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 and the oscar goes to

Another year has gone by and it’s been a helluva a year for movies!  One of the most exciting years for cinema in recent history.  But again, for some reason, I wasn’t asked to join the Academy, so I will just share my votes with you.

Best Supporting Actress:images (8)

Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine

Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle

Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave

Julia Roberts – August:  Osage County

June Squibb – Nebraska

Probably the most hotly contested race of the evening.  My vote is going to Lupita Nyong’o for her role as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave – everyone involved in this film pushed this young woman to give the performance of her life, Steve McQueen,  Alfre Woodard, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Sarah Paulson and Michael Fassbender, each torturing her in their own sick way.  Plus, I can’t wait to see what she wears.  She better bring it.  However, I think the Academy is going to give it to their darling, Jennifer Lawrence, maybe for the only reason so that she can redeem herself for her fall last year.

Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyers ClubBest Supporting Actor: 

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips

Bradley Cooper – American Hustle

Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave

Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street

Jared Leto – Dallas Buyer’s Club

Well, if you know me at all, or even if you read this blog, you know who I am voting for…my man, Michael Fassbender.  Now, I know he’s not going to win, but I am still holding out hope.  He should win just for being snubbed for Shame.  Damn you Academy and avoiding NC-17 films.  Come on, Steve McQueen called him a genius in his acceptance speech at the Independent Spirit Awards.  I so agree with you, Mr. McQueen, but with all due respect, you bring out his genius.  But since my man is not going to win, who is?  Jordan Cantalano of course!  But I cannot be sad about that, Jared’s performance as Rayon was brave and heartbreaking and if you didn’t cry when he asked his father for money (spoiler alert), you have no heart.  Like Anne Hathaway from last year’s awards season, Jared, you know you’re going to win, so your speech better be damn good!

Best Actress:

BLUE-JASMINEAmy Adams – American Hustle

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Sandra Bullock – Gravity

Judi Dench – Philomena

Meryl Streep – August:  Osage County

Well, this category doesn’t seem to be much of a race as Cate has won EVERYTHING this year.  But wouldn’t it be awesome if Amy Adams or Sandra Bullock pulled the upset?  I don’t think it’s going to happen, but it’s fun to dream.  When I initially saw Blue Jasmine, I hated it.  I hated everything about it, Woody Allen, the premise, and Cate’s gratingly annoying performance that made me want to turn off my dvd player.  However, as I have had time to sit with it, I realized that my visceral reaction was the result of her performance and maybe, just maybe, she did give the performance of the year.

Best Actor:

131101_BROW_DallasBuyersClub.jpg.CROP.promovar-medium2Christian Bale – American Hustle

Bruce Dern – Nebraska

Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street

Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave

Matthew McConnaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Again, I think this category is a lock for Matthew and he does deserve it.  However, it can be argued that Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance is superior, I mean, he made audiences uncomfortable everywhere.  I have loved Chiwetel since his turn as Lola in Kinky Boots, before it was a musical.  Then there is Leo.  The man is deserving of a statue for his body of work alone, but he just can’t catch a break.  His performance as Jordan Belfort was pretty great, but I wouldn’t count it as the best performance of his career.  I would vote for Blood Diamond – that is when the world realized Jack grew up and could indeed act.  Again, I would not be disappointed with an upset and it would be exciting, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Best Director: download (1)

David O. Russell – American Hustle

Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity

Alexander Payne – Nebraska

Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave

Martin Scorcese – The Wolf of Wall Street

Since Gravity is probably not going to win Best Picture, the Academy is going to reward the film with Best Director.  It is a technical masterpiece, physics of space be damned.  The performance he coaxed out of Sandra Bullock was impressive.  Her breathing deserves its own Oscar.  I just hope his speech is as good as it was at the Globes!

Best Movie: 12-years-a-slave-quad

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

12 Years a Slave

The Wolf of Wall Street

I am sticking with my prediction from October – 12 Years a Slave is going to take the big one.  It is too important of a movie that the Academy cannot ignore it.  The only film that could catch it is Gravity, but I don’t think the older Academy voters cast their ballots for the technologically advanced film.  Now I liked  the other nominees, except for Her, but I didn’t LOVE them.  There also wasn’t a film that moved me as 12 Years did.  All of the performances in it are masterful and since most of the cast is going to be disappointed, the Academy is going to reward the film as a whole.      

Agree or Disagree?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.  Whoever you are voting for, I hope your evening is filled with red carpet viewing, good friends and good food.  If the weather holds out here in Pittsburgh we will be paying homage to the 1970′s and all things McConnaughey at my house.  Alright, alright, alright…..

If you love Meryl Streep and dysfunctional families, you will love August:  Osage County.  Hell, you only have to love one or the other.  In fact, even if you just love good acting, this film is for you.august-osage-county-meryl-streep-600x400

Meryl Streep plays Violet, pill popping matriarch of the Weston clan of Osage County, Oklahoma.  We open with Beverly Watson (an all too brief Sam Shepard) preparing his new live-in Native American housekeeper for life with Violet and Bev – She takes pills and I drink.  However, Bev disappears as he has been known to do on and off over the years, and the rest of the family is called in when his body is found in the local lake.  Then let the good times begin with the family reunion.

The three Weston girls and their respective families, Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis), along Aunt Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) and her husband Chris (the always brilliant Chris Cooper) come together after Bev’s funeral, more to air their grievances than to share their grief.  If you think your family is fucked up, spend 2 hours with the Westons and you will feel much better.  Although we learn bits and pieces about Violet and Mattie Fae’s childhood, it is not enough to shed any light on how they became the women they did.  However, it is quite clear why the Barbara, Ivy and Karen turned out how they did.  Barbara, the hardened cynic, Ivy, the insecure plain Jane who si ready to get out of Oklahome and Karen, the vapid baby sister.8ba94bdf-36bf-4104-aed7-ee60fde5a8d4_august-osage-county-dinner

b99163486z.1_20140109112347_000_g7r49aqa.1-1All of the women in this movie give strong, noteworthy performances that I could spend paragraphs picking apart; however, I will follow the herd and say this is Meryl’s movie through and through.  She had nothing to prove taking this role, except to cement the fact that she is the greatest actress alive today, if not ever.  The nuances she brings to a role make you believe she is that character, not an actress portraying someone.  She even lights her cigarette like  the Oklahoma drug addict Violet Weston is.  She uses every part of her body to give her performance and it is breathtaking.  While you are watching this film, remind yourself that this is the woman that played Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, sang to Pierce Brosnan in Mama Mia and brought Julia Child and Margaret Thatcher to life on the screen and she still transformed herself into this hardened addict.

Then there is Julia, who hasn’t given us much lately, but gives her all in this performance.  The first half of the film consists more of eye-rolling at her mother, but the second act is where she really shines.  Is Barbara standing up to Violet and breaking the cycle or slowly turning into her before our very eyes?  Julia goes toe to toe with Meryl and holds her own.  She has some acting chops of her own and this film proves she is not a one Oscar wonder.  Do I think she’ll take home a little gold man this year?  I’m not sure, but I know she’ll give J Law a run for her money.

1380135318_CooperFinally, there is Chris Cooper.  Sometimes I forget how good he is, then I reminded when he punches me in the face with a performance like the one he gave of Chris Aiken.  Or maybe it is just Meryl that brings it out in him, as he did win his Oscar when he hunted orchids and romanced her in Adaptation.  He is not on the screen for long periods, but when he is, he takes up all of it and not afraid to lay it all out there.

The film was adapted for the screen by Tracy Letts, from his Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name.  Some critics have argued that 215px-Bugposter2007download (2)the play is so big in itself that it did not need to be adapted to the screen and all it is is awards season fodder.  I disagree.  Yes, of course it attracted big stars and they acted their hearts out; but that is more a testament to Mr. Letts, than to the actors.  He gave them the material and if any of them win, they better be thanking him first for these big, juicy, crazy roles.  If you have never heard of Tracy Letts until now, be sure to check out his other work, Killer Joe and Bug – both are 2 hours of twisted cinema that will keep you talking days later.

I highly recommend spending a snowy January afternoon in a dark theater with the Westons.  You will laugh, you may cry and you will definitely leave the theater feeling better about your family!

So my friend, Christina, saw The Wolf of Wall Street a little over a week ago and immediately texted that Leo was finally going to get his Oscar with his performance in this movie.  Naturally, this piqued my interest and I was counting down the days until December 25th when I could see the movie.  As per our family tradition of seeing a debaucherous movie on Christmas Day, we made our way to the first screening at the local theater.  Three hours later, I had to text Christina to tell her that I disagreed with her assessment.  While Leo gives an over-the-top performance (because that is the only type of performance he could have given with the provided material), I still do not think this is his year.the-wolf-of-wall-street-2222303_large

The Wolf of Wall Street tells the tale of Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker from Queens who made millions off the backs of working class Americans through his firm Stratton Oakmont in a pump and dump scheme in the 1990s.  I do not want to sugar coat it for your Dear Readers, the man is a bonafide asshole.  The movie is based on his memoir that he wrote at the behest of Tommy Chong, as they were cell mates in federal prison.  (On a side note, I actually attended Tommy Chong’s sentencing hearing in the Western District of Pennsylvania in 2003.)  The story, to say the least, is completely over the top and the lines between fantasy and reality start to blur.  

DCF 1.0The story begins with Belfort telling us that he took 20 Quaaludes per day, as well as Xanax, methaqualoneAdderall, pot, morphine and mounds of cocaine and still continued to function.  And that’s when I started to question the remainder of the story.  Also, note that the author and filmmakers fool us with the title, The Wolf of Wall Street, when in fact all of this took place on Long Island and Stratton Oakmont  never had a Wall Street address.  In fact, in the grand scheme of things, Jordan Belfort was small potatoes and a blip on the Wall Street scene.

the_wolf_of_wall_street_trailer_tDon’t get me wrong Dear Readers, the film is excellent.  It is classic Scorcese – I mean, when you want Scorcese, go to the real thing and not a knock-off (see American Hustle).  Leo is his brilliant self and plays Jordan Belfort probably better than he wrote himself.  The energy he brings to the role is infectious and jumps off the screen.  You should know by now Dear Readers that I do love me some Leo, so I’ll stop now with my accolades.  I will say though that I will not be casting my vote for him.  While the role is Oscar-worthy, it just does not quite compare to Matthew McConnaughey in Dallas Buyers Club or Chiwetel Ejifor in Twelve Years a Slave.  Also, one just comes to expect greatness from Leo and Marty – anything less would be a disappointment.

wolf-of-wall-street-dicaprio-hillThe two surprising performances of the film were Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff (Danny Porush in real life) and Matthew McConnaughey as Mark Hanna.  Hill plays Belfort’s right hand man, Donnie Azoff.  A greedy little man who married his cousin.  Hill plays annoyingly creepy perfectly.  Normally, I am not the biggest Jonah Hill fan, but he redeemed himself for me in this movie.  

wolf-of-wall-street-trailer-matthew-mcconahay-1McConnaughey is great, albeit too brief, as Mark Hanna, Belfort’s first Wall Street mentor who gives him some friendly advice:  The only way to survive the rat race of Wall Street is Cocaine, Hookers and Masturbation – at least twice a day.  The scene between Leo and Matthew is cinematic gold!  It was mainly improvised, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.  I could watch it over and over.  This performance also just adds fuel to the McConnaughey Oscar fire this year.  This is his year and the man can do no wrong.

So overall, I loved the movie and highly recommend a viewing, but what I have a problem with is Jordan Belfort himself.  Bottom line:  He’s an asshole.  I am having a bit of a moral dilemma in promoting this film that glorifies this lifestyle of excess and taking from the working man to line the pockets of the wealthy with even more.  However, that is my dilemma, so I recommend that you go see it and decide how you feel.

Jordan Belfort and Danny Porush

Jordan Belfort and Danny Porush

Jordan and Nadine Belfort

Jordan and Nadine Belfort

 

Looking to kill 90 minutes this holiday season and not be disappointed?  I would suggest filling them with Stephen Frears’ latest, Philomena.  What can I say, I have a soft spot for movies that appeal to elderly people around the holidays, mainly because this would be the movie my grandma would make me take her to if she was still alive.

philomena-600-220This film is based on the true story of Philomena Lee, an Irish woman who is searching for her son that was taken from her by horrible God-fearing nuns in Ireland in 1955 and Martin Sixsmith, the journalist, author and ex-government advisor who reluctantly becomes the champion of her cause.

philomena_2702002bSteve Coogan wrote and stars in the film as Martin Sixsmith.  Recently the victim of a government scandal, Sixsmith is in need of a job so goes back to his roots as a journalist and takes on a small human interest story.  Judi Dench, fabulous as always, plays the tortured Philomena, a woman who reveals her 50 year secret that she had a child in 1952 that was put up for adoption by the nuns

The real Philomena Lee and Martin Sixsmith

The real Philomena Lee and Martin Sixsmith

running the convent she was sent to due to her pregnancy.  The convent was far from ideal and she was basically forced into slave labor for four years to pay off her debt to the nuns for taking her in and delivering her child.  She was allowed to spend one hour a day with her little boy, Anthony, before he was adopted when he was three years old.

What starts off as an innocent tale of reuniting an estranged mother and son turns dark when it is uncovered that the nuns were selling the children to wealthy Americans and then deliberately burned the records so mothers and children had no chance of being reunited.  Much to my dismay, the film conveniently skims over this part of the story and focuses on Philomena’s modern day search for her son.

Philomena’s journey takes her to America where she learns about her son’s childhood, career and if he ever thought of her and Ireland.  Does she find Anthony?  Did he ever think of her?  Well, you’re going to have to see the film for the answers to those questions.Judi Dench in Philomena

It is a heartwarming movie for the holidays, especially if you are not in the mood for the debauchery of The Wolf of Wall Street or the monotonous American Hustle.  Dame Judi Dench is nominated for a Globe for her role, but I think Steve Coogan has a better shot of winning a Best Screenplay statue , if this film wins any awards at all.  I’m not saying that there are no flaws with the film, it is wrapped up in a nice little bow and skips over facets of the story that I wish would have been explored more in-depth and ignores the complete tragedy and intricacies that was nuns selling children for money.  However, it is not a bad film and worth your 94 minutes, perhaps not in the theater, but definitely one to watch on a snowy or rainy afternoon with a cup of tea.  Or better yet, take your mom or grandma to see it and spend some quality time with them this holiday season.

 

It had been 26 days since I was in a darkened theater so the pick for the return of my absence was going to be a good one…or so I thought.  I have been dreaming of David O. Russell’s American Hustle since February – the reuniting of Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell, plus Christian Bale and Amy Adams, what is not to love?american-hustle-cast-slice

However, the trailer cons us and makes us believe that this is the film of the year, and like Christian Bale says in the film, “People believe what you want them to believe” and I wanted to believe this was going to be my favorite film. While I loved most of the individual performances, the costumes, hair and makeup, I was sadly disappointed with the overall product.

People believe what they want to believe

People believe what they want to believe 

In a nutshell, it tries too hard to be Goodfellas, and it’s just not.  David O. Russell, you are not Martin Scorcese, please do not try to be him.  You are a great director in your own right you do not have to copy another’s very specific style of long steadycam shots and too much music of the time to tell your story.  The problem with the film was not the cast, they were wonderful.  However, the script needed tightening, as it dragged on at times, as well as the direction.  About 90 minutes into the movie, I couldn’t wait for it to be over.  I almost shed a tear I was so disappointed.

american-hustle-jlawThe individual performances is what makes this film worth seeing, if at all.  While Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale and Amy Adams are the leads, Jennifer Lawrence steals the movie in all of her scenes.  american-hustle-jennifer-lawrence-amy-adams-600x400She is definitely going to be a front-runner in the Best Supporting Actress Oscar race, if not win.  I couldn’t wait for her to come back on screen.  When watching her, remember that this girl is only 22 years old and the maturity she is able to convey is amazing.   The scene with her and Amy in the bathroom is why I love movies!  To quote Jon Stewart, “No one should be that good at anything at 22.” Plus, I loved her hair.

3022901-inline-s-1-from-perms-to-toupees-how-seventies-style-big-hair-defines-american-hustle-charactersBradley Cooper as Richie DeMaso wasn’t too shabby himself.  It was nowhere near the tour de force performance he gave in Silver Linings Playbook last year, but it is good.  He talks fast and thinks faster, which is his character’s fatal flaw.  He proves that he can hold his own with seasoned vets, Christian Bale and Amy Adams; however, his performance just does not quite warrant that nomination this year.  His scenes with Louis C.K., who plays his supervisor at the FBI, are some of the best in the movie.  And speaking of Louis C.K., his turn in a dramatic role was the surprise of the year.  Keep it coming Louis.

Amy AdamsAmy Adams, on the other hand, deserves a nomination, but probably not quite a statue.  She plays Sidney/Edith with depth and grace.  She captures the anguish of a woman in love with a married man perfectly and her struggle to figure out who’s American-Hustle-8conning who is superb.  She is such a great actress that most of her performances go unnoticed because she makes it look easy.  This film allows her to stretch her skills and lay them all out for the world to see.  However, I think Sandra or Meryl are going to best her come February.

Finally, there is Christian Bale.  Just like Amy, he is just always so good, but I do not think he will be taking home a second gold man this year.  However, his comb-over and his beer gut should get an honorable mention, mainly because I think that the secret to Donald Trump’s comb-over is finally revealed.  There is no arguing that the man transforms himself into a role, but like Amy, he is so good at it we start to overlook it.  But come February, it’s going to be a fight between Chiwetel, Matthew and possibly Leo (I’ll have more on that Christmas Day).  Christian should just be grateful to be nominated this year.

Because I have not seen all of the recently released movies, I cannot be 100% in recommending skipping this movie as I’m not sure what else is out there.  I hope to make up for that in the next few days.  What I can say is that if you go in expecting Silver Linings and an overall spectacular film, you are going to be sorely disappointed.  David O. Russell and the editors of the trailers conned us all.

American Hustle: Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper walking in street

Matthew McConnaughey lost 38 lbs. to play Ron Woodroof, a Texas man who contracts AIDS in 1985 from having unprotected heterosexual sex.  He worked so hard to lose the weight, so the very least you can do is drop $10 to see the results.  Luckily, you will get to see more than Matthew’s weight loss, you will see a moving film that you will lose yourself in for 2 hours.

An Oscarworthy Transformation

An Oscarworthy Transformation

Matthew embodies Ron in the way Daniel Day-Lewis embodies Lincoln, and every other character he portrays.  You are watching Ron Woodroof, you do not know, nor do you care what actor you are watching.  I seriously forgot it was Matthew – There were no “All right, all right, all right, all right” or “Just keep livin’” uttered during the entire film, and it was refreshing.  And I’m going to call it now, Matthew should win his Oscar.  With his recent body of work, Killer Joe, The Paperboy, Magic Mike (yes, the movie blew, but Matthew’s performance was outstanding), Mud, Dallas Buyers Club only solidifies his acting chops.  I can forgive him for veering off his path to make rom coms and rake in the cash for the last 10 years.  You would do the same thing if Hollywood was beating down your door and paying you millions to smile, be charming and take your shirt off – don’t deny it.  However, that time has passed and now its time the man shows us what he can really do.

The film stands up against Big Pharma and homophobia and it is glorious on both fronts.  We are introduced to Woodroof as a homophobic, white trash oil field electrician who sells drugs and gambles (badly) at the local rodeos.  He rents $100 hookers, drinks too much Jack, snorts too much coke and has a nagging cough that he just can’t shake. After an accidental electrocution at work, Woodroof wakes up at Dallas Mercy Hospital where he is quickly told that he has a T cell count of 9 and has 30 days to live.  And as you have heard in the preview “There ain’t nothin out there that can kill Ron Woodroof in 30 days!”

The real Ron Woodroof in the Dallas Buyers Club office

The real Ron Woodroof in the Dallas Buyers Club office

Film-Toronto PreviewIn 1985, AZT was the only drug American doctors were using to treat HIV and AIDS.  It was an experimental treatment at that time so every patient could not get it and the doses that were being prescribed at that time killed every cell in one’s body rather than just the infected cells.  Ron survives that first 30 days, but barely, and winds up in Mexico seeking alternate therapies.  There he meets an unlicensed doctor who tells him how the rest of the world is treating HIV and AIDS with vitamins, minerals, proteins and other drugs.  Unemployed and dying, Woodroof takes the pills back to the United States, tries to quell his homophobia, and starts to sell the vitamin/mineral/protein cocktails to other AIDS patients in Dallas.

article-0-1B7CC480000005DC-56_634x330Enter Jared Leto as Rayon, a transsexual who Woodroof meets at the hospital during one of his initial stays.  Woodroof shuns Rayon at first, but then enlists her help to find patients to buy his alternative drugs.  The two form a business partnership and a friendship that touches the heart.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but the scene in the grocery store moved me to tears.  And as much as I think Jared Leto appears to be a douchebag in real life, his performance cannot be denied.  jared-leto-skinny-dallas-buyers-clubIf he only wants to act every 6 or 7 years and gives performances like this one, I guess I’m okay with that.  He, too, lost a significant amount of weight for his role, 30 pounds, and flirted with the director, Jean-Marc Valles during a Skype audition to land the role.  He fell in love with the character and lived as Rayon throughout filming.  This pains me to type this, but I think his performance is better than Michael Fassbender’s in 12 Years a Slave so I am giving the edge for Best Supporting Actor to Jared; however, my vote and support will still go to Michael.

As free-wheeling and careless as Ron is in the beginning, he focuses that energy on alternative therapies and travels the world to obtain them and bring them back to the United States.  Along the way, he battles doctors at Dallas Mercy and eventually the FDA.  By treating himself and fighting Big Pharma all the way, Woodroof survives 2,557 days after his initial diagnosis, that is 2,527 days longer than doctors prescribing him AZT predicted he would live.DALLAS-BUYERS-CLUB

This is one man’s journey, friendship and slice of history that is worth your 2 hours and $10.  Due to medical advances and breakthroughs in the treatment of HIV and AIDS, this disease tends to fall through the cracks anymore and the plight of those who contracted it in the 1980s is forgotten.  This film helps keep that memory and fight alive and may just inspire you to Dare to Live!

Check out this interview with the Mathew and Jared…

Steve McQueen did it again, and again, he does not make it easy for the audience.  He takes you on an emotional, gut-wrenching journey that you will not soon forget.  Actually, let me rephrase that, Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender did it again.  I honestly think that this pair can do no wrong.  They are filmmaking gold.  Their previous efforts, Hunger and Shame,  have been ignored by the Academy and the mainstream public, but not this time.12_Years_A_Slave_36651

If you know me or follow this blog, you may have picked up on my softspot for all things Michael Fassbender; however, I can assure you that this film stands on its own regardless of my personal bias.

Twelve_Years_a_Slave.225x225-75We begin our journey in 1841, in Saratoga, New York, with Solomon Northup, and his family.  Solomon is a musician, and more importantly, a free man.  When his wife and children leave for 3 weeks for a cooking job, Solomon is introduced to 2 fellow musicians/artists, Brown and Hamilton, who ask him to accompany them on a 2 week journey to Washington D.C. to play music.  The offer sounds too good to be true, and after a week of living the good life and one particularly boozy night, Solomon wakes up in chains and his nightmare begins.

If you are expecting Django Unchained, you are going to be sorely disappointed.  McQueen does not sugarcoat it and immediately shows us the brutalities of slavery with Solomon’s first beating.  It makes you flinch and it’s not easy to watch.  Then, in what has become a McQueen trademark, unsexy, full frontal male twelve-years-a-slave03-thumb-630xauto-41996nudity (and it’s not Michael Fassbender, in case you are wondering).  Solomon is promptly shipped to Louisiana on a river boat where upon docking he is purchased by lsave trader, Freeman (an all to brief Paul Giamatti), and informed he will now be known as Platt.  Platt is quickly purchased by Ford (an underutilized Benedict Cumberbatch), a benevolent and conflicted slave owner.  Ford has slaves as that is the custom, but you can see he has a moral struggle with his crimes against humanity.  However, he is not strong enough to even stand up to his head carpenter, Tibeats, (the always creepy Paul Dano), let alone the social structure.12-Years-A-Slave (1)

When Solomon stands up for himself against Tibeats, Ford does the best he can for the man he is.  He fires Tibeats, but still trades Ford to malevolent cotton plantation owner, Edwin Epps (the man who needs no introduction, Michael Fassbender).  As Solomon was not a DF-03057.CR2 DF-03057.CR2laborer by trade, he finds that picking cotton is not his forte.  Thus, like all of Epps’ underperforming slaves, he is routinely whipped at the end of his shift.  If daily whippings were not cruel enough, Epps subjects his slaves to his drunken whims and makes them dance for him and his wife in the middle of the night.  Throw in Epps’ penchant for young black slaves, a wife that enjoys her own form of brutality against the female slaves and it makes for a maniacally crazy, brutal way of life.  Epps has his own demons, alcohol and his wife, but it is the relationship with his wife that partly fuels his brutality.  Michael Fassbender is brilliant – I know I use this phrase too much, but he plays Epps with just the right amount of crazy, never crossing the line making him the stock, slave owner villain.   He deserves the nomination and he keeps his clothes on, so just give it to him Academy!   Plus, Michael Fassbender walking around in a nightshirt in the middle of the day was a highlight.  But then again, I have a thing for ginger-bearded men!

It is only when he meets Canadian carpenter, Bass (a very Amish looking Brad Pitt who financed this movie because he wanted to work with McQueen so much), who is confident enough to debate the intricacies of brad-pitt-12-years-a-slave-trailer-watch-nowslavery and the issues presented when people are viewed as property with Epps, that he feels safe enough to tell his story and admit he is an educated man.  He asks Bass to write letters to his friends in Saratoga and let them know what happened to him 12 years ago.  Bass admits that this request makes him fear for both his and Solomon’s life, but agrees to do it anyway.  Shortly thereafter, the local Sheriff appears with Solomon’s free man papers.  Solomon’s horrendous journey is finally over.  We learn that when he returned to Saratoga, Solomon did not rest on his laurels, but attempted to prosecute the men who kidnapped him and those who held him captive in Washington, D.C.  He then continued to speak out against slavery in the North and worked with the Underground Railroad to free his brethren.

Chiwetel-Ejiofor-12-Years-A-SlaveChiwetel Ejiofor truly does give an Oscar winning performance.  He reaches down to the depths of his soul and honors Solomon.  This is not a story about a slave that stood up for himself and started a revolution, this is the story of a man’s struggle to survive.  Although early on, he tells a fellow kidnapped man that he does not want to survive, he wants to live, he soon realizes survival is essential and sometimes it is ruthless.  My favorite line of the film is when Solomon tells fellow kidnappee, Eliza, a high society slave from Washington D.C. who was separated from her children, “If you let yourself be overcome by sorrow, you will drown in it.”  Thus, Solomon keeps his head low and survives.  You may not always agree with his choices, but neither does he and Ejiofor shows us this.  You feel it with him.

images (6)Surprisingly, I did find one flaw with the film.  The score was almost identical to Shame and the funny thing is that the movies were scored by two different men.  Harry Escott scored Shame, while Hans Zimmer worked on the current film.  The music was so similar I was sure it was Harry Escott, but when I looked further into it, I found out I was wrong.  I am such a fan of Shame, that the music kept taking me back to Brandon on his sex benders, and my mind would stray from Solomon’s moment.  Also, McQueen used the same technique he did at the climax of Shame, where he mutes the extraneous sounds and allows only the score to play with a close up on the main character.  Too soon Steve, too soon.  You did this in your last movie, you can’t do it in every one!  Just a note though dear readers, I listen to the Shame soundtrack endlessly, especially, when I work, so this probably bothered me more than it will the average viewer.

 

I could go on and on about this film, but I will stop now and let you get on with the rest of your day.  The word brilliant is the only word that keeps popping into my head when thinking about how to describe this film.  Ejiofor reaches into his soul and it will touch yours.  You will leave this movie feeling something, whether it is disturbed, guilty, or just happy to have been able to view this work of art, something will have been moved inside of you.  This film is pure McQueen.  I cannot wait to see what this man does next and more importantly, I cannot wait to watch when all of the accolades are heaped upon him and all involved in this masterpiece!12-years-a-slave (2)

Dear Readers, please allow me to introduce my latest Guest Blogger, my dear friend Michelle.*  I sent her to an early screening of Captain Phillips and gave her an assignment.  Her review does not disappoint, and from the looks of it, neither does Captain Phillips.  I personally cannot wait to see it this weekend with the rest of America.

Captain-Phillips-Movie

league_lFor some reason I always think that I’m not really the biggest Tom Hanks fan, and then I remember Forest Gump, A League of Their Own and Catch Me If You Can.  So okay I do like Tom Hanks.  Captain Phillips has been described as a “Tom Hanks movie,” but it’s much more than that.  Portraying Captain Richard Phillips, he does a good job, but I would say that it is typical Tom Hanks.  In my opinion it’s not a breakaway performance for Mr. Hanks, but that’s because Barkhad Abdi, who plays Somalia pirate Muse, held most of my attention.

The movie’s suspense takes you from anxiously awaiting for the pirates to board the Maersk Alabama, U.S. cargo ship bound for Kenya, to anxiously awaiting the US Navy to rescue Captain Phillips.  It’s one of the times that spoilers don’t really apply.  We know he is saved and we know that they die, but director Paul Greengrass does an excellent job in mirroring each half of the movie with its counterpart.

Captain

It’s the story of two completely different worlds, two captains that are from very different places.  At one point Muse says to Capt. Phillips “maybe in America, maybe in America”.  At times I felt sympathy for Muse and his gang of Pirates because of what they come from, which is beautifully, but sadly, depicted in beginning of the movie.  The whole idea that the U.S Cargo ship is bound for Kenya delivering food and supplies for Africans really made me think about the extreme demographic gaps on the continent.  So I 930353 - Captain Phillipsgave Tom Hanks another chance.  Overall, it was worth it, but it’s not really until the end of the movie, the aftermath so to speak, that Tom Hanks reminds me why I actually am a fan.

 

My suggestion:  Don’t read the news before seeing Captain Phillips.  I waited until after the viewing to refresh my memory and Googled the actual events that unfolded off the coast of Africa in 2009.  What I came upon were discussions surrounding the real life law suits that involve the Captain, his crew and the Maersk Alabama.  See the movie, THEN Google it.  Then watch Tom Hanks’ interview with Barkhad Abdi and you will appreciate the movie that much more.

 

 

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*Stay tuned for newest addition to Pittsburgh Movie Girl’s musings, Random Redbox Reviews by Michelle.  Michelle will be discussing her weekly Redbox picks – sometimes new DVD releases, sometimes classics, sometimes Hollywood trash.   Coming soon to this blog near you!

Gravity Pulls You In

I have never watched a movie that caused me physical pain, but there is always a first for everything.  My chest was tight and I developed a headache during the film like I was not getting enough oxygen, then throw in watching Sandra Bullock tumbling through space, and man did I feel awesome when I left the theater.  On the bright side, I wasn’t the person that puked in the theater during the movie.  Yes, sadly that really happened.Gravity-2013-full-leaked-movie-1

Notting-Hill-Helix-Anna-Scott-press-notes-folder-1One of my most discerning movie friends, Christina, did not want to see this movie because she thought it looked too much like Helix, the movie that Anna Scott  made in Notting Hill.  She went on about how Hollywood is running out of original ideas.  She couldn’t have been more wrong.  Although, I do believe that Julia won the Oscar for her space movie in Notting Hill.  Can anyone confirm?

images (5)Dear Readers I don’t know how to review this film without giving it away and without sounding like every other critic out there.  Yes, it was intense, (see first paragraph), yes, it is genius filmmaking, and yes, Sandra is probably going to win her second Oscar, and she earned this one.  The role of Dr. Ryan Stone was made for Sandra Bullock.  Alfonso Cuaron originally wanted to cast Angelina Jolie, and Angie is my favorite actress, but I don’t think she would have done the role justice.  Sandra had just the right amount of apprehension, fear and willpower to pull it off.  You believe everything she does.  There is no Hollywood barrier between you and her.  You feel and breathe every emotion with

I'm King of the World!

I’m King of the World!

her.   I can’t say it any better than James Cameron already did:  “She’s the one that had to take on this unbelievable challenge to perform it. (It was) probably no less demanding than a Cirque du Soleil performer, from what I can see.” And of the result, he said, “There’s an art to that, to creating moments that seem spontaneous but are very highly rehearsed and choreographed. Not too many people can do it. … I think it’s really important for people in Hollywood to understand what was accomplished here.”

I read an article today about the making of this film and how Sandra and Alfonso Cuaron meticulously choreographed every scene, especially Sandra’s breath.  When I read it I didn’t think much of it, but now that I saw the movie, her breath is a third character.  You as an audience member take your cues from her breath and you subconsciously start to mirror it, thus, the chest pains and headache.  You don’t get enough oxygen to the brain while watching this film.  Don’t think it won’t happen to you – I teach yoga, I teach students to use their breath and I was not mindful enough to distinguish fantasy from reality this evening.

gravity-movie-trailerAnd where would I be if I didn’t mention the leading man of Hollywood, George?  Sadly, he is not going to win an Oscar for this performance, but he is his usual charming self.  Nothing wrong with his performance, and I can’t believe I am typing this, but nothing great about it either.  What can I say, this is Sandra’s movie all the way.  However, if I am every hurdling through space, I would want George Clooney on the other end of my tether, giving me a tour of Earth and talking me through my breath.

The film takes you on one hell of a ride, physically, emotionally, and for me, spiritually.  One of the most powerful moments for me was when Dr. Stone said that no one ever taught her how to pray.  She is as close to the universe and whatever is out there as one can get she is struggling with coming to terms with a power greater than herself and how to, for a lack of a better term, talk to it.  I don’t know what God is, or if he or she exists, but I have faith there is a power beyond me in this universe and I pray to it everyday.  Now is the time that I admit that women in space questioning their faith reduces me to tears (e.g. Jodie Foster in Contact).  This movie may not be quite as spiritual as Life of Pi, but it moved me.      gravity_article

So if you are still questioning whether or not you should see this film, the answer is a resounding YES!  If you are prone to motion sickness, have a respiratory disorder, are claustrophobic or suffer from acute anxiety, you may want to come prepared with medication, preferably a high dosage of Xanax.  The movie is only 90 minutes, but that’s all you need and may be all you can handle!

Prisoners Will Hold You Captive

To borrow a phrase from my friend, Michelle, I’m a little late to the party on Prisoners, but I’m glad I decided to RSVP.   Just caught this filmimages (3) after work today as I needed a mental break and so glad I did because who doesn’t love Jake Gyllenhaal and Jean ValJean, er, I mean Wolverine, no, oops, Hugh Jackman and the always creepy, but somehow brilliant Paul Dano?  To lay it all out there for you Dear Readers, I initially had no desire to see this movie.  I thought it was going to be more of an end-of-summer-shlock-to-fill-screen-time-until-awards-season.  If it weren’t for Jon Stewart, I would have skipped it completely.  Two weeks ago, John had Jake and Hugh on The Daily Show on back-to-back nights and he could not stop raving about the movie  Then throw in Jake and Hugh being their charming selves and well, all I can say is they did their job and made me want to see it.Prisoners-movie-wallpapers-9

As the previews suggest, this movie is the story of the kidnapping of two little girls on Thanksgiving Day.  Hugh Jackman, and the underutilized Terrence Howard play their fathers, Keller Dover and Franklin Birth, while Jake Gyllenhaal, Detective Loki, investigates.  Paul Dano, is the main suspect as the creepy kid, Alex Jones, who drives an RV around the neighborhood, while Melissa Leo plays his equally creepy aunt, Holly Jones.

PRISONERS2-videoSixteenByNine600This film is 123 minutes of intensity and it will make you jump several times; however, the scariest part of this movie that there are actually so many sick fucks living amongst us in images (4)Suburbia.  To make it doubly scarier, this movie is set in suburban Pennsylvania.  So hide your kids, hide your wife, because their snatchin’ kids left and right.  Jake encounters too many scary, fucked up folks throughout his investigation, that it is troubling to think about, including the people that Hugh and Terrence turn into after their daughters go missing.

pmprisoners1

Although Hugh Jackman plays a pretty good redneck, the two standout performances in this film for me were Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal.  Paul Dano was born to play the creepy dude that you kinda feel sorry for in a weird way.  He should not have any sleepless nights because I foresee him enjoying a long career in Hollywood as there is always a demand for that subtle creepiness.  Jake also stepped up gave a nuanced performance as Detective Loki.  You could see in his eyes that he was constantly thinking, Am I doing enough to find these girls?  Should I toe the line as a police officer or do everything I can to find them?  Then there is the crowning moment when Jake interrogates PRISONERSPaul.  Brilliant.  Loved it.  Perfection.  Best scene of the movie.  Both actors at their finest.  Jake ‘s tempo in his questioning was right up there with some of the best real life cross-examiners I have witnessed in a court room.  You can just see him fine tuning his craft with every role he takes one (Prince of Persia excluded, of course).

Overall, this film exceeded my expectations, although I will agree with my friend, Christina, the director could have benefited from a more skilled editor.  Some scenes were just a little too long, while others were not needed at all.  As much as I would like to criticize the editing errors, I can overlook them due to the overall goodness (is that a word?) and the strong performances.  If you don’t get a chance to catch Prisoners while it’s still in theaters, I highly recommend moving it to the top of your Netflix queue.

Until Gravity Dear Readers….

gravity_article

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