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Out in Theaters: ‘TRIPLE 9’

There’s so many tattered sleeves of other (greater) crime films sifting in and out of John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 that the final product plays a bit like a voodoo pincushion of greatest hits moments. There’s buttons of Heat, The Departed, American Gangster and many other crime classics, with characters seemingly beamed in from Bad Lieutenant, Sicario and End of Watch, all come to rumble in Hillcoat’s dirty little Atlanta playground. That this stable of influences is mostly able to coalesce into a largely exciting, ceaselessly dark and somewhat intelligible thriller is admirable, even if it sometimes finds itself a touch off the rails. Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘THE MARTIAN’

Ridley Scott’s most mainstream-minded movie in years, The Martian is 80 percent more Apollo 13 than it is Duncan Jones’ similarly themed (but wholly superior) Moon. Like Moon, The Martian involves a Starman (David Bowie’s space anthem of the same name is used tremendously in Scott’s film) contending with crippling solitude and psychological tremors when he’s left for dead on Mars. Unlike Moon, the narrative is a straight-forward locomotive, employing the mantra “I think I can” to such a degree that you can be almost one hundred percent confident that everything is going to work out in the end. Read More

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Out in Theaters: Z FOR ZACHARIAH

*This is a reprint of our 2015 Sundance review

There are so many pivot points in Z for Zachariah that it becomes hard to nail down exactly what director Craig Zobel intended for it. At one point, it seems decidedly about gender politics, at another about race relations, and eventually it boiled down to themes of suspicion, greed and jealousy. Spliced with a domineering amount of ambiguity. All this from a cast of three. To call it thematically rich may be overly generous – maybe thematically crowded would hit the nail on the head more – but nonetheless, it strives for something thoughtful and great, even when it comes up just short. Read More

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Sundance Review: Z FOR ZACHARIAH

There are so many pivot points in Z for Zachariah that it becomes hard to nail down exactly what director Craig Zobel intended for it. At one point, it seems decidedly about gender politics, at another about race relations, and eventually it boiled down to themes of suspicion, greed and jealousy. Spliced with a domineering amount of ambiguity. All this from a cast of three. To call it thematically rich may be overly generous – maybe thematically crowded would hit the nail on the head more – but nonetheless, it strives for something thoughtful and great, even when it comes up just short. Read More

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Talking With Chiwetel Ejiofor of HALF OF A YELLOW SUN

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The name Chiwetel Ejiofor might still be hard to pronounce for some but it’s one that’s been hot on the lips of anyone who filled out an Oscar ballot last year. The star of 12 Years A Slave was, for most of the season, considered a front runner for the top spot but was shoed out in the last moment by Matthew McConaughey and his late rising star. But unlike some, Chiwetel Ejiofor hasn’t let his Oscar nomination get to his head. In fact, his first project proceeding the thunder that was 12 Years A Slave is something even smaller and more personal: a tragic tale of a love affair caught in the midst of the Biafran Civil War. While the film (brief review here) stuttered here and there, Ejiofor continued to prove why he will forever have “Oscar Nominated” accompany his name in trailers.

 

His signature quivering lip and beady tears give emotional honesty to each scene he steps into so even when Half of a Yellow Sun isn’t reaching for the stars, his performance is. I had a chance to chat with Mr. Ejiofor at the premiere of Half of a Yellow Sun here in Seattle at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival and we spoke about how his Oscar nomination has altered his career, why he choose to be involved in Half of a Yellow Sun and if Bond 24 might be in his cards. Read on to find out more.

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First of all, obviously you’ve had a huge couple of years with the success of 12 Years a Slave and being an Oscar frontrunner for such a long time, how has this just throttled your career and what kind of changes are you experiencing? Further, what’s that been like for you?

Chiwetel Ejifor: Well it was a film that we were deeply proud of so it was exciting to get it out there and have the film received in the spirit it was made and people really care about it and care about these people. I suppose in a way, going forward, you want to continue to do work that you’re as passionate about and as engaged with and that’s been an amazing part of it. I’ve always been very fortunate in my career to have opportunities in my working life so in a sense that’s a continuation of that so it hasn’t been a completely different universe in terms of being an actor. But definitely it was extraordinary to go on a journey like that with a film like that.

Then doing something smaller like this, after a role that presumably gave you a lot of options, must have meant that it was something that you were very passionate about and had a lot of faith in. Can you speak about what really drew you to this role and this film (Half of a Yellow Sun) in particular?

CE: Well this film is amazing and such an important part in my own personal history and my family history: the Biafran Civil War. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote a beautiful, beautiful novel about it called Half of a Yellow Sun and so I’d spoken to Biyi Bandele who had adapted the book and directed the book for years. I’d known Biyi about 20 years and we always talked about making a film in Nigeria and making a kind of big-ish film in Nigeria. Maybe attempt something that had never really been done before on that scale. So this perfect confluence of events happened with him adapting the book and me knowing about the story so much and falling in love with the book – my mother actually introduced me to the book many years ago – and I spoke to my grandfather at length before he died about the Biafran Civil War – so it was all a very personal history and journey for me. We were very thankful that we were able to get out to Nigeria and make this film.

There’s been rumors and talks about you potentially starring in a big franchise like Bond 24. Obviously I’m not asking you to confirm or deny that because I’m sure you’re hogtied into never saying anything about that but how would doing a big franchise like that, be it Bond or something else, be a necessary and yet organic step forward in your career?

CE: Well I don’t know if, in a way, there’s any such thing. You’re kind of just drawn to parts and drawn to stories and characters, directors, you know. I don’t think it’s really necessary to do any one specific thing. I think it’s just necessary to do things that you’re passionate about and care about. I’m as much a film fan as an actor so there are loads of things that I get excited about.

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Out in Theaters: 12 YEARS A SLAVE

“12 Years a Slave”
Directed by Steve McQueen
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Quvenzhane Wallis, Sarah Paulson
Biography, Drama, History
132 Mins
R

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12 Years a Slave opens somewhere around a decade into Solomon Northup’s enslavement. He’s mushing blackberries to a paste, attempting to write a letter home using a whittled mulberry stick. Scribbling like a fugitive to the crackle of candlelight, this is the first time he’s put pen to paper in years, and must do so under the cover of night. For all the horrors he’s suffered and witnessed, the most impossible task is keeping his true identity, and intelligence, under wraps. For a learned slave is a troubling slave and a troubling slave is a marked man – a truth he’s seen manifested many times before.

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More than a decade gone for something as simple as not being allowed to produce his “free papers,” Solomon’s journey draws empathy from the audience like water from a well. More than just a story of the horrors of slavery, this is the story of a man who knew a better life – he abided the law, owned a house, had a family, and was a respected part of his Saratoga, New York community – and yet, down in the bowels of the hellish South, was stripped of his humanity like tattered clothes from his back.

Director Steve McQueen is a particular type of dark visionary. Employing patience and human degradation as a litmus test of how much we can emotionally bear, McQueen peels back all the curtains of our collective American history, revealing the inky black turmoil stirring in the human soul. But torture is no new game for McQueen.

In his first film, Hunger, McQueen explored a prison-bound hunger strike but his craft was not yet refined, too raw, cold, and indulgent to raise the welt he was hoping for. In Shame, he arm wrestled sex addiction out of romanticized glamor and into a pit of emptiness and human despair. Although fantastic acting and gruesome body horror prevailed, it continued the same dour tendencies that make his films so hard to sit through. In his third go around, he’s perfected his art, making a film that’s both impossible to watch and impossible to look away from.

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However difficult 12 Years a Slave may be to watch, it’s absolutely necessary watching. It’s long been positioned that it’s our American duty to process, or at least understand, slavery. As a means to sift the political hand of slavery from those participating in it, McQueen demands you to think long and hard about what you would do in a similar situation. Even the good men in this film, such as Benedict Cumberbatch‘s Ford are stained by the cultural pollution manifest in slavery. It may just be impossible to be a moral man in a land drained of morality, McQueen’s film says.

As Solomon adopts his new name and role as Platt, he holds onto hope – however tucked away in a dark corner it must remain; hope that someday he’ll be reunited with his family, hope that one day he’ll meet a white man who wants more for his than a closed mouth and fast working hands, hope for freedom. In a Kafkaesque metamorphosis, Solomon becomes Platt, his days transformed from living to surviving.

Despite the barbarity of Solomon’s unlawful enslavement, the mentality intact in the age is a scourge most difficult to stomach. Packaged in caravans like sardines, sold stripped nude, and man handled at every turn, there is little to distinguish slaves from live stock.

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Chiwetel Ejiofor
leads a sensational cast that brings Solomon’s true story to the screen with deadly seriousness. As our guardian through this hellish descent, Ejiofor is stunning from start to finish. His decision to play Solomon as a stone gradually pared by the tide of slavery rather than a thistle bending at the first breeze will cement an Oscar nomination. His final heart-rending scene will secure the win. Michael Fassbender is similarly committed to his role as devilish plantation fiend Edwin Epps. Despite his character’s despicable traits, he’s an equally complex man, torn by his own sinful passion for Lupita Nyong’o‘s Patsey. Expect Oscar nominations, if not wins, all around.

Wowing cinematography from Sean Bobbitt (Shame, The Place Beyond the Pines) is haunting yet beautiful. Gorgeous waterfront properties impose their menacing statue – demonic in their association with America’s great shame. Captured under Bobbitt’s lens, the land itself takes on a stifling quality. No matter how scenic the willows peppering the plantation are, they always seem to weep – graves of the crushed souls haunting the confederate flag-totting South. 

12 Years a Slave will make you want to run the retributive justice of Django Unchained but the sad truth is, this is more fact than fiction. Even when freed, American blacks were paid the respect of subhumans. You want Solomon to strap dynamite to his prison, to rip it down to the studs and burn it but you know that it’s not that type of movie. No, it’s too gravely serious for that, for this is an epitaph to American slaves, penned centuries late.

A+

Playing locally at the Regal Meridian 16 and Guild 45th Landmark Theater

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