Blu-ray Review “12 Years a Slave”

Actors: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch
Directors: Steve McQueen
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Run Time: 134 minutes

Film: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

We had the privilege of  interviewing both Michael Fassbender and Paul Dano (click here) for “12 Years a Slave” last October during New York Film Fest. This was way before this film started drumming up all this critical rave. Along with Fassbender and Dano, this film is jam-packed with some amazing talent. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o both give not good but absolutely phenomenal performances. Even other notable supporting roles include Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Benedict Cumberbatch (who is one fire last year). This film just won numerous Academy Awards including the top award for Best Picture of the Year. I personally think “Gravity” was better but I see why this film took home the award. It is a must see if you missed it in theaters, no question. I must warn you though, it is quite an emotional ride and will definitely leave you exhausted until the credit hit.

Official Premise: Based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender), as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Pitt) will forever alter his life.

20th Century Fox is releasing this film two days after it cleaned up at the Oscars with a nice combo pack including a Blu-ray + Digital HD UltraViolet copy. “12 Years a Slave” comes wiht a gorgeous 1080p transfer presented with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. Director Steve McQueen really had a vision with this film and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt really nailed it. Some of the shots were so beautiful, I actually had to go back just to re-watch. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track works so well with the dialogue and, of course, Hans Zimmer’s beautiful score. This was no question of the best scores of 2013.

In the special features department, I was expecting a little more from the “Best Picture” of the year. I would have loved to see a commentary track included for this film, especially with all the talent that was involved with it. “12 Years a Slave: A Historical Portrait” is a really solid set of behind-the-scene featurettes. It includes Chiwetel Ejiofor reading from Northup’s original book, as well as a various interviews with cast and crew. The next two featurettes are quite short. “The Team” is a brief look which profiles the cast and crew. “The Score”, obviously, takes a look into Hans Zimmer’s music for the film. Lastly there is a theatrical trailer included.

New York Film Festival Review “12 Years a Slave”

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano
Directed By: Steve McQueen
Fox Searchlight
Rated: R
Running Time: 133 minutes

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

As evidenced by his first two features, Hunger and Shame, director Steve McQueen is fearless in his approach to difficult subject matters. The same is true here in his unflinching and unforgettable third feature, 12 Years a Slave.

The film is based on the true life account of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man in New York who was deceived and sold into a life of slavery from 1841 to 1853. The film opens with Northup already in this role working on a sugar cane plantation and then brings us back to his family life in New York leading up to his deception. The men who will eventually drug and betray him come in the form of Brown and Hamilton, played by Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam, who offer Solomon the promise of violin work in Washington DC. The whole sequence is reminiscent of a sort of hellish version of Pinocchio being lead off by the circus folk and it plays out with a dreadful inevitability that left my stomach churning. When Solomon is awoken in chains, Ejiofor’s bewilderment is heart-wrenching as he struggles between fighting for his identity and recognizing how powerless he’s just been rendered.

Ejiofor is at the center of an embarrassment of acting talent throughout this film with even smaller roles occupied by the likes of Brad Pitt, Michael K Williams, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, and last year’s Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild). Benedict Cumberbatch has a key role as Ford, Northrup’s first owner. Ford is initially presented as a sympathetic man, even seen as such by Solomon himself, but the way McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley disillusion us of the very notion of this idea is masterful. For all Ford’s sympathetic looks and guilt about the institution he is undoubtably a part of, he will still allow a family to be split at auction and won’t hear a word of Solomon’s story despite recognizing his intelligence. Actions speak louder than words and under Ford, Solomon still suffers through some of the harshest tortures in the film. Including selling Solomon off again to the monstrous Edwin Epps in the film’s final act.

Coming from both Hunger and Shame, Michael Fassbender successfully reteams with director McQueen again as Epps. Fassbender is fascinating to watch as his character rages against his slaves with frightening conviction he backs up with biblical scripture. He is further driven to violence by his complete inability to deal with his unhinged infatuation with his most productive slave girl, Patsey (incredible newcomer Lupita Nyong’o).

Truly however the film belongs to Chiwetel Ejifor who imbues Northup with an unwavering determination to not only survive his ordeal, but as he says, to live. To not give into despair. Moreover when it comes to his re-emancipation, we feel the weight of the time lost as much as the relief of freedom.

12 Years A Slave opens is now playing , I screened it as part of the 51st New York Film Festival, you can read our red carpet coverage from the event with an interview from the film’s star Michael Fassbender.

“12 Years A Slave” Premieres at NYFF

12 Years a Slave, an intense new drama from director Steve McQueen, made its New York premiere on Tuesday October 8th as part of the 51st Annual New York Film Fest at Lincoln Center. The film follows the true life story of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man in New York, who in 1841 was deceived and sent southward to be sold as a slave. I spoke with two of the actors behind the most sinister figures in this harrowing story. They discussed the sources of their characters’ malevolence.

Paul Dano plays unstable slave driver John Tibeats who abuses his power over Solomon.

Lauren Damon: Tibeats is so spiteful in his actions, did you work out what makes him like this?
Paul Dano: Well you know that’s kind of one of the big things you do to prepare for something is you know, create a personal history for the character. So…I think he was probably somebody who was treated poorly or was made to feel like he had no authority. I don’t think he had a great life and so the only place he could take out his feelings about himself were slaves.

LD: What was the most challenging scene for you?
Dano: I have to do a song in it. That was…that was interesting.

LD: Having to cultivate all this anger for your scenes, did you do anything to come down from that after shooting?
Dano: You know it was pretty hot in those period clothes, in July, in Louisiana so a shower and a cocktail.

Michael Fassbender plays monstrous planter Edwin Epps. Fassbender has previously worked with director McQueen on critical hits Hunger and Shame.

Lauren Damon: Since this is your third film with Steve, do you think you trust him more than any other director now?
Michael Fassbender: Pretty much!

LD: You’ve been to some very dark places in his films.
Fassbender: Yeah, I think–you know, human places. Human stories.

In the film Edwin Epps’s infatuation with his own slave Patsey (played by Lupita Nyong’o) drives him to extreme violence.

LD: Where do you think all that rage that Edwin has comes from?
Fassbender: I think out of confusion. He takes it out mainly on the person that he loves because he can’t process that information. He doesn’t have the intellect to do it. Or the substance as a human being. So he thinks by destroying it, he’ll destroy his emotion towards her and of course that doesn’t work.

NYFF continues through October 13th while 12 Years a Slave opens in theaters on the 18th.

Dokken’s George Lynch talks about new album with T&N called "Slave to the Empire"

Guitar legend George Lynch is probably best known for his work with the popular eighties hard rock band Dokken. After the break-up of the band in 1989 George continued to be successful with his group’s Lynch Mob, Souls of We and T&N which along with George also features former Dokken members Jeff Pilson and Mick Brown. T&N has just released a new album titled “Slave to the Empire” and Media Mikes had the chance to talk with George about the release as well as some of his new signature guitar products.

Adam Lawton: What led to the decision of revisiting the T&N project and to also recording a new album?
George Lynch: The idea of me, Jeff, Mick and maybe even Don Dokken playing together again has always been there. The thing is with everyone being in different bands these days and being busy it’s kind of hard to all get together.  You almost have to have a reason or an avenue to make that happen. We had been trying to put the Dokken thing back together for a few years and it never really happened. Eventually Mick, Jeff and I decided to do this without Don. We did ask him to join us however he declined. When you play with the same group of guys for a number of decades those experiences never go away as its part of your life.

AL: Where there at any time reservations about the project and getting back together?
GL: No. Mick has really been coming back in a big way over the last few years. He has gone out on a couple Lynch Mob tours, he played on this album of course and he will most likely end up being the drummer when we take T&N on the road. Jeff and I have been constantly trying to find ways to work together. We live down the street from one another and really our relationship has never changed. We still inter-act the same as we did in the early Dokken days. We might be 30 years older but when we are sitting in a room playing music together it’s like that time never went by.

AL: What was it like writing new material together and also revisiting the old material?
GL: Those were two completely different animals. Re-doing the old stuff was relatively easy. It didn’t require a lot of brain power as we know the songs really well. That allowed us to have fun with them and change/add in some new parts. With the new material it was more as if we were in a laboratory. A little more thinking was required. Thinking is work for me these days. (Laughs) We did a lot of the writing by the seat of our pants. That’s what’s wonderful about writing with Jeff. I love the trust we have and we have a certain style of writing. There has never been an issue with Jeff and me productivity wise. There is sometimes an issue though when it comes to picking a direction. We may write a trippy acid song one time and a blues song the next. We have to sort of bring ourselves in when it comes to that type of thing.

AL: Has there been any discussion about touring in support of the release?
GL: We intended to go out last year during the fall. We had a really great slot at the Loud Park Festival and there were a few European shows and a few shows in the states booked however due to a number of business reasons things didn’t pan out. Things for this coming year are looking really good and our intention is to get out there.

AL: Being a huge horror fan I have to ask how Dokken got involved with the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise?
GL: We had a wonderful manager at the time by the name of Cliff Bernstein. At the time he was probably one of the biggest rock managers and still actually could be one of the biggest today. If I had to credit one person with the success of Dokken I would have to credit him. He brought that opportunity to us. Being involved with that film really propelled the band in to a lot of people’s consciousness. Jeff and I wrote “Dream Warriors” when we were living together in Arizona. For us it was a huge deal even though we didn’t really make any money at it. (Laughs) We were persuaded by our managers to take a buy out on the song. We received a small piece for the song and that was it. It worked for us though.

AL: Were you guy’s fans of the previous films?
GL: I personally was. When the first one came out I thought it was pretty mind blowing. I was in to horror films growing up and I like a lot of the classics. Prior to the movie though I had sort of evolved out of liking the genre but when we did the song for the film it renewed my interest in horror films.

AL: Do you have any new signature guitar gear coming out this year?
GL: I have two things that I can think of off of the top of my head. The first one is a pedal I have been working on with the Cusack Company. The idea is for the pedal to combine everything I think is crucial in a pedal board in to one unit. Over the years I have found running a number of pedals can cause impedance issues. This pedal is being designed so that everything matches up perfectly and all your signals are balanced. The other thing I have been working on is a signature acoustic guitar through ESP. They have come out extremely well and even better than I expected. We worked

hard on the project to make a guitar that sounded good and was affordable. Everything on these guitars looks and sounds great!

AL: Do you have any other projects in the works that you would like to mention?
GL: I have a project that we just decided on a name for the other day. It’s titled KXM. The letters stand for Korn, Kings X and Lynch Mob. The lineup is Ray Luzier of Korn, Doug Pinnick of Kings X and me so that’s where the KXM comes from. We went in to the studio not knowing what we would sound like. Things could have gone a number of different ways but what it ended up being is a very dark sounding record with some funk elements. We actually just finished it up. I don’t think there is anything unexpected on the record but it is dark. We have some interesting ideas of how we are going to be releasing the material so people will want to be watching for that. I also have something that is still in the project stage called The Infidels. It features the rhythm section of the band WAR. We are doing some very ass shaking, groove type material that is just instrumental at this time as we are still deciding what we want to do with everything. Lastly is a documentary film titled “ShadowTrain”. On the surface the film appears to be about music and Native Americans but it is really an exploration of human nature. The film is philosophical, historical, musical and spiritual. This is something I have never done before but thankfully I have people working with me on this that know what they are doing. There is also a band involved with this as well that recorded a record. The record is the soundtrack to the film and is mostly improvisational. What we did was to go around to Native American reservations and play music that was completely improvisational. We had no idea what we were going to do. We just would start with a beat or a riff and see where it would take us. People interested in finding out more about the film can visit the official website at www.shadowtrainmovie.com 

 

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