12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave  12 Years a Slave Film Poster

Running Time: 106 mins.

Release Date: February o8th, 2014

Director: Steve McQueen

Writer: John Ridley (Screenplay), Solomon Northup (Original Book)

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard

12 Years a Slave is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, one of many free blacks kidnapped and forced into slavery and one of the few to escape back to freedom. He soon turned his exploits into a book and stage play which abolitionists in the north of America used to help bolster their cause against slavery. Solomon’s story fell into obscurity after the American civil war but was discovered by Bianca Stigter, the wife of British Turner Prize winning artist of Steve McQueen who was seeking to make a film about slavery but struggling to find a narrative. McQueen is a man who has successfully made the leap from art to film with his first two features Hunger (2008) and Shame (2012) and now the critically acclaimed 12 Years a Slave which is an incredible adaptation of an incredible story.

12 Years a Slave Solomon Freeman in New York

Saratoga Springs, New York, 1841. Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) is a free black man. He earns a living as a skilled carpenter and violinist and resides in a comfortable house with his wife and two children. In New York he is relatively safe from slavery which is the biggest and most commerically important industry in the world and is generally respected by his neighbours. Two musicians invite Solomon on a two-week tour as a musician but behind the smiles are ruthless kidnappers who drug Solomon and sell him into slavery. He is beaten repeatedly and given the name Platt before being resold to a plantation owner named Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). Solomon earns the respect of Ford but the ire of the overseer Tibeats (Dano) who threatens his life. Ford decides to resell Solomon to a slave-breaker named Edwin Epps (Fassbender) to avoid any bloodshed but Solomon is far from safe from this vicious drunk who exercises his reign of terror on his slaves and Solomon’s years of captivity become even more brutal and dangerous.

12-Years-a-Slave-Epps-(Fassbender)-and-Northup-(Ejiofor)-battle-of-wills Continue reading “12 Years a Slave”

Genkina hito’s Best Film of the Year Part 1 – Shame

Genki Best Of Banner

Sight and Sound Magazine January 2013I bought the January issue of Sight and Sound to read the critic’s film highlights of 2012. The titles that come up frequently are Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Master, Tabu, and Holy Motors. An eclectic mix but I have yet to see them. My blog represents my taste and it is also eclectic and rather idiosyncratic. Foremost is the fact that I love far eastern films regardless of genre – hell, even musicals these days. Indeed, no matter how much I may tease people who love slow-cinema, I still watch it. My Top Ten Films of the year is a diverse list with titles like the existential (or was I reading too much into it?) Goth – Love of Death at ten, the moving reflection on death that is Vital at nine, great genre stalwarts Skyfall and Prometheus both at six and the gloriously OTT musical Ai to Makoto at two. Japan features strongly but there is also a large British contingent which is best represented with my joint number one.

On a related note, I was at a party for the Japanese class when a friend mentioned how I had too many joint places in my Top Ten Films list. Half-jokingly… I think. Anyway the fact is that this year, more than any other previous year, I have fallen in love with so many films and wrote passionately about them. They moved me to feel something and I enjoyed researching and writing the reviews for them.

Next year I will be tougher.

Anyway my best film of 2012… let me rephrase, my best films is a joint entry for Shame and The Wolf Children which happened to be my best anime of 2012 as well (and will follow in another post)!

Two films which could not be more different from one another. Do I really want my number one films of 2012 to be about a sex addict with intimacy issues and a film about children that morph into wolves? What was so good about them?

What was so good was the fact that they both shone a light on aspects of humanity in such original ways.

Shame

Shame Fassbender and Mulligan Banner Genki Jason

Shame was the first film I went to see at a cinema this year. My expectations for it were quite non-existent since I knew little about the film other than it starred Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan and it was directed by Steve McQueen. I was familiar with the actors, having watched films like Jane Eyre and An Education in previous years but Steve McQueen was an unknown quantity. I knew that he and Fassbender had wowed the critics with their previous film Hunger but I ducked the opportunity to see it in a cinema because the subject matter did not interest me. I came to question my decision when I read all of the critical praise for Hunger. I decided to watch Shame to see if the hype was justified.

Continue reading “Genkina hito’s Best Film of the Year Part 1 – Shame”

Prometheus

Prometheus Review Banner 2

Prometheus                                                     Prometheus Poster

Release Date: 01st June 2012 (UK)

Running Time: 124 mins.

Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: Jon Spahits (Original Script),  Damon Lindelof (Re-write)

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Rafe Spall, Guy Pearce, Benedict Wong, Emun Elliott, Kate Dickie, Sean Harris, Patrick Wilson

When Kane, Dallas, and Lambert stumbled across the melancholy and creepy bio-mechanical corpse of Space Jockey in the Derelict on the barren planet of LV-426 in the film Alien (1979), I was gripped by the sight of it. There was a story there and I wanted to see it. Ridley Scott was also fascinated by it, even drafting a prequel story but he went on to work on the classic film Blade Runner. Fast-forward thirty plus years and we finally get an idea of what Space Jockey was however this is a film that Scott claims is not a direct prequel to Alien but is set in the same universe and aims to create its own mythology. Warning: Spoilers Ahoy!

2089, Isle of Skye, Scotland: scientist/archaeologist couple Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Marshall-Green) believe that aliens have made contact with humanity’s ancient ancestors. A cave painting dating back 35,000 years matches up with similar ones from different cultures and they seem to be star-maps which have been left by these aliens. In the words of Elizabeth: “They want us to come and find them.”

2093, Scientific Exploratory Vessel Prometheus: Elizabeth’s maps have impressed, Peter Weyland, head of Weyland Corporation, and now Shaw and Holloway are part of a crew of seventeen people who have been hired to head to LV-223, the place which the maps points to. They are under the direct command of Ms. Meredith Vickers (Theron), a corporate overseer, who has misgivings about the mission. Also on board is the android, David (Fassbender), Captain Janek (Elba), biologist Milburn (Spall). Vickers wants to keep a tight rein on the operation while Janek and his crew want to earn money but once they reach LV-223 they will have more to worry about than getting paid.

The Excavation Team Search For Clues in Prometheus

Cards on the table… I’m a major fan of Alien and its sequel Aliens. I had little idea what to expect from Prometheus because I shielded myself from all media (apart from one trailer) and went into the cinema with an open mind. What I got was an enjoyable sci-fi adventure that deliberately pulled away from the Alien franchise but featured familiar references to the earlier films (DAVID, WE ARE LEAVING!). The biggest mistake when going into Prometheus is expecting another Alien because Scott has engaged in some genetic manipulation of the film to make it different from a franchise which has fallen from grace thanks to wayward sequels.

Weyland Corporation – Building Better Worlds

Anybody familiar with Ridley Scott will know that he can build detailed and gorgeous visuals¹. It is never just eye-candy because the aesthetics usually carry a message informing the audience of themes at play. The way that the Nostromo is filmed in Alien, with its under-lit and smoky cramped mechanical living space and prominent industrial fixtures that the crew have to climb about in visually gives us a chilling picture of a future dominated by corporations where humans are just part of a balance sheet and a means to an end². Visually and thematically Alien was a million miles away from the idealised fantasy worlds imagined in Star Trek.

Prometheus is visually different Alien. It’s lighter for one thing. Also, gone are the cramped confines of ships and blizzard wracked LV-426 and in its place is the desolate, haunted and vast landscape of LV-223 and a highly functional and highly comfortable Prometheus.

Compared to the sumptuous splendour on offer in Avatar the visuals of Prometheus may initially underwhelm but the wintery tone of the film with its gunmetal greys and cobalt blues is gorgeous and it fits the themes and events of the film: LV-223 is a tomb for many things. 3D is used effectively to capture stunning landscapes which speak of an inhuman remoteness and a misleading ancientness. It is very impressive in the initial exploration sequences when the crew are scanning interiors of archaeological sites with ‘pups’ which use infra-red beams to map organic looking corridors. The hologram briefings and 3D mapping sequence unfolding via computer give a real sense of depth in shots.

The message the visuals impart is change and exploration. Scott knows his return to the franchise he helped create is highly anticipated and he cannot repeat himself so he has taken a different tack. The film explores who Space Jockey was and adds bigger themes as it establishes new frontiers for the franchise rather than revisiting old themes. The music of the film with its positive soaring score also put me in mind of exploration especially when compared to Jerry Goldsmith’s off-kilter pieces that are disquieting. Did I like Prometheus’s score? It was okay.

Things may be different but like Alien, the set-design and costumes, the details on the ship and the vehicles are intoxicating and you can geek out on them. Gone are the functional and lived-in NASA hand-me downs that the Nostromo crew were using and in their place are super high-tech but realistic accoutrements that reflect the change in design over the years. I loved taking in the details of the spacesuits, the helmet HUDs of Shaw et al with the cameras and ECGs. Humanity may be out in space but this time there is a degree of comfort added to that functionality.

The Sparkly Computer User Interface in Prometheus Also impressive are the Aliens that are encountered. Not as memorable as that phallic horror that stalked the corridors of the Nostromo but an interesting variation. I did not buy the CG but I found the threats on the planet skin-crawling and chilling in equal measure.

Is there an agenda you’re not telling us about?

Now we come to the rocky part. The star-studded cast is mostly wasted due to the script which has left everybodCharlize Theron as Meredith Vickers in Prometheus y from minor characters like Rafe Spall’s appallingly stupid scientist Milburn to major characters like Charlize Theron’s Meredith Vickers thinly sketched. If it was not for the strength and charisma of the actors these characters Idris Elba as Captain Janek in Prometheus would be all-too forgettable. Theron’s role is the biggest tragedy of the film as she is fantastic as an icily efficient bad-ass corporate hawk but she is under-developed and unexplored. There is one cute scene with Idris Elba’s Captain Janek but that is it. Elba is also wasted as he is given an accordion instead of a character but like Theron his performance outshines the writing.

Michael Fassbender as David in Prometheus

The best performances come from Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace. Fassbender, who dazzled in Shame, has become my favourite western actor by far and his performance as the android David in Prometheus has cemented that fact. With his handsome features and clipped English accent he captures the perfection and artificiality of the character but an interesting dimension is opened up when a human’s distaste for their android creations is brought up and we see that slight look of disappointment. It pains one especially when we see the boyish-interest with which he pursues the secrets of LV-223. Then it gets menacing when he confronts his creators. Needless to say he gets the best lines. Noomi Rapace as Shaw brings the toughness of her performance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo over to Prometheus and mixes it with a curiosity, warmness and earnest spirituality that forms a good contrast to Charlize Theron and part-powers the script. The writing short-changes her at points when we can get interesting character development but Rapace imbues the role with enough humanity that she remains sympathetic. Is she a replacement for Ellen Ripley? No, it would be a mistake to think in terms of replacements. She is her own character, tough and sensitive, and if the script was better she would have become just as legendary.

Noomi Rapace as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus

Mortal after all

The problems come with the writing. The only way I can describe it is adequate. The characters are adequately constructed but are only made compelling because of the actors. The plot is adequate at getting us from beginning to end and linking the universe of Prometheus to Alien and while it allows some build up the rush between different plot-points undercuts tension. Space Jockey and the Engineers are adequately explained and explored. All talk about religion, God, the origins of humanity is adequately incorporated into the narrative. There is nothing special or ground-breaking so don’t go in expecting 2001: A Space Odyssey. I think the point is to explore Space Jockey and take the franchise in a new direction and the film achieves that but at the cost of characterisation, atmosphere, and realism which Alien excelled at.

Fans expecting quality on the level of Alien will be disappointed but this is a different film to Alien, one where science fiction is allowed to dominate and the thriller/horror elements are kept in check. What made the script for Alien special was the gestation period where Dan O’Bannon’s sci-fi heavy original was worked on by David Giler and Walter Hill (eight rewrites which included adding female characters and stripping away sci-fi dialogue). One look at Hill’s filmography (The Warriors, The Driver) and you can see where the noir/realistic aspect of the writing came from and it is this gave Alien and its characters that special human dynamic and made the body-horror even more powerful.

The script for Prometheus is going in a totally different, non-gritty direction as a sci-fi adventure which explores wider themes that Scott and his writers (neither of whom have any works that can compare to Walter Hill³) kept adding to so they could differentiate Prometheus from the franchise but it is too heavy on the sci-fi clichés and too light on characterisation. Maybe we needed a re-write from someone outside of the sci-fi genre. That said, there are some great lines, particularly from David, and there is a nice twist and overall I found the writing good enough as a fan who was in this to find out who Space Jockey was.

It’s time for us to go home

Run to the Prometheus

Where the film truly succeeds and justifies its existence is in every other area other than writing. The acting is excellent (even if the script means that actors are underused), set-design is perfect and Ridley Scott delivers the visuals, tone, and pace of a film that suits an action adventure. It is different for the franchise and that is good because the sequels and spin-offs to Alien have shown diminishing returns. I found this a fun film with memorable visuals and performances. Where does it come in the franchise? Alien, Aliens, Prometheus and then a wide gap before we get to the other franchise instalments.

4/5

¹He was instrumental in the making of Alien whether it was story-boarding the entire film himself, selecting H.R. Geiger’s designs for the Xenomorph, getting pitch-perfect performances from the actors or (SPOILER) using his hand for the initial fluttering of the Facehugger in the egg that Kane gazes into, Scott crafted a true masterpiece.

² So does the Xenomorph.

³ The two writers connected to the project don’t have any work that screams of the quality of O’Bannon, Giler, and Hill. Jon Spahits, writer of the original version, is best known for Hour of Darkness while Damon Lindelof, who was brought in by Scott to develop the story in a different direction away from the franchise, is best known for Lost.

Haywire

Move over Evelyn Salt, there’s a new spy-girl in town and she takes no prisoners. My advice, don’t watch any trailers. I will try to avoid SPOILERS.

Upstate New York, a lone woman is crouched in a snow bank casing a diner. Her name is Mallory Kane (Gina Carrano), former marine and black-ops contractor, and she is about to enter into a meeting with her boss Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) which will spiral out of control. After the incident she escapes by taking the car of a nineteen-year-old named Scott (Michael Angarano) tells him the events that lead up to her present circumstances and the people who have betrayed her.

The Poster for Haywire I love a good spy-thriller especially those in the vein of the Bourne trilogy and Haywire delivers the action in spades and with such ease due in part to Sodebergh’s skill behind the character and Carrano’s action skills on the screen.

Continue reading “Haywire”

Shame

The idea of there being any misery surrounding sex addiction seems laughable but this powerful and touching film proves that when sex becomes a compulsion it can be devastating. Here is the first brilliant film of 2012 thanks to a brilliant script, direction and two central performances.

Brandon (Fassbender) is an outwardly successful corporate type leading a seemingly charmed existence in Manhattan. However beneath his confident exterior lies a sex addict with a desperate need for flesh regardless of whether it is live or virtual. When his emotional extrovert younger sister Sissy (Mulligan) arrives at his apartment unannounced, Brandon’s fragile life begins to unravel and the true face of his problems begins to show through his facade.

Michael Fassbender in Shame

The first shot of the film has Michael Fassbender lying on a bed in post-coital pose but he looks enervated. There is no sense of awe and wonder or achievement traditionally conveyed after sex in films just exhaustion and sadness in Fassbender’s face. Straightaway you realise that there is a darkness dwelling underneath everything.

This view is further compounded by the locations. Brandon’s life takes place in a wintry looking New York, all unmemorable offices and restaurants with the steel and glass of post-modern architecture. His apartment has a sterile feel due to its minimalist style and the only colour comes from record sleeves and stashes of porn he has hidden about. There is an overall lack of warmth in the world which is mirrored in the sex which has had joy and life leeched out of it because it has become a compulsion for Brandon, a procession of nude bodies and squalid, loveless encounters which act as a fix and that is without mentioning the endless pornography he watches online.

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Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) Review HeaderQuite possibly one of the best literary adaptations in recent years, the film has captured what I imagined when I read Charlotte Brontё’s classic novel. The film is so atmospheric and well-acted I have to call it one of the best films this year.

After fleeing Thornfield Hall, Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) is lost on the moors as the weather turns from brooding and foggy to full-on rainstorm. She stumbles to the door of a young clergyman named St John Rivers (Jamie Bell) who takes her in and with his sisters cares for Jane. While recovering Jane thinks back to the events that have lead her to St John’s house, her childhood with a cruel aunt (Sally Hawkins), her stay at a harsh school and her employment with the mysterious, cruel and cold Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender) which led to her current predicament.

Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) Takes a Turn in the Garden Continue reading “Jane Eyre”