Tag Archives: 12 YEARS A SLAVE

HARRIET (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

HARRIET (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons

Produced by: Debra Martin Chase, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Gregory Allen Howard

Screenplay: Kasi Lemmons, Gregory Allen Howard

Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Janelle Monae, Clarke Peters, Zackary Momoh, Vondie Curtis-Hall etc.

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**



With $100 million being spent on the film Midway (2019), which I haven’t seen, and $160 million being spent on The Irishman (2019), which I have, it’s kind of shame that a way bigger story like that of Harriet Tubman is only afforded a mid-budget tribute adaptation. Because, even if this story is only 10% true, Harriet Tubman’s character deserves so much more. In fact, I am shocked that it has taken this long for her achievements to reach the cinema screen. Especially because we had to endure another rendition of Lincoln (2012), in Spielberg’s recent ponderous epic.

That isn’t to say that old Abraham isn’t deserving of praise. I’m just an ignorant Englander, but Harriet Tubman, as represented by Cynthia Erivo’s sterling performance and Kasi Lemmon’s and Gregory Allen Howard’s fizzing screenplay, is a tour-de-force encapsulation of empowerment. That isn’t to say that the film isn’t without flaws. Indeed, this is an amazing story which is professionally told. However, it seems to have been short-changed on budget and marketing possibilities here in the U.K. I mean Frozen 2 (2019) is on about a million screens, whereas I struggled to find one for this film.



Araminta “Minty” Ross was born in 1820 and into the slavery that blighted the “United” States. Eventually this humanitarian stain would lead to civil war in the U.S.A and the film charts Minty’s legacy from slavery to escape to freedom fighter, during the build up to this fierce conflict. Her character is one of guts, determination, fight and she also has the gift for second sight. Indeed, if the period setting wasn’t so well evoked, you could be mistaken for feeling like the film was using the beats of a superhero origins film.

But that is what Harriet Tubman becomes; a superhero and saviour to her family, friends, slaves and the abolitionist movement as a whole. A superhero needs a nemesis though and white slavers have now become the new Nazis. They are the bad guys and villains we boo and hiss and hate. Here they are represented by Joe Alwyn’s Gideon Brodess. While not as charismatically dastardly as Tarantino’s Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), he remains a benign, matter-of-fact vision of evil. Perhaps, the brutality could have been heightened, but this is more of an inspirational and empowering tale, rather than one that wallows in the misery and genius of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave (2013).

Overall, the film is a fine tribute to an incredible human being. There are some issues in the telling of the story. It feels rushed like a “greatest hits” package. I mean I just wish they could have developed a longer television series for this character or given it the running time Harriet’s plaudits deserved. Plus, some of the direction is a little flat in places. Where suspense and fear could have been ratcheted up a bit, in certain scenes Lemmons rushes through them. Nevertheless, I was thoroughly absorbed by the subject matter, themes and character throughout. Special praise goes to star-in-the-making Cynthia Erivo too. Via Harriet Tubman’s incredible actions Erivo has broken out in more ways than one.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



2016 BFI – LFF – THE BIRTH OF A NATION  (2016) – REVIEW

2016 – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL – THE BIRTH OF A NATION  (2016)

SPOILER FREE REVIEW

TITLE:  THE BIRTH OF A NATION (2016)

DIRECTOR/PRODUCER/WRITER: Nate Parker

CAST:  Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Colman Domingo, Aja Noomi King

STORY:  At the turn of the 1800s a charismatic preacher must decide between a life of slavery or to stand up and fight against his brutal captors.

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REVIEW:

This drama, written, produced, directed and starring by Nate Parker has, since its release at the Sundance Festival, created a whole host of controversies. There is a historical rape prosecution of which Nate Parker was found innocent of in 1999; there are accusations of historical inaccuracies in the story; plus the passivity of female characters within the narrative has been criticized too.  Not surprising though because any film about slavery, rape, abuse and murder is bound to set the cultural world, internet, film industry, social media, historians etc. alight with debate.

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Personally, when I watch a film I prefer to judge it purely on whether it has entertained, informed, provoked thought and created emotion. The filmmakers’ personal history or whether a film meets certain quotas on political correctness or even whether the history has been altered to suit a narrative are important factors but not my main viewing considerations. Of course, if it is an exploitative piece of crap then I would call it; but mainly I ask myself: did the film entertain me and is it a good story done well?

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Well, inaccuracies and controversies aside I was thoroughly moved and taken with emotion by The Birth of a Nation. It is ambitious, independent filmmaking which takes a figure from history that stood up against oppressors and fought back against the injustices that befell him and his people. In little over two hours we get a microcosmic view of the character of Nat Turner and the horrific period he lived in and get a short, sharp and shocking drama. Turner is shown to be an intelligent, proud and spiritual force who inspires those around him to fight against the brutality all around.

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You cannot underestimate Parker’s vision and determination to bring Nat Turner’s ‘story’ to the screen. On such a relatively low budget (reported to be £10 million) it is an admirable and risky project to pursue and deliver. Not as startlingly stylistic as the big-budget-spaghetti-slave-Western Django Unchained (2012), The Birth of a Nation is a heart-breaking narrative which posits the power of the scriptures and damns the beast of humanity which allowed free people to be stolen from their country and made to serve others.

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Overall, the film works as a lower-budget epic in the vein of Braveheart (1995) and Spartacus (1960), while covering similar ground thematically as Oscar winner 12 Years A Slave (2013). It may not have the artistry of Steve McQueen’s directed epic, but it is still an important film about a fascinating historical figure. Whether it is accurate or not the film still made compelling viewing and Parker deserves all the praise he gets for such an assured debut.

SISYPHEAN REPRESENTATIONS IN CINEMA AND TELEVISION

SISYPHEAN REPRESENTATIONS IN CINEMA AND TELEVISION

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”  Winston Churchill

Have you ever just thought: what’s the point in carrying on?  Dead French bloke Albert Camus wrote an existential essay called The Myth of Sisyphus which I read when I was in my teens; and while failing to understand it I felt cool and superior to everyone else who hadn’t read it. I read it again a few years ago and it is a fascinating analysis as to whether life has any point.

Camus deemed life an exercise in the absurd and one should never give up but rather laugh or revolt; something like that anyway! He offered mythological character Sisyphus, who, if you didn’t know, was punished for his deceitfulness by the Gods. His penance was to forever push the same boulder up a hill over and over. Camus opined Sisyphus’ struggle gave life meaning despite the immortal repetition.

I have in my darkest hours of life’s disappointment thought about relinquishing hope. However, I agree with Camus as I feel NOT giving up is in fact success enough; and persistence is reward enough whatever the outcome. So, to celebrate characters overcoming adversity, abject failure or seemingly insurmountable odds, I have picked out some “Sisyphean” characters from TV and cinema who just didn’t know when they were beaten even if the odds were stacked against them or they’ve suffered defeat after defeat.

**MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD**

NUMBER 6 – THE PRISONER (1967)

Bond meets Kafka in this unique 1960s spy-thriller-with-a-twist. The brainchild of TV star Patrick McGoohan, this unique and psychedelic show found our anti-hero Number 6 attempting to escape from an idyllic “prison” called the Village. He could just settle back and give in to his captors’ questioning but Number 6 refuses to be filed and indexed; preferring to fight against the authorities despite being thwarted week after week.


ANDY DUFRESNE – THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)

Patience is a virtue they say and Andy Dufresne shows it in spades; tiny little digging spades he uses to chip away at a tunnel over many, many years. This prison film benefits from a gem of a Stephen King story, plus Frank Darabont’s brilliant writing. Everyman Dufresne could be battered into submission by the rape, beatings, and incarceration he endures but his stubborn survival instinct pays off in a wonderful pay-off at the story’s end.

CAROL PELETIER – THE WALKING DEAD (2010 –               )

Don’t you just hate the darned Zombie Apocalypse!!  I could have chosen a number of characters from other zombie films or shows but to me Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) is one of the great survivors. She began as an meek character abused by her husband, but having seen her young daughter turn she eventually grew into a formidable “Sarah Connor” archetype kicking zombie butt with aplomb. Arguably, her mental breakdown in the last season was a disappointing but no doubt the Carol we love will be back; hopefully.

HUGH GLASS – THE REVENANT (2015)

Bear with me on this one!  DiCaprio got the Oscar for his nature-versus-man-survival-fest and deservedly so for his physical endeavour. His character Glass just refuses to shatter as he firstly suffers a vicious Grizzly attack and then is left for dead by Tom Hardy’s mumbling mercenary. After which the terrain, natives, climate, and most terrifyingly, men, conspire to force Glass into all manner of gruelling trials as he seeks revenge for the murder of his son.

MATTIE ROSS – TRUE GRIT (1969)

I loved this John Wayne classic pursuit Western when I was a kid and have seen it too many times to mention. The Duke won the Oscar yet the standout performance was from Kim Darby as Mattie Ross; a feisty, motor-mouth irritant who nags and cajoles and chases and fights after vicious murderer Tom Chaney. My favourite scene is with Rooster Cogburn, who when finally realising she just won’t give up, laughs and proclaims in his classic laconic drawl, “By god – she reminds me of me!”

MAX ROCKATANSKY:  FURY ROAD (2015)

Mad Max is one of the great existential action heroes. Adorned in battered leather and wearing life’s scars on his face and heart he continues to live and survive in a hopeless world full of punk maniacs with death in their eyes. I guess he carries on because there’s a flicker of hope in his marrow; even if danger and pain are often his only companions on the Fury Road!


SOLOMON NORTHRUP – TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE  (2013)

I could never begin to understand the suffering individuals went through at the hands of slavers. Yet Solomon Northrup’s memoir and latterly Steve McQueen’s film version of the story encapsulated the pain of such an existence with such power. Chiwetel Ejiofor excels in the lead of an innocent man stolen from his family and forced into bondage by nefarious examples of humanity. Throughout, Northrup retains his dignity and strength never to surrender; and is ultimately rewarded with freedom despite a horrific twelve years of agony.

SCRAT – ICE AGE (2002 –             )

Scrat is a big-toothed-long-suffering-squirrel from the Ice Age franchise whose comic vignettes involve him attempting to transport a huge acorn to an unknown hibernation location. Following Murphy’s Law adage that “what can go wrong will go wrong” to ad infinitum the pain and mayhem for the prehistoric squirrel makes for hilarious slapstick. While we revel in Scrat’s misadventures the blighter never gives up on his prize suffering blow after blow yet never relinquishing that nut whatever the weather.    


SUE HECK – THE MIDDLE (2009 –         )

Benefitting from an effervescent performance by young actress Eden Sher, the character of Sue Heck is a socially awkward yet committed individual. She tries out for EVERYTHING: spelling bees, cheerleaders, competitions, after-school clubs and pretty much FAILS every time. However, she views eschews failure and rejection and the fact teachers don’t even remember who she is as a mere trifle.  She is a terrific loser whose enthusiasm knows no limits and for that I salute her spirit and passion. We can all learn from Sue Heck!

WILE E. COYOTE (1948 –         )

Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese original animated tortured soul IS Sisyphus incarnate. Doomed to pursuit and abject failure Wile E. Coyote just absolutely won’t give up chasing the Roadrunner. Slapstick violence and near-death pummels the damned creature’s soul; yet he comes back for more and more punishment without ever seeking an alternative food supply. I found the cartoons hilarious as a kid and still do now. Wile E. Coyote is the “living” epitome of Churchill’s quote which begins this piece and I love the character for his sheer bloody-minded stubbornness and refusal to yield.

12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013) – Film Review by Paul Laight

12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013) – Film Review by Paul Laight

**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS + CLIPS**

The artist/director Steve McQueen is a very important filmmaker and his films to date include the searing character study of Bobby Sands in Hunger (2008) and the pulverising sex-addict study of Shame (2011).  His latest epic is another intense offering based on the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery.  Indeed, in just 3 feature films McQueen has proven himself a genuine cinematic artist and a beacon of real quality and must-see drama.

Whereas Sands in Hunger was driven by political motives and Sullivan in Shame unable to control his animal instincts then Northup’s character is a family man, a proud and free individual living with his wife and child in Washington.  It is there that the story cross-cuts with later events and Solomon’s unjust capture into slavery. He is a dedicated family man and his character is epitomised at the beginning when he turns down the sexual advances of a female captive; my understanding being he could not compromise his fidelity despite being imprisoned in this Louisiana hell.

From the start you’re really rooting for Northup as he is shown to be intelligent, musical and scholarly gentlemen both proud and faithful.  His kidnapping is a press-ganging of the most heinous kind as he led away from Washington with the promise of lucrative work then tricked when seemingly at his most content. The subsequent journey through the plantations of New Orleans is a most despicable crime against humanity and McQueen shows this is many scenes of physical, verbal and mental abuse perpetrated against Northup and other characters.  Here pain and suffering has never looked so beautiful with stunning cinematography by Sean Bobbitt. It’s a story of sunshine and pain with McQueen utilizing Northup’s life microcosmically in regard to the slave movement as a whole.

The cast are incredible from Chiwetel Ejiofor, in the leading role of Northup to evil slave-zealot Michael Fassbender, benign yet complicit Benedict Cumberbatch and many more including Paul Dano, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, standing out in supporting roles. It has received nine Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director for McQueen, and Best Actor for Ejiofor, and Best Supporting Actor for Fassbender, and Best Supporting Actress for Nyong’o and I would be shocked if it doesn’t win something.

McQueen treats the subject matter with the reverence and power it deserves and literally paints a brutal, inhumane and devastating set of images with which to tell the story. He often favours long takes notably the scene where Solomon hangs clinging by his toenails to life. This is a stand-out iconic scene and it is too much to bear because we have so much invested in Solomon’s character by this stage and really want his suffering to end.  But that’s where Fassbender’s Epps enters the play and the intensity is ratcheted up and then some.

For well over an hour 12 Years a Slave is majestic filmmaking of the highest quality. Northup’s characterisation is incredible, however, this is to the detriment of the other characters who dip in and out of the narrative notably Benedict Cumberbatch’s Ford, who to me was the most interesting of the white slavers as he appeared to be a compassionate man trapped within a vicious societal circle of hate.  Fassbender’s maniacal Epps I feel deserved a better introduction because even though the actor is once again breath-taking I felt the performance MORE than the actual character.  The two wives of the slavers were one-dimensional and interchangeably evil, plus, I was disappointed Paul Dano’s character left the narrative too early.  The major casting disappointment is the glory-hunting role Brad Pitt gave himself as the kind Canadian carpenter who assists Northup in his quest to escape.  Pitt is a great movie star and I love his work but he’s too big in my opinion to appear so late in such a story as this.  I was deeply involved only to suddenly be reminded I was watching a Hollywood movie.

Steve McQueen is a master craftsmen and has made a near-flawless work of cinema even though I must admit the ending left me very frustrated.  There is power and emotion for all to see but I wanted more satisfaction for Northup’s character and some kind of retribution to be dealt to his captors. McQueen had cooked up such an intense soup of pain and suffering I wanted more of a release. Indeed, it seemed quite a passive denouement to me especially when compared to a film such as Glory (1989) and the Roman Slave action epic Spartacus (1960). However, this is a more personal epic and the filmmakers have clearly stayed true to the honour of the original book so my personal desire for cinematic revenge on the slavers will just have to be met by Tarantino’s dancing-horse-bad-ass-Blaxploitation-Western Django Unchained (2012) I suppose.