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32 reviews in total 
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16 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
A disturbing but powerful portrayal of slavery in America, 3 November 2013

Directed by Steve McQueen and staring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict CUmberbatch, newcomer Lupita Nyong'o, and a ton of other stars, '12 Years a Slave' is based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, a freeman who was living in Saratoga, NY before being tricked, drugged, and sold into slavery in the south.

McQueen is an auteur known for his honest and brutal direction, and he keeps filming when others would shut the camera off or look away. While making the picture that much more difficult to sit through, his steadfastness greatly elevates the emotional impact of the film. It's a must-see, if only for educational purposes—just as 'Schindler's List' is used to teach about the Holocaust and 'Milk' about the struggle for gay rights.

I'm not trying to compare the events depicted in this film with the events depicted in those I just mentioned, all I'm saying is that they are all equally important in portraying the reality of their respective situations. There is a moment in '12 Years a Slave' when, as a form of punishment, Northup is hanged by his neck, the tips of his toes just able to reach the ground below him. The camera stays on him for a few minutes. It is silent, and all you can do is listen to him struggling for breath.

This is one of the more disturbing moments in the film, but not the worst. Eventually, Northup is sold to Edwin Epps, a short-tempered and impulsive plantation owner portrayed by Michael Fassbender. He is by far the most villainous and terrifying character in the film, and Fassbender brilliantly captures his mood swings and tempestuous personality.

It is Chiwetel Ejiofor, however, who steals the show. He brings so much life to Northup, and completely disappears into his characters. He is able to depict so many deep levels of emotion, while also bringing dignity to a man who was unwilling to let anyone take away his will to "live" rather than just "survive." Additionally, Lupita Nyong'o, in her first big film role, is mesmerizing as Patsey, and hardworking and desperate woman, and the object of her master Epps's attention. She is hated by Epps's wife—masterfully played by Sarah Paulson— and most of the more dramatic moments in the film revolve around her character's tragic story.

If I have one complaint, it's that 12 years do not seem to pass by at all, mainly because none of the characters substantially age. Also, Brad Pitt is thrown in for ten minutes to depict a kind-hearted abolitionist, and while he does a good job, it just feels like Brad Pitt on a slave plantation, which is totally out of place.

Regardless, while the film may be harrowing and difficult to sit through, it is simply brilliant all the way through, and by far the most honest depiction of slavery that I've ever seen.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A pulsing, slow-burning, and emotional thriller, 26 October 2013

Captain Phillips, which came into theaters on Oct. 11, tells the true story of the eponymous captain whose cargo ship was hijacked by Somali pirates masquerading as fishermen back in 2009. Directed by Paul Greengrass, it starts off rather slow, taking a while to give all the background information and set up the story. Once it gets going, though, the film turns into an intense rescue mission and moral quandary that is impossible to turn away from.

Greengrass does a fine job at directing, but his hand-held camera-work is incredibly shaky and at times nauseating. That being said, almost the entire film takes place on the ocean, so the direction does do a fantastic job at immersing the viewer further into the situation at sea.

Tom Hanks, who stars as the titular character, gives his best performance in over ten years. He portrays Phillips as an average, slightly arrogant man thrust into a highly unusual and stressful situation. Phillips—who the pirates nickname "Irish" due to his heritage—is never directly referred to as a hero. Rather, the lengths he goes through to keep his crew safe are presented as completely natural, and are not particularly highlighted within the film.

Throughout the entire film, you can literally see the fear in Hanks's eyes—this isn't acting, this is more than that. While terribly afraid of the pirates who take him for ransom, he definitely feels sorry for them, and goes to lengths to help them settle the situation calmly. At one point in the film the film, Phillips asks the pirate leader, Muse, "There's got to be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people." To that, Muse replies, "Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America."

Moments like this present the pirates as actual people, simply doing their jobs and trying to bring money back to their villages and leaders. Barkhad Abdi, who portrays Muse, comes out of nowhere to give the standout performance of the film. He holds his own against Hanks the entire time, and while he certainly makes Muse into the villain of the film, it's clear that he really has no choice but to occupy this position. He gave empathy to a character that could have turned out be just another stereotypical villain, but instead was elevated to a complex, desperate human being.

Both actors are definitely in serious contention to snag an Oscar nomination come January, and I suspect the film will get a few more as well. I'd also like to point out the brilliance of Henry Jackman's score, which serves as an intense, pulsing backdrop for the action that takes place on screen.

Overall, while 'Captain Phillips' takes a while to get going, the wait is well worth it. The film turns into a complex moral thriller that, despite potentially knowing the ending due to the fact that it is based on a true story, remains very intense throughout.

Gravity (2013)
5 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
A modern masterpiece, 6 October 2013

Gravity is a film I've been looking forward to for a ridiculously long amount of time. It's essentially about two astronauts who struggle for survival after floating debris collides with their spaceship, leaving them detached and adrift in space. It's not so much sci-fi as it is drama-thriller, and when I say "thriller" I don't mean that lightly. It was literally the most stressful 90-minutes of my life, but I was in awe of every second of it.

Cuarón, who directed, co-wrote, produced, and even helped edit the film, hasn't done a full- length feature since 2006's bitingly poignant Children of Men, but Gravity was well worth the wait. It's one of the best-directed films I've ever seen. Cuarón's use of incredibly long takes sucks the viewer in so that they physically cannot turn away. The film starts out with a 17- minute shot—no editing, no cuts. It's just the camera moving from one subject to another, in-and-out, close up and far away—all over the place, really. Space is limitless, and so is Cuarón.

It's tough to appreciate just how masterful this film is until you see it for yourself. Being set miles above earth's surface, every single take is absolutely gorgeous. The visuals are stunning, and the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is some of the best work I've ever seen, with Steven Price's electric and ethereal score only adding to the tense atmosphere. The earth itself turns into a character, and it's used brilliantly all the way up until the very end.

As for the performances, well, there are really only two significant roles. George Clooney plays a veteran astronaut out on his last mission, and serves as a form of moral support to Sandra Bullock's character—Dr. Ryan Stone—who's up on her very first mission. Clooney does a fine job and is an integral part of the plot line, but it's Bullock who utterly dominates the screen time, giving a fearless and absorbing performance like never before.

It's by far the best work of her career—Dr. Stone is so real that it's scary. You laugh when she laughs, you cry when she cries, and you're breathless as she's struggling for air. The emotions that Cuarón was able to elicit from her truly pull you into the film and make this an experience like no other. While the script isn't necessarily the best written, and most certainly skims the line of oversentimentality at times, those issues are secondary to the visuals and performances themselves.

It's truly an out-of-body experience, and probably the closet most of us will ever get to actually being in space.

Side Effects (2013/I)
68 out of 92 people found the following review useful:
An intriguing, complex psychological thriller, 9 February 2013

Steven Soderbergh has decided to end his career what can only be described as a pharmaceutical, psychosexual thriller that deals with several morally ambiguous characters all revolving around one horrible incident. Out of fear of giving away the intelligent, twist-filled plot written by Scot Z. Burns, that's really all I can say, although I can tell you that Soderbergh directs the film with extreme confidence, and it shows. He was able to convey a sort of quiet chaos with his frequent close-ups, and, by shifting in-and-out of focus throughout the screen, he was able to draw attention to the many small, yet important details.

The real strength of this film, though, is not necessarily the story itself, but how it is presented. To be honest, the story is almost too smart to the point of absurdity, but it never comes off as such. By releasing only one small piece of information at a time, we are kept waiting through interviews, court hearings, false trails, and many psychiatrist visits until, finally, everything comes together into one neat conclusion. The entire film is very subdued, but if you pay attention, you will be rewarded in the end.

Of course, the story would not have turned out so well without the multiple impressive performances that carry it all the way through. Rooney Mara is once again stunning as Emily Taylor, a woman who starts taking prescription antidepressants to cope with her husband's release from prison. Without giving much away, Emily is far more complex than she first appears, and Mara plays this perfectly by retaining a dark mysteriousness about her. She truly steals every scene she's in, and displays such a range of emotions that, at times, it's difficult to tell what her character is truly thinking. This is unfortunate for Channing Tatum, who does a fine job as her loving and sympathetic husband trying to make everything right after being released for insider trading, but who doesn't have close to enough material to compete with Mara.

Jude Law, on the other hand, is arguably the most central figure as Dr. Jonathan Banks, Emily's psychiatrist who is thrown into a scandal when his patient is involved in a tragic accident after taking an antidepressant he prescribed for her. He slowly mentally unravels as his decisions come back to haunt him, and eventually has to cross several moral boundaries in order to get his life back on track. Law shows this frustration with expert skill, and gives one of the best performances of his recent career. The same can be said for Catherine Zeta- Jones, who—as Emily's former psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Siebert—gives possibly the most complex performance, and does it brilliantly despite her lack of screen time.

To give away any more would be to say too much, as the film is so perfectly structured, it is difficult to discuss without giving away the whole thing. All I can add is, it is not so simple and straightforward as it may appear. It is a complex of characters, their motives, and the consequences of their actions, and, despite taking a while to get started, it is truly a spectacular, thrilling, and intricate journey that should not be missed.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A fascinating, witty romantic comedy with multiple layers, 3 February 2013

I had heard so much hype about this movie that I finally caved in and went to see it. I have to say, for the most part, it lived up to my expectations, and even exceeded them in some cases. David O. Russell does a solid, and at times surprisingly inventive job at directing a story about a formally undiagnosed bipolar man trying to reconnect with his estranged wife while balancing a relationship with a younger girl who has problems of her own. He also wrote the screenplay, based off of the novel by Matthew Quick.

Although the story itself is not entirely original, the performances elevate to a much higher level, and they managed to consistently impress as the film played on. Jennifer Lawrence is captivatingly hysterical as Tiffany, the crazy girl next door who is attempting to deal with her husband's untimely death. She has many great one-liners and was able to display a fantastic range of emotions, but her performance was actually the only one that, to a certain degree, let me down. Don't get me wrong—she's amazing, but with all I had heard and with all the accolades she's been receiving, I expected her to be even better than she was.

The standout, for me, was Bradley Cooper, who was far better than I thought he could ever be as Pat Solitano, a man obsessed with impressing his wife after their relationship, somewhat traumatically, came to an end. His ability to switch quickly between numerous emotions— from anger to happiness to regret, and so on—was truly outstanding, and what I believe to be a pretty accurate portrayal of someone struggling with bipolar disorder. Additionally, his unrealistic belief that everything will work out well—in terms of his relationship with his wife, his parents, and Tiffany—provides a sort of comic irony as everything constantly spirals out of control.

That's not all, though. Robert De Niro was—finally—very good, and undeniably compelling, as the OCD, football-obsessed father who just wants his family to spend time together again. Also, Jacki Weaver does a fine job as the matriarch trying to hold her family together, and Chris Tucker provides comic relief, as if it were needed, as Pat's friend from the hospital. Rounding out the cast are Julia Stiles, John Ortiz, and Anupam Kher (who's actually pretty funny as Pat's psychiatrist).

At the end of it all, this film is a wild, comical, if not slightly predictable ride made all the more better by the fantastic chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence. While its main focus is on building and maintaining relationships, it provides glimpses into the thought processes of some completely irrational, oversensitive, and easily aggravated people, which at times can be stressful, and other times just downright hilarious. Because of this, it's definitely deeper and more complex than most romantic comedies, while at the same time remaining captivating and entertaining throughout. And really, if films are truly made to entertain us, then this more than succeeds on all accounts.

15 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Beautiful, yet haunting, 2 February 2013

James Balog has one goal in mind throughout this entire documentary: to photographically demonstrate the rapid melting of our earth's glaciers. He doesn't throw statistics at us (okay, maybe one or two), and he doesn't bring politics into it, all he does is undeniably prove that the vast majority of the world's glaciers are disappearing right before our eyes.

What this documentary does is capture his journey to photograph these glaciers. It shows his struggles, his failures, and his successes. Yes, he may come off as a bit of a hero, but what he's doing truly is heroic and simply cannot be missed. The photography throughout this film is spectacular--absolutely gorgeous. In fact, he photographed an article on this topic for National Geographic, and if you've seen their photographs, you know the level of quality we're talking about here.

At the same time, however, there's kind of this sense of impending doom amidst all the beauty. It essentially shows all the damage humanity has done, in the past ten or so years alone, and I can only hope it's not too late to fix at least some of what we've caused. If this documentary can't get you to see the world and it's people differently, then I don't think much else can, his results are simply that stunning.

98 out of 127 people found the following review useful:
Harrowing, emotional portrayal of a devastating event, 6 January 2013

It would be impossible to try and capture the widespread loss and destruction of this horrible, devastating event. The scope was so large and far too many people lost their lives to even attempt to portray on film. Instead, director Juan Antonio Bayona and screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez focused smartly on the true story of one family's struggle for survival amongst all that had happened on December 26th, 2004.

This allows the film to be much more intimate, and the audience is quickly able to connect with the Bennett family, starting simply with their arrival to Thailand. While the audience was filled with dread in anticipation of what was to come, the Bennetts were blissfully unaware and enjoying themselves over vacation. However, everything soon takes a terrifying turn as the tsunami hits their resort in a horrifyingly realistic manner, sweeping up people as they attempt to flee before it or protect themselves from its awesome power.

At this point, I, too, felt like I was drowning. The camera bobs in and out of darkness, in and out of the water, as the family's matriarch, Maria, struggles for breath. Then, clinging hopelessly onto a palm tree, she screams all too realistically for anyone who could possibly help her in a desperate, surprisingly shocking moment. It is at this point where she spots her son, Lucas, floating in the fierce waves, and I held my breath as the struggled for what seemed like an eternity to reunite in the water.

In a way, Lucas, brilliantly portrayed by newcomer Tom Holland, carries the film from this point forward. He takes on the role of protecting his stubborn yet badly injured mother, and in the process he's forced to mature far too quickly. During every moment, his emotions and facial expressions convey more than any words ever could, as she shies away from and is frightened by his mother's injuries and nudity, all the while attempting to deal with the scope of the pain and devastation.

However, it is his mother, Maria, whom the film truly centers around. Naomi Watts gives quite possibly her finest performances to date, portraying harrowing desperation, stubborn determination in the face of incredible pain and agony, and, ultimately, a sense of love and care despite her deteriorating state. True, she is bedridden for about half the film, but it is during this time where there are these small moments of tenderness and humility which undoubtedly makes Watts's performance one of the best of the year.

In fact, the entire cast was exceptional, including Ewan McGregor, the father desperately trying to put together his family again, and the two littlest sons, Thomas, played by Samuel Joslin, and Simon, played by Oaklee Pendergast, both of whose innocence prevented them from thoroughly capturing the extent of this tragic event. The story of these three is intertwined with that of Maria and Lucas, as they all struggle for survive amidst the destruction and reunite amidst the chaos.

Ultimately, this is a touching and heartwarming film, as the true kindness of humanity can be seen in this time of great loss. Yes, the tsunami is terrifying, the injuries gruesome and shockingly realistic, and the pain and suffering visible on just about everyone's faces. However, the Bennetts' story is a remarkable one of love, determination, and hope, and it simply cannot be missed.

Skyfall (2012)
19 out of 40 people found the following review useful:
Resurrection at its finest., 11 November 2012

Going into this film (and it truly is a film, that's how beautiful it is), I had heard all the hype from overseas, and so I was expecting it to be good, but not this good. I was worrying that it was going to be too action-heavy, but its not: it takes the time to establish relationships between the characters, so when there is action, it actually matters. I'm really not qualified to say if this is the best Bond film, or even if Daniel Craig is the best Bond, but I can say that this is by far the best of the one's Craig has worked on, and I also believe Craig is incredibly believable as Bond--he's a person, with actual emotions and feelings, rather than just a spy.

Now even though I gave this film a perfect rating, it is not perfect--it's absolutely fantastic, but of course a few things could've been better. However, because of the way this film ends, I could not rate it anything but a ten. The ending is absolutely mind-blowing. To say much about it would be to give away the entire film, but I will say this: they have changed the future of the series forever (and by series, I mean the ones staring Craig).

Speaking of Daniel Craig, I have to praise him even further. He really is an amazing actor, and brings so much to this role. I think this is one of his best performances--he might've even been better here than in last year's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, although that's a close call. Like I said earlier, though, his Bond is the most grounded--he's still a tough, cunning spy, but here he manages to appear more vulnerable. Other actors did a great job as well: Javier Bardem is terrifyingly sly as Silva, Naomie Harris does a good job as the rookie field agent, and Bérénice Marlohe has a short but memorable role as the complicated Sévérine. Additionally, the dynamic between Ralph Fiennes and Daniel Craig is fantastic, as well as the dynamic between him and Ben Winshaw's ingenious Q.

The true performance, however, comes from none other than Judi Dench. This is by far her biggest role as M, as well as her most impressive performance in along time. In my opinion, her character's storyline makes the film. The emotion she was able to bring to her character while still staying stern in the presence of others is absolutely breathtaking, especially in the courtroom scene and the incredibly emotional ending.

The locations, too, helped make this an amazing film. From the chase scene in Istanbul-- which was one of the best I've seen in a while--to the towering heights of Shanghai; from the reinvented MI6 in London to the beautiful moors of Scotland, the sights are impressive throughout. Equally as impressive is Roger Deakins' cinematography, which was truly stunning and made the film all the more beautiful.

Skyfall truly is one of the year's best films. It may lag a little bit in the middle, but that's only a minor fault as it hurdles towards the climactic ending. One of the best parts for me, actually, was finding out the meaning behind the title, and, however subtle it was, it was a great moment and perfectly integrated into the plot line.

This is now a different Bond. I'm sure the writers realized what they were doing when the made one of the major themes resurrection, as after the alright-but-disappointing Quantum of Solace, Bond needed to be reinvented--again. They have made some sacrifices, but ultimately succeeded. This Bond is modern, but true to how the books make him appear. There are also some great references to older gadgets, like the exploding pen and ejector seat, although they don't necessarily feature in the film. Bond nowadays is more about ingenuity rather than gadgets, and he is all the more realistic and impressive for it.

Looper (2012)
4 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
An enthralling film, yet could've been better-developed, 29 September 2012

Let me start by saying that this is probably the best science-fiction film of the year. Somehow, Rian Johnson was able to turn time travel into a relatively unique, fresh concept that was at times very dark. In fact, this entire film is very dark, yet it handles it well--you are not consistently being hit over the head with it, although it is definitely always there. This film absolutely takes you on a journey, and I was highly entertained the entire time, and found myself wondering what was going to happen, and how it was going to end.

This film also makes you care for the characters, which I feel many movies and films today skip over. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a great job as the present-day looper Joe, trying desperately to close his own loop before the mob catches up with him, and Bruce Willis is fantastic as Gordon-Levitt's future-self trying to avenge the death of his wife by murdering the potential past-selves of a mass-murdering vigilante (it gets a little complicated, but by no means is it not followable). All the while, Joe comes to know Sara, portrayed by Emily Blunt in a fierce and standout performance, and her son, who are both hiding dark secrets. All of the actors, from Jeff Daniels to Paul Dano, actually do very good jobs, and as I said the characters are really well thought-out.

However, this film is absolutely not without it's flaws. I was actually expecting something quite different when I walked into the theater--it was definitely more supernatural than I thought it would be, which sort of detracted from the otherwise-believable world, but ends up being a central plot-point. Also, there are plenty of loopholes and paradoxes that could've been explained better or fixed within the confines of the script. Lastly, many people are saying that this film has three acts, but I'd almost say it only has two, at least based on the setting. For me, the two halves have completely different feels to them, possibly because of the contrasting settings, which doesn't necessarily detract from the film, but makes it somewhat incoherent.

(Half of it is essentially set in a rundown, futuristic city, and I liked the fact that, although it was not beaming with future technology, there were hints here-and-there where you could tell it was in the future. The other half is set in a farmhouse that's old even for today's standards. It's quite a contrast, although I felt as if Johnson was saying something about how modern society is slowly taking over traditional values.)

That being said, the script is still great, and there are actually some genuinely funny moments of dry humor, snide remarks, and comical situations. I'm not sure if all of these were intended to be taken as comical, but the majority of the theater was laughing at some points throughout the film. Overall, though, it is definitely quite dark and dramatic, but don't come expecting an action movie. There is action, for sure, but this is more of a character's film, and I'd say that despite the fact that it could've been better-developed, it definitely didn't disappoint.

Juno (2007)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Big message wrapped up in a warm and comical film, 4 September 2012

I can't say that Juno is necessarily realistic in the way the some of the characters handle Juno's unexpected pregnancy, but I don't think that was the point. The point was to explore the different meanings of love through numerous and varied characters, and in that sense this film is very successful. Some of the dialogue is quite frank, which definitely provides for some comical moments, and everything is done rather straightforwardly, but that adds to the quirkiness of the film, and without the amazing screenplay by Diablo Cody, not to mention Jason Reitman's very sure direction, this film would be nothing.

Ellen Page does an incredible job as a teenager, despite getting pregnant at such a young age, acting beyond her years in maturity in dealing with the situation, and yet she is still a child at heart, and wants so deeply to hold on to that, which is shown in everything from the way she dresses, to the things in her room, to the very fitting and sort of indie soundtrack that goes along with the movie. Michael Cera does a great job as Juno's shy and diffident best friend, Paulie Bleeker. He doesn't get very involved with the pregnancy, and almost seems unaffected by it until the end, when everything sort of starts to fall apart and come together at the same time. Their relationship is fantastic--some of the best parts of the film are the few times they're together. Everyone else in the cast, from Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, to Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons also do well in their roles. Ellen Page, however is still by far the star of this movie--no one else could've played this role except her.

What sets this movie apart from others, though, is it's feel, and there's really no other way to describe that, except perhaps maybe the way it makes you feel. The whole film, despite dealing with very mature subject matter, is almost casual and laid back. It is not immature or inappropriate in the way that it handles the complex situations it throws its characters into, but it does so very lightly, only brushing on the mature parts, which is somewhat childish, but this is from a teenager's point-of-view. It is not a feel-good movie, and yet you do feel good at the end, not necessarily because of how the movie ended, but because how the characters got to that ending.

It's kind of a love story, but more of a quest to discover what love truly is, which sounds a little corny, but the characters don't even know that that's what they're doing the entire time. This is all shown brilliantly throughout the end sequences, which were probably designed to elicit tears, but at that point you should be too self-satisfied with how everything turned out to be able to cry.

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