REVIEW: 12 Years a Slave

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12 Years a Slave
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Written by: John Ridley (screenplay), Solomon Northup (memoir)
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofer, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o and Sarah Paulson

Connecting 12 Years a Slave immediately to its Oscar buzz because of when a studio chose to release it would be a disservice to it.  To put it simply, this is the most powerful film about American slavery that I’ve ever seen, and diminishing that accomplishment by asking if the white male establishment of the Academy can handle it enough to nominate it for anything is at the bottom of my list.

Steve McQueen’s previous two features, Hunger and Shame, were visually brilliant, but at times lacking a crucial human element.  This was especially true of Shame, whose miserabalism was supposed to be its own profound reward but ultimately registered as empty.  There is obviously a great deal of suffering in 12 Years a Slave, but also an intense humanity.

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REVIEW: Don Jon

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Don Jon
Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Written by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore and Tony Danza

For the first half of Don Jon I was prepared to write it off as a gross, occasionally charming debut feature, but the destabilizing element introduced in the second half (Julianne Moore) throws the movie completely off the beaten path in the best possible way.  Before Moore’s character Esther enters the picture it came dangerously close to reveling in the kind of misogyny that it attempts to send up.

At first, there is just Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and, as he says, his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls and his porn.  The flashy montages of gyrating asses and blowjob lips quickly show which of those takes precedence in his life.  And, like the main character of (500) Days of Summer’s misreading of The Graduate, he is woefully misguided about the reality of the situation (he thinks it’s real).

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REVIEW: Prometheus

Prometheus
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts (screenplay)
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender

Shortly after making his break into the film industry Ridley Scott came across a film titled Star Wars that would rouse him to make Alien, an iconic, genre-defining sci-fi film of his own. Thirty years passed while Scott ventured into mastering other genres—his only other trip to the future being Blade Runner— until he saw another revolutionary sci-fi film that inspired him to take on the genre once again: Avatar.

Three years and dimensions later we have Prometheus, one of the most immersive and gleaming 3D sagas since Cameron’s Avatar set the bar (it’s a fun fact to note that Cameron’s breakout film was Aliens, the sequel to Scott’s original). In what will continue to be feverously debated as his prequel to Alien, Scott pools talents and ideas from various great modern sci-fi to amass an intense, hardwired summer blunder that doesn’t take itself serious enough at times to become as classic as it should.

Prometheus takes place in 2089, a few decades before Alien, when archeologists Shaw (Rapace) and Holloway (Marshall-Green) discover prehistoric wall paintings that suggest an interaction between early civilizations and other worldly life. Left with a hieroglyphic road map to outer space, they are joined by a J.J. Abrams rag tag team with bad accents and poor judgment, a sinisterly adorable robot named David (Fassbender) and the heir (Theron) to the Weyland Corporation that funded the trillion-dollar exploration to seek answers to the universe’s greatest question: how did we get here?

In a genre where everyone seems to be taking influences from everyone (including themselves), Prometheus proves itself a pioneer in atmosphere, aesthetic and marvel while other elements like pathos and consistency weigh down its potential. But that’s not to say Prometheus is by any means a weak film.

Exploring themes of creationism, religion and humanity give the creature feature purpose and prose, but it never lives up to the intensity created technically in the film.

Much of the blame for the film’s lackluster script goes to its co-author Damon Lindelof, who penned and produced similar cryptic mythologies and philosophical puzzles brilliantly on TV’s Lost. Just like the show, the film is interested in posing grand questions and answering each with two more questions— it’s deep and clever without ever being intelligent. Luckily the visuals and acting hide the audible cheese uttered by “first to die” team used to pander to universal audiences.

The script wants to have fun, but it’s at its best when it’s not. Its highlights include its most intense moments and gore. Rapace, Theron and Fassbender all make an undeniably all-star cast of expert focus plunging in and out of Scott’s beautifully crafted set pieces that never leave you at ease. And while we may not have gotten the answers we wanted, we’ll just have to enjoy the film for what it is now and wait for what the future may behold… sequels.

Grade: B-

2012 Oscar Nominations: Luke’s Picks

Unlike Matt (whose predictions can be found here), I take the Oscars a little seriously. My numbers are usually pretty good too, but I’ve yet to win any big predictions competitions and that bums me out just a little. That being said, this year’s race looks pretty flat and uncompetitive, with most of the nominees and frontrunners decided months ago. There are, however, a few nominees that could steal the scene from The Artist, which is expected to sweep.

2012 Academy Award Best Picture predictionsBest Picture

Nominees: War Horse, The Tree of Life, Moneyball, The Artist, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help

Will Win: The Artist. It’s the frontrunner because it’s an easy pick for Hollywood. While most of the other best picture nominees have a few deterrers, The Artist is unanimously adored at least to some fashion. The nostalgia crowd pleaser also happens to have strong technical components AND a few acting nominations, which sets it apart from other possible winners like Hugo, The Help and The Descendants that only fare well with one of the two. Don’t be too surprised if The Help crashes the party with an upset. Continue reading

SPOTLIGHT: Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender is one of the most talented actors to emerge in recent years.  Since his breakout role in Steve McQueen’s Hunger, he has gone on an acting rampage with some of the most talented directors in the world, including David Cronenberg, Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino.  He often plays characters who you normally would not sympathize with, but his tremendous range and emotional depth make it nearly impossible.  Oscar recently snubbed him for his performances in Shame and A Dangerous Method, though he hopefully has plenty of time to wow them and a wider audience in the coming years.

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Our Favorite Performances of 2011

1. Kirsten DunstMelancholia– In Lars von Trier’s apocalyptic new film, Dunst creates one of cinema’s most fully realized portraits of numbing depression.  In all of her performances, Dunst has shown a skill sometimes greater than the films she is in.  Here, she takes the role of Justine, a woman who self-destructs on her wedding night and takes shelter with her sister as the planet Melancholia goes on a collision course with Earth.  Key Scene: In the deepest part of her depression, Justine even needs help getting down to the dinner table.  Her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) made meatloaf, her favorite dish.  When Justine tastes it, her face crumbles, and she says it tastes like ash.  That’s all that will be left of the planet in a couple days, and she can’t wait.

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