Fall Movie Bonanza: 12 Years A Slave, Carrie & The Counselor

During my birthday trip to Illinois a couple weeks ago, I got a chance to watch two of the movies on my to-see list for a total of $11. It’s insane how much less it costs to see a movie in the Midwest. In New York, I’m accustomed now to paying $14.50 at AMC theaters, which was the case when I saw Captain Phillips (reviewed on this very blog). Gravity (review posted here) cost me $21.50 to see in IMAX 3D (and it was worth every penny).

But back to the movies themselves. I enjoyed both of them, though neither of them stacked up to 12 Years A Slave, which I saw after returning to New York (it was not playing anywhere in St. Louis at the time). Below are my thoughts on all three.

Carrie
The Brian De Palma movie from the 70s a tough one to beat in a remake, and I liked this new version even though the remake didn’t surpass the original (or the Stephen King book).

Chloe MoretzChloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, Hugo) was engaging as the title character, an awkward high school girl with supernatural powers she learns to wield over the course of the movie. Even better was Julianne Moore as her mother, pretty much perfect for the role of Carrie’s abusive religious zealot of a mother. She brings a level of intensity and a torturedness (for lack of a better word) to her performance that stokes up the conflict between mother and daughter that much more.

I wasn’t as impressed with the supporting cast. John Travolta was really fun to watch as the shaggy haired evil punk in the De Palma film, and you don’t ever really feel like you’re having fun watching this year’s dead serious remake. There’s no amazing stylistic moment I can point to as an artistic highlight either, unlike the fantastic split screen rampage at the climax of the De Palma film.

All things considered, you could probably wait for this to hit the home video market before watching this one.

The Counselor
With its star studded cast, weird monologues, actor cameos, and sudden moments of uber-violence The Counselor was incredibly fun to watch.

imagesThe short way to explain the movie is that it’s about a drug deal gone bad, with a lawyer played by Michael Fassbender, who they never call anything but “Counselor,” caught in the middle.

If you want the long explanation play by play of the plot, I have to confess I didn’t understand everything, so you have to ask someone else. At some point I will need to watch it again, but I don’t think the various twists explained quickly (if at all) lessen its appeal.

The Counselor has so many juicy lines of dialogue coming at you rapid fire, and Cameron Diaz looking sexier than she has in ages, and a couple of pet cheetahs thrown in for good measure. There’s an ever-present sense of danger, sex, and coolness that made for an entertaining moviegoing experience.

Most people didn’t like it, so statistically you’re more likely to be in that camp. As for me, Ridley Scott (director) and Cormac McCarthy (writer) had me riveted.

12 Years A Slave
Steve McQueen’s latest picture, about a northern black man in the pre-Civil War era born a free man and kidnapped into slavery is a sure Oscar contender for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for leading man Chiwetel Ejiofor), and maybe even Best Cinematography. It is this year’s equivalent to Lincoln, and you have to wonder if the Academy might go with this one as a corrective to picking Argo last time.

1382030004_12-years-a-slave-articleSo many strong performances went into it. On top of Ejiofor’s solid work as a man determined to do what it took to survive as escape — happy memories of his family giving him reason to continue living no matter how many he was forced to take for himself or give to other slaves — you have Paul Dano as a total prick of an overseer, Paul Giamatti as a cold, calculating slave broker, and Michael Fassbender as a creepy and terrible plantation owner.

There were so many great moments of skilled filmmaking that you just have to see and endure. McQueen makes us really see and feel the horrors, and longer than we’re comfortable with. And even though there are really no laughs and precious few lighthearted moments in the whole 2 hour and 14 minute runtime, there is never a lull, and I was never bored.

I mentioned earlier that 12 Years could be a corrective for Argo winning the Oscars, and it’s a corrective in more ways than one. I’m not the first to point this out, but if Django Unchained is the movie about the dark wickedness of America’s slave-trading past that we wanted, 12 Years A Slave is the movie we needed.

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