12 Years a Slave (2013) - 9.5 / 10
"Sin, there is no sin. I can do as I wish with my property” - Edwin Epps
Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, we follow the man from the time he is kidnapped and forced into slavery until his life changes again. Based on the book with the same name, written by Northup himself, it's clear where the film eventually goes. No doubt this film will get much comparison to Tarantino's Django, which also dared to show slavery in a gloves off kind of way, but this is a film that deals with slavery in a much less entertaining or satisfactory fashion. Rather, the film is brutal and does not shy away from being ugly and emotionally charged.
In my opinion, this movie is more similar to “The Girl Next Door” Both movies were absolutely horrible to watch, but left me thinking deep questions about society, and my part in it. Sadism sells, you only have to look at the “Saw” movies to see this. To use violence in cinema effectively requires a great skill for not only the actors but the plot, the characters and direction, all have to remain very focused. Each slave in this film has their character developed so when they are objectified the viewer knows the slaves emotions, thoughts and their humanity.
McQueen uses a special technique, by framing his actors' faces in extreme close-up, the eyes staring into despair, the nostrils flaming up in aggression. Naked flesh are shown not because of erotic content, but rather because of desperation and meaningless. Long takes and wide shots are not uncommon in his films, and here they display an excessive amount of fantastic scenes and performances that work to discomfort the viewer as much as possible. This is an extremely uncomfortable film to watch.
The camera gets up close as the audience watches the blood and flesh torn from the backs of people tied to whipping posts. There are moment-by-moment reminders to the slaves that they have no rights.
The many ways in which slavery dehumanizes people are shown here: a mother is torn from her children as the family is sold to different owners; a husband will never see his family again; educated blacks must hide their literacy from the owners; horrid working conditions; any form of defiance is met with strokes from the lash; every human comfort, every expression of human decency is denied to the slave for a lifetime and most important, every form of cruelty directed at the slave is acceptable because they are seen as property, not as fellow humans.
Acting was superb! I don’t know what other director could have picked a better cast. By the end of the film, I know that people will be in tears at the resolution and the emotion that emanate. A man's most prized possession is his freedom. Rob any man of that injustice, and soon his hope, spirit, and soul will follow. But Solomon was a man who did not, and would not give his soul, and his spirit fall into despair and hopelessness.
As Northup, Chiwetel Ejiofor is excellent. He handles the character with a great deal of emotional layer and considering the brutal and realistic nature of the film, it's hard to imagine many who could take on such a brave role. But even beyond this being just another film about slavery, McQueen goes the extra length to depict the film in such a fashion that we are almost forced to feel something.
There's a scene about halfway through in which Northup is left roped up with only his tiptoes to keep him from hanging. During this scene, McQueen carries the image in a single shot for several minutes, what seems to stretch into an eternity, during which everything around Northup goes as if nothing happens. Slaves go about their day, while the slave drivers don't budge an inch to help. As Ejiofor is obviously not choking here in real life, it is to his credit that we are convinced he is suffering for such an extended period of time. And the rest of the performance carries on with the same professionalism.
Appearances from Benedict Cumberdatch, Quvenzhale Wallis, Paul Dano (with his haunting acapella song - “Run nigger run, run so fast / Stoved his head in a hornets nest / Run nigger run well the pattyroller'll get you / Run nigger run well you better get away.”) and Paul Giamitti are all very welcome. Brad Pitt also appears towards the end in a role which completely turns the film around. Although his appearance is minor, his character renews our faith in the world and brings a sense of happiness that seems to be completely lost. All of the performances are Outstanding. Making her cinematic debut, Lupito Nyong'o as the object of Epps' attention, Patsey, gives a performance beyond that of many season stars.
For me, Fassbender stole the show. There’s one particular scene near the end of the movie that simply won him the award in my opinion. It was when his prized slave, Patsey (played by Nupita Lyong'o), went missing and suddenly came back from her Sunday stroll down the road. That whole 10 minute clip, all filmed in one take, was stunning.
The score by Hans Zimmer deserves a special mention for perfectly complimenting the visuals and cinematography and also enhance the effect that this film has.
Regardless, while the film may be disturbing 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.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) - 8 / 10
“Let me tell you something. There's no nobility in poverty. I've been a poor man, and I've been a rich man. And I choose rich every fucking time.” - Jordan Belfort
I'll just start by saying that I’m not a fan of Scorsese’s work. I really enjoyed a couple of his movies, but I never liked his style in particular and I’m not chasing after or prioritizing his movies.
The Wolf of Wall Street is too much of everything: sex, drugs, profanity, laughs, dialogue, narration.
From the opening shot of DiCaprio snorting cocaine from between a prostitute's open legs, this is 3 hours of absolute depravity. And it's hilarious.
This was the fifth collaboration between much lauded director Martin Scorsese and, until now, Oscar looser Leonardo DiCaprio. Looking at the other 4 movies - Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006) and Shutter Island (2010) - The Wolf of Wall Street signals the moment the two finally took the step over the edge.
The film somewhat comes close to Scorsese's older film, Goodfellas: a man who love affairs, with a job that betrays both of his marriage and any moral standards, however the guy lacks the sympathy which defines the character's humanity. The main character's human figure here has all the negative sides. Compare him to the other goodfella, his motivations and attempts are much insignificant, because of course, he has it all.
The combination of Scorsese's narrative and Leonardo DiCaprio's performance creates a profound feeling of hatred towards Belfort. Despite having this ability of character development and appeal to the audience, the film severely lacks in describing exactly what crimes Belfort actually committed on Wall Street. The lack of factual details behind the true story is instead taken up by screen time consisting of Belfort's drug use and addiction to sex.
DiCaprio plays the perfect antihero: Belfort is a liar, he cheats on his wife, he steals money from people, he is constantly drugged out of his mind and so on. Still, it's very difficult to hate him, and I think most people actually envy him: who wouldn't want to have so much money, so that you can throw $100 bills in the trash without blinking? DiCaprio's performance is wonderful, and I hope he'll finally win the Oscar he deserves.
Also nominated for Oscar (again, after Moneyball) is Jonah Hill, playing Belfort's neurotic business partner, Donnie Azoff. It was recently revealed that Hill accepted without even thinking, the minimum pay of $60,000 for this role, simply because he was desperate to work with Scorsese, one of his heroes. This enthusiasm is immediately visible as he takes the role like a starved cat to food. His chemistry with DiCaprio is effortless and unforced, creating a warm, humorous and believable relationship upon which the movie basically survives.
Hill gave the performance of his acting career, the character had deeper roots than his normal characters and it allows you to see a different side of his acting.
It's hard to believe that Jonah Hill is that same actor that played the goofy kid in “Superbad” way back in 2007. It's the best performance of his I think I've seen (maybe even better than in Moneyball). For those 3 hours he genuinely was Donny Azoff, and played the role perfectly.
The beautiful Margot Robbie plays Jordan's second wife, Naomi. Robbie is great in her role, seducing and sexual yet trustworthy, Naomi is not just the eye candy in the movie and it’s quite easy for such a sexually based character to be objectified in films, whereas Robbie triggers real emotion of sympathy from the audience towards the end of the movie in various Jordan related scenes.
Also notable strong performance from Rob Reiner (his dad) and Kyle Chandler (FBI agent). And for only few scenes, Matthew McConaughey, as Belfort's mentor, Mark Hanna, steals the show in his usual way, that reminded me of his role from Magic Mike.
The only criticism I would perhaps make, and I’m really picky here, is the running time. At 3 hours, I'll admit there was a slight lapse in my concentration and I think that some dialogues could have been slightly shortened.
The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the most brutal, honest and smart films I have seen in the past 5-6 years. Done with a twisted, dark sense of humor, we see the effect money has on people, and its almost impossible to dislike any of the characters, despite them being money grubbing, cocaine sniffing, deceptive, womanizing, yet extremely ingenious and dexterous individuals.
Don Jon (2013) - 8 / 10
“There's only a few things I really care about in life. My body. My pad. My family. My church. My boys. My girls. My porn.” - Jon
So…Sex? Hard to talk about. Masturbation? Hmm, harder to talk about. Masturbation + Pornography? Dear Lord, now we're taboo.
Is this a great movie? No, but it is an original one and it feels like a breath of fresh air in the current Marvel Comics shoot-'em-bang-bang-explode movie thingy.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed and stars as Jon, a twenty-something man who loves women but not as much as watching porn.
The former child star has turned into quite the up-and-coming young actor as he's worked on rebranding himself as something more than that kid from 3rd Rock From the Sun and 10 things I hate about you. Over the years, he's starred in such films as The Dark Knight Rises, 50/50 or Looper, and proved to us that he’s the type of actor that can play a comedy or a drama with such ease. However, his most impressive performance to date might just be the one he gave in front and behind the camera with Don Jon.
Don Jon touches on that extremely embarrassing fact that every guy is terrified that his most deep secret will come out. What secret is that? Well, it's probably best hearing from the protagonist, Jon, himself: "Every guy looks at porn, every day.”
This movie shows us a real problem, the process of porn turning our heads, making us believe in perfection and making us selfish as lovers. You watch porn and think that you don't have to please a woman, you don't have to worry about anyone but yourself. In the real world, in relationships, the other person matters just as much as you, but sometimes, even the real thing is not as good as the fantasy and the ease of it.
Don Jon is about that confusion of liking and appreciating porn more than real women, of becoming addicted to the idea of “perfection" and ultimately making us aware of the effect it has on all us men, making us irritated little boys, incapable of truly connecting with another person.
The message is not that porn is bad, only the way we think and use it is misleading to reality.
I think that this is the first movie I've seen which accurately depicts 21st century man's relationship with pornography as a simple fact of life, without judgement. Usually in a Hollywood film the guy watching porn is seen as some kind of creep, but here, as Jon himself says, “every guy watches porn, and if he says he doesn't he's a liar”.
What really impressed me about Don Jon, though, are the performances that Levitt pulls out of his colleagues/actors. I've honestly never seen Scarlett Johansson give a better performance than she did as Jon's trashy New Jersey girlfriend, Barbara, maybe even better than her ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona” role. She's absolutely despicable as she slowly begin to reveal her true intentions and tries to paint Jon as the bad guy when she discovers his addiction. She’s addicted to sugary fantasies of male sacrifice, waiting for her prince on the white horse to come and swipe her of her feet. "He gave up EVERYTHING for her," she comments as they come out of her latest chick flick 'Special Someone'. "It was MEANT to be!” she said, daydreaming.
On top of that, Tony Danza gives a extremely amusing and ridiculous performance as Jon's impulsive father who gets into dick-measuring (figurative :P) contest with his son every Sunday at family lunch.
Julianne Moore is fantastic in the role of Esther, playing a much larger role than I had originally expected, and did a great job helping Jon grow as a person. And yes, she’s still hot, even though she’s 53 years old.
However, the most impressive of them all is Levitt himself, who has repeatedly proved that he is one hell of an actor and one who has earned my trust as a moviegoer. The role is something so far from what I would have ever pictured him portraying, but he pulls it off beautifully as he plays the scumbag good-guy stereotype.
I must confess that the only 2 things that come to my mind when I think of this movie are the opening sound of his Macbook Pro, that’s his leitmotif of getting ready for “business” and his writing for Jon's weekly confessions in church, that’s just hilarious: “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession. Since last Sunday I had sexual relations out of wedlock two times. I also watched pornographic videos and masturbated seventeen times. For these, and all the sins in my life, I am sorry.” - Jon.
Yes, the film does have a lot of sexual humor and content in it, but it has some reason to, seeing as the film is dealing with addiction to pornography. And what may have seemed immature and like teenage humor for the first little bit of the film, soon went away and it became one of the most penetrating and intelligent films of the year.
It's the kind of film you would almost want younger teens to see in order to learn something and perhaps plan their own lives and future relationships a little more differently.