave you speechless and in complete awe.
Micheal Fassbender gives the best performance of his already extremely impressive career, even besting his previous high marks from the films Shame and Hunger (both directed by Steve McQueen, who also directed 12 Years a Slave). He plays Edwynn Epps, a vicious and demonic slaver and perhaps the most loathsome and disgusting character ever put on screen. If alive today, he'd likely be a drunk with severe anger management issues. By turns pathetic and terrifying, he embodies the ultimate nightmare of a deeply flawed man given absolute power over other human beings, and through that absolute power finds only madness, which drives him to deeper cruelty. He's always a menacing and malignant presence even when not on screen, as his slaves must always be aware and prepared for his seemingly random bouts of sadism.
Other actors give excellent performances as well. Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard are all great in relatively small roles. But in this film of titans it's the one you've probably never heard of who perhaps stands above them all. In her first role in a feature film, Lupita Nyong'o, playing the pretty young slave Patsey - the object of Edwynn Epps demented and horrifying affections and the emotional epicenter of the entire picture, gives one of the most devastating performances I have ever seen. A portrait of unbearable sadness, her character is a mirror image of Solomon. While Solomon is a man who refuses to break and give up the dignity which he's known since birth, she is one who has long since been broken, and who never knew dignity in the first place. Her life is a living hell, forced to endure the "love" of Edwyn Epps and the brutal jealousy of his wife, she's trapped in a terrible triangle that she can't escape. Despite that, she retains a level of innocence that only heightens the tragedy of her character. It actually gets to the point where simply looking at this character might be enough to bring you to tears. It's a shattering performance.
Starting his career as a video artist before making full length films, Steve McQueen has an uncanny eye for imagery and contrast. He's also a very patient film maker, utilizing long, steady single shots to emphasize various things. In his prior films this has felt like a purely stylistic choice, here, it's a choice aimed directly at our heart. When the events on screen become their most horrifying and ugly is when his camera becomes the most unflinching. At times feeling perhaps like we're seeing out of the solemn eyes of the ghost of some murdered slave, watching in sorrow and rage. This is both McQueen's most accessible and artistically searing film yet.
There are also moments of stunning natural beauty that would make Terrence Malick proud. Alone, these shots would inspire wonder, but in the context of this film they make us feel more forlorn, as if the ugliness of man is encroaching on the natural beauty of the world.
Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about 12 Years a Slave is the way that it portrays slavery itself. Instead of taking the easy way out and limiting his exploration of the topic solely to the slaves, Steve McQueen increases the scope and we see how it affects those who profited by it. Take Benedict Cumberbatch's character. A seemingly decent and caring man who treats his slaves with some semblance of respect and kindness. He comes off as a relatively good man who is trapped within the powerful confines of the institution of slavery. In 12 Years a Slave, slavery is shown as a horrifying and destructive social construct that drains the humanity from everyone it touches, turning good men into moral quandaries, turning flawed men into monsters, and turning an entire race of people into livestock and tools.
To watch 12 Years a Slave is to be confronted with the grim reality of slavery in a way that's never been done before. To say this is the best film ever made about slavery feels trivial, as slavery is a subject in film that has been shown with naive romanticism from films like Gone With the Wind or silly exploitation from something like Django Unchained. Both of which serve to make the topic digestible. To watch 12 Years a Slave is to experience a level of despair and misery that can become overwhelming. It's a film of such ugliness, such blunt emotional trauma, that it may haunt you for hours if not days after seeing it. So why should you watch a film that could leave you reeling and devastated? Because, it's also one of the greatest cinematic achievements of our time.
Hotaru no haka (1988)
A Tale of Discarded Angels
Some films simply have it; that deep connective tissue between the audience and the main characters that make you care almost beyond bearing for them. To make you Care about their fates and their plight in a way that is truly rare and special. Grave of the Fireflies is among those films.
Grave of the Fireflies is an incredible animated film about two siblings struggling to survive war-torn Japan during the tail end of World War II after being made orphans by the war. It is about their struggles, their plights, and their love for one another. It is also well known as being one of the saddest films ever made. It also might change the way you look at animated films.
While the film is indeed incredibly sad. There are moments of beauty, levity and humor. The relationship between the siblings is treated with an unequaled tenderness. But because of how the film begins all of these moments occur under the shadow of inevitable tragedy and alter the way you will feel from these moments.
The animation is beautiful. Showing off sweeping and awe-inspiring vistas of rural Japan. The film does a magnificent job of juxtaposing natural beauty and man-made destruction, which mirrors the relationship of the brother and sister beautiful but surrounded by tragic circumstances.
One of the running themes of Grave of the Fireflies is the cruelty of indifference. While these children struggle to survive, the surrounding adults ignore them and offer little help. Some are even overtly cruel towards them, particularly the children's' Aunt, who seems only interested in using them for extra rations, and then treats them with disdain when those rations are no longer available. While the war is to blame for the circumstances that put these children in this position, society as a whole is equally to blame for allowing the selfishness that makes this story possible and believable.
Grave of the Fireflies is one of the most devastating and emotionally affecting films I have ever seen. It has one of the most haunting conclusions I have ever seen. It is a film of such profound power that it can change the way you look at the world and increase the sympathy you feel for those around you.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
"Poems Don't Have to Rhyme, They Just Have to be Creative."
Moonrise Kingdom is a quasi fantasy film about love. While the main plot line is the most obvious romance story, there are other stories of love embedded here as well. From the Scout Master who loves his job, to wife cheating on her husband with the Captain, to her dissolving marriage to her husband. Love is the theme of this picture.
What is most striking is that the love story between the two children is the most pure, most real love shown in the film. It shows the wonder and beauty that such innocence can bring when it's combined with a deep love of someone.
The shots in the film are captivating and lovely, with the final one bringing tears to my eyes. There are also subtle and not so subtle moments of humor. Bill Murray has some great lines that are easy to miss. He's an alluring actor as always, and brings a quiet joy to the film that always supplements Wes Anderson's oddball style. Most importantly there is a heart to Moonrise Kingdom that few films can match.
As with most Wes Anderson films this is quirky almost to the extreme. But I reject the notion that this film is pretentious. It's the opposite. It is pure, it is a wonderful meditation of what love should be and how as we age and grow more cynical its true meaning becomes lost on us. Love is a poem that doesn't need to rhyme. But the longer we're without it the more we demand that it does.
The Fly (1986)
Shocking. But for Reasons You May Not Expect
When hearing or reading about The Fly you will usually hear praise for the special effects, the gore, or maybe even the acting (all praise well deserved). What you probably won't hear about as often, though, is just how absolutely tragic and heart shredding this film is.
The aforementioned gore and special effects really do deserve attention, though. They are still 25 some years later impressive, more so than about 90% of effects today. They are real. They aren't CGI added after the fact, covering up the fact that the actors are interacting with nothing. They are there with the actors, allowing them to see and feel something, and this matters. They also happen to look astounding. When Brundlefly truly emerges at the end it is not only one of the most disgusting moments you will ever see, but it is deeply disturbing on a very intimate level.
That intimacy is because of the actors here. Davis and Goldblum have a real chemistry here that only works to create a deeper connection with these characters. It's not surprising to hear that they were together when this picture was filmed, and it shows on screen. Their love feels real right from the start.
The Fly is a hybrid. Much like the main character, it transforms as the story progresses. First it is a light romance, then slightly comical, then deeply frightening and then finally, extremely sad. In the end the movie balls up all these different aspects and gives the viewer a rush of emotions that is hard not to appreciate. And this is what makes this movie so special. This emotional core is the soul of the movie. It's why the film works. And that's the most shocking thing about this movie. It is more than what most would assume. It is more than most other movies.
A Film of Rage and Sadness
Salo, the final film by Pasolini, is far and away the most affecting film I've ever seen of it's type. The images that it shows will stay with every viewer forever, they are unforgettable. Yet, you will wish you could forget them.
The film is about a group of rich Fascists during WWII-Nazi Occupied Italy, where they kidnap a group of 18 youngsters, allowing only physically perfect specimins to stay, and subject them to various forms of mental, physical and sexual torture over the next 120 Days. The torture starts off in a sexual nature--Sodomy, rape, humiliation and so on-- and slowly degrades and descends into mental and physical torture. Just when you think what you are seeing can't get worse, it does, ten-fold.
What makes Salo so brutally shocking and disturbing is its uncompromised and blunt way of showing the acts of horror. It is a very quiet and slow film, mostly shot using static and still cameras, it feels more like a documentary than a fictional film. It's clear upon viewing, that Pasolini wanted to remind us all that violence should not be entertainment. As such, every act of violence and degredation is drained of all its possible energy and excitement, and shown in a sad, painful light. Nothing is sugar coated, nothing is softened. This film is an attack on our desensitized feelings towards violence. Yet, at the same time, the film purposely desensitizes us to certain acts -- Such as rape. We see it so much during the film that it becomes "normality" to us, we barely raise an eyebrow. Upon realizing this, one also realizes how the horrible acts shown in the film are possible, and it's a terrible realization.
Salo continues to descend until at the end, when we are taken to the punishing grounds, where various rule breakers are tortured and murdered. This final sequence is the most harrowing and effective I've ever seen in a film. As the victims are tortured and murdered, each one of the fascist rulers take turns as voyer, watching from a second story window, far enough away to not hear the screams of terror and pain. And we watch with him. The film attempts to equate our viewing of this film to their viewing of the executions, after all, we're watching these acts for "entertainment", just as he is. And we distance ourselves from the acts in order to enjoy them, as he does by watching through binoculars far away. It's a savage and truthful attack, one that is impossible to deny.
Also incredibly unsettling is the inherent joy that the villains (Heroes?) feel at their victims pain, sadness and discomfort. Sometimes even to the point of sexual arousal. There is a scene where a girl is crying because her mother died trying to save her from these people. She is completely naked as she weeps, to us, she's the picture of vulnerability and sadness, to the fascists, it's the most exciting thing they've seen all day. The fascists all stand and watch her weep with the utmost sexualexcitement. It is terrifying. It's scenes like these that set Salo apart from other "gross out" movies. Some of the most affecting and frightening scenes are ones where there is quiet, watching the expressions and reactions of people to the various horrible acts.
Salo is a film of rage and sadness. It is a film that asks you to hate humanity, to hate what we're capable of; to look in the mirror and hate yourself. Then weep because nothing can be done about it. Nothing will ever change..
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
The Ultimate Modern Horror Film
The 70's was a decade full of cinematic classics across all genres. This is especially true in the horror genre which enjoyed huge success during this decade, which is where the modern horror film was born.
No film is more important to the modern horror film industry then the 1974 pseudo-gore classic - "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." The first shot is of a sizzling, rotting corpse sitting under the hot Texas sun. You'd think with a start like that you'd know what to expect from this film. And there in lies it's brilliance. You know it's a horror film, you know what it's about, yet as the film progresses you are still shocked and terrified by the raw and honest manner in which the story is carried out.
The film starts with a quiet tone and atmosphere which almost immediately gives off a foreboding silence that gives the impression of a calm before the storm. You know something bad is going to happen, you can tell...but the film is so unique, and so strikingly different from other horror films you can't predict how or what exactly is going to happen.
The story is of 5 young hippies on a road trip in Texas, they run out of gas and go to a secluded house to try and find help and gas. What they find is TERROR! and lots of it.
It's done in such a way that you never know what's going to happen next. There is no pounding music to build the suspense and let the viewer know to expect something, there is no coherent reason behind the gruesome acts of carnage we see, and as a result they come out of no where and completely blind side you.
The scene that best exemplifies this is the scene where we first get a glimpse of leatherface. When he pops out with that mallet and smacks Kurt right in the head it leaves the viewer shocked and confused. We had no way of expecting that, and that feelings stays during the entire film.
It's raw in every sense of the word, it's brilliance lies in it's anti cinematic feel...giving it a grainy plausible atmosphere that doesn't accept the idea of "it's only a movie". It's to real, it feels like what you're seeing is not just a movie but simply peering into the world of an absolute maniac who kills for no apparent reason other then not knowing any better.
This brings me to the star of the film, and my favorite horror villain of all time - Leatherface. His animalistic yet childlike behavior makes him so much creepier and interesting then other slashers. He wears a mask of human flesh, he eats his victims, he kills without remorse...yet he feels innocent, like a child who doesn't know he shouldn't pull the cat's tail. He's scolded by his older brother and whimpers and cowards, he IS a child, mentally at least, and that's what makes him so disturbing. The idea that he doesn't know what he's doing is wrong. He's doing all he's even known, what HE thinks he needs to do to survive. He's vicious, yet innocent. This is insanity at it's best. Never once do you feel bored or let down by the film. You are never able to tell what is going to happen next. With each passing scene you think you've seen the worst the film has to offer. And yet the next scene you find yourself more shocked and confused then you were the scene prior. This is truly a testament to Tobe Hooper's brilliance that seems to have been lost immediately after making this film.
In my opinion this is the pinnacle of horror films. It's the one that got me into the genre in hopes of finding another film that left me feeling as exhausted and drained as this did. While I never did find a film that affected me in a comparable way, I still can watch this film, after over a hundred times, and still get those chills I got the first time I saw it.
If you're aching for some Halloween viewing, then do yourself a favor and go rediscover this gem.
The Descent (2005)
With 'The Descent' Neil Marshall Joins the Ranks of Great Horror Filmmakers.
Over the last few years people seem to have forgotten what the point of a horror movie really is. They seem to think that it's to merely "gross out" simply by showing violence (Saw) or get startled by something moving quickly on screen and making a loud noise. Even recent horror films that I've greatly enjoyed mostly used either one of these tactics. With The Descent, Niel Marshal reminds us all the point of horror films, and does it beautifully.
Starting slowly and using the pacing of a suspense film at first, we are shown the characters. They decide to go cave diving after one of them suffers a terrible tragedy, in hopes that the adventure will give her some fun and excitement. Things begin to go wrong almost instantly for them once they enter the cave. A few jump scares here and there, most of which can be seen a mile away even by a casual viewer, we're lured into a false sense of quiet suspense as the claustrophobic atmosphere is created for us to slowly take in, and their obstacles slowly get more and more dangerous. The "descent" into true visceral horror happens gradually, the arrival - suddenly. Once the horror starts, it doesn't let up. This is a film of such tension, such palpable, real fear, that it is almost overwhelming.
Few films actually scare me, few disturb me, this movie did both. From it's terrifying premise of one of the most horrible situations imaginable somehow becoming MORE terrible, to it's immensely skillful execution, to the monsters, which I think are some of the best movie monsters I've ever seen, this film could not have been better. The film moves from simple jump scares to deeply disturbing and morbid terror, mostly created by both the disgusting creatures that pursue our hero's and the cave itself, so seamlessly that you won't even see it coming. However, something that is also very unsettling is the witnessing of the character's slow "descent" into madness, caused by their dire and hellish situation.
The blood and gore is great in this movie. It's used, not to create the terror, but to enhance it. And it's never done to entice and excite, the violence is so damn excruciating, it's what gore should be used for.
With 'The Descent" Neil Marshall cements what I (and probably many) had thought and hoped after viewing Dog Soldiers - his other masterpiece - That he is one of the greatest horror filmmakers in the world, one that I think has a long long career ahead of him.
Challenging and beautiful, Solondz does it again.
Todd Solondz has become quite infamous for his unapologetic and unique films that involve controversial topics. In Happiness, he dared to give humanity and compassion to a pedophile, and the kicker is, he succeeded. You actually cared for him. With Storytelling he took a more laid back approach, and didn't really delve to deeply into any unique or controversial topics, which was somewhat disappointing. Now, with Palindromes, he has made his most interesting, thought provoking and, arguably, his bravest film yet, tackling the controversial topic of abortion in ways few would dare.
The film is about Aviva, a 13 year old girl who wants to have a baby. She ends up having sex with a young man who's a friend of the family, and gets pregnant. Her parents find out about this and are determined to force her to have an abortion. The mother has a talk with her, telling her the risks and disadvantages a young girl giving birth could face: "What if it's deformed, or mentally retarded? It's more likely that a young mother will give birth to a baby with birth defects" She says. In a stunning turn of events, the mother confesses that she herself had an abortion, and her reasons for doing so are truly pathetic : "If I had had this baby, you wouldn't have been able to have the luxuries that me and your father provide you, like the quarts of ice cream, the gap clothing, or the Nsync tickets". The mom talks Aviva into having an abortion.
One of the most touching and heartbreaking scenes in the movie is when Aviva is lying on the abortion table, right before the procedure, she has such sorrow in her eyes, the baby she already loves is about to be killed, she knows this, but is too young and naive to do anything about it, she already has a name picked out for it...Henrieta. After the abortion Aviva is upset and runs away, encountering numerous interesting and complex and morally challenging characters, that only Solondz would dare create. On her adventure, she adopts the name of Henrieta, which reminds us that both her and her aborted baby are both one in the same. They're both lost, neither of them got the chance that most normal children would, in a way, they're both dead.
One of the more memorable scenes is when Aviva encounters Mamma Sunshine who runs a home of, in a way, lost children. These are all children with disabilities, these are the children Aviva's mother was referring to as reasons to have abortion. However, all these children truly seem happy to be alive, and they're enjoying life.
Todd Solondz's true genius lies in his ability to make us challenge our own beliefs. In Happiness he confronted the audience by giving us a human, compassionate pedophile who, rather then hating, you pity. In Palindromes, he challenges us by making us actually want Aviva to have her baby, despite it going against all reason and logic, and despite our social morals that many people share about child pregnancy and abortion.
The film also makes a statement about humanity. No matter what, we're always going to be the same, deep down. The character of Aviva is played by numerous people, ranging in age, race, even sex, but she's always the same character, deep down.
The compassion and love he has for his characters is glaringly obvious, and it's hard for the audience to also not feel something for his characters, despite their sometimes horrific flaws. Palindromes is no exception. All the characters are developed beautifully and it's hard not to feel compassion for all of them, Aviva especially, as the sad, lost soul who was forced to give up the only good thing in her life.
Todd Solondz is, IMO one of the most promising and interesting film makers in the world right now. His films are challenging, intriguing, thought provoking and touching, and he's not afraid to push the envelope and challenge us on a controversial topic. I can't wait for what he has in store next.
In short, Palindromes is a beautiful, touching, thought provoking and heart breaking film about a sad little girl who has lost the only pure thing in her life, and with it, her own purity.
SPOILER ALERT When i first heard about this movie, i was immediately intrigued. It was a movie that supposedly had people throwing up in theaters and walking out because of its horrific images and truthfull portrayal of rape and revenge... it sounded right up my ally. Now, i was expecting a pretty bad movie with some pretty gruesome scenes. the plot seemed generic enough; woman gets raped, friends of rape victim go for revenge. the movie is told backwards like memento.. sounded kinda lame, but any movie that had an impact on audiences like this movie did needed to be seen as far as im concerned. When i finally got a chance to see the movie, i was absolutely astonished by the assualt on the senses that this movie is... and whether you are intrigued by this movie as i was, or whether it sounds like a piece of garbage to you, i guarantee that this movie, no matter who you are or what you've seen, will haunt you unrelentlessly for days, and will stay inbedded in your mind for years to come.
The movie as i said, is about a woman who gets raped and beaten to the point of being put into a coma. The friends of the woman then go out for revenge, but the twist is its told in reverse, so we actually begin with the vengeful act, and work out way bacwards to the rape scene that occurs at about the halfway point...then after we witness the rape scene, we see the hours leading up to it. now you may be asking why the movie is told in reverse. Definately a credible question, since at first thought it sounds like a gimmick and nothing more. I will attempt to explain why this is done. First, it gives us a gods eye view of these events, its almost like we're seeing into the future and seeing the events before the characters in the movie technically experience them. this make the whole movie, extremely eerie and sad. it makes every event seem tragic, no matter how trivial or happy, because it is in the shadow of this horrible tragedy that we know is just hours away from happening to this woman. Something else the movie achieves by telling the story backwards is that it does not lead up to violence and sex as a finale or a pay off. instead we see the events first, and are forced to deal with them for the remainder of the movie. and again, every scene after the tragedy is haunted by the rape.
I personally was very impressed with this movie, it is very effective and masterfully done. Never before has rape been shown so truthfully and tragically. There are no quick cuts to make the rape seem more exciting, there is no dramatic close ups or heavy music playing to enhance the drama. It is surreal, it is sickening, it is slow and painful for the viewer, just as it would be for the victim, it is not glorified in any way, and is shown as the pure tragedy that rape is. I am not ashamed to say that i was brought to tears by this scene, it is extremely sad. The acting by both the victim and the attacker is so convincing that if you saw the actor of the attacker on the street you would want to attack him. its truley amazing and should be applauded for its honesty towards rape. Also the opening scene where we see the two friends of the victim hunting down the bad guy in an underground S&M club for demented men, is also very disturbing and really gives the movie a proper dark and horrific start that shows the audience exactly what they're in for, and if they cant handle this, then they should leave because it only gets worse...
Something else i noticed about this movie is its attempt to show both the horrors of the world and the beauty in the world. The tempo of the movie changes so dramatically from beginning to end that you wouldnt even know it was the same movie. It begins with dark madening camera shots seemingly out of control and spinning around to convey a sense of insanity, while showing horrific images for the first 40 minutes. towards the end however, we are greeted with beautiful scenes of pure love and tenderness as we see the future rape victim with her boyfriend in bed, obviously madly in love, and we realize was a fine line we walk between happiness and tragedy. this is a very unique touch to teh film, because what would normally be considered a happy ending to a movie, is absolutely heart breaking with it being shown in the shadow of the tragedy that is only hours away.
Irreversible is a great movie, but that isnt to say that everyone wll like it or respect it. But it is a movie that is undeniably honest with its portrayal of rape and loss, and will give a face to every faceless woman we hear about who was raped on the news. Definately a powerful movie that no one will ever forget after watching.
9 - 10
The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
Very sweet indeed
Every now and then a movie will come along that makes us all remember just how artistic and beautiful films can be, this is one of those movies. It is truley a beautiful work of art and i can say without shame that i was brought to tears on numerous occasions during the film, not simply because of the emotional story or suffering we witness the characters going through, but also because it was one of the most beautiful and mesmerizing movies ive seen. Now this isnt a movie for everyone, if you crave constant action and explosions then this movie will not be for you. for the rest of you who enjoy watching movies now and then for the art and beauty of them then i suggest you all rent this movie. It will remind you all exactly why film is considered an artform and that films can rival any painting or musical piece.
The movie is about a lawyer who goes into a very small town which just endured a horrible tragedy of a school bus suffereing a deadly crash killing nearly everyone on board. this lawyer is attempting to convince all of the town folks that they should all bring a lawsuit against the town or the bus manufacturer or anyone who can be held responsible. Much of the story is told via flash backs showing the days leading up to the bus crash... it is also about the life of the lawyer and it makes us all remember that...well....lawyers are people too with their own suffering and lives.
As i said, not for everyone... a great drama, a bit slow, but very beautiful and almost hypnotic... the scene in which we actually see the bus crash was one of the most chilling and heart wrenching moments ive ever witness in a film. definately a hidden gem. 9-10