In 1853, Solomon Northup published his memoir 12 Years A Slave, a story of how a black man born free in New York was kidnapped, sold into slavery, and for a dozen years worked on various plantations around Louisiana just before the American Civil War. Acclaimed British artist-turned-filmmaker Steve McQueen has now brought this extraordinary tale to the big screen, following his physically harrowing films Hunger and Shame, in what is more than a mere film but a cultural milestone in the representation of slavery, a major work that is spearing in its intensity, incandescent in its soul.
In 1983, the final Monty Python film, The Meaning Of Life, was released with a rather ambitious title and intent to discover, well, the meaning of life. Thirty years later, and Terry Gilliam returns to these enterprising realms with his new film The Zero Theorem, a codex volcanic in enthusiasm yet insipid at its core. Terry does good press: he barks an intriguing sound bite, citing that his latest ode to chaos is an “impossible look at nothing,” which is certain to prick the interest of existentialists everywhere.
Poor Llewyn Davis is not at a good point in his life. In February of 1961, he is a struggling, bearded bohemian shivering through a frosty Greenwich Village, a folk musician seeking the next gig just to keep the wolf from the door. With few possessions other than the fraying clothes on his back and his trusty guitar, he relies on the charity of others to keep a temporary roof over his head, oscillating from staying with two wedded musical companions in the tight-knit folk scene, Jean (Carey Mulligan, deliciously spiteful) and Jim Berkey (Justin Timberlake, polished) and the middle-class Gorfiens , the wealthy, perky parents of Llewyn’s musical partner, revealed to have committed suicide a few months earlier. Davis is a man scorned, sneering at others and certain of his superior musical skills. He’s not the most likable sort, as his futile attempts to escape the confines of his self-imposed cage make for a colourfully arranged period crooner.
The Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky has been well served by cinema, especially his major works Crime & Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, and The Idiot, all of which have received numerous adaptations throughout the decades. The latter was lavished with a recent Estonian take, after receiving a Japanese decoding by Kurosawa no less, as well as Indian and (naturally) Soviet versions. It has taken until 2013 for a filmmaker brave enough to approach Dostoyevsky’s binary second novel; there is a certain numerical sense of doubling, since Richard Ayoade has decided to allocate his second film as The Double, an ambitiously promising plea following Submarine back in 2010.
The Oscar-nominated director and writer of last year’s potent Wall Steet drama Margin Call has circumnavigated the perils of sophomore filmmaking with All Is Lost. This is J.C. Chandor’s remarkable nautical thriller, plunging its audience into a whirlpool nightmare scenario. In a solo role, Robert Redford is a nameless figure, a stoic seaman sailing through the Pacific roughly 1,700 miles from civilisation before being jolted awake after an abandoned cargo container ruptures a yawning gape in his modest single-berth schooner.
Venerable Woody Grant (a grizzled Bruce Dern) has a singular purpose in mind, to get from his adopted Montana home to neighbouring Nebraska to collect a million-dollar cheque that a suspiciously speculative postal disclaimer has promised to honour. Elderly and suffering with decaying mental functions, Woody clearly can’t see through the marketing scam, and his wife Kate (June Squibb) and son David (Will Forte) grow increasingly exasperated at his dangerous footbound expeditions before arriving at a mutual solution: