On DVD & Blu-Ray: March 4, 2014

As Brad Pitt's character Bass states after hearing Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) recount the story of how he was wrongly kidnapped and sold into slavery, this is an amazing story, but in no good way. Steve McQueen's third feature and your newest Best Picture winner adapts the autobiography of Solomon Northup and takes an unflinching look at how slavery and ownership dominated the south and was inflicted upon the unfortunate souls born into that time period. Northup's tale is one of emotional and physical devastation. If there was an ideal director to take on this stark subject matter it would be the fresh pair of eyes and mind that is McQueen who, after his previous two films (Hunger and Shame) has focused on the downsides of humanity enough to understand where he needed to go to reach the emotional depths that the subject of slavery needs to take on. It is a subject that deserves this unflinching look illustrating how slaves were treated, how they were perceived, and how some plantation owners saw them and treated them as employees while others saw them as little more than property they could with what they please. 12 Years A Slave doesn't dive into the politics of what started slavery, why these white owners saw these people as they did, or how our main characters might put a stop to the tragedy, but instead we are forced to accept the facts that define our history and the true story of Solomon. Neither Solomon nor any of the slaves he comes to meet along the way knew why there were some slavers like William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) and others like Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) or why it all began or how it was going to come to an end, they just knew they had to accept the idea that this was their life and that they were meant to deal with it and that harsh reality is what McQueen forces his audience to accept as well with the only glimmer of hope being implied by the title. This is a film both so involving and at the same time so draining that you feel exhausted after having experienced it. It is a damn tough film to watch, but a necessary lesson in perspective that ultimately makes you appreciate what you've seen if not for the unflinching history lesson, but for the craft in which it is conveyed. Full review here. A

Spike Lee's remake of Oldboy will go down as one of the bigger disappointments of 2013, that is, if it is remembered at all. This is unfortunate though as it feels to me that this is one of those films that was locked out and given up on before it even had a chance. Initial reaction to that previous statement goes to the fact this was originally planned as a wide release, but was quickly cut back to a limited roll-out which typically accompanies smaller films where the studios expect positive buzz and strong word of mouth to build anticipation for it once they expand to more cities. This obviously didn't happen in the case of Oldboy as it was pretty much dead in the water from the time the decision was made to push it back a month from October 25th to November 27th. Back to the initial reaction statement though, while it may go to the aforementioned unfortunate scenario it seems the truth is that this project was probably dead from the moment it was greenlit by whatever studio head thought it a good idea to remake the 2003 Korean film that has amassed an extremely loyal following and is considered a masterpiece by many. Though I always thought the purpose of re-making something was to bring it to the attention of those who might not otherwise discover the original there are those more cynical who believe the sole purpose of piggy-backing off the name of a successful foreign film and Americanizing it is purely for profit while hopefully guaranteeing a win financially; they are probably right. Still, that clearly all but backfired here as no one thought through how you might market a film where much of its story and the suspense that goes along with it are dealt in the twists and surprises the film holds close to its chest. No one seems to have thought through that this brutally dark picture isn't what most moviegoers are looking for at Thanksgiving and that it would have likely been better facing off against Bad Grandpa than Frozen. This review is not meant to question why the film failed financially or in its marketing though, but instead if the film itself was even necessary. I haven't seen the original Chan-wook Park film and so I was no less than intrigued by the trailers and anxious to see what a director like Lee might do with this perplexing material. Turns out, I was rather surprised. Full review here. C+

There are plenty of perks to being the middle installment of a giant trilogy. Whether you've read the books or not I think it goes without saying that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a much bigger and more impressive exercise than what the first film was able to deliver after it finished setting up the world all of this would be taking place in. This, coming from the benefit of being that middle child. It has always been the case though (Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Knight, X2: X-Men United, Spider-Man 2) in that without having to deal in exposition and not having to worry itself with how to wrap everything up nicely the second chapter of a larger story is the one where we get to dig in, where we are able to see the meat of the conflict, and get to really know the characters and what drives them, what makes them different and why we remain interested in their plight past the unbelievable circumstances they were thrown into the first time around. All of this remains true in director Francis Lawrence's follow-up to Gary Ross's faithful and fervent opening chapter. Yes, it is important to note that I am a fan of the books, all three of them, but that Catching Fire was by far my favorite and for all the reasons I've listed above I desperately hoped the film turned out the same way. As we reach the final shot of this film it became all the more clear that we'd just witnessed something rather special. It may not have been a game-changer like The Dark Knight or as exceptional as X2, but it has some clear moments and techniques that are more than impressive and more than intriguing that lead us to becoming intensely wrapped up in the world of Panem and the brewing revolution. The scope and scale, the performances all-around, the more confident hand behind the execution; it all adds up to a film that knows what it is, what its message and main themes are, and where it is going because there is a driving force behind the narrative that makes the briskly paced film (not a bad thing with a run time of two and a half hours) feel like a consistently mounting piece of music that perfectly staggers its force and intensity until hitting that crescendo. This is only one passage though, and that perfectly timed climax of this specific progression only leaves us wanting more which can only mean part two has done its job and done it well. Full review here. A-

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