Archive for the ‘Steve McQueen’ Category

Dollar Signs and Empty Promises

Widows

Director: Steve McQueen

Cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Jacki Weaver, Daniel Kaluuya, Robert Duvall, Jon Bernthal, Carrie Coon, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Brian Tyree Henry, Garrett Dillahunt, Cynthia Erivo

In a labyrinth tale which at times is difficult to follow, 12 Years a Slave and Shame director Steve McQueen weaves a tangled web in the contemporary Chicago crime drama Widows featuring an outstanding ensemble cast including a brilliant Viola Davis, Oscar winner for Fences, Oscar nominees Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) as a ruthless hitman, Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom) as a pushy Polish mother along with Oscar winner Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies) as Colin Farrell’s hectic father Tom Mulligan.

What sets Widows apart is that McQueen frames the film as a gritty more complex version of Oceans 8 with pivotal roles for Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki (The Tale) and Michelle Rodriguez as three widowed woman who decided to band together and conspire to do a heist to rob from alderman Mulligan played by Colin Farrell who is in a turf war with his contestant a rising African-American politician Jamal Manning played by Brian Tyree Henry (Hotel Artemis).

Daniel Kaluuya plays the insanely evil and vindictive younger brother Jatemme Manning who feels nothing as he tortures a snitch in a wheelchair or makes victims sing before executing them at point blank range.

Director Steve McQueen frames every shot with a keen eye for detail especially the excellent scenes with Viola Davis as she comes to terms with her husband and thief Harry Rawlings explosive demise, shot in a series of intimate flashbacks scenes made more poignant that action star Liam Neeson plays the street savvy thief Rawlings.

What Widows does offer is a sophisticated treatment of contemporary American race relations, inner city corruption, poverty and crime of which there is plenty in this film.

McQueen lets certain scenes linger too long while allowing others to be cut so short that their explosive nature is electrifying. Where he is excels is at is controlling this massive and diverse ensemble cast.

Veteran star Robert Duvall has a fairly major role as the paternal Trumpesque figure Tom Mulligan who is trying to retain his family’s supremacy in the political environment despite his son Jack’s dubious double dealing whose only achievement is offering dollar signs and empty promises.

Equally refreshing is to see Fast and Furious star Michelle Rodriguez in a more substantial role as she battles to keep her family together after her Latino husband Carlos, a briefly seen cameo by Manuel Garcia-Rulfo perishes in Rawling’s heist that goes terribly wrong.

Widows gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and has a massive twist which should keep audiences riveted in a sprawling crime drama held together by superb acting. Highly recommended viewing.

Sold Down the River

12 Years a Slave

twelve_years_a_slave

Director: Steve McQueen

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Quvenzhané Wallis, Michael Kenneth Williams

Based upon Solomon Northup’s groundbreaking novel, 12 Years a Slave published in 1853 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12_Years_a_Slave, British director Steve McQueen brings the critically acclaimed film version to the big screen exposing the cruelty, violence and brutality of the slave trade in the Antebellum Deep South prior to the American Civil War. Audiences have to bear in mind that 12 years a Slave is set in 1841, the first half of the 19th century when America having broken away from Britain was expanding its nation commercially especially in the Southern States like Georgia, Louisiana and basically most South Eastern states below the Mason-Dixon line from Virginia downwards.

Nevertheless, director McQueen emphasizes the emotional and physical imprisonment of both slave and slave owner in a terrifying master servant relationship which is based entirely on commerce and the expansion of agricultural land in the vast cotton-picking states of the American South East where slave owners viewed slaves as their personal property to be bought, sold or exchanged for debts as part of payment for arable land. Despite the commercial exchange and vicious currency of slavery, this does not excuse the devastating effects it had on the African American people who become slaves often ripping families apart as well as being subjected to all sorts of human rights abuses which would be unimaginable in a 21st century America with Barack Obama as president.

Slavery is a tough subject to contextualize onscreen and British director McQueen takes the challenge head on and show through the extraordinarily horrific experience of Solomon Northup (superbly played by British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor) who as a free man in Saratoga, New York travels as part of a minstrel band to Washington DC where after a drunken night is drugged and sold into slavery and literally shipped down the Mississippi river to the slave port of New Orleans.

Northup first becomes the property of seemingly benevolent land owner Ford played by Benedict Cumberbatch (The Fifth Estate), but after an altercation with the vicious plantation manager Tibeats an excellent cameo by Paul Dano, is transferred as part of a debt owing to the even more sadistic plantation owner Epps brutally played by Michael Fassbender. On Epps’s cotton picking Louisiana plantation, Northup meets the vulnerable but tough Patsey (an excellent performance by screen newcomer and Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o) who becomes the forbidden object of desire by the psychotic, bored and lustful Epps.

It is really Nyong’o’s Patsey who endures rape, torture and a particularly cruel whipping scene which elevates 12 Years a Slave into a shocking and harrowing portrayal of the absolute horrific conditions of 19th century slavery in the deep South, conditions so horrendous that the Northern states eventually intervened in a bid to abolish slavery resulting in the bloody American Civil War from 1861 to 1865 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Civil_War.

12_years_a_slave_2

McQueen’s film while at times lacking in narrative structure, is still an absorbing historical portrayal of humanity’s capacity to inflict cruelty and suffering on their fellow humans, a point which Brad Pitt’s character Bass emphasizes and who eventually assists Northup in his bid for emancipation. Shot in the suffocating heat of a Louisiana summer, 12 Years a Slave is atmospheric, brilliantly acted and deeply disturbing and a testament to man’s own ability to survive under vicious circumstances.

Whilst 12 Years a Slave won People’s Choice Award at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival and has nine 2014 Oscar nominations, it is really the breakout performance of Lupita Nyong’o who shines amongst a British American cast including Alfre Woodard, Sarah Paulson, Paul Giamatti and Benedict Cumberbatch and Quvenzhané Wallis from Beasts of the Southern Wild as Northup’s daughter Margaret.

This is recommended viewing for lovers of historical films, but be warned 12 Years a Slave is cruel, violent and shocking, which is exactly McQueen’s intention in showing up Slavery as one of Mankind’s most atrocious historical eras, a completely ruthless and harrowing practice, offering a contemporary cinematic counterpoint to the 1939 classic Gone With the Wind.

 

2013 Toronto Film Festival

2013 Toronto International Film Festival Winners

2013_Toronto_International_Film_Festival_poster

Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) takes place every year in September in Toronto, Canada.

Films which premiere at Toronto are often nominated for Academy Awards the following year.

TIFF does not hand out individual prizes for Best Actor or Actress but focuses on among others the following awards:
People’s Choice Award & Best Canadian Feature Film

the fifth_estate

Opening Night Film: The Fifth Estate directed by Bill Condon starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Dan Stevens, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci and Carice van Houten

twelve_years_a_slave

People’s Choice Award: 12 Years a Slave directed by Steve McQueen starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano and Sarah Poulson

Best Canadian Feature Film: When Jews were Funny directed by Alan Zweig (documentary) starring Howie Mandel, Shelley Berman, Norm Crosby, Shecky Greene, Jack Carter, David Steinberg

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_Toronto_Film_Festival

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