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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Relevant and Remarkable
It was so refreshing to watch a film recently that was fuelled by clear, precise direction by British talent in the likes of Steve McQueen, carried along with a superb ensemble cast and driven by nothing but a hard-hitting and powerful human story. No expansive CGI; no bombastic soundtrack; no plot trying to be too clever; no invincible characters; no controversial and...
Published 25 days ago by Mr. C. Gelderd

versus
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK - like many slave stories
OK - like many slave stories, I actually preferred Roots, although this I similar. The book, I found was more gripping.
Published 1 month ago by Chas


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Relevant and Remarkable, 7 Aug 2014
By 
Mr. C. Gelderd "aka GelNerd" (Basingstoke, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
It was so refreshing to watch a film recently that was fuelled by clear, precise direction by British talent in the likes of Steve McQueen, carried along with a superb ensemble cast and driven by nothing but a hard-hitting and powerful human story. No expansive CGI; no bombastic soundtrack; no plot trying to be too clever; no invincible characters; no controversial and ego-inflated leading stars…it was a film stripped back from everything that makes millions (even billions) at the box-office at the sacrifice of something worthy and a film that remains more memorable and all the more relevant for it.

You know that films marketed and bolstered by such a sensitive subject, like ’12 Years A Slave’ dealing with slavery, will either be a very mis-guided affair or something major for audiences that will linger with those who see it for a long time. Thankfully this is the latter. Much like the most horrifying factual stories in history, these prove to be…what’s the word...not “entertaining”, but gripping and something you can’t help but watch, and re-watch, and immerse yourself in. ‘Schindler’s List’, ‘Ghandi’, ‘The Pianist’ and ‘Hotel Rwanda’ spring to mind about films taken from pockets of our world’s history of war, genocide, revolution and religion. But none have dealt with slavery such as ’12 Years A Slave’ and without preaching to audiences about the ‘sins of their country’ decades ago, this is simply a film that highlights what director McQueen feels strongly about for a subject that, horrifyingly, still is active in parts of the world today. It’s a timeless film that reminds you about just how cruel the world can be, and still is, to our fellow man.

The film looks remarkable, with long lingering shots on the natural surroundings of New Orleans, contrasing the beauty that the characters reside in to the nightmare that surrounds them, regardless if they are on a peaceful waterfront, a dreamy field of cotton or simply in their quarters. The despair is always evident and you can’t ever relax for a moment because you never know when the next hard-hitting moment will come, as nor do the slavers. Lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup perfectly; he shows a human torn from an established life to live his future as a slave and he never lets the fire of determination be fully extinguished. He is gripping in his portrayal and embodies all the emotion we could only dream was felt in that era; hope, anger, sadness, dangerous joy and compassion. He doesn’t over-play the role either, and at times when he says little and conveys his thoughts by physical and visual representation, this often comes over more powerful, complimenting his acting ability.

The supporting cast are also superb – from Cumberbatch’s firm but fair plantation owner to the hypnotic debut of Nyong’o as a slave. Not all the characters need that moment to “shine” and be the most important factor in the story, some appear and go just as quick, but they all play a crucial part in Northup’s journey and mould him and his view on the world he lives in. And we can all identify with them at one point or another, and they are a credit to the film and are a joy to watch and feel for. Even Brad Pitt’s brief spell as a plantation hand is important, if a little out of the blue! Special mention to Michael Fassbender for his sinister turn as Edwin Epps; the embodiment of the racist, power-driven evil that fuelled slavery in the 1800s. Motives may change over time but Fassbender plays a character who could exist just down the road from us today; conflicted by his morals and blinded by the expectations put upon him and that lust for dominating those below him. It’s an explosive performance without ever veering into coming across as over-acting or hammy.

The cinematography is beautiful when we see the countryside and small cities with bubbling blue rivers, golden fields and nature that looks like it has been oil-painted on the screen, dwarfing the characters in its magnificence. But the skill of cinematographer Sean Bobbitt also makes scenes uncomfortable to watch, and a shot can linger on a static frame for a few seconds longer than you’d care to see, but the sheer power of what we are watching refuses to let you turn away and these moments make you question everything about yourself; your compassion, your humanity and your fears. Every shot is important and meaningful, whether it is backed up by spoken word or music, and every emotion is effortlessly translated onto screen.

I should now refrain from talking further because I can’t praise this film enough as both historical document and modern day reminder of slavery. It reminds me how much the world has changed in the developing years but also in ways that it hasn’t. I didn’t know whether to feel joy or sadness as the credits rolled, but the tears in my eyes made me think that was a good thing – why should I feel either emotion when this is a subject still relevant today. I was simply taken aback by the real power of cinema and strong story-telling from a cast and crew who obviously knew what they wanted to convey over the 2hrs that didn’t drag at all. A wonderful film, and one I hope you all manage to watch.

It’s not a film that I know will “change the world” and of course some people’s own opinions, but it will just open your eyes that little more and see beyond summer blockbusters and popcorn entertainment and acknowledge a real super-hero on screen; the human that we all are.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Slavery, 26 May 2014
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This review is from: 12 Years a Slave [DVD] [2013] (DVD)
A wonderful film showing the horror of slavery and one man's determination to not be beaten into submission. A gritty and sometimes horrifying film.
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66 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Come and see, 14 Jan 2014
This review is from: 12 Years a Slave [DVD] [2013] (DVD)
I want to put into words how this film affected me, but, appropriately enough, there aren't the words there. Steve McQueen's adaptation of Solomon Northup's memoir is a film in which words are precious and very carefully chosen - whether shouted or sung or uttered in whispers out of earshot of the savage ruling class.

Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free man tricked into slavery. The story charts his ordeal - and those of countless others - under the tortuous watchfulness of a series of plantation owners, cruellest of whom is Edwin Epps (McQueen regular Michael Fassbender). It is a film whose relentless scenes of abuse are punctuated by levity of only the most desperate and solemn kind, and which is determinedly unbothered by the comforts of sentimentality.

Ejiofor captures the agony at the heart of Northup, from the initial indignity of his situation, through physical torture endured, observed and committed, to the brutal annihilation of his character through supremacist re-education. In place of the stock conclusions drawn by Hollywood, John Ridley's script has other ideas: rather than rousing speeches there are bursts of quickly-suppressed anger; instead of soaring emotion, upon release Northup remains bound in the shackles of guilt left upon him by the guilty.

As with his previous films (Hunger and Shame), McQueen embeds meaning in the frame. These aren't pretty images for the sake of it. The burning of a letter represents the dwindling of hope - and yet how long it seems to take to dwindle, and we linger until every sliver of fire is spent, staring ever harder for the remaining light in the darkness. Northup is staring also, unblinking, into the abyss of humanity around him, holding out for some such glimmer.

In terms of characterisation (do we call them characters if these monsters truly existed?), Ridley and McQueen's greatest decision is to give as much depth to the masters as their slaves. Epps is a vile creature, but we are dared to empathise with him as he impotently hands the whip to Northup, under the emasculating gaze of his jealous wife (Sarah Paulson). The object of Epps' violently ambivalent affections is Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) an angel in a world where the beautiful and the talented are particularly prized for self-sanctified hatred.

So it seems I have found the words to describe a little of my experience of watching this remarkable film. It's a reminder that cinema is not solely a reserve of entertainment, and that the atrocities of humankind sometimes need to be shown to us - nakedly, harrowingly, unforgettably.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 150 years ago; slavery-, 25 May 2014
This review is from: 12 Years a Slave [DVD] [2013] (DVD)
What surprised me most about this film is that it is almost a quiet story; nearly intimate.
When Solomon sees his wife after 12 years, he doesn't spout hatred at his misfortune, he apologizes. The film doesn't shout protestations or insults at white en-slavers, it is an endearing and harrowing tale of a dignified man.
This doesn't mean there aren't moments that make one flinch and feel the immense emotion for millions of people who were victims of a vile and horrific business, but it is whispered through the glimpses of the sun-drenched porches- it is sung with the voices of the surrendered and the strings of Solomons' violin.

The film is mostly told from Solomon Northups' perspective, though Steve McQueen often uses his camera eye as omniscient narrator as well.
The cinematography is poetic, sublime and at times magnificently beautiful, even through the terror. There is a scene when our protagonist is nearly hung by neighboring slavers, in a few takes which seemed like an eternity; we marvel and are disgusted by its base, lack of humanity, all the while fellow slaves go about their daily lives in a beautiful summer setting in the Deep South,the crickets humming to the heat,ignoring the injured- nearly hung body of Solomon. This scene struck a raw chord, as it truly encapsulated a perfect depiction of what slavery was; the life of a slave was worthless to most.

McQueen used music motifs effectively, employing sour tones during its darkest moments, which added to the well-crafted artistry of this film.
The characterizations of all the players were superb; Ejiofor, believable and heartfelt in every scene.
My only complaint would be the passing of 12 years.The audience couldn't grasp the passing of all that time; to me,it is vitally important to make the toll and weight of all those years as part of the narrative, as it shaped Solomons' experience.
However this is an historical tale,wonderfully told and not to be missed.
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51 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary., 12 Jan 2014
No movie that I have ever watched has depicted slavery so unflinchingly and earnestly. The fact that this film was based on a true story also adds something to its gravitas. I felt exhausted by the end of my viewing and there has been talk of people walking out of cinemas due to the raw intensity and the unflinching way in which the subject matter is tackled. But I say endure and you will be rewarded with the extraordinary true story of an American hero and a story that is long overdue in American cinema. There was debate about whether or not this was an important movie in the that country's cinema canon but for my money, considering that there seems to have been something preventing Hollywood and equally the country it belongs to addressing honestly the darkest chapter of their history, make no mistake, this is as important as movies get.

Brave, bold, committed filmmaking of the highest order.

Steve McQueen...I salute you.
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73 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In the land of the free, 12 Jan 2014
By 
Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: 12 Years a Slave [DVD] [2013] (DVD)
Solomon Northup, the son of a former slave, was a free man living in upstate New York when he was tricked, kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. He spent twelve years working for a series of masters in the sugar and cotton plantations of the swampy Louisiana bayou country until regaining his freedom against the odds. This film is based on the account of his experiences, written in conjunction with a white lawyer called David Wilson, and authenticated, including in part by the drunken and sadistic Mr Epps, his final master.

With his artist's eye , McQueen brings out the beauty of the natural landscape, red sunrise over the river, hanging branches draped in Spanish moss, or the rhythmic power of the paddle-steamer, carving furrows through the sparkling water as it transports the captives to their harsh destiny. This film renounces any sentimentality, ramming home the fact that slaves were regarded as property so could be treated without any consideration or mercy. The only reason for keeping them alive was because an owner had paid good money for them, and they could earn more for him through their labour. We see how Mr Epps could terrorise a female slave with whom he had become sexually obsessed, whilst his wife tormented the poor woman at the same time out of jealousy.

Everyone will learn something different from this drama. In my case, it was the extent to which slaves were punished for being literate, since this was seen as giving access to knowledge and revolt. Ironically, slaves were then despised for the ignorance in which they were held. Also, when their stories were written with the help of a white people, it was claimed that hardships had been exaggerated by abolitionists to strengthen their case.

The violent beatings are hard to witness. It's debatable whether these scenes are too long, the rationale being that this brings home the intolerable brutality endured. One striking moment is when the hero has to burn, out of fear of discovery, a letter which he has taken great pains to produce, in perhaps his last chance to get help. Another is when, having resolutely refused to sing the haunting spirituals, the only emotional outlet for slaves, Northup at last gives in, belting the song out lustily in his anger.

Chitwetel Ejiofor deserves all the praise that has been heaped on him, with his expressive face conveying in turn disbelief, fear, anger, despair, hope and even loss at the point of his release when he has to leave behind to suffer alone someone for whom he has come to care.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Contradictions In This Response. Trying to Be Honest., 17 Aug 2014
This review is from: 12 Years a Slave [DVD] [2013] (DVD)
I was mightily impressed with very many elements of this film. Very, very difficult to watch at times, understandably so of course, its only problem is length (beyond coping with the harrowingly violent subject matter). Of course, 2 hours or so of entertainment is nothing like 12 years of torture, but that's one of the contradictions of cinema. The performance of Ejiofor is absolutely brilliant; there is no doubt about that. He is a brilliant actor on this showing and now deserves to be (if he wants to be) picked up and given any number of 'colourless' roles if he so desires as any white actor would get. I suppose that's up to him and his agent or political commitment. He has all the qualities of 'film star' and it will sit very badly on the industry if he is ignored or marginalised. He should (or could) be doing Hamlet for instance. The direction, camera-work - almost everything else - is flawless. However, I wouldn't rush to watch it again as it is too long, too painful and, awful though it is to say it, too much of a message picture, however much the message needs to be heard. I learnt a lot which I will never forget, or want to, but as cinema, and this is just personal, would almost seem wrong to 'enjoy' again.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FIFTY SHADES OF LILY WHITE,, 15 Mar 2014
By 
The Movie Guy "Movies from A to Z" (United States) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Solomon Northrup ( Chiwetel Ejiofor) a free black man living in Saratoga, NY is conned into coming to Washington DC where he is taken captive and forced into slavery as part of a slave ring. The film, based on the book, shows the humiliating life Solomon had to endure as "nothing but prized life stock." In spite of his skills and education he could not secure himself a position away from hard labor.

The film depicts graphic beatings, plantation owners infidelity with the slaves, and or course white racist slave owners in a bad light. In a minor role, Paul Giamatti plays a slave trader and Brad Pitt a Canadian abolitionist living in the south.

There is some singing in the film, the roots of spiritual gospel and the blues. It is clear that singing was done to maintain sanity and purpose in a hopeless situation.

The acting was superb. The film is emotional. The only fault is that the title gives away the whole plot and ending which unfortunately was slightly anti-climatic ...funny how real life sometimes does that.

Well worth seeing.

Parental Guide: No F-bombs. Sex and nudity.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 12 Years a Slave, 22 Jan 2014
This review is from: 12 Years a Slave [DVD] [2013] (DVD)
I didnt think this film would be for me. Its not really my thing. However I thought it was brilliant.

In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Solomon faces cruelty, humiliation and sadness but also, kindness in his 12 years struggle that changed his life. This is based on a true story of Solomon Northup which was first published in 1853.

The acting throughout is brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor did an amazing job portraying Solomon Northup as did Michael Fassbender who portrayed slave owner Edwin Epps. The film also stars Brad Pitt who portrays Bass, Paul Giamatti who portrays Freeman as well as Benedict Cumberbatch who portrays Ford, but all the cast did a brilliant job.

Like I said, I didnt think I would like this film but the film is great and very powerful.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deserves its awards, 13 Aug 2014
This review is from: 12 Years a Slave (DVD)
This film deserves all the Oscars and other awards it got. Its mission is to convey clearly the reality of slavery in the US of A in the early 19th century, and it does that brilliantly. Great acting from Chiewetel Ojieofor (hope I've spelt his name right) as the principal character, and from everybody else in the cast. But in my book, the real "star" of the film is Steve McQueen's direction. It's the first of his films I've seen. He re-creates the "look and feel" of what it must have been like to be in the Southern States at the time of the action - dialogue, scenery, and the interplay of the characters. Not all the white overseers are "baddies", nor all the black characters "goodies". One thing I found very impressive is McQueen's use of long takes and "no-action" scenes. For example, there's one sequence where all we see for about five minutes is the anguished face of Ojiefor's character, up on one side of the screen - no dialogue, no other movement - just expresssions. But by golly, there sure is a lot of story going on. It's in the tradition of Kurosawa, Jancso and Bergman.
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12 Years a Slave [DVD] [2013]
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