12_Years_A_Slave12 Years A Slave documents the ordeal of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) a free Black man from Saratoga Springs, New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South.

Solomon’s story represents the experience of every slave who was brought to the United States in chains, born into bondage, separated from family, beaten, sold and raped. Yet, the fact that Solomon had always been a free man serves as a stark illustration of the complete injustice and insanity of enslavement because he has lived as a productive citizen who is the equal, if not better, of any man.

Solomon, a highly intelligent and educated man who plays the violin is forced to hide the fact that he can read and write in order to survive as it’s forbidden for slaves to have such knowledge. Determined to be reunited with his wife and two children Solomon resolves to do whatever it takes to stay alive and refuses to give into desperation despite the relentless cruelty of his circumstances.

The brutality on screen in 12 Years A Slave seems unreal, at times so harsh that it’s difficult to process or comprehend. Yet this is the violent history of our country that still resonates today. Continue reading »

Gravity is an all enveloping, physical and emotional experience that catapults you into space and leaves you grasping for air until the last pulsating frame.

Sandra Bullock is medical engineer Ryan Stone and George Clooney is veteran astronaut and mission commander Matt Kowalski. The two are part of the Explorer space shuttle crew. Except for the fact that they are in space, it’s an ordinary expedition until disaster strikes. The shuttle is hit by satellite debris, which detaches Stone from the Explorer and sends her tumbling into space. Kowalski, in a jetpack, manages to reach Stone but when the two get to the Explorer they find it is destroyed. Together they must find a way to survive the loss of their ship and all communication with Houston.

George Clooney is perfectly cast here as the charming and in control Kowalski, a man who lives life to the fullest and isn’t afraid to let go. Sandra Bullock makes you feel every heart pounding moment of fear, desperation and longing for home that Stone experiences during her ordeal. Continue reading »

Prisoners starts out as a tense and gripping story of every parent’s worst nightmare after two young girls disappear on Thanksgiving Day.

Hugh Jackman is Keller Dover, a husband and father with a survivalist bent whose motto is “hope for the best, prepare for the worst. ” Dover with his wife Grace (Maria Bello) and kids, Anna and Ralph join neighbors Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy (Viola Davis) and their daughters Joy and Eliza for the occasion.

The day suddenly takes a turn from ordinary to nightmarish when the two families realize the girls, who’ve gone off to play, are missing. The main suspect becomes Alex Jones, a young man with the mind of a 10 year-old who is parked in a camper at a nearby house right before the girls go missing.

Jake Gyllenhaal is Loki, the loner detective assigned to the investigation who has solved every case he’s ever worked. Gyllenhaal who early in his career wasn’t very interesting to watch has morphed into a versatile, three-dimensional actor and he’s intense and convincing as the dogged, determined Loki who is always watching and connecting the dots. Continue reading »

The Butler is based on the real life story of Cecil Gaines, an African-American who served as a butler in the White House through eight administrations. Cecil, played by Forest Whitaker who always disappears into whatever role he’s inhabiting, here takes on the part of a man whose job is to please by not making his presence felt; as he’s told by one employer–the room “should feel empty” when you’re in it.

The Butler starts out with Cecil as a young boy in the 1920s working on a cotton plantation in the South. From the very beginning the story is set up to tug at your heart strings and what human being with a heart and mind wouldn’t be affected by the horrors of the brutal racism of the time. The film is emotionally affecting and will make you tear up but it’s hard to escape the feeling you’re watching a movie meant to do just that.

Despite this undercurrent of manipulation the life of Cecil Gaines is extraordinary and certainly worthy of a film. The changes that occurred in American society in general, and specifically in terms of civil rights during the more than 30 years Cecil worked in the White House, and his proximity to the seat of power and history give the film weight. Continue reading »

A new year is a time of reflection and starting over but December 31, 2008, would be the last day of 22-year old Oscar Grant’s life. Fruitvale Station, the debut film of writer/director Ryan Coogler examines that fateful final day in the life of the young man whose life was cut short when he was shot in the back by a police officer at the BART Fruitvale Station in the early morning hours of 2009.

In the aftermath of the incident, as in similar cases of an unarmed black man being shot by a police officer, Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) was both demonized and deified by the opposing sides. The strength and accomplishment of Fruitvale Station is that it doesn’t take either of those positions. Instead, it depicts Oscar as a three-dimensional and flawed young man with an uncertain future who wants to be a better person. The film doesn’t shy away from the fact that he has a prison record, sells marijuana, and hasn’t always been faithful to his girlfriend and mother of his child, Sophina (Melonie Diaz.) Oscar, who is fired for being late to work, also has a temper and we see it flare when he confronts his former boss about getting his job back.

But, like all human beings, Oscar has many sides. He’s a devoted and loving father to his four-year old daughter, aspires to be a good son to his mother (Octavia Spencer), and genuinely does love his girlfriend. Jordan, a standout since his days on The Wire delivers a performance that firmly establishes him as an A list actor. He naturally embodies Oscar and exposes the fear and doubt beneath his protective hard exterior as well as the playful, easygoing persona that he shared with friends and strangers alike. Continue reading »

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