5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Blue is the Warmest Color

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 


  1. Blue is the Warmest Color (La Vie d’Adèle in French, or “the life of Adèle”), a sensual, sexual, emotionally naked sensory menagerie, is a film of great beauty. Chronicling the literal coming of age and self discovery of Adèle, from the tribulations of a high school boy crush to the devastation of an adult breakup, Blue is the Warmest Color gives the viewer a rare opportunity to experience love as real and and as raw as it actually is.

  2. Adèle’s relationship with Leá Seydoux’s Emma (for much of the film her hair is the warmest color) is a most rare love story depicted on film that manages to expose both the more simple, mundane moments and the more fantastical fireworks. The most impactful scenes (more on one of them in no. 4) meander and wander longer than we are used to. We are given time to fully experience, to ruminate, to indulge. An impromptu dance, a meal with the in-laws, or my favorite scene, a celebration of Emma’s art that features the first meeting of Adèle and many of Emma’s bohemian friends, are so rich with text, with subtext, and with an deeper, more intimate layer of personalized understanding. I felt that I actually knew Emma and Adèle not as a stranger in their world for the duration of the film, but as a close friend who has had the pleasure of sharing some of those most meaningful moments.

  3. In case the name and image of “Adèle Exarchopoulos” have not yet reached your list of known movie industry contacts, they will not allude you for long. The majority of BITWC is a literal closeup (there is a little adjustment to get used to the unyielding propensity for this convention) of the uniquely ravishing and mysterious beauty of Miss Exarchopoulous, eighteen at the time of filming, who agrees to let the audience be her makeup mirror for the three hour run-time (it never feels this long). Her face, a storyteller of epic proportion on its own, is not at first glance as striking as it will become throughout the film. The more you get to know her and seemingly each angle, curve, and crevice of her visage, the more you become enraptured in her intimate, moment to moment awakening. There is much discussion in the film about the brilliant writings found in Adèle’s diary. The experience of watching Blue is the Warmest Color is as if we are that diary, exposed to the innermost thoughts and feelings of this mesmerizing character in a strikingly personal way .

  4. I would be remiss not to mention what seems to be the most well-known, over-discussed, and heightened point of curiosity surrounding Blue is the Warmest Color: the graphic seven minute sex scene between Adèle and Emma (Someone in my theatre exited right afterward. Apparently he had somewhere to go). In an effort to quell some of the chatter: yes, it is that long. Yes, it is that graphic. Yes, I have never seen anything like it on screen before. Yes, it matters and yes, it absolutely enriches the story. Blue is the Warmest Color is as effective a piece of work because it is unafraid and unabashed in its portrayal of all moments of Adèle and Emma’s relationship, not just the ones that are easy to show.

  5. Blue is the Warmest Color, propelled by an overwhelming trust (at least during filmmaking) between actors and director, is a film of great power. The simplicity of its story is set against the real complexity of life in such a delicate, considerate, and generous manner. It is as honest and real a telling of la vie d’Adèle as could have been imagined.


5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: 12 Years a Slave

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 


  1. 12 Years a Slave, the critically-applauded and a more than safe wager to be a 2014 Oscar night power player, is at times as excruciating to watch as anything I have ever seen on film. Steve McQueen’s historical biopic of the harrowing kidnapping and dozen year enslavement of Samuel Northup, a free black man from Saratoga Springs, NY in the wrong place (Washington D. C., or more accurately, the United States for the first century of our existence) at the wrong time (in mid-nineteenth century America or when money-grubbing kidnappers are afoot), shoots the moments of slavery’s ugliest manifestations (of which there are an infinite number) as though time stood still. Each shot of a beating, raping, or lynching feels several minutes longer than we asked for. The message is clear: slavery is unthinkably horrific and 12 Years a Slave is prepared to leave the viewer with this message steadfastly imbedded for years to come.

  2. In a similar thread, there is a scene that depicts the lynching of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s (a courageous and career defining performance) Samuel Northup that is halted by the conflated magnanimity and cruelty of Michael Fassbender’s plantation slaveowner. Although Fassbender’s disturbed Mr. Epps saves Northup’s life, Northup is left hanging, feet tip-toeing the ground of survival from sunlight to darkness. If there is a set of images that you will remember from this cinematic achievement, it is the aftermath of this lynching: Northrup is alive, but fighting for life, with normalcy surrounding him. Fellow slaves go about their “chores” and plantation hands go about their business while Northup waits for someone to cut him down. I looked around the theater (both curious and in need of a break myself) to see the majority of my fellow moviegoers covering their eyes with a “let me know when it is all over” aversion. I have rarely experienced a communal viewing experience that was as revolting and off-putting to watch. In this one scene, McQueen delivers the most striking 12 Years A Slave anti-slavery pronouncement.

  3. The acting in 12 Years a Slave is so superb across the board that I foresee it may affect how I view certain actors in future performances. Ralph Fiennes impeccable and chilling performance as a Nazi in Schindler’s List has made it difficult, now twenty years since, to see him as anything but an evil villain (his casting as Voldermort was always an easy sell). I anticipate that I will be able to shake Michael Fassbender’s Mr. Epps because he has already had a plethora of defining character portrayals (how much longer do we have to wait for X-Men: Days of Future Past?). Paul Giamatti, one of the best character actors in the business, has enough of a diversified track record to allow his slave auctioneer to be quickly shaken. Unfortunately, I fear that Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood didn’t help) and Sarah Paulson (nor did her performance in Deadwood), two of the most evil of offenders over the course of the picture, may be much harder to shake from their 12 Years a Slave roles. I am not sure I will ever be able to see them the same way.

  4. 12 Years a Slave is a masterwork, will be a career-defining picture for all of those involved (especially Ejiofor and McQueen), and will be the toast of the 2014 Oscars. However, my strongest critique is that the picture focuses a little too much on the horrors of slavery rather than on the compelling and informative story of Samuel Northup. Northup’s pre-enslavement period is rushed to auction (Quvenzhané Wallis, we hardly knew you!) before we have time to understand the richness of identity and profundity of this man’s day to day existence. By the time Northup finds his long coveted freedom, it feels like a long two hours since we saw him entertaining Taran Killam. The outcome is a more universal anti-slavery story when a more personal telling of the Samuel Northup story would have created a slightly more unique movie experience.

  5. 12 Years a Slave is a motion picture that will sit next to Roots as one of the two definitive cinematic depictions of American slavery. Its prolific form is only matched by its unyielding, unrelenting, and unafraid delivery of this horrific stain on this nation’s history.

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Captain Phillips

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 


1. Captain Phillips is a taut, clinically precise, tension builder of a movie that drives the dangerous waters of the story of a 2009 Somali pirate hijacking of everyman Captain Richard Phillipps and his US Cargo ship off the Eastern African coast safely to shore.

  1. Tom Hanks, sporting an at times nondescript, an at times unintentionally comedic New England accent that certainly does not pass the native Bostonian authenticity muster station, gives his best (and least Tom Hanks-ian performance) since Cast Away.

  2. With Bloody Sunday, United 93, and Captain Phillips now in bold on his directorial resumé, Paul Greengrass is the most prolific filmmaker working today of true stories of harrowing real life events involving a highjacking (In the case of the brilliant Bloody Sunday, the 1972 massacre of innocents at the hands of British soldiers in Derry, Northern Ireland, the hijacking was of a more metaphoric nature.  The civil rights march was hijacked by the violent actions of the IRA and the British Army.).  All three movies, told through the lens of a hand-held documentarian cinematic style and a straight forward, unsentimental plotted delivery, are successful sojourns in accuracy and realism, but Captain Phillips is most successful of the three at character.  Part of this is due to the undeniable screen charisma of Mr. Hanks and part of this is due to the nature of the real life story (it is really about Captain Phillips fight for survival), but Greengrass also provides a deeper zoom here into both Hanks’ heroic portrayal of Captain Phillips and the mindset of each of Somali pirates.  Much of the action of the movie is spent in the claustrophobic confines of a stuffy life boat and Greengrass allows the audience to endure our own seat as a fateful passenger.

  3. In working under the presumption of complete realism, Greengrass does not often allow for much sentimentality or for an overarching or overbearing message to peer through his pictures (the anti-Oliver Stone, so to speak).  He simply allows for the facts to speak for themselves.  Yet, the story of Captain Phillips does have some pertinent allegorical overtones about the nature of power, both at the individual level (Captain Phillips versus his handful of attackers) and at a much larger level (The inevitability of who is going to lose – the little leaguer Somali pirates – when the US military rescue operation albatross rears its Major Leaguer status, is striking.).  I do not for a nautical knot have any sympathy for the actions of the Somali pirates, but I do appreciate the way that Captain Phillips is not afraid to point out how they do derive from an unjust system of “haves” and “have-nots” that limits options and can lead to a more nefarious existence.

  4. Although Captain Phillips may at first glance be well-fit in the classic “great rental, but don’t need to see it in theatres” category, such a movie of pristine competence, execution, and entertainment value, deserves a cinematic viewing.  Most importantly, Captain Phillips delivers the best performance by the best modern movie actor of the last twenty-five years without the first name “Daniel” and the last name “Day-Lewis” in over a decade.  With Saving Mr. Banks on the holiday season horizon, it is a pleasure to have Tom Hanks back in the conversation and Captain Phillips is a most meaningful way to start it.