Director: Garth Davis
Starring: Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tahar Rahim, Charles Babaloa, Uri Gavriel, Twfeek Barhom, Zohar Shtrauss, Ariane Labed, Ryan Corr, Denis Menochet
There have been many films made about the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Some have been good. Others have not. Some have been insightful. Others have crumbled under the pressure of the intimidating source material. Every time we get a new retelling of Jesus story the question needs to be asked: why? What will be different about this one? What will this adaptation tell us that previous ones have not? With Garth Davis’s Mary Magdalene, by focusing on the titular character, it gives us a uniquely female perspective on a tale thats telling is almost always inherently patriarchal.
In the year 561, Pope Gregory declared that Mary of Magdala was a prostitute, conflating her character with another who appeared in the gospel, a misconception which remains to today. Mary Magdalene, written by Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett, seeks to reclaim her story. Continue reading
Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt
The fourteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange, is a peculiar beast. It is simultaneously the boldest and most conservative Marvel film in some time, taking the franchise in an exciting new visual direction, while taking enormous steps back from the character and relationship complexity of some of Marvel’s more recent films in order to tell a routine origin story.
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant, wealthy and arrogant neurosurgeon from New York whose life is turned upside down when a serious car accident leaves him with severe nerve damage in his hands, effectively ending his medical career. After exhausting all the options of western medicine, in desperation he heads to Kathmandu in search of a holy teacher who he has learned healed a man with a serious spinal injury. There he is met by the mysterious Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who takes him to Kamar-Taj, an ancient community of sorcerers under the leadership of the Supreme Sorcerer, known only as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Continue reading
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Kristin Wiig, Aksel Hennie
In a long career that has had its share of hits and misses, Ridley Scott has managed to consistently make one great film per decade. In the 1970s it was Alien. In the 1980s it was Blade Runner. He showed he was more than just a great science fiction director with Thelma & Louise in the 1990s and the swords and sandals epic Gladiator in the 2000s. After a bit of a recent dry patch (Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Counsellor, Prometheus, Robin Hood), Scott has returned to form with a film which could well be his great offering of the 2010s, an adaptation of the Andy Weir novel, The Martian.
The Martian gets straight into it, establishing its scenario instantly. Botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is 18 sols, Mars days, into the Ares III research mission on Mars when an enormous storm hits, forcing his team’s immediate evacuation. Struck by debris and assumed dead, Watney is left behind. But he is not dead. And despite being stranded 55 million kilometres from home, he has no intention of dying. Continue reading
Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Brian Blatt, Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt
In 1853 Solomon Northup published his memoir 12 Years a Slave which told the story of how, as a free man living with his wife and children in upstate New York, he had been kidnapped and sold into slavery, spending the next twelve years of his life working on the cotton plantations of America’s South before finally being reunited with his family. The book was hugely influential in the years leading up to the American Civil War, exposing the inner workings of slavery and opening the public’s eyes to what it really was to be owned by another person. Now, 160 years later, British director Steve McQueen has brought Northup’s story to the screen in a film with the potential to be equally influential.
Despite being one of the defining periods of American history, antebellum slavery has not been widely explored cinematically, particularly from the point of view of the slave. The significance of 12 Years a Slave comes not only from the fact that it is a vivid portrayal of American slavery from the point of view of the slave, but also that it is the product of a the collaboration between a black British director and an African American screenwriter.
With his previous films Hunger and Shame, McQueen has established himself as a filmmaker who does not shy away from difficult and provocative subject matter and does not pull his punches. It should therefore be no surprise that his exploration of 19th century slavery is brutal and unrelenting. McQueen uses a number of long takes, holding the image and forcing us to take it all in. A lot of screen time is given to faces, allowing us to watch emotions unfold and develop within characters.
British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers a powerful performance as a man thrust into an intolerable situation. Part of the appeal of 12 Years a Slave as opposed to other slave narratives for McQueen was that the narrative was the inverse of what we usually get, with our protagonist going from freedom to slavery. Having Northup start the film as a free man made him an effective surrogate for the audience. Slavery is as foreign and horrific to him as it is to us. It does, however, make for a less all-encompassing tale as in the confines of this narrative the injustice is that a free man has been kidnapped into slavery, not simply that any human being might find themself in slavery.
Northup’s story has the quality of an odyssey. This story of hope, of overcoming and refusal to surrender to injustice, is the story of Solomon Northup’s journey home to his family. It is a journey which takes place over a long period of time with constantly changing circumstances as he is sold from one owner to another, some seemingly benevolent, others ruthless.
McQueen regular Michael Fassbender plays Edwin Epps, the plantation owner under whom Northup spent the majority of his time. Fassbender is a brave actor unafraid to take on difficult characters, but the violent, hate-filled and insecure Epps might just be his most repulsive character yet.
The significance of this project, along with McQueen’s steadily growing reputation, has helped in assembling a tremendous supporting cast including the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano and Brad Pitt, who was also one of the film’s producers.
A harsh but incredibly powerful film, 12 Years a Slave is one of the finest films of the year and could already be the most important film made on this important subject.
Rating – ★★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean