Three great video picks from Wollongong Library

I have to return these beauties today, but not before they have given me much pleasure, and food for thought. The one that appealed to me least was The Virgin Suicides (1999).

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A strange movie, based on a 1993 novel by Jeffrey Eugenides and directed by Sofia Coppola. Wikipedia sums up its reception:

The film was generally well received by critics; it has a 76% Metacritic rating and a 76% Rotten Tomatoes rating. The New York Post heaped praise on the film: “It’s hard to remember a film that mixes disparate, delicate ingredients with the subtlety and virtuosity of Sofia Coppola’s brilliant The Virgin Suicides.”  The Philadelphia Inquirer outlined its attributes: “There’s a melancholy sweetness here, a gentle humor that speaks to the angst and awkwardness of girls turning into women, and the awe of boys watching the transformation from afar.”

The next appealed to me more: Gus Van Sant’s To Die For (1995).

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Nicole Kidman and Joaquin Phoenix

Suzanne Stone is an aspiring TV personality who will do anything to be in the spotlight, including enlisting three teenagers to kill her husband, played by Matt Dillon. I agree with this reviewer on IMDb,

Matt Dillon is wasted as the husband (in more ways than one). I’m surprised he agreed to do the part. Kidman is mesmerizing and makes us believe in a slightly unbelievable character. We’ve all known narcissistic little darlings who would kill you for the right shade of eye shadow, but to see it acted out so coldly and with such appalling stupidity, yet with a psychology so bizarre that it has to be real, fairly takes your breath away. It was especially apt that she had him killed so that her pointless little docu-drama “Teens Speak Out” could become newsworthy enough for national exposure. Consciously she doesn’t realize this: she has no introspection; she just acts.

Also cute is the way the picture is framed: a pseudo-documentary within a pseudo-documentary. Everything is so well orchestrated that when Kidman gets her surprising, but entirely appropriate comeuppance at the end, we are quite pleased.

The pick of the crop – and such a good crop! – is:

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Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor star in 12 Years a Slave (2013)

What a well-deserving Oscar winner!

Based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty personified by a malevolent slave owner, 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 will forever alter his life.

Must read: History Versus Hollywood finds that the “true story” is truer than most. The UK Daily Telegraph wrote in June 2016:

Dir: Steve McQueen. Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard, Adepero Oduye, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson

Soon after its world premiere last year, 12 Years a Slave was widely described as the best film that has yet been made about American slavery.

That’s a big claim — and, I believe, an accurate one — although it raises an interesting question. Where, exactly, is the competition?

The new film from the British director Steve McQueen is an adaptation of the memoirs of Solomon Northup, a freeborn black American family man from upstate New York who was kidnapped, shipped to the South and sold to the owner of a Louisiana plantation in 1841. There have been other films about American slaves, and films that have described or depicted the American slave trade in some way too: not many, but enough high-profile ones, from Gone With the Wind all the way to Mandingo, for the topic not to feel like unmapped territory….

To measure the importance of this we must go back to 1915. That year saw the release of D.W. Griffiths’ The Birth of a Nation…

But Griffiths’ film has almost no truth in it — and it is monstrously, numbingly racist. Its black characters are drunks and rapists, played by gurning white actors in blackface, while the Ku Klux Klan are shown to be saviour knights of the new republic. Think again of that strange lack of films about American slavery, and wonder how long it will take for cinema to exorcise these demons. In that light, 12 Years a Slave isn’t simply a masterpiece, it’s a milestone. This, at last, really is history written with lightning.

You won’t easily forget scenes like this:

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See Australian photographer Kat Clay on Kidnapped shadows: the cinematography of 12 Years A Slave.

Last week I caught up with Oscar nominated film, 12 Years A Slave. The intense narrative of Solomon Northup, freeman kidnapped and taken to the South, is an exceptional story accompanied by exceptional cinematography. Sean Bobbitt shot the film, and is notable for his professional relationship with Steve McQueen, having filmed the director’s previous works Shame and Hunger. Strangely enough, I haven’t seen a single one of his other works, but having seen 12 Years A Slave, I would certainly be interested in seeking them out….

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