Archive for Lupita Nyong’o

The Jungle Book (2016)

Posted in Action/Adventure, Family, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2018 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Inspired by the animated Disney classic, this live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s beloved novel follows young Mowgli as he navigates a jungle full of wonder and peril with his animal allies Bagheera the panther and Baloo the bear.

What people are saying:

“Exceptionally beautiful to behold and bolstered by a stellar vocal cast, this umpteenth film rendition of Rudyard Kipling’s tales of young Mowgli’s adventures amongst the creatures of the Indian jungle proves entirely engaging, even if it’s ultimately lacking in subtext and thematic heft” 5 stars

“It’s not like we don’t all already know this story backward and forward, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from giving this remake a chance. It’s visually beautiful, and I loved that they kept some of the music from the original animated Disney version. Neel Sethi is a perfect Mowgli and the casting of the voice actors is pretty much spot on. ” 4 stars

“By the time its evolution is complete, The Jungle Book has proven itself a minor Darwinian miracle, perhaps the oddest of all species: a movie nearly devoid of human beings, yet one bursting with humanity.” 4 1/2 stars

“Meh. While I was pretty impressed by this film on a technical and visual level, this film didn’t work nearly as well for me as it did for other people. The writing was lazy and there was no connection between the characters. Nothing was better done here than the book or even the animated one.Some will disagree with me but while Christopher Walken as King Louie was better than I thought, I still can’t get into Bill Murray as Baloo. Bill Murray is a very funny guy but I never saw a character in his performance, I just heard Bill Murray’s voice out of this bear and I found it quite distracting. Personally, I would’ve asked for a movie that had the Disney spirit but kept some of the brilliant themes and ideas from the book by Rudyard Kipling. I guess if I’ll give this 2016 version anything…….at least its not the 1994 Stephen Sommer’s version?” 2 1/2 stars

“Amazing! Where reality laves off and fantasy takes over is seamlessly executed and the movie transports you through an unforgettable journey. We watched this as established fans of Kipling, appreciating the tragedies of his life along with the magnificence of his writing; while the movie is an art form unto its own, it captures Kipling and wrings your heart as it unfolds. We watched it twice, the second time leaving no lesser impression. A film for all ages.” 5 stars

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Black Panther

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Superhero Films with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2018 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Centuries ago, five African tribes warred over a meteorite containing vibranium. A warrior ingested a “heart-shaped herb” that was affected by the metal and gained superhuman abilities. He became the first “Black Panther”, and united all tribes (except the Jabari Tribe who declined) to form the nation of Wakanda. Over time, the Wakandans used the vibranium to develop advanced technology and isolated themselves from the world by posing as a Third World country.

In 1992, King T’Chaka visits his undercover brother N’Jobu in Oakland, California. T’Chaka accuses N’Jobu of assisting black market arms dealer Ulysses Klaue with stealing vibranium from Wakanda. N’Jobu’s partner reveals himself to be Zuri, another undercover Wakandan, and confirms T’Chaka’s suspicions.

In the present day, following T’Chaka’s death at the hands of Helmut Zemo,[N 1] his son T’Challa returns to Wakanda to assume the throne. He and Okoye, the leader of the Dora Milaje regiment, extract his ex-lover Nakia from an undercover assignment so she can attend his coronation ceremony, along with his mother Ramonda and younger sister Shuri. At the ceremony, the Jabari Tribe’s leader M’Baku challenges T’Challa for the crown in ritual combat. T’Challa defeats M’Baku and convinces him to surrender rather than die.

Klaue and Erik Stevens steal a Wakandan artifact from a museum. T’Challa learns that Klaue plans to sell the artifact in an underground casino in Busan, South Korea. W’Kabi, T’Challa’s friend and Okoye’s lover, urges him to either kill Klaue or return with him. T’Challa, Okoye, and Nakia travel to the casino where T’Challa learns CIA agent Everett K. Ross is the intended buyer. A firefight breaks out, Klaue escapes, and Okoye, Nakia and Ross pursue. With Shuri’s help, T’Challa captures Klaue.

While Ross interrogates Klaue, Klaue reveals that Wakanda’s international image is just a front for a technologically advanced civilization. They are ambushed by Erik, who extracts Klaue; Ross is severely injured intercepting a bullet for Nakia. T’Challa notices Erik is wearing a ring identical to his own. T’Challa decides to take Ross to Wakanda, where their technology can save him, rather than pursue Klaue.

While Shuri heals Ross, T’Challa confronts Zuri about what happened to N’Jobu. Zuri explains that N’Jobu planned to share Wakanda’s technology with people of African descent around the world to help them conquer their oppressors. As T’Chaka arrested N’Jobu, N’Jobu attacked Zuri, forcing T’Chaka to kill him. They left behind N’Jobu’s son, Erik, as returning with him would complicate their lie that N’Jobu had disappeared. Erik would eventually grow into a U.S. black ops soldier, earning the name “Killmonger”.

Killmonger kills Klaue, then takes his body to Wakanda. He is brought before the tribal elders, revealing his identity and claim to the throne. He challenges T’Challa to ritual combat; after killing Zuri, he defeats T’Challa and hurls him over a waterfall. Nakia extracts one of the heart-shaped herbs before Killmonger orders the rest incinerated. Killmonger, supported by W’Kabi and his army, prepares to distribute shipments of Wakandan weapons to operatives around the world. Nakia, Shuri, Ramonda and Ross flee to the Jabari Tribe for aid, where they find a comatose T’Challa, rescued by the Jabari in repayment for sparing M’Baku’s life. Healed by Nakia’s herb, T’Challa requests aid from M’Baku, who declines.

T’Challa returns to fight Killmonger, who commands W’Kabi and his army to attack T’Challa. The Dora Milaje, joined by Shuri and Nakia, battle Killmonger, who dons his own Black Panther suit. Shuri instructs Ross to remotely pilot a jet to shoot down the planes carrying the vibranium weapons. M’Baku and the Jabari eventually arrive to assist T’Challa. When confronted by Okoye, W’Kabi and his army stand down. Fighting in Wakanda’s vibranium mine, T’Challa disrupts Killmonger’s suit and fatally stabs him. Fearing imprisonment, Killmonger declines an offer to be healed, instead choosing to die a free man.

T’Challa establishes an outreach center at the building where N’Jobu died to be run by Nakia and Shuri. In a mid-credits scene, T’Challa appears before the United Nations to reveal Wakanda’s true nature to the world. In a post-credits scene, Shuri continues to help Bucky Barnes with his recuperation.

REVIEW:

Perhaps the most anticipated film to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the past few years, Black Panther has finally arrived! Much like Iron Man, was when his first film was released, the Black Panther isn’t a household name when it comes to superheroes, but perhaps this will do something to change that. There is so much riding on this film. Will it live up to the hype? Will it show that an almost exclusive African-American cast can have success at the box office? Will there be a sequel? Most importantly, though, is this worth watching?

What is this about?

After the events of Captain America: Civil War, King T’Challa returns home to the reclusive, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to serve as his country’s new leader. However, T’Challa soon finds that he is challenged for the throne from factions within his own country. When two foes conspire to destroy Wakanda, the hero known as Black Panther must team up with C.I.A. agent Everett K. Ross and members of the Dora Milaje, Wakandan special forces, to prevent Wakanda from being dragged into a world war.

What did I like?

His time. Black Panther is the first African-American superhero to appear in comics. He is revered as one of the smartest beings alive, alongside Tony Stark and Reed Richards. In other media, he has been featured prominently as a member of the Avengers and was even given his own animated series, Marvel Knights: Black Panther. It seems like the only thing that was missing was for T’Challa to appear in the MCU, which he finally did in Captain America: Civil War. Since then, we have been patiently counting down the days until the release of this film to see more of Chadwick Boseman’s take on this important character. A friend posted a video on facebook over the weekend showing a couple of boys playing as Black Panther and Killmonger. The caption she put on it was something to the effect of “This! Not pretending to be hard gangstas!” That is all you need to know about how needed this film was.

Technology. Wakanda is known for mining vibranium. What isn’t known is how much vibranium is used in everything from their clothing, to medicine, to advancements far beyond the rest of the world. The best example of this happens fairly early on in the film as we see Black Panther and his companions go on a high speed car chase through a city in South Korea. One of the gadgets used allows Shuri, T’Challa’s genius little sister and tech guru, to drive the car from her lab in Wakanda. The use of this and all the other gadgets and gizmos we see in the film will just wow the audience! Q has nothing on these people!

Balance. A few film critic friends that I have were under the impression that this would be a very dark, serious film, akin to the Daniel Craig James Bond films. Having not reached those Bond films, yet, I have no basis for comparison. However, I can say that this is not as serious as you would think. There are jokes and moments of levity, serious moments that will make you think, and of course, kick-ass action. There is a perfect blend and balance amongst these differing tones, that it creates an interesting cacophony that is a welcome change from the norm.

Humanism. Of all the heroes in the MCU, I can’t think of one that we really have had the chance to get to know on a human level. I guess Captain America, given his origin in Captain America: The First Avenger, but other than the opening scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we haven’t had the chance to see him do much other than lead the Avengers and defeat evil. Spider-Man, perhaps, but I still feel like something is missing there. Ant-Man? Perhaps, but the thing that we don’t get from those three is a genuine sense of they are actual human beings. T’Challa, for all his royal riches, stoic demeanor, and enhanced abilities, still gets nervous around his ex-girlfriend. He bickers with his little sister, but also shows his love for her. The pain in eyes when he learns of a dark family secret was clearly there. These are things that make this character relatable and I applaud the director for giving us that extra little insight into this man.

What didn’t I like?

Hype. The hype for this film has been unprecedented. I’ve seen people show-up to screenings dressed like they were going to a formal African shindig. This causes me to wonder, where was this support for the other African-American superheroes that have had cinematic releases? Meteor Man? Blankman? Spawn? Steel? Or how about this little film that many say is responsible for kicking off the superhero craze, Blade? As I was telling my best friend the other day, people are treating Black Panther like cured cancer and freed the slaves! When this film was released Friday, I know there were a few high schools that took field trips to see it for Black History Month. Man, I wish I could have gone to see a superhero film when I was in high school for Black History Month! Don’t get me wrong, the hype is more than deserved, but isn’t it a bit much?

Politics. A couple of weeks ago, I read an article about how T’Challa is like Trump. W…T…F?!? As I was watching, I was careful to see if there were any similarities, which there weren’t. T’challa is kind,  respectful, cares about his people, and isn’t a petulant child. If anyone is like Trump, it would be Killmonger, at least in his beliefs and the way he insisted that he run things. Politics are laced all through this film and, in the world we live in it is needed, but don’t accuse the film of leaning one or the other when it does no such thing. Just enjoy badassery!

Step aside, ladies. Last I checked, this was supposed to be a movie about Black Panther. However, like almost everything else these days, the females take over. Nothing against Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, or the other ladies, but we finally get a Black Panther movie, can he have his moment in the spotlight before ya’ll take it away? The overuse of these women didn’t make T’Challa weak or anything of that nature, but rather at times he felt as if he were a secondary character in his own movie.

Copy-paste. Kilmonger has been praised as one of the best Marvel villains to date. Some even have compared him to Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight. Admittedly, Michael B. Jordan gives a great performance as the film’s antagonist. My issue doesn’t rest with him, but rather this cut and paste formula that Marvel seems to keep using. Iron Monger, Abomination, Yellow Jacket, all are reverse copies, to some extent, of their adversary. Kilmonger is the same, what with his gold jaguar suit. I don’t even know where that came from because Kilmonger in the comics has his own style; a style that is hinted at in the film with the African mask. They should have gone with that, but instead they ruined a perfectly good villain, by making him a close of the hero.

What is my final verdict on Black Panther? This is a film that people in the African-American community have been looking for. It shows a strong, educated black man with no ties to drugs, pimping, alcohol, or any of those things. There are no negative stereotypes in this picture, only positive images. Can those who aren’t African-American relate to this film? By all means, yes. There is something for everyone here. As I sat in the theater this afternoon, when I really should have been at work, I was awestruck by how well-crafted this film was. The script, the visuals, the attention to detail. It truly is a work of art with very few flaws. Do I recommend it? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Stop reading this and go see this again and again!!!

5 out of 5 stars

Non-Stop

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Thrillers/Mystery with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 14, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is an alcoholic U.S. Air Marshal; he enrolled in the Air Marshal Service after he was discharged from the New York City Police Department. On a Boeing 767 non-stop flight from New York to London aboard British Aqualantic Flight 10, midway over the Atlantic Ocean, Marks receives text messages on his secure phone stating that someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred into a specific bank account.

Breaking protocol, Marks consults with Jack Hammond, the other Air Marshal on the flight. Hammond is revealed to be smuggling cocaine in a briefcase. Marks confronts Hammond and the two get into an argument that results in an altercation. Marks ends up killing Hammond during the fight in a lavatory, justifying it as self-defense. This occurs exactly at the 20 minute mark, resulting in the first death. As Marks attempts to stall for time with the texter, he works with Nancy Hoffman (Michelle Dockery), a flight attendant, and Jen Summers (Julianne Moore), a passenger seated next to Marks, to discover the texter’s identity. When the next 20 minutes expires, the Captain (Linus Roache) suddenly dies, presumably of poisoning.

Back in the U.S., the media and the public becomes convinced that Marks is hijacking the plane, as the bank account is in his name and a passenger uploads video footage of Marks treating passengers aggressively and that video is broadcast on television. Co-pilot Kyle Rice (Jason Butler Harner) has been instructed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to ignore Marks and land in Iceland, the closest destination; he diverts the plane but continues to cautiously trust Marks. Cell phone programmer Zack White, a passenger on the plane, is asked by Marks to design a hack which will cause the texter’s cell phone to ring. It is discovered in the pocket of passenger Charles Wheeler, who claims to have never seen the phone before. After being physically subdued by Marks during the interrogation, Wheeler dies in a similar fashion to the Captain (with symptoms of poisoning.)

In the lavatory, Marks finds a hole in the wall that allowed someone to shoot a poison dart at the Captain; he finds that Wheeler was struck with a dart as well. While Marks and Summers try to gain access to the texter’s phone, it suddenly activates, sending automated messages to the TSA implying that Marks is suicidal and is going to detonate a bomb on the plane.

Marks finds the bomb hidden in the cocaine smuggled by Hammond. Passengers attempt to disable Marks, convinced he is a terrorist. They overpower Marks, but passenger Tom Bowen uses Marks’ gun to make them move away. Marks finally explains the situation, and they agree to work with him.

Unable to land the plane in time, he attempts to initiate a protocol of least damage: by descending the plane to 8,000 feet to equalize air pressure, placing the bomb in the rear of the plane, covering it with baggage and moving the passengers to the front to contain the explosion, and minimizing casualties. As the protocol goes into effect, a fighter jet escort joins the airliner and warns that if it descends into civilian airspace, it will be shot down.

Watching a video clip of himself handling passengers, Marks notices Bowen—whom he had initially cleared of any suspicion—slipping the texter’s phone into Wheeler’s pocket. Realizing that Bowen is the culprit, he learns that Bowen’s father was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and that he and White are ex-military. Appalled by the lack of security at U.S. airports after 9/11, Bowen believes framing an air marshal as a terrorist will lead to drastically increased security. Bowen is prepared to die with the plane and shoots White, who planned to parachute off with the money, after Marks persuaded White to disarm the bomb. As Bowen prepares to shoot Marks, Rice disregards orders from his fighter jet escort and descends, giving an advantage to Marks in the following fight where he kills Bowen with a head shot. Still alive from Bowen’s shot, White then attacks Marks but is also defeated. Immediately afterwards, Marks escapes from the blast radius of the bomb just in time, while White is killed by the detonation.

Rice manages an emergency landing at an air base in Iceland after the bomb explodes. The plane is damaged in the landing, but no one else dies. Marks is hailed as a hero in the media, and he and Summers begin a friendship

REVIEW:

Ever since 9/11, traveling by air has been…an experience, to say the least. I can’t attest to that first-hand since I have a deathly fear of heights and flying, but I can live vicariously through film, right? The fears and paranoia of the public are on full display in Non-Stop, but with Liam Neeson and his particular set of skills (the man is a Jedi and trained Batman for goodness sakes!!!), I’m sure this plane is safe and that this is an enjoyable action thriller…hopefully.

What is this about?

On a commercial flight at 40,000 feet, federal air marshal Bill Marks starts receiving text messages from a threatening blackmailer who claims he’s on the airplane too. Can Marks identify his camouflaged adversary before he begins killing passengers?

What did I like?

Technology. This is a day and age where technology is everything, specifically cell phones, so why not have a film that used them as a way of communication during a terrorist plot? I especially liked how we were able to see what was being said and the cracked screen of one of the phones. It was a nice little touch that I’m sure some overlooked, but I really appreciated.

Action, as promised. There was a time when Liam Neeson was a celebrated dramatic actor. Anyone remember those days? Well, nowadays, we all know him as an action star, and with good reason. I’ll give you that this film doesn’t have as much action as some of his other films, but when it gets going, it gets going! What else do you expect in a plane that has a bomb and random passengers dying every 20 minutes?

Diversity. Someone mentioned to me that this is perhaps the most realistic looking group of passengers seen on screen to date. This was told to me before I actually watched the film, so I was scratching my head wondering wtf?!? I see now what they were talking about, though. All races, creed, sex, nationality, size, and shape are on this plane and, aside from our stars, none of them look like they are movie stars, so kudos to the casting director for making this happen.

What didn’t I like?

Trust. Why is it we believe everything we see on tv? At one point in the film, Neeson’s character is accused of hijacking the plane, setting the bomb, etc., and the news feed it broadcast on the screens on the plane, which causes the passengers to turn on him and/or fear him. What is the cause behind all this? Two things. First, the actual culprit has had money transferred to Neeson’s account and second, some guy on the plane has been recording him “abusing” people on the plane and has been uploading it the whole time, giving the news “evidence”. I guess we, as a society, really are the gullible to be swayed so easily.

Lupita. Academy-Award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o appears as a flight attendant. That really is all she does, appear. I think she speaks a couple of non-important lines here and there, but the rest of the time, she may as well have been a glorified extra. I have two school of thought on this. First is, more than likely, this was filmed before she won her Oscar for 12 Years a Slave, so she was still a nobody. In which case, her role suits her. On the other hand, I believe this was filmed and released afterwards, so there really is no reason she couldn’t have been given a bigger role, or at the very least had a few more lines inserted in.

Protocol. I will never understand how military protocol dictates that a plane, which has a bomb that could kill 150 or so innocent people, has to stay in the air, rather than landing so that bomb experts can disarm it and the people can be safe. Is there something I’m missing here? True, 150 lives are nothing compared to billions, but loss of life is still loss of life, especially if it can be prevented!

Was Non-Stop as non-stop as the title indicated? The opening 30 minutes or so were a bit on the slow side, which is to be expected from this type of picture, but from there on, it steadily picked up the pace. My issues with this film are actually miniscule, but that doesn’t mean it is a perfect flick. Some have said that it is cartoonish, but I didn’t get that vibe and actually found it to be smart, fun, and entertaining. Do I recommend it? Yes, I do, very highly in fact. Check it out, when you get the chance!

4 1/3 out of 5 stars

12 Years a Slave

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1841, Solomon Northup is a free African-American man working as a violinist, who lives with his wife, Anne Hampton, and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York. Two men, Brown and Hamilton, offer him a two-week job as a musician if he will travel to Washington, D.C., with them. Once there, they drug Northup and deliver him to a slave pen owned by James Burch.

Northup is shipped to New Orleans along with others who have been captured. A slave trader named Freeman gives Northup the identity of “Platt”, a runaway slave from Georgia and sells him to plantation owner William Ford. Northup impresses Ford when he engineers a waterway for transporting logs swiftly and cost-effectively across a swamp, and Ford presents him with a violin in gratitude into which he carves the names of his wife and children.

Ford’s carpenter John Tibeats resents Northup and the tensions between them escalate. Tibeats attacks Northup, who defends himself. In retaliation, Tibeats and his friends attempt to lynch Northup, but they are prevented by Ford’s overseer, Chapin, though Northup is left in the noose standing on tiptoe for many hours. Ford finally cuts Northup down, but chooses to sell him to planter Edwin Epps to protect him from Tibeats. Northup attempts to explain that he is actually a free man, but Ford states that he “cannot hear this” and responds “he has a debt to pay” on Northup’s purchase price.

In contrast to the relatively benevolent Ford, Epps is a sadistic man who believes his right to abuse his slaves is biblically sanctioned. The slaves are beaten if they fail to pick at least 200 pounds (91 kg) of cotton every day. A young female slave named Patsey picks over 500 pounds (230 kg) daily, and is praised lavishly by Epps. Epps is attracted to Patsey and repeatedly rapes her, causing Epps’ wife to become jealous and frequently humiliate and degrade Patsey. Patsey’s only comfort is visiting Mistress Shaw, a former slave whose owner fell in love with her and elevated her to Mistress. Patsey wishes to die and begs Northup to kill her but he refuses.

Some time later, an outbreak of cotton worm befalls Epps’ plantation. Unable to work his fields, he leases his slaves to a neighboring plantation for the season. While there, Northup gains the favor of the plantation’s owner, Jurge Turner, who allows him to play the fiddle at a neighbor’s wedding anniversary celebration, and to keep his earnings. When Northup returns to Epps, he attempts to use the money to pay a white field hand and former overseer, Armsby, to mail a letter to Northup’s friends in New York state. Armsby agrees to deliver the letter, and accepts all Northup’s saved money, but betrays him to Epps. Northup is narrowly able to convince Epps that Armsby is lying and avoids punishment. Northup tearfully burns the letter, his only hope of freedom.

Northup begins working on the construction of a gazebo with a Canadian laborer named Bass. Bass is unsettled by the brutal way that Epps treats his slaves and expresses his opposition to slavery, earning Epps’ enmity. One day, Epps becomes enraged after discovering Patsey missing from the plantation. When she returns, she reveals she was gone to get a bar of soap from Mistress Shaw, as a result of being forbidden soap by Mary Epps. Epps does not believe her and orders her flogged. Encouraged by his wife, Epps forces Northup to flog Patsey to avoid doing it himself. Northup reluctantly obeys, but Epps eventually takes the whip away from Northup, savagely lashing Patsey.

Northup purposely destroys his violin, and while continuing to work on the gazebo, Northup confides his kidnapping to Bass. Once again, Northup asks for help in getting a letter to Saratoga Springs. Bass, risking his life, agrees to send it.

One day, Northup is called over by the local sheriff, who arrives in a carriage with another man. The sheriff asks Northup a series of questions to confirm his answers match the facts of his life in New York. Northup recognizes the sheriff’s companion as C. Parker, a shopkeeper he knew in Saratoga. Parker has come to free him, and the two embrace, though an enraged Epps furiously protests the circumstances and tries to prevent him from leaving. Before Northup can board the coach to leave, Patsey cries out to him, and they embrace in a bittersweet farewell. Knowing that they are in potential danger, at the urging of Parker and the sheriff Northup finishes his tearful goodbye with Patsey and immediately leaves the plantation.

After being enslaved for twelve years, Northup is restored to freedom and returned to his family. As he walks into his home, he sees Anne, Alonzo, Margaret and her husband, who present him with his grandson and namesake, Solomon Northup Staunton. Concluding credits recount the inability of Northup and his legal counsel to prosecute Brown, Hamilton and Burch, as well as the publishing of Northup’s 1853 slave narrative memoir Twelve Years a Slave and the mystery surrounding details of his death and burial.

REVIEW:

Many countries have had slavery in their history, but I swear the U.S. has to have had treated their slaves, not to mention anyone who didn’t agree with their way of thinking, the worst. 12 Years a Slave is another in a long line of films about the wrongs of slavery. This one was a critics’ darling, racking up the awards and forever etching itself in the history books, but how good is it, really?

What is this about?

Based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender), as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) will forever alter his life.

What did I like?

Tragedy. It is never comfortable talking about how inhumane people have been treated throughout history, whether it be the Native Americans losing their land, the Jews being oppressed by the Nazis, or slavery. Now, to make this a more dramatic story, our protagonist needed to be a free man, a successful one by the looks of it, with a wife and kids. He is led to believe that his violin prowess may allow him to earn a couple of extra bucks in Washington, D.C., but it turns out that he has been kidnapped and will become a slave, a practice that was commonplace, sadly. What is the most tragic about this? As it turns out, this is based on a true story!

New stars. One of the reasons we haven’t got that Black Panther movie yet is that there just aren’t enough African-American actors that can bring in audiences and, let’s face it, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, Idris Elba, and to a lesser extent, Djimon Hounsou, aren’t going to be around forever. With 42 and this summer’s Get On Up, we have a new star in Chadwick Bozeman, but I think his talent may be eclipsed by the stars of this film, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o. I always say that films of yesteryear have actors that actually act, while today they just read the lines and collect a paycheck. Well, these two are a throwback, as they put everything have into these roles, and boy was it worth it!

Better than the Americans. As someone who live down here in Louisiana, I’m more than a little qualified to comment on the authenticity of these accents. Something that I noticed in the film is that the actors from other countries, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, as well as Brd Pitt (mainly because he’s been in a ton of movies based in and around New Orleans, most notably Interview with the Vampire and The Curious Life of Benjamin Button), all have better southern accents than the Americans (Fassbender does let his Irish slip out now and then). I just find this amusing.

Sing a song. Watch any documentary about slavery, the south, the Civil War, etc., and you’ll hear Negro spirituals. This makes it a no-brainer that with all the scenes of slaves working out in the field, there needs to be some singing. It is a small thing, but sometimes those little things can make the biggest difference, especially when it comes to historical accuracy.

What didn’t I like?

Balance. I am not sure how much different there is between the film and the book, but I would hope that there is a better balance. As it stands, the film spends more time with the “bad guys” than with those that have a more understanding nature. In other words, more of Cumberbatch’s character and/or the Judge person the slaves were shipped off to, would have been nice, rather than a constant barrage of Fassbender and his wife.

N. The ‘N’ word is perhaps the worst term in the English language. Some have said that it is better to listen to a string of obscenities and gutter talk than to hear one utterance of the ‘n’ word, and I cannot argue with that, to be honest. Here we have a slight controversy. With this film, the ‘N’ word is used for historical purposes, but that is the same reason Quentin Tarrantino gave for his constant use of the word in Django Unchained. What is the difference? I couldn’t really find one, other than the different in the directors’ skin color. I think this film makes better use of the word, however, but still takes it a bit too far. I don’t want to get up on a soapbox about this today, but it should be said that the ‘n’ word doesn’t need to be used everytime a film set in the time of slaves is released. If that’s the case, then we’ll get an R-rated Huckleberry Finn when someone finally decides to make another movie about him, and who wants that, really…especially if the rating is based on language!!!

Token white guy. Mr. All-American himself, Brad Pitt, makes an appearance near the film’s end and “saves the day”. Now, there are two ways to look at his appearance. Before I get into that, though, let it be known that Pitt does his usual job of turning in a fine performance. However, why did Pitt have to play that role? Couldn’t it have been some schlub from the street? Second, apologies if this is in the book, but couldn’t someone else have taken the letter? Perhaps a slave from the Underground Railroad? Period withstanding, it just seems as if they were looking for a white guy to “save the day”. Again, I haven’t read the book, so this point may be moot and I could be way off-base. If so, then I accept that.

Very rarely do I agree with the critics, let alone the Academy, but 12 Years a Slave is one of those films that deserves all the accolades that have been lauded on it and then some. Now, I warn you this is a powerful film that you’re more than likely not going to want to just pop in and watch everyday, but it is a film that needs to be seen. Chances are, students will be watching parts of this in history classes in a few years, much the same way they’ve watched Roots and North and South. Do I recommend this? Yes, very highly. It is definitely one of those films that everyone needs to see before they die!

5 out of 5 stars