26 Feb 2014

12 Years a Slave

Jesus Christ!

That is what I said after we stumbled gratefully into the light after watching this film.

Brad Pitt is used to taking risks and his production company taking on the story of Solomon Northup was a pretty big risk. With British director and producer Steve McQueen at the helm, Northup's story would be created for the big screen.

But is this adaptation another World War Z?


Solomon Northup is a successful violinist, married with two children in New York. He meets Hamilton and Brown, two performers who ask him to accompany them on a work trip to New York. The trip does not end well. After a night out of the town Solomon wakes up in chains in the basement.  For the next 12 years he endures slavery, and when I write slavery you can read hell.

12 Years a Slave is a stunning film. Stunning in Chitwetel Ejiofor's performance, Sean Bobbitt's ( the director of photography) and Steve McQueen's depiction of Louisiana, and the terrible brutality of slavery.  The film is pretty relentless in depicting the horror of Solomon's situation. It is not torture porn like  The Passion of Christ,  but it is at times difficult to watch, and that may put a lot of viewers off.

There is an  ensemble British and American cast and they are simply excellent. Chitwetel Ejiofor gives a powerful heart wrenching performance as Solomon Northup. His on screen presence is like a sucker punch to the soul as you endure his indignities with him. The thing I learnt watching this film is that Slavery is the most abominable form of theft there is. The men that kidnapped Solomon stole more than his freedom, they stole his future, his dignity, his family and his very identity. While Northup was a slave he was known as Platt, Solomon Northup was a dream he kept to himself.

McQueen makes the best use of his cast, Michael Fassbender as the sadistic slave master Epps, and Lupita Nyong'o as Patsy the unfortunate object of his desire, give awesome performances. Awesome in the real sense of the word as the horror is pretty awe inspiring.

McQueen's use of music and sound is also incredible. Music is so pivotal in establishing mood and a sense of scene in any film. But his use of  silence in the film  to establish a sense of drama and poignancy is innovative and highly successful.

It was terrible what happened to these men, women and yes children, but it did happen and that is what makes this film significant. Looking around online it appears that the film is a close approximation of Northup's book. His descendants were not part of the production, but they have seen the film and feel it is a surprisingly accurate account of Northup's experiences.

I feel like that I might be painting a pretty bleak picture of 12 Years a Slave and I want to reiterate that while it is a terribly sad story it is also a great film. More than that a powerful film that reminded me that films can be more than entertainment, they can be evocative vehicles for ideas and stories that need to be told.

I loved this film, I found it moving and evocative. I can understand that people will be reluctant to see 12 Years a Slave, especially in America. However it is probably the best film I will see this year.  It is my pick for best picture at the Oscars.

10 Monkeys

25 Feb 2014

Harold Ramis RIP

"It's hard for winners to do comedy. Comedy is inherently subversive. We represent the underdog as comedy usually speaks for the lower classes. We attack the winners."
Harold Ramis
Harold Ramis was a pivotal influence in comedy during the 70's,80's, and 90's. As a writer, and actor and director  his works include; Caddyshack, Stripes, Groundhog Day, Animal house, National Lampoon's vacation, and of course Ghostbusters. 

  • He was a deeply talented man at the hardest of jobs, comedy. He worked with exceptionally talented actors from Robert De Niro to Bill Murray, Robin Williams, Peter O'Toole and Dan Aykrod. But of course as much I love  Stripes  and Animal house it is for Ghostbusters that I will forever remember him. The good doctors Spengler, Stantz and Venkman still drive me to raucous neighbor frightening laughter to this day. It is an excellent script with excellent performances. 

  • I think that it is indicative not only of his work but him as a man that most of the images of Ramis on line are of a man that is truly happy. 
  • The reason I post about people like Ramis is because he has brought me so much joy over the years. While he has obviously benefited financially from every film of his I have watched, I still feel oddly grateful for men and women like Ramis that can create laughter in this world. 

  • I could keep talking but I think I will leave the last words with Harold Ramis' great friend. 

  • "Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my brilliant, gifted, funny friend, co-writer/performer and teacher Harold Ramis. May he now get the answers he was always seeking."
    Ivan Reitman, director of the two movies, also paid tribute, saying: "The world has lost a wonderful, truly original, comedy voice with the passing of Harold Ramis."
    He possessed the most agile mind I've ever witnessed. He always had the clearest sense of what was funny and how to create something in a new clever way ... Harold had an extraordinary impact on my career and I loved him like a brother." - Dan Aykrod

    November 21, 1944, February 24, 2014, 

    22 Feb 2014


    Frozen is the latest animated film from Disney. Based on the Danish fairy tale the Snow Queen, and with the same creative team that made Tangled,  I took my girls for some summer fun. We have had some really bad luck at the cinema recently, and sadly that trend continued. I had a small child kicking my seat, and my girl sat next to a child who had nauseating body odor. At least the dad behind me got his little girl to stop kicking my seat, sadly all my fiance could do was lean as fay away as possible.

    But we were determined to have a fun family treat.

    Frozen is the story of  Anna (Kristen Bell) and her older sister Elsa (Indina Menzel). Anna and Elsa are princesses of the kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa has the magical power to create snow and ice, and when she traps Arendelle in a permanent winter Anna is determined to save the kingdom and her sister.  To aid her in her quest she has the ice merchant Kristoff, his clever reindeer Sven, Prince Hans and Adolf the living snowman.  But Anna and her friends not only have to survive Elsa's rage, but they don't have long before the people of Arendelle succumb to the cold. 

    Prince Hans and Anna
    Like Tangled, Frozen  has an excellent story, full of drama and laughs. For me though  Frozen  had a an almost musical quality about it. Of course most Disney films are full of songs, but the music of Frozen  had a structured narrative feel about it, like a west end musical or Broadway.

    Disney has really made an effort to bring something new with this film, but retaining what Disney is famous for. The animation was great, the picture was beautifully rendered and the voice acting was excellent. The artists captured a real northern feel with the characters and the setting, from the clothing to the architecture of the houses.

    With the success of Tangled, Disney seems to be heading in a new direction story wise.  In the original story of the Snow Queen, the hero is Gerda, a young Danish girl who is determined to rescue her friend Kai from the wicked Snowqueen. Frozen's story is a complete departure from the Danish fairy tale, but it does keep the focus on the heroine Anna.  Despite being surrounded by handsome prince Hans and Brave Kristoff, it is Anna who is the driving force of the story. Her love for her sister drives her and us on to save the day.

    Frozen avoided the trap of trying to create a strong female character by making all the male characters weak. Anna may not be not smartest, or the strongest, but she is the hero and she has the biggest heart. And like the best heroes she over comes adversity with bravery, determination, and a little help from her friends.

    Lulu, my 12 year old step daughter to be, loved this film. She loved the music, the humor, the characters, but most of all Anna and her relationship with her sister. She felt that the relationship between the girls at the beginning of the film was great, and echoed her relationship with her little sister.   Frozen  is her favorite film of the year, and I think it is set to be one of Disney's classics.  It has been nominated for 2 Oscars for best animated feature and original song.  I would not be surprised if it picks up both.

    8 cold Monkeys from me.

    19 Feb 2014


    As a strange fog sweeps through the valley and surrounds my home, I have decided to restart blogging.

    So much has already happened  this year. Philip Seymour Hoffman,Gabriel  Axel and Shirley Temple have died.
    Gabriel Axel 

    Thee is new controversy over Woody Allen with further allegations of his past. And the rumour mill is also churning over the up coming features Star wars VII, Superman II, and Guardians of the Galaxy. The BAFTAs have come and gone, and the Oscars loom like a more traditional vampire.

    And I have done nothing.

    Well that is not strictly true.  I have survived my first stag do, and I have consented to a second (god help me) stag do. I have organised stuff for my wedding, and I have stressed over organising stuff for my wedding.

    I returned to work and I have agonised over returning to work. Wringing my hands like a badly written character from a Dickens novel hoping for a better future with each new day.

    O god please let me win the lotto
    But as the dank and humid sea fog envelopes my house in a smothering embrace, muffling the snuffling of hedgehogs and the hunting of Moreporks, I will resume writing. Writing reviews, things and stuff.  Writing gives me pleasure and peace and I need to do more of it.

    Enough for tonight I need to go and look after my greatest love, who also brings me peace and happiness.

    Happy new year every body, lets make it a good one.

    I think it's time for a cup of tea.