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Hammerle on…'12 Years a Slave,' 'Thor: The Dark World' and 'All is Lost'

Robert Hammerle
November 20, 2013
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bob hammerle movie reviews12 Years a Slave

In “12 Years a Slave,” Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Solomon Northup, a married black man born in freedom in Upstate New York. It is 1841, and he awakens in chains after a drunken evening with conniving business partners. He is spirited off to a plantation in Georgia where he is sold into slavery. Humiliated and degraded beyond description, he loses all concept of reality as you watch in profound disbelief.

Based on a Northup memoir written after his return to freedom 12 years later, British director Steve McQueen gives the viewer a firsthand look at the racial degradation going on in the antebellum South. Blacks are treated like property in the same fashion as horses or cows, with the men viciously whipped while the women are forced to consent to sex or face death. McQueen unashamedly exposes the cancerous sore that haunts the United States, a country founded on the principle that all men are created equal while unashamedly embracing bigotry.

RatingsAdditionally, the movie is dominated by stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Fassbender. Cumberbatch plays Ford, a slave owner with a troubled heart who first purchased Northup. He tries to be kind and caring, but also buys a young woman while failing in the attempts to keep her young children with her. That moment is as heartbreaking as anything to appear on the screen in recent years.

Ford is forced to sell his slaves for business reasons, and Northup finds himself being owned by Edwin Epps and his wife, two people devoid of both moral principles and shame. Fassbender embraces his role as the wretched Epps, a man who will torture his slaves while then forcing them to engage in a dance for his amusement. Fassbender provides a galvanizing performance as a supremely hateful soul, and seldom will you be so captivated by someone so utterly contemptible.

Additionally, look for unforgettable performances from Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano and Brad Pitt. Giamatti plays a slave trader with the ironic name of Freeman, a man who sells human beings as if he works in a hardware store. Dano is a twisted gem, here appearing as the offensive overseer working under Ford. He loves belittling all slaves with intense glee. As for Pitt, he surfaces late in the game as a construction worker working for Epps, and it is his complete distaste for the concept of slavery that leads Northup back home.

And wait until you see the performance given by Lupita Nyong’o. Capturing the role of Patsey, a beautiful slave sexually abused and disfigured by Epps, you will share her agony at every turn. Looking at Northup’s bloodshot eyes, she begs him to kill her.

As I watched “12 Years a Slave,” I was left in despair thinking of the treatment of African-Americans across our country to this very day. As a people, we can’t possibly know who we are if we don’t know who we were. “12 Years a Slave” is that reminder.

Thor: The Dark World and All is Lost

While combining movie reviews is normally a foolish artistic enterprise, sometimes there is simply no choice. While “All Is Lost” is a title likely to reflect your feelings when you leave the theater, “Thor: The Dark World” will entertain even you cynics. It combines foolishness with a sarcastic edge, and it comes alive with a supporting cast that is a gift that keeps on giving.

I must admit that “Lost” tantalized me, as it appeared to be Robert Redford’s swan song to a brilliant career. He has always been at his best playing rebellious iconoclasts as in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) and “Jeremiah Johnson” (1972), and this film seemed to play to his strength. Disappointingly, it begins with some hope as he is lost at sea, but everything from that point on seems to sink quicker than his boat.

RatingsSadly, you know absolutely nothing about his past, and as a result it is incredibly hard to care what happens to him. The film spans eight days as Redford’s character tries to survive, increasingly desperate and alone. You almost sense that director J.C. Chandor is telling the audience to do little more than embrace indifference.

Clearly, there have been great films about loners lost at sea. Think of Spencer Tracy in “The Old Man and the Sea” (1958) and last year’s magnificent “Life of Pi.” It made me wish that “Lost” would have put a Bengal tiger on board, as maybe the film could have been saved with the title of “Life of Redford.”

On the other hand, there is a reason why moviegoers have completely rejected critics’ dismissive reviews of the “Thor” sequel. Sure, you have Chris Hemsworth in the starring role as nature’s gift to women, as you could actually hear amusing moans in the audience when he appeared without a shirt. Yet Hemsworth’s Thor has only one love, so I’m sorry, ladies.

Nobody plays the human equivalent of God better than Anthony Hopkins, so I’m sure his role as Odin, Thor and Loki’s father, came as second nature. However, pay attention to Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Kat Dennings as Darcy Lewis, as they both have a pissy irreverence that immediately draws you to them.

Hiddleston’s Loki may be the most acerbically enchanting villain to hit the silver screen. Sure, the gifted Natalie Portman doesn’t miss a beat as Thor’s earthly lost love, but she has the grace to let Ms. Dennings, her associate, capture every scene.

In addition, Christopher Eccleston is memorable as Malekith, the ornery leader of the Dark Elves trying to take over the universe. And Stellan Skarsgard is memorable as the gifted but unfortunately insane scientist named Erik Selvig, a guy who prefers to wear only his underwear with a shirt and tie in office meetings as it helps him think more clearly.•

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Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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