Film Reviews: ‘12 Years A Slave’, ‘Delivery Man’ and ‘The Railway Man’

Steve McQueen charts the harrowing true story of a free man sold into slavery in Oscar-tipped drama ‘12 Years A Slave’; a 40-something slacker (Vince Vaughn) discovers he has fathered 533 children in ‘Delivery Man’ and Colin Firth plays an emotionally damaged husband in ‘The Railway Man’.

Film Reviews: ‘12 Years A Slave’, ‘Delivery Man’ and ‘The Railway Man’

Steve McQueen charts the harrowing true story of a free man sold into slavery in Oscar-tipped drama ‘12 Years A Slave’; a 40-something slacker (Vince Vaughn) discovers he has fathered 533 children in ‘Delivery Man’ and Colin Firth plays an emotionally damaged husband in ‘The Railway Man’.

12 Years A Slave

Be it as a contemporary visual artist or film director, Steve McQueen has always ploughed his own furrow.

His bravura film debut ‘Hunger’ recounted the story of Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) through the eyes of fellow republican prisoners, while his incendiary 2011 follow-up, ‘Shame’, dealt candidly with sex addiction.

For his third feature, McQueen considers the slave trade from the perspective of a free black man, who was kidnapped in 1841 and suffered 12 years of abuse on the plantations of Louisiana before he was reunited with his loving family.

Based on the autobiography of the same name by Solomon Northup and adapted for the screen by John Ridley, ‘12 Years A Slave’ is a masterpiece that sears into the retina with every artfully composed frame.

‘12 Years A Slave’ is the deserved frontrunner for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars and it would be impossible to deny McQueen’s film an entire mantelpiece of gold statuettes.

Ejiofor breaks our hearts as an honest, decent man, who retains his humanity in the face of unspeakable cruelty. Nyong’o is equally eye-catching in her big screen debut while Fassbender simmers with rage and self-loathing.

McQueen’s directorial brio comes to the fore, memorably in a horrific whipping sequence shot in a single take.

It’s not a film that demands repeat viewings – like a sledgehammer to the solar plexus, once is enough. But McQueen’s sensitive yet unflinching portrait of suffering will stay with us forever.

Star Rating: 4½/5 Rating: 96%

The Railway Man

Ghosts of the past haunt a former British Army officer in Jonathan Teplitzky’s respectful and polished drama.

Based on the bestselling autobiography of Eric Lomax, ‘The Railway Man’ uses a patchwork of flashbacks to recount the writer’s treatment at the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army after the fall of Singapore.

Director Jonathan Teplitzky doesn’t shy away from the most harrowing episodes of Lomax’s story, including a torture sequence which depicts Japanese officers using water-boarding to extract information from their prisoner.Another scene, much closer to home at a Scottish train station, is equally chilling.

While Teplitzky’s picture lands a flurry of punches, it doesn’t quite deliver a knockout blow, even in the final act when Lomax attempts to confront a Japanese officer he holds responsible for the war raging inside his head. Like the smartly dressed man at the story’s centre, the deepest emotions remain tightly buttoned.

‘The Railway Man’ chugs back and forth between 1940s Singapore and 1980 Berwick, which makes Teplitzky’s film feel far more sluggish and laboured that it actually is.

Thankfully, Firth and Kidman are both excellent in emotionally demanding roles. Irvine is mesmerising as the younger incarnation of Eric, who is beaten to near-death by the Japanese after a daring attempt to construct a radio from spare parts.

Direction is measured throughout and the tone suitably sombre, honouring the memory of countless young soldiers who resisted their captors, sometimes with their dying breath.

Star Rating: 3½/5 Rating: 71%

Delivery Man

When Hollywood remakes a critically acclaimed foreign film, the original director, more often than not, stands by as their work is re-interpreted, sometimes beyond recognition, by another filmmaker.

Occasionally though, the same creative force takes the helm for both versions.

In 1993, Dutch director George Sluizer adapted his gripping 1988 thriller ‘Spoorloos’ for American audiences and delivered ‘The Vanishing’.

Two years ago, French-Canadian filmmaker Ken Scott charmed critics and audiences with his bittersweet comedy ‘Starbuck’. He remains in the director’s chair for this brasher remake, which transplants the action from Montreal to the mean streets of Manhattan.

In most other respects, ‘Delivery Man’ is the identical twin of its predecessor, repeating scenes virtually word for word in an effort to recreate the winning formula.

A romantic subplot feels underpowered second time around but does thankfully find leading man Vince Vaughn in restrained form.

‘Delivery Man’ is a surprisingly touching second helping that remains true to the heartfelt intentions of the original film.

Vaughn is likeable throughout but there’s a lack of on-screen chemistry with Smulders so the emotional waters of their relationship never break.

Pratt is hysterical as a single father stumbling blindly through legal loopholes while Patten, Robertson, Reynor and co deliver spirited performances as youngsters searching for the man who gave them life.

“It may be a bit strange and a bit oversized, but it’s my life,” David comments towards the end of the film.

He can add haphazard and slightly mawkish to that fair summation.

Star Rating: 3/5 Rating: 39%

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Horror movies breed like rabbits.

However, our love for these diabolical cinematic milestones has been gradually eroded by myriad sequels, prequels, spin-offs and contemporary remakes.

The same is true of the original ‘Paranormal Activity’. Made on a shoestring budget by writer-director Oren Peli, the found-footage horror became a global sensation in 2007.

Since then, the mythology has been expanded in three further hauntings and ‘Paranormal Activity 5’ is scheduled to spook audiences at Hallowe’en.

In the meantime, Christopher Landon writes and directs this bridging chapter, which centres on teenager Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) in June 2012 as he graduates from high school in Oxnard, California.

For the opening hour, ‘The Marked Ones’ seems to be a self-contained story that owes more to the 2012 rites-of-passage film ‘Chronicle’ than the ‘Paranormal Activity’ saga.

Then writer-director Landon adds references to the past including a brief appearance by Ali Rey (Molly Ephraim), whose parents were killed in ‘Paranormal Activity 2’.

For a clunky final flourish, he introduces a hellish portal that facilitates travel through space and time, thereby allowing one character from this film to gatecrash an earlier instalment.

Scares are largely recycled and, as with previous films, characters abandon common sense at crucial junctures to place themselves in harm’s way.

The introduction of the Simon electronic memory game as a makeshift Ouija board is rather neat with the green and red lights indicating yes and no responses.

Alas, like other elements in Landon’s script, the device runs out of juice.

Star Rating: 2½ Rating: 41%

In selected cinemas …

Exposed: Beyond Burlesque

A documentary celebrating the art of burlesque as a means of breaking down social and sexual taboos, including performances from Rose Wood, Julie Atlas Muz, Mat Fraser, Dirty Martini, Bunny Love, Bambi The Mermaid, World Famous ’Bob’ and Tigger.

The film demonstrates how these eight men and women are using the naked human form to question the concept of normality and challenge and satirise the political status quo.

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