Tag: 12 years a slave

2013 Movie Scorecard

This is way late but I wanted to see all the big 2013 movies and it took me a while.  There are still a bunch I’m missing including Star Trek: Into Darkness, Philomena and Her.  I figure I have to draw the line somewhere or it will never be posted.  I would like to do a video to accompany this post but we will see.

I have rated each film a clean content grade and an overall grade.  D is adults only, C is mature content, B is a few scenes of concern, A is appropriate for whole family.

Some of the movies are bold and that is because they are hyperlinked to my full reviews on those films.  I am as slow seeing movies this year as I was last.  Only seen Lego movie so far…

What movies did you like in 2013 and what do you think of my grades?

12 Years a Slave-

A tough but profound movie.  Focuses on the life of Solomon Northup who was enslaved as a free man and Patsy, a female slave he comes to know. A small movie that is worth seeing.  A bit too many masters but Michael Fasbender is so evil as the main master, a true psychopath.  Very few characters are introduced to us.

Clean Content D      Overall Grade A

Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett is mesmerizing as a socialite dethroned and forced to live with her middle class sister.  It is the type of movie that is a day in the life of a character.  Not a ton of plot but I was fascinated getting to know this character.

Clean Content C      Overall Grade B+

The Book Thief

This was a tough one as the book is one of my favorites.  I have long said it is an unfilmable novel. They had all the pieces but none of the magic.  Characters I loved were featured too briefly like Rudy and even Death as the narrator.

Clean Content A     Overall Grade C-

Monsters University

A charming, if unmemorable offering from Pixar.  I liked the message of achieving your dreams by not achieving your dreams.  That is a unique message for a children’s film.  Good voice performances and very heartfelt.

Clean Content A     Overall Grade B

Despicable Me 2

I honestly don’t get the popularity of this series.  The minions are cute but I find the rest of the clan and the story to be very boring.  I kind of wish Megamind would have been the 2010 anti-hero cartoon movie to be the big hit.

Clean Content A    Overall Grade C-

Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

Once Smaug actually appears it gets exciting.  The special effects in those scenes are very well done but it takes 2 hours to get there.  I was bored most of the movie and I actually liked the first one.  I wish Jackson would forget the CGI backgrounds and give us New Zealand like he did in LOTR.  A lot of the movie looked cheap and I thought Evangaline Lilly was really bad and wooden in her scenes.  Rest of cast was good.

Clean Content B- (violence)     Overall Grade C-

Saving Mr Banks

One of the best movies about artists and an artists work I’ve ever seen.  Thompson and Hanks are both so good and nuanced in their iconic roles.  Colin Farrell is also very good as PL Travers father.  I loved the message of we all have a moment where we are no longer a child and we all secretly resent whoever gives us that moment.  People like Disney try to recreate childhood.  People like Traverse shun it.

Clean Content A-          Overall Grade A+


I said it was a masterpiece when it came out and I still feel that way.  I was totally immersed in the experience of seeing the movie.  I felt like I was in space and it was so well edited.  As soon as you took a breath, bam!  The next event happened and then again.  There was no time to say ‘wait a minute…’ I thought Sandra Bullock was so good.  To think she did all of that in front of a green screen is amazing.

Clean Content B-          Overall Grade A+


I said on my review on this blog I had high expectations going into this film and it met those high expectations.  I loved the strong female leads.  I loved the consistently strong music.  I loved the artistry and just enough humor.

Clean Content A+         Overall Grade A+

Captain Phillips

I saw Gravity and Captain Phillips in the same week.  Most intense week of my life!  Tom Hanks had an amazing 2013 and he is very good in this.  I liked that it wasn’t a heroic performance.  It was a just a man who’s boat was taken over by pirates.

The way Paul Greengrass shot it made it feel like me as the viewer was a crew-member experiencing everything along with Hanks and everything else.  I liked that the pirates were fully dimensional. It’s a little slow in spots, a little long but I was absorbed.

Clean Content C         Overall Grade A

Enough Said

A little gem.  In the death of romantic comedies of late this was so refreshing.  Julia Louise Dryfus and James Gandolfini (in his final role) are wonderful and have great chemistry as a mature couple falling in love.  She is a massage therapist and his ex-wife becomes a client.  Not knowing Dryfus is dating her ex the client tells all kinds of bad things about Gandolfini.

It does have the liar reveal story trope but I think it works because of the charm of the performances and the good writing.

Clean Content C+        Overall Grade A

Man of Steel

I honestly don’t have much positive to say about this movie.  I thought it was dark, moping, and strangely gruesome.  I didn’t like all the CGI.  The violence and destruction of Metropolis was extreme.  I don’t want to see Superman plow through building after building without any regard to the carnage and then snap an admittedly bad man in the neck.  The product placement was obnoxious and took me out of the movie several times.

I also don’t want to see Krypton as a murky CGI land.  I hated the flashback structure and all the Christ metaphors which didn’t make sense given the advice of the father to let the people die rather than save them. Louis Lane was a bore and I didn’t think Henry Cavill was particularly charismatic as Superman.

How about the next movie you have a little bit of fun with Superman?

Clean Content  D           Overall Grade  F

American Hustle

A movie all style and good acting over substance.  All the performances are good but honestly I have a hard time even remembering the story a few months after watching it.

It’s set in the 70s.  Bradley Cooper is investigating a crook played by Christian Bale who is married to Jennifer Lawrence and seeing Amy Adams.  They become double agents and take a bunch of public figures down.  I was kind of disappointed.   If you love 70s style than you’ll love this.

Clean Content D          Overall Grade C


Likable cast but Tina Fey continues to not be funny to me. Sorry…even 30 Rock not a fan of.  This movie is an attempt at a romantic comedy and even in the dearth of rom coms this does not pass.

Fey plays an admissions officer at Princeton who comes in contact with Paul Rudd who runs an alternative high school.  This is kind of like The Book Thief in that all the pieces are there but none of the magic.  It just wasn’t funny.

Clean Content C-         Overall Grade F

Oz the Great and Powerful

This movie just offends me and I hate the fairy tale retelling trend.  All of them have been terrible. I’m so sick of brooding fantasy flicks.  Frozen remembered that fairy tales were supposed to be fun.  If I see another battle and brooding heroine I think I will scream. Stop ruining my fairy tales!

It’s tough because Wizard of Oz is one of my favorites and Over the Rainbow is my favorite song.  The original had magic and this has 3 shrill female performances and a boring male performance.  There is effort into the styling of the movie but I would take old school cheese over CGI grandeur any day.  Mostly this movie was boring and James Franco and Mila Kunis were remarkably wooden and bad in their acting.  Not a fan!

Clean Content B        Overall Grade D

Before Midnight

Jesse and Celine’s story from Before Sunrise and Before Sunset continues but this time they have an established relationship with 2 girls.  These movies always take place over the course of a day in a foreign city and this time it is Greece.

It is beautifully shot and the dialogue is so believable.  You feel like you are watching a real couple interacting and dealing with conflict.  That said, it is kind of the problem with this movie. At times the arguing can go from compelling to unpleasant. I felt like I was sitting in a couple therapy session and who wants to do that?

It also has an extended scene with Celine changing shirts while arguing and a lot of profanity (as in the previous films).  The ending is very satisfying and I like the exploration of some darker elements to a couple we’ve come to know so well but it took it a little too far for my taste.

Clean Content D-        Overall Grade C

12 Years a Slave: A Review

12 years 6

(This is a somewhat detailed review so if you are the type that wants no plot or analysis before seeing a movie mild spoiler warning.  I couldn’t talk about it any other way.  I tried)

So I finally did it today- I watched 12 Years a Slave for Family Home Evening.  I’ve been debating for months whether I should see it because I had heard how intense and violent it was but being convinced it was an important film I decided to rent it and see what I thought.

I know many of my friends have had the same reservations so let me start with the violence. It is disturbing, sad, tragic whichever adjective you wish to use.  There is no doubt about it, but I do think some of the worry is a bit overblown.

It’s kind of a hard movie to review. At least I’m struggling to put my reaction into words. (I’ve written this like 3 times and started over unsatisfied with my portrayal).

12 years 4

12 Years a Slave tells the story of Solomon Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a freeman in pre-civil war Washington DC who is abducted and forced into slavery for 12 years.

It is not a hopeful movie, and perhaps that is appropriate.  Even when Solomon is rescued after 12 years it is done slightly begrudgingly with more persuasion than the audience feels should be required after witnessing such things.  I have no doubt such hesitation is completely accurate but I’m just saying it is not a sentimental movie in any way.

In fact, at the beginning Solomon is kidnapped with a woman who is torn away from her children (who she is tricked into coming after and then captured).  This woman cries for days to the point of irritating all around her.  That’s where the movie starts- the most guttural humane reaction of Mother for her children is an annoyance and a bother.

I’m not saying this as a criticism but it is much more disturbing than any of the violence displayed (which again is very disturbing).  It’s almost as if the movie is saying ‘stop crying and listen’.

Another running scene that is almost crueler than the whippings is when the slaves are forced to dance before their masters as if all was well and happy.  It makes you sick.

In a lot of ways this  movie reminded me of one of my favorite books Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs/Linda Brendt; however, we as readers feel more invested in Harriet’s story than Solomon’s and there is one great friend in the book that gives some hope.

It’s kind of like in the telling of the Holocaust.  I think there is a place for hopeless, tragic versions like Night by Eli Weisel, but also for Man Search for Meaning or The Hiding Place.  I’m glad I read all of them.

Anyway, Solomon goes through a lot of masters/white men played by Paul Giamatti (as one of the slave merchants), Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch (as a slave owner who seems kindly but fails to do the right thing), Michael Fassbender (as the main master and a man who has convinced himself that all he does is validated, even required by God), Sarah Paulson is chilling as Fassbender’s jealous wife, Brad Pitt as a Canadian who finally has some courage.

DF-02868FD.psdOddly enough there aren’t many developed black, slave characters.  Besides Solomon there is Patsey. She is played by Luipita Nyong’o. Patsey is tortured by Fassbender, and she is a quiet, shy sufferer. (In certain scene Fassbender even has a strange dependence upon Patsey) More briefly seen is Alfre Woodard who is excellent as a fellow slave that has risen through the ranks and now has slaves of her own- very chilling.

12 years 12A good movie to compare 12 Years a Slave too is Stephen Spielberg’s Amistad, which tells the story of a mutiny aboard a slave ship in the late 18th century.

12 Years is a much smaller movie than Amistad.  Spielberg seemingly can’t resist the dramatic music cues and soaring speeches but even without that Amistad’s story is about a ship full of slaves, the Congress, an ex-president and a case before the Supreme Court.  It all feels bigger than 12 Years a Slave.

Now I think 12 Years is a better movie than Amistad because of it’s smaller, more intimate nature.  At all times, the audience is kept at a bit of a distance from the story, violence and even Solomon himself.  Most stories like this have narration or a scene where someone explains why these things are wrong.  That is not necessary.  Everyone knows why.

However, some have criticized the film as being too small. Peter Malamud Smith of Slate said:

“We’re more invested in one hero than in millions of victims; if we’re forced to imagine ourselves enslaved, we want to imagine ourselves as Northup, a special person who miraculously escaped the system that attempted to crush him”

I can see why Smith feels this way, but I disagree. I think I can learn more and feel more empathy for one person’s story than a slew of faces.  This is Solomon and Patsey’s story and only one of them escapes- a pain that is as much if not more deeply felt than a shipload of humanity suffering in Amistad.

Like I said, both have their place and are worth telling, but I think 12 Years a Slave is the better movie.  In some ways I wish we got even more inside Solomon and Patsey’s head. They are the emotional core of the movie, and I could have done with one less beating montage and more of their discussion.

That said, I didn’t cry as much as I thought I would in the movie and that kind of disturbs me  given the images. But when I think back to the beginning with the slave girl sobbing to the point of annoyance I wonder if the movie-makers are trying to teach me something, and that perhaps my response is intended?

Maybe by showing that lack of empathy early on, the movie is cautioning us against such sentimentality and asking you to think and absorb what really happened to these people with no exclamation points needed?

The most heartbreaking scene in the movie for me (mild spoiler) is when Solomon thinks he has found someone he can trust with a letter to his friends up North. You see the relief and hope in his eyes (again the movie has little hope) and when that trust is betrayed it was more brutal than any beating for me.

slave 13Sarah Paulson also has some of the most shocking scenes as Fassbender’s jealous wife.  In many shots we see her hovering in the corner watching the horrific scenes, and even encouraging them to take place.

The ultimate example is when Patsey goes to get soap from Alfre Woodard because Paulson has refused to allow her to clean to the point where her stench is making Patsey ill. Worried she has ran off Fassbender becomes enraged and Paulson stands by to watch.

If I’m going to nitpick the movie is a little cluttered and I kind of wish there were a few less white guys and a few more slaves to know and feel for, but I see why they did. Still, a few characters could have been trimmed.

Also some of the accents are very strange. I read that director Steve McQueen was going for specific regional dialect but it sounded like Brits and Germans trying to sound Southern.  Surely they could have gotten a few authentically Southern actors?

But like I said, that’s nitpicking.  It’s a very strong movie.  A few months ago I got in a debate with a person on twitter over Gone with the Wind and it’s portrayal of slavery.  I wish that person could see 12 Years a Slave and then tell me with an ounce of sincerity that Gone with the Wind is anything but complete fantasy (entertaining fantasy you can make an argument but at best it’s a well-meaning soap opera).

So, in the end- the violence is bad but not as bad as some have made it out to be.  It’s uncomfortable and will make you squirm in your seat but I think that’s appropriate.  It’s a small movie focusing on 2 slaves and 6-8 white masters.  It’s not heavy-handed with modern preaching (like The Conspirator a couple years a go…)

It’s a movie that will make you think.  Think about evil and how we rationalize freedom away from people because of a label.  How we make it ok to do horrible things to each other because that person is black, christian, jewish, muslim whatever.

The performances are all excellent and as an educational experience I highly recommend 12 Years a Slave.

I can see why you wouldn’t want or need to see the movie because of the intensity and violence, but I would at least challenge you to learn about what really happened from as many angles as you can. Do not be satisfied with anything too neat or dainty.

You should be left wondering why.