Talk about Oscar buzz! Critically-acclaimed director Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave is getting ready to hit theatres at the end of the month and there’s plenty to get excited about. The trailer looks amazing and the movie received much hype as it made its way around the festival circuit; it even won The Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. If you don’t know how to mentally prepare yourself for what will surely be one of the biggest films of the year, we’re here to help. Here are a few reasons why there’s no other movie to see on October 31.
This film has something for everyone: Benedict Cumberbatch fans are going wild, and that’s only the beginning. Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Oscar-nominee Quvenzhané Wallis, and Michael K. Williams of The Wire are all on board. 12 Years A Slave also stars the amazing Chiwetel Ojiofor (who may finally get his due as one of the best) as Solomon Northrup.
The True Story
We should all know the name of Solomon Northrup as well as we know the name of Frederick Douglass or Benjamin Franklin. His memoir 12 Years A Slave isn’t being taught in most grade schools yet, but maybe McQueen’s film can change that. A free-born black man from New York born before the Civil War, Northrup was offered a fake job, drugged, and sold into slavery. After 12 years he did the impossible and regained his freedom; such an amazing story of triumph and tragedy in America truly deserves to be told.
The Steve McQueen Factor
No offense to other directors who might have taken on such a story (like Steven Spielberg or Spike Lee), but really? Steve McQueen is probably the best guy for the job. His subtle, sweeping approach to powerful stories with compelling characters (as seen in his other films, Hunger and the unforgettable 2011 indie hit Shame), gives us all the faith in this production.
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
S2E10: Some shows rely so heavily on plot, it’s annoying. Some shows shirk plot so often it’s annoying. And then there are shows that are so well done that you can forget the whole question of ongoing plot and just enjoy the art of it all. This week’s Louie was that kind of episode.
“It’s not nice to scare people and you shouldn’t scare my daddy either.” –Louie’s daughter
The first vignette of the episode, “Halloween” finds Louie trick or treating with his daughters, one of whom is bravely dressed as Frederick Douglass – yes that means black-face makeup is involved. But it’s not even offensive, because Louie explains why the little girl wanted to be Douglass for Halloween and it’s because she read the book about his life and it meant something to her. It’s powerful enough to overpower our confusion at the costume itself.
It starts to get dark but the girls want to stay out later, so they whine and he agrees to let them. Of course they encounter the New York city assholes who roam the streets on Halloween night and his kids get scared. Louie reassures them, saying it’s all fake because it’s Halloween. As they’re walking home, they’re followed by two guys in costumes who stalk after them menacingly, and this time, it’s not all fake. They come around the corner and ambush Louie and his kids, and threaten them.
This is a little akin to some 80s movie about big, bad New York because it’s certainly not the New York I know, but it serves a purpose. Fed up with her Halloween fun being ruined, Louie’s youngest daughter gets fed up and swats the tormentors with her fairy wand until they back up and Louie can reach for some scrap metal to hit them with. He takes the higher road and breaks open a store window to set off the alarm so the duo goes running. We’re left with Louie and his two daughters crouched together on the street, waiting for the police so they can explain what happened and pay for the shattered window. It’s a simple little moment, but it’s this relief and love for his daughters that emanates from this half of the episode that makes the costumey antics of the first few minutes so tolerable.
“People are here to add ideas, so got any?” –Head Writer
“Not really. Just saying it’s lame.” –Hired writer
Louie is hired to help rewrite jokes for a movie script after a slew of rewrites have “sapped the funny” out of it and we see the valley of comedy writers laid before us. They’re working on page one, wherein the main character is woken up by his alarm and his dog licking his face. It’s a pretty typical scene, and we find our token cynical critic who complains that it’s typical but can’t offer any solutions and the hipster new-wave writer whose every suggestion is typical, but meant to be ironic and of course, the old comedy writers whose styles are a bit outdated. Then Louie offers an idea: what if the dog stops the alarm clock. This sets off a whole storm of creativity and catches the eye of a mysterious woman in a suit sitting at the edge of the room.
Her name is Ellie and she insists they go to lunch – it turns out she’s a Vice President at Paramount Pictures and she wants to help Louie makes movies. He’s getting everything he ever wanted, but he looks kind of terrified. She asks him for his best idea and it’s this depressing downward spiral of a movie that no one would ever make because it wouldn’t make any money. Ellie starts looking around the restaurant and checking her cell phone before interrupting him to say she’s got to go say hello to some people. He’s just been dumped before anything even took off.
There are two reasons this scene works so well. First, the realism of that awkward sort of conversation wherein one person speaking passionately and the other person is trying desperately to escape is palpable. You can feel Ellie’s desperation and Louie’s disappointment. The second is that it highlights that Louie’s style of humor is likely never going to be suited for mainstream movies or television. In this short scene, it’s as if Louis C.K. is proudly declaring that, pitting the aloof, vapid nature of Ellie the movie exec against his genuine passion for comedy and comedy writing.
Louie can be a depressing downward spiral that most of America probably won’t line up to shell out cash to see, but it’s a beautifully handled, well-written, hilarious, poignant downward spiral and those of us who can appreciate it will be all the validation it needs.