Monthly Archives: February 2020

Reviews From The Archives

What are “REVIEWS FROM THE ARCHIVES”?

Sometimes I will post reviews that were originally published elsewhere several years ago. I will mark such reviews explicitly by marking them as “Reviews from the Archives” with the above logo. This is just to make it clear when I’m not (i) reviewing a currently-available-on-Netflix film, nor (ii) “RE-viewing” a film, that is, taking a look at it with fresh eyes years later.

But why would I publish old reviews here? Mainly, so as to make them available through this site.

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

FILM REVIEW: 12 Years A Slave

note: review originally published 2014

12 Years a Slave is the third film from young British director Steve McQueen. Adapted from the diaries of Solomon Northup, the film is set before the American Civil War and tells the true story of a free black man from the northern United States who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south, subsequently spending 12 years trying to get back to his family.

There’s a big buzz around 12 Years a Slave. It seems to be this year’s in vogue film, dealing as it does with controversial subject material (blacks, slaves, impregnated black slaves). But let me tell you a secret, dear reader, something nobody dares speak, that nobody even dares think: the film, err, isn’t that great.

So it’s bad, then? Not at all. It’s actually fairly solid. But the glowing praise and universal acclaim that it’s garnered, along with the multiple Oscars that it will land**, have simply not been earned. Sadly, this film is exactly the kind that the lovies and wannabe intellectual journalist-types adore. Nobody wants to say the Emperor has no clothes because they’re scared it might make them look insensitive or, worse, uncultured(!) Gulp. But the film just doesn’t work. And how I desperately wanted it to work, how I crave to say this blew my mind.

So what is wrong with it?

It all comes down to one thing: you just don’t care what happens to Solomon. He’s clearly a good man, but his struggles and the eventual conclusion of the film leave you feeling rather cold. Crescendo, big moment, obstacle overcome at last, tears on screen – and yet I was left unmoved. Time after time. I thought: Am I bad? Have I become desensitised? Do I not care enough because he’s not white? Am I secretly heartless and/or a racist? Some of my best friends are… I looked around the cinema to see if someone, anyone was crying. But thankfully, my white middle-class liberal angst was for nothing, because nobody in the cinema cared either. All I could see in the half-light were puzzled faces looking around as if to say, “Oh, okay…?”. It’s not that the film’s bad – it’s not. It’s more that we simply don’t give a monkeys what happens to Solomon. He’s a good, upstanding man, sure, no real evil in him. He doesn’t deserve his plight. And he doesn’t do a single bad thing in the whole film. But then again, he doesn’t do a single good thing either. Indeed, he doesn’t do a single thing at all.

The film can be summarised thus: Solomon gets kidnapped, sold into slavery, keeps his head down and does a whole lot of nothing for two hours, Fin. Sad fact though it may be, a heart-rending true story does not a heart-rending drama make. Drama isn’t life, and we the audience need more reasons to emotionally invest in the guy and his journey other than, “he’s a normal bloke who gets kidnapped”. What kindness does he show his fellow slaves? What friendships does he make along the way? And, if you can forgive me a wanky film critic moment, how is the drama of the piece advanced in any way whatsoever by his actions be they instigating or reactive? Answer: it isn’t.

True story or not, the screenwriter and director needed to give us a reason to cheer for Solomon even if that means not being “true” to what really happened. The film presents Solomon with many opportunities to show his kindness, to forge relationships with others that we can really emotionally invest in, and yet he doesn’t. And no amount of understated performances, subtle plays on the material, or beautiful cinematography can disguise the fact that the central narrative of this film violates one of the fundamental rules of drama uncovered as long ago as by Aristotle: things shouldn’t just happen to the characters, but it should be through the characters’ actions that drama unfolds. Unfortunately, in 12 Years a Slave, stuff just happens to Solomon, and he just doesn’t do anything about any of it except occasionally to serve his own ends (and even then, in the most undramatic and inept fashion). The effect is we sit through two hours and thirteen minutes, and we just don’t care. A commanding performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor is nowhere near good enough to rescue the material.

But it’s not all bad. Indeed, and here’s the real tragedy: it’s most fairly good.

The film features relative unknowns in the lead roles, but also some heavy hitting A-listers in support: Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, and Benedict Omnibatch (I mean Cumberbatch: sorry, didn’t you know? New Hollywood rules state that a film is not allowed to go ahead unless Benedict Cumberbatch is cast… in any role… somewhere).

Fassbender in particular is mesmerising as slaver Edwin Epps. He’s a borderline alcoholic with conflicted emotions about his slaves. Yeah, they’re his property, but he doesn’t delight in brutalising them. He seems more a victim of his alcoholism and his henpecking wife (played well by Sarah Paulson, despite a lack of material to work with). And slave girl Patsey is richly portrayed by newcomer Lupita Nyong’O. The film is worth watching for her performance alone. Yet Brad Pitt’s cameo was slightly jarring: I couldn’t stop thinking, “Look! It’s Brad Pitt doing a Brad Pitt!”

Much to the film’s credit, it also does not slide into the predictable tropes of the slave genre. No, the slavers are not all evil; no, the blacks do not all form loving bonds with each other and sing Kumbaya round a campfire; no, the pretty black slave girl does not get knocked up by the white slave master. And for this, the film is to be commended; it gives us a fresh take on a familiar story. It shows the shades of grey that the situation engendered whilst still leaving us in no doubt as to the brutality and unspeakable wrongness of slavery. And yet it also doesn’t show caricature slavers joyfully lashing slaves for the yeehaw of it, nor does it go for sensationalism.

The direction was gripping. A reveal of one character’s whip wounds early on produced a collective gasp from the screening room. And there’s one particular shot in the field where the camera is locked on the scene for what seems an age without moving: the effect is disturbing and brings home the evil of slavery better than a thousand lashes ever could.

In short: I desperately wanted to say “best film since Schindler’s List”. But this “one of the best films ever” [Telegraph] isn’t fit to tie the emotional and dramatic boots of Toy Story 3, and was, sadly, much, much less than the sum of its mostly majestic parts.

**The film did indeed go on to win three Academy Awards.

3/5

review originally published in 2014
featured image from http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1329181/images/o-12-YEARS-A-SLAVE-REVIEWS-facebook.jpg

© 2014-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

Star Trek: Picard S1E2 “Maps and Legends” Review #100WordReview @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

A Romulan plot appears to be afoot within the Federation which, if confirmed, would constitute an act of war. Duty and principle compel Jean-Luc Picard to tackle it head-on — with or without the support of the Federation. Episode two, “Maps and Legends”, is compelling and involves much more show and far less tell than episode one, although it does kick off with a long Dan Brown-style expository scene. Such moments are missed opportunities to build suspense. None-the-less, “Maps and “Legends” was riveting.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9420276/mediaviewer/rm2076017665

Netflix Film Review: The Secret @Netflix #NetflixReview

I don’t normally review films that aren’t new. But I just saw a film that was so outstanding, so unbelievable, and which moved me so profoundly, I just had to share it with you. I had to share… The Secret.

To coin a word, awfulsome: awesome in its awfulness.

Wow. Just… wow. Incredibly bad. I mean, what the heck!? I watched this at the behest of a colleague, and, sorry — WTF????? The fact that I’ve been reduced to the untermensch language of initialisms should show that no human words can express what this “film” is. A bestial scream of agony would probably articulate it well.

Firstly, how on earth did they manage to stretch literally one sentence into an entire ninety minute production???? “Whatever you think about will happen”. I kept expecting them to follow this sentence up with something, anything, but by the fifth minute I had already given up hope. Unreal how little substance there was. A 90 minute exercise in paraphrase. But people vehemently swear by The Secret, claiming it really works. Perhaps they believe this garbage because they’ve been brainwashed by hearing the same phrase, paraphrased, around six thousand times. Simple psychology; repeat the same thing over and over (and over) again, and you tend to start to believe it.

Secondly, how has this become a “phenomenon”? It’s very badly made, and totally ridiculous. I mean, where do I begin?

  • Laughable special effect “whoosh” flourishes every five seconds. Twinkly sounds, soft lighting that looks like it was added on Windows Movie Maker.
  • Talking heads/Experts who all look beyond insane: wild stare-y eyes, incredible haircuts, ridiculous teeth, and so on. It’s like the guests are meant to be a spoof. I’m surprised they didn’t just get Armando Ianucci, Peter Serafinowicz, and that guy from Garth Merenghi to play the parts instead.
  • And who are these guests? I mean, Google some of them and you’ll see what I mean. What. The. Eff!??! Crooks and fringe lunatics.
  • And what is with those titles: “metaphysician”, “visionary”!?!?!

WTF!!?! Sorry I keep saying that, but — WTF!?

The writers are surely having us on and rolling around in laughter behind the scenes, rubbing their diamond-encrusted ring-wearing hands, and spluttering “schmucks!”.

Some additional lowlights:

  • If you visualise cheques in the mail, you will literally receive cheques in the mail. No need to set up a business or get off your arse at all! But just so you don’t get carried away, the film-makers sagely advise us that we may still get the occasional bill apart from the cheques.
  • Medicine is useless. But chanting “cancer, cancer, go away” will surely destroy all metastasized growths.

I mean, sorry, The Secret was so cheap, so badly made, so idiotic, so ridiculous in every respect, the only thing this “film” deserves is the following sentence from me: whatever you do, please do NOT use “the secret” to attract free copies of “The Secret” to you…. (‘cos then they wouldn’t make money out of you) Deary me.

One fellow reviewer (on Netflix) said the following, and I think it’s hard to argue with him:

Sadly I wasted an entire 4 minutes of my life watching this utter tripe, before my own senses started to shut themselves down. Licking wasps or poking a massive bear in the face would result in less pain than having to sit through anymore of this new age, mumbo jumbo, hippy hokum. To Netflix: Can we introduce a rating system which allows us to score garbage content lower than 1 star? We could use this waste of hard drive space as a bench mark. For example, a terrible film would awarded 3 “The Secret” Turd Piles??

So why not one star, why two? Because it was so genuinely insane in every respect that it was actually marginally entertaining. And, despite the triteness of it, there is a nice core message: positivity of mind breeds further positivity. But it’s still turd.

2/5

featured image from https://readingraphics.com/uploads/2015/06/The-Secret_book1.jpg

review first published 8 October 2014

© 2014-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

Star Trek: Picard S1E1 “Remembrance” Review #150WordReview @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

It’s been twenty years since Jean-Luc Picard retired from active duty. Haunted by dreams of his friend Data, who gave his life to safe Picard’s 20 years before, and the destruction of the planet Romulus, Jean-Luc has retired to the sanctuary of his idyllic vineyard to ponder the past. But his attempts at a peaceful existence are disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious guest.

There are a couple of very nice action sequences, and a lot of Patrick Stewart sitting around staring into space and smiling like an avuncular but semi-senile philosopher. And an old foe is hinted at. But nothing much happens. Episode One, “Remembrance”, felt like the first 15 minutes stretched to fill 46.

Is this your typical Trek? No. Does “Remembrance” hint at great things to come? Yes. Did it seem slightly pointless. Also, yes. A solid and entertaining, albeit uninspiring, opener.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9381924/mediaviewer/rm1820753921