12 Years a Slave (R)

10 Stars

When I mentioned 12 Years a Slave to my Dad, he said, “I hear that’s great but depressing.”

An apt analysis, some may agree. But I would de-emphasize the depression aspect of this movie.

There are quite a few more tears than I am used to relinquishing, however, the majority are triggered by the happiness of the ending.

I’m not sure if it’s desensitization or a function of my age, but I would not describe the material as specifically “depressing.”

Horrifying? Sure.

Moving? Riveting? Absolutely.

But I don’t believe it induces a sad darkness that hitchhikes upon your brain for a number of days. We’re all aware slavery happened, right?

I do not mean this to be critical towards the specificity of my father’s diction. It’s more to discourage a certain mindset.

If you want to see a great movie, no matter how often you see them, 12 Years a Slave is easily worth the two hours and fourteen minutes. It’s shot remarkably well, edited masterfully, and retells the true story of the novel by Solomon Northup.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is spectacular in this role. Perhaps it’s the lack of theatricality in his performance, but it’s just stunning. It’s the perfect mix of reserved and outspoken.

Towards the beginning, when the man breaks two separate paddles over his back, how does he prepare for that sort of acting? Seriously, it baffles me. I’m so thoroughly convinced by Chiwetel’s performance that I’m more focused on what the other actor is actually breaking the paddles over.

(I shouldn’t think like that during first viewings, but can’t help myself sometimes.)

According to IMDB, Chiwy learned to play the violin for this role! Could he be any more of a boss?

When he starts to sing with the other cotton-picking slaves is a wonderful transformative moment. But the whole movie is great; each scene is so beautiful and the conflicts running beneath are palpable.

You can feel the very value of his life diminishing as a product; a piece of human property. The film explores the themes of slavery so efficiently; that I wonder how much of the material actually came from the book.

The thing is, either way, the film takes place over the course of twelve years. I’m certain all of these things could have happened to him throughout that period. It seems like there are mostly only cruel white men in this world. Or at least, only slightly sympathetic Caucasians.

Which, as a side note, is perhaps the only loose thread in the screenplay’s quilt. Perhaps the only white slave depicted in the film shouldn’t be the one to betray Chiwetel to Fassbender. But that’s semantics, because it only further reinforces his apprehension when Brad Pitt rolls around.

So the weakness of that criticism is illustrative of any others I might have with this film – mild and without any real footing.

Like Eliza’s crying. It went on a touch too long, but perhaps that’s exemplary of the lifestyle Solomon had to endure. Perhaps there were times the crying went on much longer for him.

So overall, I give 12 Years a Slave two big thumbs up. It’s #4 on my ‘Best Films of 2013’ list.

It’s a visual masterpiece and tells an exhilarating narrative

August: Osage County (R)

4 Stars

Well folks, I’m not sure what to do.

It’s funny how much I feel inclined to dilute my true feelings in this review.

I’d prefer to say, ‘this is a thumbs-up, and despite a dislikable narrative, several well-acted moments and a perfect performance from Meryl add up to a halfway-decent movie.’

But that would be lying. And I feel it’s a disservice to the reader to inaccurately portray my thoughts.

I find August Osage insufferable.

I watch movies for three reasons. 1) To enjoy a story 2) To learn or, 3) To be moved by compelling characters in complex situations. AOC accomplishes none of these goals.

The narrative is a series of arguments like this:

“I’m trying my hardest!”

“No, I’m trying my hardest! You need to try harder!”

“I’m just being honest with myself!”

“No, you’re lying to yourself. I’m the one who’s being honest!”

And the whole movie is just one melodramatic argument after another. The dialogue is painfully theatrical throughout.

On a basic level, it’s a dramatic character study.

The opening scene is mildly compelling at best, but everything falls flat after that.

Meryl’s performance is okay. That’s the most I’ll give her on this one. I know I’m supposed to say she’s wonderful, but that wouldn’t be the truth. I never once pitied nor cared for her character, and am bored and irritated every time she speaks.

Which is why I believe this must be more appealing to women.

During an early conversation, in between a smattering of selfishly sad comments, Meryl tells her daughter, “You look like a lesbian,” because of her new haircut. She’s sneaking pills (in a cutesy manner) behind the daughter’s back, and in reference to someone she says, “Oh, he smokes a lotta grass,” with a knowing grin.

Is this stuff supposed to be funny? Or edgy? It’s not, and dull as all get out.

Oh and the pills clacking against her teeth, the gulping noises and the heavy exhalations that follow, all I could think is, “Christ when will this woman shut up?”

I digress to emphasize this point. The amount of audible lip smacking, cigarette sipping, tongue clacking, gasping, scoffing, gulping, pill clattering, throat clearing, harrumphing and sighing that comes from Meryl is abominable. I don’t know what the filmmakers were thinking with all the mouth noises, but it’s unbearable.

When something is said outside of an argument, the conversations are so articulate; the character interactions unfold like a novel. And it’s cringeworthy.

For example. Early on, Julia and Ewan are driving out to Meryl’s, Roberts says (and I’m paraphrasing), “Ah, the Midwest. It’s more like a state of mind, a spiritual affliction, like the blues…” This is hokey, over the top, and overwrought with emotion and nostalgia. People don’t talk like this.

When they arrive at the house, their daughter, Abigail Breslin announces, “I’m gonna grab a smoke.” Julia turns to Ewan and says, “She gets that from you.” Okay, her character’s fourteen years old and this has been done so many times it makes me sick. It’s just typical melodramatic bullshit.

Later on, Ewan and Julia have a screaming match while retrieving chairs from a storage shed. It reeks of choreographed cliché.

Here are the sole redeeming qualities of the film.

Julia Roberts is the cream of the crop in terms of likability and acting performance here. So is Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor (albeit quite soapy), Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson and Dermot Mulroney (despite the ridiculous character he portrays).

The catfish scene’s great. Any scene where Julia drops an F-bomb is decent enough. J.R. should audition for the next female superhero. She’s badass in this.

The interaction between Abigail Breslin and Dermot Mulroney is just nonsensical and so painful.

Okay, so he blasts Livin’ La Vida Loca with strangers as passengers in his red convertible rental, passes other vehicles in an obnoxious fashion, he’s been married three times, answers his phone during the recitation of Grace at a funeral dinner, plays fast and loose about his heavy pot smoking, AND likes fourteen year old girls?

Wow. Never saw that coming.

In retrospect, I think we’re supposed to like Cooper’s character, but he humiliates Breslin over her personal beliefs. Wasn’t he the one lecturing about meanness?

What is going on with the long-winded southern-twanged monologues from old women about hardships from their youth? I think they’re sitting at that dinner table for almost a half hour.

Where did the romantic notions develop about the Southern twang? It gets extremely tiresome early on.

The momentary violence that follows the dinner scene provides the only thrill.

Holy Hell, why would I ever want to watch this?

I simply can’t conceive of the value I’m supposed to derive from this film.

It’s as if between arguments, each character is thinking about the nuances of their individual relationships. As if they’re chambering poignant, articulate arguments in self-defense.

We get it: Each character is wildly different from the rest, struggling with their own dark and complex conflicts. But why would I ever care about these horrific people? I bought in as much as I could

I’m sure this is a very good play, but as a film it comes off like a soap opera and a colossal waste of my time.

But there are people that must like this, right? Is it women? Is that where the synapses get disconnected?

Although it weaves an intricate and confusing narrative, the cast of characters is too large to keep you familiar with their various complexities in between recitations of Meryl Streep’s monologues.

I hate her character. I really mean that. That’s not a character I care anything about.

I never cared for anyone’s plight though, and never came close to crying. I felt a ping of emotion when Roberts realizes Ewan’s not coming back. But I quickly realize how little it matters in the grand scheme of things

It’s all very dark, and the conflicts add up to compelling motivations, but I don’t care. I’m watching too much melodrama, high-horsing and sadness.

I spent ten dollars (with the new OnDemand prices) just to rent this movie.

I don’t enjoy tearing it apart, but must be missing something here.

As usual, I’m less upset about being duped into paying for a dull film, than the absurd idea that this would be nominated for best picture.

I guess there’s an audience out there for this type of movie, but it’s not me or anybody with similar tastes.

I’m sorry to say I dislike August: Osage County and wouldn’t recommend it.

While it’s not devoid of intelligent content, it’s a drab and dreary picture that’s ultimately, rather unfulfilling.