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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Alfre Woodard

Burning Sands (2017)

Join a frat, they said. A fun time, they said.

Zurich (Trevor Jackson) is just getting his college career at Frederick Douglas University going when he decides to join up at the most coveted and prestigious black frat there is in the country, Lambda Lambda Pi. And for one whole week, which everyone calls “Hell Week”, Zurich and countless other pledges will all have to endure absolute, undeniable hell, like say, beatings, eating dog food, sleep deprivation, shaving their heads, not being seen on campus, not having sex – all just so that they can be apart of this brotherhood one day and achieve the same dreams that countless generations of their families have done, or have wanted to do, before them. But Zurich doesn’t quite know if this is what he wants; he has a legacy to behold, of course, but he’s also more interested in certain things, like girls, like poetry, and most of all, his health, which seems to be slowly deteriorating ever since receiving some fatal blows to his ribs some weeks ago. But hey, it’s all worth it, right?

“If you do this, maybe you’ll be in an Oscar-winning movie.”

One of the main things said about Burning Sands is how it is, essentially, the black-answer to last year’s Goat, another movie focusing on the hazing, the pledging, and all of the violence that can ensue before joining up with a fraternity. And while to some degree you can see a lot of the comparisons, for the most part, they do seem to be focusing on the object of hazing and the realities as fraternities a tad bit differently – Goat focused more on the psychological and mental anguish and torture such hazing can have a person’s mind, whereas Burning Sands seems to explore the deeper, more passionate connections held between some of these people, during this one specific amount of time.

Does that mean to say that one movie is more on the side of frats, than the other? Honestly, I’m not quite sure; it seems like Burning Sands seems to know and understand that frats can be a meaningful aspect to college life, because they’re fun and they hold some meaning to a lot of those people within them, but possibly, what it takes to become a part of said frat, isn’t always as lovely. In a way, Burning Sands is condemning the people that commit these heinous, almost inhumane acts of senseless, nonsensical violence, but also never quite comes to an understanding of why it’s happening in the first place. There has to be more people to blame here than just the kids themselves, right? Can’t some of the blame also go to the faculty, the staff, and the general atmosphere on college campuses that fraternities are there to help guide young men into being smart, respectful, and common citizens in society, when in reality, they may make someone very far from that?

Always have a mother-figure.

Either way, it’s an interesting question, one that neither Goat, nor Burning Sands seem all that interested to answer.

For Burning Sands, though, it’s really all about what these pledges go through and why most of them, as confident as they may be, really don’t have what it takes. Director Gerard McMurray seems to get the dark and creepy aura of masculinity during a lot of these moments, almost to the point of where some of it borderlines on the verge of being gay; there’s much hugging, loving, holding, and touching of these strong, muscular, and sometimes, half-naked men, that you’ll begin to wonder when the panties are going to drop. It’s an interesting take on the material that seems to go beyond a lot of the other conventional stuff like, say, how shocking it is that these kids are getting beat up and held against their will to do stuff.

In fact, the biggest problem with Burning Sands is that a lot of it does feel like a “been there, done that”, even without Goat in the discussion. See, while that movie focused on the depravity and sheer ugliness of frats, it also approached it all from a different angle – in a way, it was much more detached and sinister, making it way more disturbing and downright creepy. Here, McMurray seems to tackle this hazing with much more direction, but also sort of taking us out of the whole issue, too. It’s almost as if the hazing just happens, we don’t feel anything about it, but somehow, some way, we’re supposed to. In that sense, yeah, it just doesn’t quite work, whereas a movie like Goat, as chilling as it could sometimes get, still resonated.

At the same time, though, the movie’s are still different and as such, should be approached differently, too.

It’s just that in this case, Burning Sands has some issues to wade through. It’s most interesting aspect is that it focuses on Zurich, played very well by Trevor Jackson as someone who, despite the obvious, doesn’t totally seem to want to be in a frat. He’s much more concerned with having sex and trying to pass, just like any other college kid and it’s a nice twist on the whole frat movie subgenre, in which we get a kid who’s only trying to be apart of it, not just to be cool, or hip, or have a bunch of friends, but because he’s basically told to join one, by his friends and peers.

Like I said before, who’s to blame here, folks?

Consensus: As dark as it can sometimes get, what’s holding Burning Sands back from being a far more effective take on underground hazing, is that it never quite becomes more than it should have been.

6 / 10

See? It’s a brotherhood!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Rotten Tomatoes

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Annabelle (2014)

All creepy dolls are bad news. So just toss them in the trash while you still can!

John (Ward Horton) and Mia Form (Annabelle Wallis) are a very young and happy couple with a new baby on the way. While John isn’t around most of the time because he’s trying to finish up medical school, Mia spends most of her time at home, doing everyday, normal chores. John knows that his wife must be incredibly bored, so for that reason alone, he decides to buy her an antique doll with a beautiful dress named Annabelle. Mia loves it and automatically sets it aside on the shelf next to all of her other odd-looking dolls, but as soon as she does this, crazy and disastrous stuff starts to happen. Neighbors are murdered, crazy, savage-like cults start popping-up and for some reason, Mia starts seeing weird figures in and around the household. While there’s no exact reasoning for what is happening, Mia and John start to wonder if any of it has to do with Annabelle and if so, what do they do to get rid of her? After all, every time that they’ve tried to throw her away, she somehow comes back.

So, what do you do when a crazy, killer-doll won’t leave you alone?

"Don't worry, honey. It'll watch over us at night."

“Don’t worry, honey. It’ll watch over us at night.”

You’d think that by the way the creators of the Conjuring have hyped Annabelle, both the doll, as well as the movie, as being, that it would be the scariest thing since cavemen discovered fire. In the actual Conjuring, Annabelle herself is locked away in a glass-box, with a sign telling no one “to ever open”. You’d think that with that kind of warning, that the movie about Annabelle, her origin and her sick, twisted ways she extracts violence on those around her, would be absolutely bone-chilling and if, at that, even scarier than its predecessors.

But unfortunately, it’s not.

If anything, Annabelle, the movie, is just plain and simply put, boring. There’s something interesting about this movie in that it tries to go for a retro, old-school horror-vibe, as in the same vein of a Roman Polanski thriller. The two characters names are “John” and “Mia”, the stringy-score screeches every time something spooky happens, and yes, there’s a lot of talk about flower-power and cults. While I want to give director John R. Leonetti credit for at least trying to make this movie look and sound cooler than it actually is, he fails at actually conjuring up any sort of the same feelings, or raw emotions that Polanski’s thrillers always had, even when it seemed like they weren’t going for that mood at all.

In fact, I’ll just stop bringing up Polanski altogether, as to do so, would be disrespect to his craft, as Annabelle is a pretty crummy movie. It’s the kind of horror movie that uses jump-scares as a back-up plan for every scene, it’s villains aren’t particularly scary or frightening, if only because they’re shown so clear and full in the first thirty minutes, and the movie itself kind of jumps the shark real early on. There’s never any sense of impending doom or dread being built-up; the movie literally starts with a scare and continues to do the same kind of scares, again and again, almost to the point where none of its scary, but just numbing and annoying.

Any good horror movie you see, you’ll notice that the movie doesn’t just start off by giving you all the blood, gore, shrieks, geeks and ghouls right off the bat. That’s because the people behind the movie know that sometimes, having people wait around and wait for something terrifying to happen, is the whole fun and scary part about seeing a horror movie. You don’t want everything thrown at you, all at once and right away – sometimes, you just want to wait around, getting some chilly things given to you, every once and a blue moon, all before it fully gets out-of-hand and crazy.

God vs. a creepy doll.

God vs. a creepy doll. Where’s that movie?!?

That’s how most good horror movies are and, as you can probably tell, Annabelle is not that movie.

It also hurts that throughout the whole 100 minutes, we’re given possibly the most boring, most uninteresting and most dull characters in a horror movie since the days of the Friday the 13th sequels. Say what you will about Jason X, at least all of the characters in that movie were all jack-asses and over-the-top; they’re far more interesting and fun to watch than either this John or Mia ever had a chance to be. And while I don’t blame Ward Horton or Annabelle Wallis for the problems with their characters, they certainly don’t help matters by having absolutely no chemistry together whatsoever, nor do they actually seem interested in doing anything with the characters, either. Sure, you could definitely blame it on the lackluster direction they may have been saddled with, but unfortunately, they just look bad in the process and it’s a shame, too, because I’m sure that they’re really nice people in real life.

And basically, that’s all there is to Annabelle. The characters suck, the performances are even worse, and the scares just aren’t there, which is the biggest issue of all. The movie is, like I said before, roughly 100 minutes and more than half of that run-time is spent trying to scare the pants off of everyone watching it, which, aside from maybe one or two surprises, never happens. It’s just a cash-cow horror flick, made for the sake of more money for the Conjuring franchise and remind audiences that there’s a bigger universe out there.

However, maybe I’d just like to stick with the Conjuring story instead. It’s far more interesting and yes, spookier.

Consensus: Without even trying, Annabelle is a boring, uninteresting and downright silly horror flick that doesn’t seem to have a single fun bone in its body, even if it is, essentially, about a creepy-doll wreaking havoc on 60’s suburbanites.

2.5 / 10

Eh. I've seen far, far worse. Go to my grand-mom's place.

Eh. I’ve seen far, far worse. Trust me. Just go to my grandmom’s place.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Mississippi Grind (2015)

You can never lose in poker. Until you lose. And then your life is done with.

Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is a bit of a gambler. This has then carried out into the rest of his personal life because he’s not only lost a marriage because of it, but owes a lot of people, a lot of money. Though he intends on paying each and everyone of those debts off, he still can’t seem to take himself away from the poker-table nearly as much as he’d like. One fateful game, however, he meets Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), a charming, silver-tongued fellow gambler who has a lot more lady luck on his side than Gerry. In Curtis, Gerry not only sees a gambling-partner that he can bet, gain and lose money with, but a pal that he can go on a road trip with and have all sorts of fun that he hasn’t been able to have in quite some time. However, while on the road to Mississippi for a huge gambling event, they get to know one another better which, in some instances, can prove to be more problematic than either would have liked. But at the end of the day, they’re both two gamblers, just trying to get by in a world that they constantly seem to owe money.

Reservoir Dogs remake? Too soon?

Reservoir Dogs remake? Too soon?

Gambling movies are, for the most part, fun. Which, if you think about it, is kind of screwed-up. For one, gambling is an addiction. And just like many other addictions out there, it takes over a person, strips that person of everything they’ve got and, if they aren’t lucky enough, may ruin said person for the rest of their lives. So yeah, as you can tell, addiction’s not a fun thing to deal with, let alone, a gambling one, so to make gambling movies, actually fun and exciting, seems odd.

However, Mississippi Grind is smart enough to be a little bit of both.

While on one hand, Grind shows gambling and being in the midst of having luck go your way, as an absolute blast and the greatest feeling in the world. The dice are coming up clutch, every hand is in your favor, and the chips seem to constantly be coming your way, no matter how risky or daring your bets may tend to get. That same feeling of electricity and anticipation is in the air during nearly every gambling scene in Grind (which is saying a lot), and it shows people why gambling, in and of itself, can be so addicting to those who want to get a whole bunch of money, in a quick, relatively easy fashion.

On the other hand, however, Grind also shows how all of this constant betting, gambling, winning, and losing, can also be draining – not just emotionally, but financially as well. Like they did with the stellar Half Nelson almost a decade ago, co-writers and co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck show the dark and miserable side effects that come along with any addiction, of any kind. While getting your kicks off by fueling your addiction may have you feeling as if you’re on top of the world and nothing can bring you down, the sad reality is that when everything does crumbling down and you do begin to think clear, sober thoughts, you’ll be constantly chasing after that same high, all over again. But this time, by any means/costs necessary.

And all of this is especially true with Gerry, played exceptionally well by Ben Mendelsohn.

While we get the picture early on in the movie that Gerry is, a bit of a sad sack who owes just about everybody and their mothers, money, we also can see that he’s trying to get better and forget about his addiction that’s slowly, but oh so surely, swallowing him whole. Gerry may go out to the scummiest casinos and clubs out there to play a little game of Texas Hold ‘Em and throw a few bills down, but he knows that he can’t go over any limit, or else it’ll be too late. And while the film definitely shows that that time may have already come, Gerry is still trying to make ends meet with his real-estate job and constant promise of giving those he owes money to, the money he’s already supposed to have been given to them by now.

But because Gerry seems like the sort of poor guy who is in so over-his-head with just about everything, he’s interesting to watch and root for. While we don’t want him to go to these poker-tables and throw all of his money away, at the same time, we also see what kind of over-zealous joy it brings him, so it makes sense that we’d want him to continue on doing what he’s doing. And Mendelsohn, as usual, is great in this rare-lead role of his, but also seems to fit into the role of playing “a good guy” for the first time in quite awhile. While there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll soon follow this role up with about a dozen or so more smarmy, dirty and disgusting villainous ones, it’s still a nice breath of fresh air to see that he’s able to switch things up every once and awhile, and still have people believe in who he’s portraying.

How could anyone say, "You've reached your limit", to a face like that?

How could anyone say, “You’ve reached your limit”, to a face like that?

And while Mendelsohn deserves some fine credit here as Gerry, Ryan Reynolds deserves just as much playing the smooth-talking charmer that is Curtis.

Because Curtis always has something witty to say and seems to be the life of every party he shows up to, it only makes perfect sense that someone like Reynolds wouldn’t just get the role, but play it to perfection. But what’s so interesting about Curtis is that while he may seem like a good guy because of how fun-loving and easy-going he is, there’s also a hint of menace underneath it all that makes it seem like he’s definitely full of bullshit and is also trying to screw Gerry over if that means getting to more money for himself. These are two sides to Reynolds’ persona that we so hardly see, but here, as Curtis, the man does wonders with.

Together, Mendelsohn and Reynolds strike-up a wonderful chemistry that not only sees them having hearty laughs over the good times, but coming close to punches when the hard ones come around, too. You never know whose playing who, or if there’s even a play to begin with; we just know that someone is going to get more lucky at the poker-table than the other, and it’s going to completely set the other one off. And like I said before, Boden and Fleck do solid jobs at presenting these two characters as opposites, in terms of their personalities and whatnot, the movie still highlights the fact that their shared-interest (i.e. gambling), may also be the one that sets them apart forever and ruin both of their lives.

Now, who wants to go out and hit the slots?

Consensus: Both engaging, as well as entertaining, Mississippi Grind does justice to both the world of gambling and also the talents of its cast, creating a movie that’s definitely worth the watch.

8 / 10

If I saw these two at the bar, I would probably have to rudely interrupt and involve myself with whatever they were speaking about.

If I saw these two at the bar, I would probably have to rudely interrupt and involve myself with whatever they were speaking about.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Core (2003)

CoreWhen the world is about to end, trust cellular-devices. Oh, and Hollywood.

After a couple of freak accidents all around the globe, scientists come to the mind-boggling conclusion that the Earth’s core will stop rotating, allowing for the world to all go to shit. So in order to continue the spinning, a group lead by Dr. Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) and astronaut Rebecca “Beck” Childs (Hilary Swank) go down there to stop the disaster. However, like with most of the times when people try to prevent natural-disasters from occurring, mother nature fights back, and she fights with vengeance. Or, something like that.

I’m not a huge science-buff, but I passed a couple of those classes back in school and I even learned a little bit. Nothing too much, but just enough to know that the Earth revolves around the sun and that there is a crap-ton of water on our planet. You know, the simple and easy things. That’s why when I see a flick and people get on it’s case about not being smart or “correct” about the science it uses, I don’t really care nor do I ever notice. That sort of stuff just doesn’t bother me as much, especially when the flick’s dumb and stupid, such as is this one.

God's finally had it!

God’s finally had it!

But that’s where the problem of this movie lies: It’s so stupid, so dumb, and so innate, that the terribly thought-out science that it uses as it’s axle, is so noticeable and distracting, that it’s almost too hard to even enjoy. To think that the Earth’s core can suddenly stop rotating, for no explanation other than “we did it” or some failed earthquake machine, really made me laugh and wonder just what these writers were thinking when they even bothered jotting down words on a page. Hey, they know more science terms and jargon than I do, but that being said, at least I know what actually can and cannot happen with them. That’s why this movie’s so hard to get through, because everything you see, hear, or even feel, is just of the lowest common-denominator of dumb.

However, there are many movies out there that can be considered “so bad it’s good”, which is why I could recommend the movie just for that fact alone, but nothing else. You can’t expect much from a movie that gets it’s science so wrong, that almost every star in it’s ensemble strains themselves to explain certain things about it, why something’s happening, and how they can fix it, or stop it. For that matter, we’re straining ourselves in return, just to get through this damn thing because even though we know it’s been on for awhile, we still have to face back to reality and realize that the flick is over 2 hours and 4 minutes. Did not need to be at all, considering they jump right into the actual “mission”, about 30 minutes in, leaving any type of character-development or background on the ground, never to be picked up, and only used when the movie needs it to justify certain characters dumb-ass actions.

By “actions”, what I mean is that once one character dies (who I will not spoil, even if you can probably tell a minute or two before it actually happens), it becomes almost like a slasher-flick, where instead of their being a masked-killer or psychopath going around and hacking people up, it’s the Earth’s core itself. This can provide some bits of fun and excitement for people who probably have never seen a disaster flick or know what happens to a certain character, right after they say “I’ll be right back”, but for a d-bag critic like me; it doesn’t fly so well and only twists the knife in harder and harder as each and every character meets their doom. Even the actors themselves feel like they may be just slumming it up for a paycheck, which once again: Makes it even more disappointing to watch.

Obviously back in the early ’00’s is the only time a movie could be lead by Aaron Eckhart and that’s a shame too because the guy’s a quality actor who’s been kicking some fine ass for years, but in smaller indies, and is only seen by a larger-crowd when he does big, loud, and stupid blockbusters (with the exception of this one). Here, it’s apparently clear that Eckhart’s doing whatever he can to make this character/material work more than it should, but he just falls prey to it’s utter crapness, that he comes out the most laughable of all. Best example, a character that’s very close to his, perishes and leaves him yelling, while crying, and demanding his character to come alive. It’s all so laughable to watch, that it’s almost painful, especially because Eckhart, as I said, is a quality actor that knows how to make anything work. However, he can’t help himself or the film that he’s in here.

Alien?

Alien?

Hilary Swank on the other hand, well, she does the same thing except isn’t given that much to work with so it’s not as bad to watch as Eckhart. Still, it feels like a conventional-role for a gal that deserved better things, and still does to this day. Others in this cast fare a bit better, mainly because they aren’t given much development and actually seem to “enjoy” the crap they’re working with. However, it’s weird to watch everybody here act because they all seem to be in a different movie, where apparently lines are a lot easier to read, without it all coming out as total gibberish.

For instance, Stanley Tucci plays a scientist who is something of a celebrity in his field, and plays it up like the star that he is. Tucci’s funny, a bit mean, and very mawkish, but it all works because that’s who the character is, and Tucci gives him a soul that continues to show. I can’t say the same thing about Richard Jenkins’ role as General Purcell, but man does that guy love to deadpan. Every scene he’s in is hilarious and it’s just because of his lovely-presence being felt or around the screen. Nobody else in this movie fares any better than him. No not the uncharismatic DJ Qualls; no, not the highly underrated Delroy Lindo; and no, sure as hell not one of the world’s strongest female-presences working today, Alfre Woodard. Richard Jenkins is the one who steals the movie and kept me laughing and entertained every time he was on the screen. As for the rest of the movie, eh, not so much. Sorry, B-movie lovers.

Consensus: You could deem it as such “a terrible movie that it’s almost watchable”, but the Core suffers from a terrible scripting, sad-sack acting from a heavy-stacked cast, and poor science, that it’s almost too much of a strain to even be bothered with, regardless of if you’re bored, drunk or high one night or not.

4 / 10

"Coming up ahead we have some sort of blue stuff here that needs to be looked at or explained as to what the hell it is."

“Coming up ahead we have some sort of blue stuff here that needs to be looked at or explained as to what the hell it is.”

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

12 Years a Slave (2013)

I thought all slaves walk around to the sounds of James Brown and Rick Ross.

This the true story of one Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who, in 1853, was expecting to be in business with two circus men (Taran Killam and Scoot McNairy) looking to make a quick buck with the very talented violinist, but instead, found himself to be drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery, all within a 24-hour time-frame. As soon as he’s shipped off to the South, he meets and interacts with fellow other slaves, as well as other slave owners that range from sympathetic (Benedict Cumberthatch), to downright despicable (Michael Fassbender). But through this all, Solomon realizes that he can’t continue to plead that he’s a free man who can read, write and work as well as any other white folk can, and just has to accept the reality that this is his life from now on and he must face it head-on. A sad reality, but a reality for many African-Americans (and whites as well) out in the South during this time.

Hard to believe that even after all of these years of coming very close to hitting the nail on the head of the slice of history that was slavery, it took a Brit director in the form of Steve McQueen to give us the most definitive, honest, painful and realistic look at it, and then some. We all know that there’s been some hype and some buzz surrounding this movie for quite some time, and while it may have taken me longer than expected to actually get out there to my local indie theater and give it a go, I’m glad I did because this is one of those flicks that many people will be paying attention to for awhile. Not just at the end of this year when Oscar talk is running rampant, but for many, many years to come, as it presents us with a view of slavery that has never been as grueling or as painful as this is.

"You're pretty much my best buddy. Just don't tell anyone. EVER!!"

“You’re pretty much my best buddy. Just don’t tell anyone. EVER!!”

And yet, all of that importance still doesn’t make it the best movie of the year, heck, maybe not even Top 10.

I know, I know, I know. The pitchforks are already seized and the torches have been lit, but please, I urge you to bear with me and see if we can maybe come to an understanding. And if not, I don’t care. I’m a movie critic, dammit! I got opinions, regardless of popular-belief!

The aspect in which I must give this movie credit for, is mainly in the way that it does not back-down a bit from what it wants to show us. Most of that credit does deserve to go to McQueen, as he has proved that, time and time again, he is one of the masters at giving us a downright nasty piece of subject-matter, throwing it out there on screen and allowing us to just watch as it all plays out in front of our eyes, while also having us come to our own conclusions about what he’s showing as well. I respect this decision, not just here, but with his other two flicks (Hunger and Shame) as it shown him as the type of director we all have to look out for as he might be changing the ways movies are made and looked at in today’s world. I know that’s one huge leap I’m taking, but it’s one that I feel confident supporting as the guy really seems like he hit his stride here. And then some…

See, the real reason why this movie works as well as it does is because it gives us the story of slavery that we all think we know by heart by now, and yet, shows us that we still don’t know all that much about it, nor do we actually even realize the REAL harshness behind it. We see Solomon go through all sorts of travesties in his time as a slave: People suddenly get killed, raped, sold, left-for-dead, or are simply never heard from again. But the saddest reality of all that this movie brings up more than a few times is the fact that, for these slaves, it didn’t matter if they lived, died, or how many times they were constantly being sold-off and moved around; because nobody knew about them, nor even cared. Most of these people were already born into slavery as it was, so they already knew that they had no lives outside of picking cotton to live, but even for the ones who were free and then eventually sold into slavery, they still had no certain level of existence in their loved ones’ minds.

These types of slaves couldn’t write to their loved ones, let them know where they were and how they could free them, because usually, it was too much of a risk to take in the first place. Not just by being caught actually trying to transport a letter from Point-A-to-Point-B, but letting your owner know that you are in fact a free man or women,who can read, write and do all sorts of other things that a typical slave doesn’t have the ability to do. That realization could have you either killed, sheltered away from the rest of the public till the end of your days, or threatened to keep your mouth shut and realize that it doesn’t matter what you can or cannot do; you are a slave, and you must work, work, work, and work. And when you can’t work no more, you’re dead.

End. Of. Story.

But see, that’s the strangest idea about this movie, as well as our society itself: We already know this harsh reality, and yet, we still can’t seem to get our heads around the fact that this was America at one point in time. All of these brutal feelings, thoughts, ideas and standards we set for the rest of our society were felt during that time-period, but are still ever so present in today’s day and age, that a movie like this must be seen to inform others about what happened back in those days, and how we’re still getting over it all. Because honestly, let’s face it, nobody will ever be able to live slavery down: Whites, blacks, Jews, Chinese, etc. None of them will be able to live it down, and that’s a mind-set that will probably be forever tattooed in our minds. The fact that slavery, although being abolished for more than 140 years now, will still never, ever go away. Will we ever move on as a society, or we will just continue to remind ourselves of what our nation used to be like?

Questions, questions, questions.

As you can tell, this movie definitely gave me plenty to think about, mainly important stuff, but while all of those ideas ran around in my mind, I still couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that despite it being an unflinching, powerful and important look at slavery, there was something holding me back from thinking it was the end-all, be-all masterpiece of the year. While the true story of Solomon Northup is one that should never go unnoticed, the framing of the story itself just felt too normal to me, as if everything we were seeing, all happened in a sequence, without much rhythm or rhyme. I get that this is most likely how Northup experienced most of these events, but for a movie, it just makes it seem less like a story being told to us, and more like a series of things that are happening. For instance, we get to see Solomon get sold-off to a couple slavers throughout his life-span which, rather than making you feel awfully terrible about the type of predicament he’s in, comes off more episodic, as if it’s a new chapter in the life of Solomon Northup, or how it probably read on paper.

He's also a producer on this. Wonder if he's got a big, rather important role?

He’s also a producer on this. Wonder if he’s got a big, rather important role?

The problem I had with this movie wasn’t that it was told to me in a way that easily understandable and comprehensive so that I understood all that McQueen was doing, at any given moment, it was just that there never really felt like much of an emotional-connection here that would have had me running along with Solomon and everybody else around him for as long as they wanted me to. Granted, I did tear-up a couple of times to the point of where I needed a clean wipe-down, but that was mainly because I was reaching for something to cry about. The movie that McQueen was giving me, wasn’t the nearest thing to “sentimental”, and while I give him credit for not soaping this story up to where it could have been laughable, a hint, or hell, even a smudge of sappiness would have really put me over the edge to where I felt like this movie was the emotional-experience of a lifetime. Instead, I just felt like it was a series of bad things, happening to good people, from bad people, and that was about it.

Oh, and slavery was bad, too. Mustn’t forget about that fact.

That’s why, even though many will disagree with me, this flick feels like it delivers on what it sets out to do, and yet, could have gone deeper and even further into it’s subject story, by creating emotions and feelings. But McQueen doesn’t roll that way, and although I respect his decision to keep it so, I still feel like it would have done him a great deal of good if he had decided to throw something in there for good effect. Maybe a couple more crying-sessions? Or character-development? Maybe? I’m just a dude with a blog, what do I know?!?!

What I do know though, is a great performance when I see one, and there is an exceptional one given by the always-excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor as none other than Mr. Solomon Northup himself. Ejiofor is one of these actors in which, it doesn’t matter how many great pieces of work he does in a year or throughout a whole career, he still will never be a household name. Which is a damn shame because the dude is so freakin’ talented, and has been showing this talent for years-on-end. I think now may be that time where it all changes, and he finally gets the credit he deserves. Now, I am not saying that he’ll win the Oscar this year, however, he will definitely be nominated and a sure-pick because of just what he goes through here.

Every emotion that that Northup feels, every thought that crosses his mind and every pain-staking reality that he is coming to terms with, Ejiofor channels in the most perfect ways. He’s very subtle with his emotions, but when he has to do let loose every once and awhile, you really feel the man’s strife for freedom and getting back to those that he loves the most: His family. You already feel bad for Northup in the beginning, considering that he’s practically tricked into slavery in the harshest way imaginable, but once things get going and he has to make decisions that will alter the rest of his future on Earth, then you realize that this is a human-being, no matter how many slavers around him try to prove to him otherwise. Some decisions he makes for the betterment of those around him, but sometimes, he makes decisions for the betterment of himself and to save his own ass. While any other movie based on this same story would have probably shown him as being a bit of a selfish guy, McQueen shows him with a moral compass in hand, making us realize that he’s just trying to survive, by any means necessary. He knows what’s right and what’s wrong, and the lines rarely ever get blurred. It’s only when others get in the way, is when they do, and Ejiofor shows this inner-conflict wonderfully, giving himself one of his best performances ever.

And trust me, that’s saying a lot. Don’t believe me? Just check out anything the cat’s ever done in his huge body-of-work. Trust me, you’ll be shocked to see what he was in. Minus this one. Yeah, on the second thought, don’t even bother with that one.

"Wanna go kill something? ANYTHING!?!??"

“Wanna go kill something? ANYTHING!?!??”

But while this is easily Ejifor’s show, he doesn’t necessarily steal it away from everybody else in this heavily-stacked cast. Which was a nice act on his part, considering that everybody you see in this movie, speaking-role or not, is a face that you’re at least familiar with. Actually, let me just get right off of a face that you’re not familiar with, as she is easily the most compelling character you’re going to get in this whole movie that isn’t Northup himself: Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey. If you don’t know that name, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Neither does anybody else, but after this movie, I think you’ll be hard-pressed to forget it as she is amazing in every scene she has as the slave that Northup sticks with the most, and easily runs into the most problems with. Early on, it’s shown that Patsey starts a relationship with a slaver, that is less about rape, than it’s more about her trying to pleasure him and stay alive for as long as she can. While this act may be deemed “dehumanizing” in most eyes, it seems like the only act that she has left to live by, therefore, is giving it all she’s got with every hump she takes. Nyong’o’s eyes are expressive and convey an emotion everytime she shows up on screen, so definitely expect a nomination for her come Oscar-time.

Another person that you may also expect to be hearing whose name pop-up a lot is Michael Fassbender, playing that said philandering-slaver, Edwin Epps. Fassbender’s character is one demented soul; the type of guy you wouldn’t want to be around when he took one too many shots, nor would you want to be owned by him neither. Basically, Fassbender goes crazy in all of the right ways that gives you the idea that this guy is a twisted person you do not want to get on the wrong side with, nor do you actually want to be around. You just want to do the work he’s demanded you to do, no “ifs”, “ands”, or biggity “buts” about it. However, there is some semblance of a soul deep inside of this man’s crazy well-being, and Fassbender allows that play out very rarely, but still in a believable way to where he isn’t so over-the-top, he’s downright laughable. Same can be said for Sarah Paulson, who plays his wife, Mary, in a very chilling, yet understated performance that tells us a lot about this character, without telling us much at all. She’s just that damn good of an actress, one that I wish got more notice.

Others in this movie that are pretty damn hard to watch, mostly by of how despicable and unlikable they are, are performers such as Paul Dano as a worker that feuds with Northup many times, Paul Giamatti as an owner whose trying to make a quick buck as a business salesman who specializes in human-lives, Garret Dillahunt as a rare-case of being known as a white slave, among many of the black faces, but still can’t be trusted, Alfre Woodard as mistress that takes pride in the fact that she bangs her owner and gets treated like a white woman and especially Benedict Cumberthatch who plays one of the first slave owners Northup deals with, and is more sympathetic than the others out there, because even though he realizes is bad, he still does nothing about it. Instead, he just continues on with his business, selling away more and more humans lives, like many others were doing at that same point in time; the same point in time we will never soon forget.

Consensus: Most definitely going to be the one film you must see before the year ends, 12 Years a Slave is a harrowing, uncomfortable, somber and disturbing look inside the life of one man who had a journey much like many others during this time-frame, and yet, still never gave up hope and did all he could do to survive at any costs.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

Yep, even he's ready for what's to come by the end of the year.

Yep, even he’s ready for what’s to come by the end of the year.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

K-PAX (2001)

I guess aliens do exist, and look like Kevin Spacey.

Kevin Spacey stars as Prot, an extraterrestrial from the planet K-PAX (or so he’d have us believe), in this science-fiction drama that casts Jeff Bridges as a psychiatrist who doubts Prot’s otherworldly origins. But the doctor begins to question his own instincts when his unusual patient begins talking to dogs — and understanding them — and pulling off other artful tricks that can’t be easily explained.

There are many films that always stretch the truth beyond science fiction, and reality. Some are good, some are bad, this is just right in the middle.

The script is very well-written but some of it just seems overly-familiar. We don’t get reasons for everything, and I liked that, because the more we can make up in our mind is the better, but the film shows too much glimpses of how life is great, and grand. I had no problem with this really, it was just the fact that, I knew where this was going, right before the movie even started, which disappointed me.

The film does do a good job at having us keep on questioning during the film: “is this guy really who he says he is?”. I kept asking myself that too, and I think that’s what actually kept me watching was the fact that I wanted to know badly. The film doesn’t give too many hints away, and by the end, and even after the end, you will keep on questioning, what was real, and what was not.

However, K-PAX is only a excuse for one thing, and that’s to show the acting talents that are Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey. And to be truly honest, their both very good. Every time their on screen together you get this sense of believability, and intensity, that comes directly from their different type of acting styles.

Consensus: Though it is moved too slow, and utterly predictable at times, K-PAX does a great job at keeping us guessing, as well as providing strong performances from its two leads.

5.5/10=Rental!!