Jason Lew presents a bleak world of second chances and doomed romance in impact drama The Free World. Lew’s feature gives a Bonnie and Clyde twist to the “Romeo and Juliet” story and those willing to overlook some obvious symbolism will find a feature rich in subtext and striking performances. Featuring the always phenomenal Elisabeth Moss and a breakout performance from Boyd Halbrook as a pair of social outcasts who’ve found each other (and themselves) on the wrong side of the law – one an ex-con, the other the (ex-)wife of a violent cop – The Free World explores the spiritual poetry of redemption and religion through the lens of besting your former shadow. To quote Hemingway, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility to being superior to your former self.” Again, this idea of self-transcendence isn’t necessarily broached with a fistful of subtlety but the thematic elements are bolstered by the two convincing, whirlwind performances at its center. Read More
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.
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.
This third segment is the strongest yet, with four movies totally worthy of seeing. Still following the SIFF procedure, these short-shorts of reviews are kept to a brief nature (75 quick words of glory) until their respective local release. So in my pursuit to oust my opinion without breaking regulation, look out for mini-review after mini-review as I seek to hit that magic number of 40 films of SIFF’s 40th anniversary. So, short and sweet reading for you, much more time for movie watching for me. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Half of a Yellow Sun
dir. Bibi Bandele star. Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Boyega, Anika Noni Rose (Nigeria, UK)
Half of a Yellow Sun features strong performances from Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejioforj but after the first hour, it unexplainably loses momentum, and curls into a deep sag in the later third act. A love square between two Nigerian sisters schooled in England, who are dead set on becoming arbiters of social change, occupies the forefront of this saga that also sees the Nigerian civil war ripping their world to shreads, and subsequent creation and deconstruction of Biafra. Occassionally powerful but unsatisfying in structure. (C+)
dir. John Lundberg, Roland Denning, Kypros Kyprianou, Mark Pilkington (UK)
An engaging info-fest that posits a.) aliens exist b.) the US government funded a mild to large-scale disinformation campaign to intentionally mislead UFO researchers. Richard Doty, the former Air Force largely responsible for feeding falsified documents to UFO “expert” Paul Bennewitz – until he snapped into full blown psychosis – comes forward and is our (somewhat unreliable) guide through the proceedings. The triple directing team captures a wide range of testimony on the subject but barely have any video to play with, making Mirage Men a disappointingly “tell, don’t show” experience. (C)
The Trip to Italy
dir. Michael Winterbottom star. Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Marta Barrio (UK)
Rob Brydon and Steven Coogan leave foggy, fried North England behind for the breathtaking Italian coast where they wine, dine, and goof their way through a dream trip (one that inspires deep pangs of jealousy from this critic). The naturalistic hyper-reality they craft thrives on the weathered chemistry between the two stars. Their old-as-they-are relationship paves the way for improvisation prowess so organic its feels more like second natural than performance. More impressions, absolutely stunning vistas, Alanis Morissette’s croon, lazily waxing on life and pasta, pasta, pasta gives intrepid life to The Trip to Italy. (B)
dir. Jack Mackenzie star. Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend (UK)
A violent and volatile teen, Eric Love, enters a maximum security English prison where the wrong word or glance can end with a cut throat. Rather than submit to his surroundings, Eric thrashes like a caged animal; an unpredictable bombshell armed to blow. Rupert Friend, Ben Mendelsohn and David Ajala ably fill out the supporting cast but it’s star Jack O’Connell who burns brightest; his portrayal of Eric is unblinking and – even behind such thick callous – heartily tragic. While some plot threads are left dangling, the potent performances and probing examination of dehumanizing prison ethos makes Starred Up more than a worthy trip to hell and back. (B-)
Click through for more recap segments and stay tuned for the next collection of four in this whopping ten part series.
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton in Half of a Yellow Sun
The Seattle International Film Festival has released details on their first bout of films set to span the further reaches of cinema the world over. Putting the “international” in International Film Festival, SIFF takes a decided stance to represent more than a handful of foreign films amongst a smattering of domestic films. Just as many, if not more, films come from around the world and nothing is a better example of this than their African film series. Take a look through the list of eclectic African pictures including World and North American premieres. Full screening details to follow on May 1.
d: Marie Ka, Philippe Lacote, Ahmed Ghoneimy, Vincent Moloi, Folsakin Iwajomo, Jim Chuchu, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa 2013, 92 min
Filmmakers from across the African continent paint a vivid picture of a new, urbanized Africa through innovative short stories featuring six fast-growing major cities: Abidjan, Cairo, Dakar, Johannesburg, Lagos, and Nairobi.
d: Chika Anadu c: Uche Nwadili, Nonso Odogwu, Ngozi Amarikwa, Frances Okeke, Nigeria 2013, 118 min
In Chika Anadu’s award-winning debut film, Amaka, a 40-year-old Nigerian woman, is expected to produce a male heir. But when the baby dies in utero, she desperately searches for a solution that would keep her husband from taking a second wife.
d: Zeresenay Berhane Mehari c: Meron Getnet, Tizita Hagere, Ethiopia 2014, 99 min
After being beaten, assaulted, and kidnapped, 14-year-old Aberash shoots and kills her attacker in an act of self-defense, pitting herself and her tenacious lawyer against Ethiopia’s long-standing tradition of marriage by abduction. Based on an extraordinary true story.
d: Hind Meddeb, Egypt/France 2013, 77 min
They started as performers in the poorest neighborhoods of Cairo; now they’re among Egypt’s fastest-rising stars. Unlikely musical celebrities, their electrifying version of Arab hip hop has flourished across social classes to become the inspiring soundtrack to a tumultuous time.
d: Alex Gibney, USA 2014, 120 min
Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti’s magnetism reverberates through time. The social and political significance of his life’s work is considered through historic clips and scenes from the Broadway musical FELA!
NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
d: Ian Gabriel c: Brendon Daniels, Irshaad Ally, Jezriel Skei, Lindiwe Matshikiza, Abdurahman Adams, South Africa 2014, 114 min
13-year-old chess prodigy Ricardo gets caught between two long-warring gangs, the 26s and the 28s of the pitiless Cape Flats of South Africa, just as the father he’s never known is released from prison.
Half of a Yellow Sun
d: Biyi Bandele c: Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Boyega, Anika Noni Rose, Joseph Mawle, Nigeria/United Kingdom 2013, 106 min
Based on the eponymous novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun follows the lives of two Nigerian sisters in the 1960s who return home after receiving educations in England. The tumultuous Nigerian Civil War is the backdrop to this author-approved drama adaptation.
d: Henk Pretorius c: Gil Bellows, Katie McGrath, Brumilda van Rensburg, Bok van Blerk, Eduan van Jaarsveldt, South Africa 2014, 96 min
From the director of Fanie Fourie’s Lobola, winner of the SIFF 2013 Golden Space Needle Award for Best Film, comes this uplifting tale of a teacher and struggling actress who enlist a South African sheep farmer in helping her prepare for a make-or-break film role.
Rags and Tatters
d: Ahmad Abdalla c: Asser Yassin, Atef Yousef, Amr Abed, Yara Gubran, Mohamed Mamdouh, Egypt 2013, 87 min
A nameless fugitive fights his way through the chaos of revolutionary Cairo to deliver cell phone footage of police brutality from his dying friend to the outside world. Hailed as “a touchstone of post-revolutionary Egyptian cinema.”
d: Merzak Allouache c: Adila Bendimerad, Nassima Belmihoub, Ahcene Benzerari, Aïssa Chouat, Mourad Khen, Algeria/France 2013, 92 min
Algeria’s most beloved director weaves the story of five Algiers neighborhoods organized according to the five calls to prayer over the course of a single day.
d: Abdellah Taïa c: Saïd Mrini, Karim Ait M’hand, Amine Ennaji, Malika El Hamaoui, Frederic Landenberg, Morocco/France 2013, 82 min
Inspired by the director’s own experiences, the film recounts the journey of a gay Moroccan teenager who uses his sexuality to advance his position in, and eventually escape, the society that shuns him. A brave, provocative film that tackles taboo issues to offer a new vision of the queer Arab experience.
Under the Starry Sky
d: Dyana Gaye c: Marème Demba Ly, Ralph Amoussou, Souleymane Seye N’Diaye, Maya Sansa, Babacar M’Baye Fall, France/Senegal 2013, 86 min
Through three emotionally charged story lines, taking viewers from Senegal to Italy to America and back again, the destinies of three far-flung sojourners connect in this transcontinental drama that’s a richly realized examination of the African diaspora and the often fractal nature of contemporary emigration.
d: Noaz Deshe c: Hamisi Bazili, James Gayo, Glory Mbayuwayu, Salum Abdallah, Germany/Italy, Tanzania 2013, 115 min
In Tanzania, young albino Alias is on the run after witnessing his father’s murder. He finds city life as fraught with danger as the bush in this intense and stunning feature debut centering on crime perpetrated because of superstition.