DVD & Digital

Film review: Mangrove

Steve McQueen’s work was lauded with much critical acclaim when he directed historical saga 12 Years a Slave. For his latest effort, he tells another important true story of racial prejudice, but this time it’s much closer to home. The first episode of the Small Axe mini-series, Mangrove follows modest restaurateur Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes) as he opens a West Indian eatery in the Notting Hill district of West London. His place becomes a lively neighbourhood hub for the black community and after continuous harassment from the local authorities, he is encouraged by Black Panther Movement leader Altheia Jones-Lecointe (Letitia Wright) to make a stand. Their peaceful protest soon descends into chaos, leading to an emotionally-charged trial.

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DVD & Digital

DVD review: Widows


It’s been five years since the release of director Steve McQueen’s slave trade epic 12 Years a Slave, and now he is back to explore racial divide again in heist thriller Widows. Co-written with Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, the story is based on Lynda La Plante’s 1980s crime series but has been shipped from London to modern day America for this adaptation. When an armed robbery goes terribly wrong, Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) are left with no spouses and a lot of problems. They’re indebted to corrupt politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who is embroiled in a dirty campaign against mayor Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) to be alderman of a Chicago district. However, as Veronica lays her hands on her late husband’s notes for an upcoming job, she hatches an ambitious plan to settle the arrears.

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DVD & Digital

DVD review: 12 Years a Slave

Last year, the subject of slavery was tackled in very different ways by award winning directors Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino and both lost out in the big race for the most coveted Academy Award. This year, the British artist turned filmmaker Steve McQueen presents his honest take on the topic with ’12 Years a Slave’, a gruelling adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir of the same name, and a strong contender to take the top prize at this year’s ceremony. Northup, portrayed exceptionally by Chiwetel Ejiofor, was a wealthy free man with a loving family and in 1841, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. McQueen shows off his expertise in what is only his third feature, creating something which is brutal and beautiful in equal measures, taking a more hard-hitting approach at highlighting the dark side of America’s history than those before him.
  The film is episodic in its structure, as Solomon Northup, or Platt as he is renamed is shunted around from pillar to post, encountering one horrible man at a time. His collisions with these powerful men are filled with tension and help take the plot forward. It slowly develops, from one year to the next, the straight forward narrative lacking invention but reflecting the prison sentence like environment. In between these emotionally charged meetings with kidnappers, slave traders and owners, we mostly see Platt suffering in silence which carries a lot of weight, keeping his head down and hiding his background and education in order to stay under the radar but never giving up hope.
  In contrast to his trauma, a young female slave is more vocal in her struggle, wailing about how much she misses her children. Her vulnerability makes her a favourite of wicked plantation owner Edwin Epps and prime target for his merciless abuse. His character, as cruel as he is, is at times garish and over-the-top whereas his wife Mary lurking in the background is far more chilling, Sarah Paulson giving an exquisite depiction of evil. Epps relationship with Patsey builds to a disturbing resolution which severely tests Solomon’s character and puts the physical horror of slavery at the forefront of the audience’s mind. The big moments are heightened by a colossal yet familiar sounding score from Hans Zimmer.
  McQueen’s directorial vision is well complimented by a series of stupendous performances, with Chiwitel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o as clear stand outs as Solomon and Patsey, both earning their countless nominations. Ejiofor wears the emotions of his character through the expressions on his face superbly doing great justice to the mental strength it must have taken to overcome the hardships, and Nyong’o gives a stunning turn as the long suffering victim. Michael Fassbender is also impressive as Edwin Epps, a frequent collaborator of McQueen’s having starred in both his films before this, but showing an entirely different side to his talents. Sturdy support is given from Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt and Paul Dano, all briefly but suitably fitting the bill. Dano, in particular, is very strong as John Tibeats, a man who takes unnerving pleasure in dishing out pain to his slaves. His clash with Solomon is memorable, and one of the highlights of the entire film.
  ’12 Years a Slave’ is uncomfortable but necessary viewing, cementing Steve McQueen as one of the most forward-thinking filmmakers in the game, and by achieving this level so early on in his career, it will be interesting to see which controversial matter he will turns his focus to next. His methods are bold and fearless, and his visual background is evident in his craftsmanship. His latest effort is his most striking work of art to date.
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