Reviews – New movies opening January 10th 2014

We review this week’s new cinema releases, including 12 YEARS A SLAVE and DELIVERY MAN…

12 YEARS A SLAVE (USA, UK/15A/134mins)
Directed by Steve McQueen. Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch.
THE PLOT: In 1841, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free African American man is abducted and sold into slavery in the Southern US. Northup never gives up on getting back to his family, but must find a way to survive his time as a slave in order to find a way home.
THE VERDICT: Chewitel Ejiofor is simply wonderful as Solomon Northup. Ejiofor plays Northup with grace and care, showing us a man who is all too aware that he must pick his battles carefully. As plantation owner Ford, Benedict Cumberbatch portrays a character with kindness in his heart, but a blind eye that he is all to willing to turn, making Ford perhaps a more dangerous man that he seems. Michael Fassbender truly lets go as Edwin Epps, tapping into some vein of inner madness and cruelty as a cruel plantation owner. There is madness in Fassbender here, one that makes an already brutal film that much harder to watch. Making her on screen debut, Kenyan director turned actress Lupita Nyong’o is nothing short of sensational as valued but abused slave Patsey. Even as she is abused and tortured, there is a dignity in Patsey’s eyes, and a desperation that is both tragic and understandable.
Based on a true story, the genius of 12 Years a Slave is the focus on the everyday life of Northup, and the tragedy of his fall from grace. Screenwriter John Ridley does not pull any punches when it comes to he suffering that slaves endured, but also allows the characters’ actions to speak for themselves, and the audience to make judgement.
Director Steve McQueen truly encourages his actors to let go, and lose themselves in their roles, while never shying away from the cruelty of the slave system, and the people who held it up. Northup’s salvation is a rather deus ex machina moment, and a little unsatisfying, but there are also enough emotion and seeming contradictions in this to leave the audience satisfied and arguing about the film, long after leaving the cinema.
12 YEARS A SLAVE is a brutal and uncompromising look at slavery in the southern US. Each actor gets their moment, and their chance to shine, and they grab it with both hands. Neither director McQueen or writer Ridley shy away from the graphic violence of the story, but neither do they glory in it either. The result is a moving, engaging and horrifying film that challenges and satisfies.
Review by Brogen Hayes 

DELIVERY MAN (USA/12A/105mins)
Directed by Ken Scott. Starring Vince Vaughn, Cobie Smulders, Simon Delaney, Bobby Moynihan, Jack Reynor.
 David (Vince Vaughn) is a man who is rather likeable, but rather unreliable. When he discovers that he has fathered 533 children, due to some generous – but anonymous – sperm bank donations in his youth, David must decide whether to come forward to the 142 of his offspring who have filed a lawsuit that could force him to reveal his identity.
THE VERDICT: DELIVERY MAN is a remake of a 2011 film, SSTARBUCK. As well as the US version, there are several other remakes on the cards, but Delivery Man is the only version of Starbuck to be directed by Ken Scott, the writer and director behind STARBUCK.
Vince Vaughn has made a name for himself by playing characters that are very similar to that of David; affable, but slightly disappointing to those in his life. The difference here is that David’s decision to step up to the plate feels genuinely motivated and a chance for the character to finally crawl out of the hole he has dug himself. Vaughn handles the role with ease and grace; David is likeable, and it is not hard to root for the character. In stepping away from the arrogant, insensitive and sometimes overwhelming characters that he has played in recent years, Vaughn easily reminds us why we liked him in the first place.
Chris Pratt, an actor who is having a great time lately, plays David’s best friend Brett. Brett is rather close to the character that Pratt plays on PARKS AND RECREATION, but different enough for his performance not to feel like repetition. Pratt is funny and sweet, and his relationship with the character’s young children is delightful. Cobie Smulders turns up in a fairly tiny role, as David’s beleaguered and neglected girlfriend Emma. She’s fine, but has very little to do, other than try to motivate David. Simon Delaney has a great role as David’s hard working brother Victor, and rising star Jack Reynor ups the Irish contingent even more as one of the very few biological children that we actually see on screen.
This is Ken Scott’s second time making the same film, albeit in a different language, and it seems this was a chance for the writer/director to tell a story he felt passionate about. Those who have seen STARBUCK will not be surprised to see that DELIVERY MAN is essentially a shot for shot remake, with some of the comedy extended and some of the mistakes corrected. As such, the film also loses a little of its quirkiness, and feels like a Hollywood comedy. That said, however, Scott directs with a light touch, drawing out the laughs and playing with Vaughn’s comedic instincts. Scott also plays up the fears of parenthood – albeit in exaggerated circumstances – and tells his story in a sincere and heart warming manner.
DELIVERY MAN may be almost exactly the same film as STARBUCK, but it is a clever premise; one that examines the fears that come with getting older, impending parenthood and finding oneself in a rut both professionally, and relationship-wise. Vaughn has not been this good in years, Pratt shines as the earnest best friend and lawyer who seems constantly surprised to find himself surrounded by tiny people who call him ‘Daddy’, and Scott has created a film that is a warm, funny and slightly silly celebration of parenthood.
Review by Brogen Hayes