Saturday, November 23, 2013

MOVIE: All is Lost

All is Lost: Robert Redford battles for survival in the Indian Ocean.  Redford is on screen for virtually the entire 107 minutes of this movie and, when he is not on the screen, there are primarily ocean scenes.  There is no appearance by any other actor.  To say the dialogue is minimal is to exaggerate.  The movie opens with Redford’s voice describing his situation then the words “8 days earlier” appear on the screen.  Thereafter, words are spoken only twice: a mayday sequence when Redford gets his radio to work briefly; and a one word yell when a particular negative event occurs.  The movie action consists of a survivor’s tale.  We never learn the name of Redford’s character.  We surmise that he is on a solo around the world journey and somewhere between Indonesia and Madagascar.  The sail boat is well stocked with both food and emergency items.  Clearly, Our Man (closest we come to a character name and appears in the movie credits) is a skilled, experienced and organized sailor.  As the film unfolds, we learn things about him.  He has, for example, a wedding ring.  The boat is named “Virginia Jean”.  Connected? Probably, but if so, it is our conclusion.  His problem starts - shown at the beginning of the film right after the “8 days earlier” screen shot - with ocean trash.  While Redford is in the cabin asleep, an ocean container that had fallen off a cargo ship punches a hole in the boat’s hull.  Our Man is able to patch the breach but water had entered his cabin and damaged his navigational and  electrical systems.  More bad things happen including a world class storm.  Through all the problems, Our Man addresses as best he can what he is forced to deal with, including navigating with the use of only a traditional mariner’s sextant.  Despite all the technology on the boat, the elements push him towards a fundamental fight for his survival.  As with Gravity, it is not obvious how the story will end.  Redford is 77 years old.  To give this type of performance, which is remarkable regardless of his age, is awesome and it may be his best performance ever.  Based upon his movie history, I had to think about whether such praise is warranted.  It is.  The writer and director of this impressive film is J. C. Chandor.  The cinematographers are Frank G. DeMarco and Peter Zuccarini, the latter being in charge of the underwater scenes which are truly beautiful.  These individuals along with Redford should receive Oscar nominations.  The movie takes Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea to a whole new level.  This is a movie you should see.  Due to the level of Redford’s performance and Chandor’s skills, this is much more than just a boat adrift at sea movie. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

MOVIE: 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave: a brutally honest portrayal of slavery.  This film is neither a Gone with the Wind whitewash nor like any other Hollywood production you have seen regarding the pre-Civil War South.  The film tells the true story of Solomon Northup, one of the few free Black individuals who successfully regained his freedom after being kidnapped and sold into slavery.  Solomon wrote of his experience 8 years prior to the Civil War (1853 publication date).  I will be shocked if John Ridley is not nominated for an Oscar for his screen play adaption.  The director is Steve McQueen, a British citizen, and I’m confident that he, too, will receive a nomination for Best Director, as should the film.  The movie opens with a brief slave quarter scene that is reshown in part later in the film.  You are then presented with the life Solomon had been living in upstate New York with his wife and two children prior to being tricked, chained and sold into slavery.  Solomon, played brilliantly by Chiwetel Ejiofor, made his living as a violinist.  Solomon is introduced to two men who ask him to accompany them to Washington D.C. for a 2- week job playing with a circus.  In D. C., they buy him an expensive dinner and drug his wine.  Solomon awakes chained and his 12 years as a slave commences.  The year is 1841.  The cast is excellent with appearances by well-known actors in brief but critical roles.  Paul Giamatti plays the heartless seller of humans.  Alfre Woodard has a short scene as the well cared for mistress of a slave holder.  In a more extended role, Benedict Cumberbatch, one of my favorite actors, plays the so-called good slave master while Michael Fassbender, another excellent actor, is the abusive plantation owner, Edwin Epps, who buys Solomon’s contract from the Cumberbatch character.  Both the good and evil slave owners conduct Sunday church services and quote bible passages to justify their behavior.  The savagery of the system is shown, including the common use of whippings, the prevalent rapings of Black women, the ease with which people were killed, and the physical and psychological violations committed.  The film also depicts the twisted mind-set of the slave owners’ wives.  The character played by Brad Pitt, a Canadian who is hired by Epps to work on a construction project, is a bit odd but perhaps it was just the accent Pitt chose to use.  Pitt was a co-producer.  The second half of the 134 minute film takes place on the Epps’ Louisiana cotton farm and these scenes will stay with you.   There are many strong performances.  Of particular note is Lupita Nyong’o’s portrayal of Patsey, Epps brutalized favorite.  Both Fassbender and Nyong’o will probably receive nominations for best supporting actor and actress.  The fact that a significant percentage of the U.S. population once supported the slavery system is deplorable.  So, too, is the fact that it has taken until now, 150 years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, to finally and accurately dramatize the absolute evil and horror of America’s slavery system.  This movie is not entertainment but rather a realitistic depiction, the consequences of which continue to impact us today.  This is a must see film.