Stuart Reviews Restaurants: Lochlands Mill (Dundee Rd, Forfar)

March 5, 2017

It’s been pretty quiet on the restaurant review front lately, for which I apologise.

In recent weeks I’ve spent more time going back to places I’d already eaten, so there hasn’t been much to talk about.

But today I ventured further afield to try somewhere new; Lochlands Mill, just outside of Forfar.

The Venue

Well it took us a while to get their thanks to my car’s shitty sat nav, which suggested I drive across a barrier on the A90, but once we finally – and quite by accident – ended up in the right place, we were met with a

The burger was superb

The burger was superb

nice restaurant.

Rather oddly combining as a pet rehabilitation centre and jewellery store, Lochlands Mill looks quite new and has a fresh design.

It’s not the biggest place in the world, and we were lucky to get the last available table, but once we were in it was clean and comfortable.

The waiting staff were pleasant and were happy to offer recommendations on what to get from the menu.

The Food

While Mhairi went for the Soup & Sandwich combo of Lentil & Vegetable soup and an Egg Mayo & Chive open sandwich, I took the waitress’s recommendation of their home-made burger with bbq sauce and onion rings served on a brioche bun ahead of the Roast of the Day or the Steak & Ale Pie.

She recommended well.

I like to think I’m a good judge of a burger, and sometimes I feel disappointed. There are some places that apparently specialise in their burgers – like Rascals in St. Andrews for example – that don’t actually make good burgers.  What they do is try to hide the bland and substandard flavour of their ready-made meat patty with all the wild and wacky toppings available, as if they are more important.

But this burger was different. I could tell that it was freshly made just before it was served, with its rough, uneven shape, and while I’ll be honest and say I’d have preferred it a little less well done, it had a robust

Apparently the open sandwich had the perfect blend of egg to mayonaisse

Apparently the open sandwich had the perfect blend of egg to mayonaisse

flavour. The onion ring was also well cooked and not greasy, which complimented it nicely along with the Applewood smoked cheddar.

Mhairi also enjoyed her food, with the soup being declared light to eat but filling, while the sandwich was considered to have the perfect ratio of egg to mayonnaise.

High praise indeed.

The Drink

Plenty of variety of soft drink, but it won’t come as a surprise to know I went for a lemonade. Shocking, eh? Mhairi veered off the well beaten path though and elected for an Irn Bru.

The Vegetarian’s Viewpoint

It should be noted that both the Beer Kitchen and the Meat House in Dundee were considered for today’s lunch but had very little for vegetarians. While I’m sure that’s exactly the most shocking revelation from a place called The Meat House, it actually had far more choice than the Beer Kitchen.

Anyway, there were both light and main options for the carrot munchers at Lochlands Mill, so there were no complaints in that department.

The Price

All in, it came to £21.10, which isn’t bad at all. In fact, Mhairi’s meal only amounted to £6.50 which really is pretty good.

Final Thoughts

A top quality burger, a clean and comfortable venue and plenty choice for vegetarians means this is one place we’ll definitely be going back to soon.

I’d probably book a table in advance though as I think we were pretty lucky to get a table.

 

 


Movies – Dad’s Army Review (or ‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It’)

February 16, 2016

Years ago I went to an amateur dramatics society’s version of the BBC sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo.

It wasn’t up to much.

But it was still performed better than the new Dad’s Army film.

Before going, I did think that it might be a disaster because to me, the success of the Dad’s Army TV series was largely down to the quality of the performers.army

What made Captain Mainwaring a memorable TV character was not how he was written, but how Arthur Lowe portrayed him; it was his comic timing and pomposity that made him funny. The same goes for all of them. Mostly – with the possible exception of Clive Dunn – the actors were playing extensions of their own selves.

And so any remake without that original cast obviously comes with the risk that the new actors will simply be doing impressions, rather than playing the characters.

That’s exactly what happened.

But they weren’t just doing impressions, they were doing terrible impressions.

Well, they didn’t all do impressions I suppose. Bill Nighy just played the same character he plays in every single thing he’s ever been in; he played Bill Nighy.

Apart from him though it was like a bunch of actors who shared the physical characteristics (or in the case of the bizarrely cast Bill Paterson, shared the same nationality) of the original cast were given a Dad’s Army boxed set and told ‘Just copy them’.

With that said, the worst of the lot was the supposedly respected actor Sir Tom Courtenay’s attempt at Corporal Jones. I’ve never seen anything like it. Perhaps the problem was that instead of hiring a younger man and dressing him up as an older one, they just cast a tired old man who could barely get the words out.

It was all just rather sad.

And it wasn’t funny either. Though I heard the occasional laugh in the cinema today – and indeed almost chuckled myself exclusively at some of the lines from Michael Gambon’s Private Godfrey – the 100 minutes played out in front of silence. That’s never a good sign for a comedy.

Partly this was down to the acting, and partly it was because they tried to recreate the style of humour of the original without an audience to laugh at the jokes. It was never going to work.

The only credit I’ll give Dad’s Army is that the plot – basic as it was – worked. Catherine Zeta Jones played a Nazi spy working undercover as a magazine columnist doing an article on the Home Guard. Naturally she managed to string the troops along for most of the film until it comes to a head in a reasonably exciting final 20 minutes.

But that’s not nearly enough to cover up for the flaws here.

I think they should just have left Dad’s Army alone. It’s repeated often enough and will simply never be bettered.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


Movies – Spotlight Review (or ‘Engaging and Engrossing, But Is It Worthy?’)

January 31, 2016

While I certainly don’t want to be swayed by other people’s opinions before going to see a movie – a notion that I accept is somewhat ironic considering I’m writing a review that will probably influence the opinions of others before they see it – I did read a couple of conflicting views of Spotlight from people I know before venturing out to the cinema last night.

One person said that he thought it was excellent; a gripping ensemble piece where the cast – pardon the obvious pun for the second review in a row – share the spotlight so that there is no obvious lead.spotlight

Another guy said he thought it was far too ‘worthy’; a predictable and plodding movie designed with the intention of winning Oscars rather than telling a good story.

Now those are two contrasting views at the opposite ends of the spectrum. If you read them before you go to see it you wouldn’t know if you were going to be engrossed or annoyed.

So what did I think of it?

Honestly, though I err towards agreeing with the first guy, I can understand to an extent what the second guy is talking about.

It’s true to say that this is a great ensemble piece. The likes of Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James share equal amounts of screen time and don’t stand out as obvious leads.

But then it’s also true to say that thanks to Mark Ruffalo, it does feel a bit ‘worthy’. Personally, I felt he let the side down because he was so obviously ‘acting’, and though the types of people who give out Oscars are known to love that sort of thing, I don’t. To me, a good actor is someone who makes it look like the character they are playing is them being normal. The rest of the cast manage this easily, but Ruffalo – with his fake accent, occasional shoutyness and over the top body language – just came across as someone doing an impression. He’s trying too hard.

I disagree with the second opinion though where he said that it’s plodding and predictable. To me the movie never slowed down or became dull, and the two hours flew by. Predictable? Well there weren’t any shock twists like it turned out that the kids were raping the priests, but what do you expect? It’s a true account of the slow and painstaking process good journalists must go through to complete a story.

And I suppose that’s at the heart of the matter, isn’t it?

If that sounds interesting to you, then you’ll enjoy it. If you go along looking for something more thrilling and action packed, you probably won’t.

But if it’s the former, then the movie does a great job of explaining how the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe happened upon the cover-up going on in the Catholic Church, and gave an insight into how Boston society as a whole managed had previously and unwittingly swept it all under the carpet.

I guess you’ll just have to decide for yourself whether or not that sounds interesting.


Movies – Kingsman: The Secret Service Review (or “A Pleasant Surprise”)

July 2, 2015

A few months ago I was asked by a reader of this blog to review Kingsman: The Secret Service, but since it had only just finished at the cinema and I hadn’t gone to see it, I couldn’t oblige.

Why it didn’t catch my eye when it was on, I couldn’t tell you, but a quick google search shows that it had mixed reviews, with The Telegraph giving it one star (describing it as obnoxious) and Empire Magazine awarding it four stars, which by their standards means ‘excellent’. Perhaps I only caught the negative ones.

Anyway, since that request, I’ve seen nothing but praise for this movie; not from the press, but from punters who went along and loved it.

Someone even described it to me as one of the best films they’ve ever seen.

So this morning, I finally got a chance to sit down and watch it.

Movies – Kingsman: The Secret Service Review – What’s It About?

Not so much a parody but a comedic love-letter to spy films of old,Kingsman is about a young working class Londoner who is brought in to a top secret – and incredibly upper class – British spy agency, and must

It can't be often when the lead actor in a movie doesn't even get his name on the poster

It can’t be often when the lead actor in a movie doesn’t even get his name on the poster

help save the world from an evil billionaire who plans to use mobile technology to cull most of mankind in a bid to save the planet from ecological decline.

Movies – Kingsman: The Secret Service Review – Who’s In It?

Though I wasn’t familiar with lead actor Taron Egerton (which is unsurprising considering he only seems to have five acting credits to his name), Kingsman is loaded with well-known actors like Michael Caine, Jack Davenport, Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Firth, Mark Strong and even Mark Hamill.

Quite the collection.

Movies – Kingsman: The Secret Service Review – My Thoughts

There’s a scene halfway through the film where Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson discuss how spy films are so serious nowadays and that the old James Bond films with the over-the-top megalomaniac super villains were much more entertaining.

Now clearly this is a metatextual reference to what Kingsman is trying to achieve, and I think it sums it up perfectly.

As much as people like the Telegraph’s movie reviewer might think this is obnoxious, for my money it’s what spy films should be about.

Kingsman has the thrills, spills, action scenes and special effects that you would hope to get from any James Bond type movie and indeed it’s probably got quite a bit more violence, but it does it in a way that’s designed to entertain and make people chuckle; something which modern Bond has forgotten.

But Kingsman adapts it for a modern age and a modern viewer. There’s humour, there’s lots of swearing – and not for shock value, like when Judi Dench swore in Skyfall and Bond forums went into meltdown, but rather because it’s just how people talk – and there’s a certain appeal to it that should mean most people find something to enjoy.

The story itself has a good flow that not only builds up the main character to the point where he’s equipped for the final showdown with the villain at the end, but also allows for high points to keep you entertained until he gets there. I found the scene in the church quite a daring thing for any film to present.

And speaking of daring, the joke at the end where the Princess declares that if Eggsy manages to save the world, she’ll give him anal sex was controversial but hilarious. It’s a joke that’s designed to go one step further than the sort of cheeky ‘Bottoms Up’ style joke you’d find in some of these older films, but takes it that deliberate step over the edge. The zoom in on her bare arse just hammered that point home.

If I was to criticise it for anything, it would be that the way it’s directed – with each action sequence filled with slow shots – seems to weighted too greatly towards viewing it in 3D. That sort of gimmickry has long since past its sell by date.

To sum up though, I found Kingsman: The Secret Service to be thoroughly entertaining and would give it the thumbs up.

If you haven’t seen it yet, look it out.

Calls to Action

Remember to…

a) Like Stuart Reviews Stuff on Facebook or Twitter

b) Read about my books – focussing on reviews of Doctor Who from the very beginning – here

c) If you appreciate my sense of humour, go ‘Stuart’s Exciting Anecdote of the Day’ 


Wrestlemania XXX Review (or “Nope, That’s Not The Name Of A Porn Film”)

April 7, 2014

This time last year I sat here and wrote a scathing review of Wrestlemania XXIX.

I don’t often do wrestling reviews, but I was so disillusioned by the poor quality on show that I felt I had to.

Here’s how I summed it up…

As a viewer since 1991, I must admit my interest in the WWE product is at an all time low, and I saw absolutely nothing atWrestleMania 29 to make me feel positive about the weeks and months ahead.

A Great Way To Start The Show

A Great Way To Start The Show

That’s how bad it was.

A lot has happened in the last year though, and since the massive fan backlash at the Royal Rumble, there have been signs of an improving product.

And that leads us to the present and WWE’s latest offering, Wrestlemania XXX (which isn’t a porn film).

WWE Wrestlemania XXX Review

I’ll go through it on a match by match (or segment by segment) basis.

The Hall of Fame Ceremony: Ok, a quick detour first of all to the previous night’s Hall of Fame Ceremony. I can only echo what others have said. In order, in terms of speeches, Lita was incredibly dull, Jake Roberts was just breathtakingly

amazing, Mr T was unintentionally hysterical, Kane’s speech for Paul Bearer was enjoyable, Scott Hall was short, effective and to the point, Carlito was the only amusing bit in an otherwise super-dull Carlos Colon speech, and The Ultimate Warrior was fantastic. I especially loved the way Warrior thanked the people who really helped him in his career rather than the usual suspects. Overall, a great watch.

The Tag Title Fatal Fourway: A decent way to kick things off in the pre-show. The right team won, but it’s a bit odd that Cesaro was the one to take the fall. The split was a sign of things to come,

The Opening Segment: Hogan, Austin and The Rock all in the ring together exchanging barbs to start off with? That’s about as good as it gets. Well, I’d have preferred it if Bret Hart was in there instead of The Rock, giving it the whole “Uh…well…uh…you know…uh….Hogan is a piece of shit” stuff, but hey, you can’t have everything. The Rock doesn’t do much for me, but Austin and his “What” stuff is still gold, and the way they got round Hogan accidentally calling it the Silverdome twice was genius. A great start.

Triple H vs Daniel Bryan: As you would expect, it was a solid match, although Triple H’s entrance was a bit stupid. Stephanie McMahon is a very effective character these days too.

The Shield vs Kane & The New Age Outlaws: Well, it was over with quickly, but then why wouldn’t The Shield make short work of a trio of semi retired older men?

Aaaaaaaaaah!!!!

Aaaaaaaaaah!!!!

The Battle Royal: I’m disappointed that were weren’t one or two legends in there, and I don’t really get why they didn’t just announce that the likes of Tyson Kidd and Yoshi Tatsu (can you believe he won the battle royal at Wrestlemania XXVI?!) would be in it in the pre-match graphic, but it was a nice little battle royal. The Kofi Kingston spot was impressive, although he seems to be employed purely for high spots in matches like this. The right man won though in Cesaro, and the sight – and reaction from the crowd – of seeing him slam the Big Show over the top rope was superb.

John Cena vs Bray Wyatt: While I enjoyed it, I feel the match went on just a little bit too long, and I also think the wrong man won. While Wyatt shouldn’t have won cleanly, he still should have emerged the victor. Losing doesn’t do much to help him on the face of it, while Cena losing would have done nothing to his status.

Brock Lesnar vs the Undertaker: Wow. Who the hell saw that one coming? In the pre-determined world of pro-wrestling, very little can shock a viewer as long-term as me. Sure, things can pleasantly surprise me (like the Cesaro victory in the Battle Royal) but not *shock*. This shocked me. And it shocked everyone.

Now sure, all the logic of pro-wrestling said Lesnar should win considering the Undertaker dominated him in the run up to the show, but this is The Undertaker at Wrestlemania. He doesn’t lose. And even though it was quite obvious he was old, run down, not a patch on the guy he was even two years ago and – to be blunt – looked like an old drag queen, and even though he was up against a beast like Brock Lesnar, wrestling logic would not allow anyone to believe the Undertaker wasn’t taking the win.

So I thought that was fantastic – even though the rest of the match was shit – and I loved the crowd reaction. Grown men were crying and some left in disgust, but that’s what wrestling can just so very occasionally do to you. Superb. I would say The Undertaker should now retire, and from listening to what the commentators were saying, I think that might be what happens.

The Divas Match: An absolute mess. To be fair, I’m sure it would be difficult for any male wrestlers to create a good match in similar circumstances, but it still came across as amateur hour. As a fan of Total Divas, my mum wanted to watch this match, but even she could only say “That looked so fake” as all the Divas queued up on the outside for that Bellas plancha spot. The crapness ended when Naomi managed to botch tapping out. *groan*.

Daniel Bryan vs Randy Orton vs Batista: So Daniel Bryan got his happy ending after all. It was a decent match and included a gruesome lookingPowerbomb/RKO spot through a table, and a nice cameo from Triple H & Stephanie, but I

Undertaker lost? This guy can't believe it either

Undertaker lost? This guy can’t believe it either

think most people were still just shocked at Undertaker losing. To give the wrestlers credit, they *almost* had me believing that Batista would win on those two near falls.

Wrestlemania XXX: Final Thoughts

Apart from the Divas, this was a rock solid Wrestlemania for the first time in a long time. Indeed, it’s easily one of the best they’ve ever done.

Without doubt the polar opposite of the abysmal Wrestlemania XXIX.

Storylines were concluded, new superstars were made and there was nostalgia aplenty, but the big story was the Undertaker’s loss.

I just don’t think anyone saw it coming.

Tonight’s Raw should be very interesting.

 


Stuart’s Top 100 Games of the Last Generation Part Eleven: #20 – #11

January 21, 2014

#20 – Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Xbox 360, 2011)Skyrim

There are two ways of looking at Skyrim. The first is that it’s one of the deepest and best looking games ever made, and the second is that it’s just a pretty spreadsheet.

I’ve seen it from both perspectives.

Once I had completed the main story of this one, I just didn’t feel the need to continue, even though I know I should go back to it. But it occurred to me that beyond the main story it did feel quite repetitive and just a case of collecting things into a list and then giving those same things away to other people.

It’s still a momentous achievement in gaming though, and well worthy of inclusion in the Top 20.

#19 – Dead Rising/Dead Rising 2 (Xbox 360, 2006 – 2010)deadrising

A great idea for a game that’s well executed. Though I personally didn’t feel the need to do more than one play-through of either game, I know people who did, and I can understand why.

It’s not possible to do everything in one run on Dead Rising.

While both are essentially the same game, that’s ok. Cutting through hordes of Zombies in a shopping mall/Las Vegas is worthy of a sequel.

That I won’t get a chance to play Dead Rising 3 on the Xbox One is a disappointment.

#18 – Borderlands 2 (PC, 2012)borderlands2

While another First Person Shooter features higher up the list on the basis of its multiplayer mode, Borderlands 2 is for me the best single player FPS of the last generation.

Deep, great looking and with a challenging but progressive learning curve, Borderlands 2 also managed to be quite funny as well.

You can pick it up dirt cheap now too.

#17 – Everybody’s Golf: World Tour (Playstation 3, 2008)everybodys golf

For my money, a better game than any of the Tiger Woods series.

As much as it’s fun to play with real golfers on real golf courses, I prefer playing against the more colourful anime style Japanese characters of this Playstation franchise.

It’s also a more polished game than Tiger Woods too.

Sadly, this is the top golf game because Nintendo never bothered to release a new version of Mario Golf on the Wii, and even if they had, it would have had crappy motion controls with the Wiimote.

It should be pointed out though that the classic Mario Golf style is a copy of the Everybody’s Golf match engine. And that says all you need to know.

#16 – 42 All Time Classics (Nintendo DS, 2006)42-all-time-classics_4115717

Just a genius idea for a game.

As much as developers will try their best to come up with new and innovative styles of gaming, the old classics are often the best.

What would you rather part with you hard-earned cash for? A dodgy stylus based DS game with no replay value like most of the early DS releases, or a game that includes 42 well-known and much-loved board and card games?

42 All Time Classics worked as both a game you could play on your own and one you could easily play through link up with other DS owners, and moreover, it actually explained the rules of some of the more complex card games in a succinct and understandable way.

Definitely one of the MVPs of the last generation

#15 – The Bigs 2 (Xbox 360, 2009)TheBigs2

You’ll notice that American sports games are conspicuous by their absence on this list. In the main, that’s because I find their sports confusing. So while I’ve bought basketball, ice hockey and American Football games in the past, the intricate rules and complex controls are a barrier to me really enjoying them.

Baseball games are the exception, but they are few and far between, especially in the UK.

While MLB: The Show on the PS3 was a technically sound game, it had no character.

But the Bigs 2 does; it has it in droves.

Sure, it’s a bit cartoony, with the home run power-ups and ridiculous catches, but that’s all part of the fun. The controls and rules are easy to master too. And unlike most sports games – even FIFA – its single player career mode was worth playing.

#14 – Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2 (Nintendo Wii)mariogalaxy

It’s a 3D Mario platformer, so it’s going to be top-notch as a matter of course.

But the reason neither game – which are much of a muchness – enters my top 10 is because I felt they lacked the spark of Mario 64 or even Super Mario Sunshine. I’d sooner  play Mario and feel I was playing in a Mario “world” rather than a series of loosely connected levels.

Still brilliant though.

#13 – Geometry Wars 2 : Retro Evolved (Xbox Live Arcade, 2008)Geometrywars2cover

Five of the games in the top 13 could be described as basic, simple or “budget”, but to me, the last generation of games brought back that style of play.

Look at Geometry Wars 2; it’s a top down, old school shooter that could have been done on less graphical power in the 80s. All you need is the two thumb sticks and you’re good to go.

But this manages to look good, and play amazingly. The replay value is tremendous, as you try to beat either your own score or your online friends scores.

Wonderful.

#12 – Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time (Nintendo DS, 2006)Partners in Time

As much as Nintendo – and Mario – are famous for their platforming games first and their sporty/racing games second, what Nintendo did best for some considerable time going back to the Gamecube days was make RPGs.

If I had done an article on the best games of the generation one before last, Paper Mario 2: Thousand Year Door would be in my top 2. It really was superb.

On a similar vein, the Mario & Luigi series for the DS was magnificent, and Partners in Time was easily the best of them.

I’m not a big fan of RPGs and find stuff like Final Fantasy to be a bore, but this just worked for me.

#11 –  Pinball FX 2 (Xbox Live Arcade, 2010)PinballFX2

Like Geometry Wars 2, this is a simple yet engrossing game. It is, after all, just pinball.

But again, it’s all about competing for scores. If I had no friends online to play against, I doubt I’d have played it half as much as I have, but the key is that if your friend beats your score, you then want to trump him.

So you end up playing each of the various tables time and time again. I couldn’t tell you how many times I played that fucking Rocky & Bullwinkle table before I finally bested my mate’s score, but I can tell you it was frustrating and rewarding in equal measures.

The variety of tables is excellent as well. It’s a game type you’d never tire of playing.

And One That Doesn’t Make It – MLB2k11mlb2k11

Easily one of the worst games of the last generation, MLB 2k11 was the drizzling shits.

I mean, how hard is it to map out the controls for a baseball game? All you need for pitching is a button for four different types of pitch, for batting you’ve got to have a normal, power and bunt swing button, and for fielding and base running just a few other buttons.

It’s easy.

Yet MLB 2K11 had the most ludicrous controls where you’d have to draw out weird patterns with the right thumb stick before you could pitch or bat. It was daft and needlessly complicated.

2K Sports have finally laid their grotty baseball series to rest.

Thank God.


Movies: 12 Years A Slave Review (or “Coasting On Subject Matter Alone”)

January 17, 2014

Long term readers of Stuart Reviews Stuff will know that in my reviews, I like to bring up the notion of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

By that I mean that certain things, whether they be films, games or TV shows are purported to be amazing just because people don’t want to go against the popular view.

And that’s true of the film I went to see today and the film which will inevitably win big at every award show going this year, 12 Years A Slave.

12 Years A Slave Review: What’s This About?

I would regurgitate the synopsis, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll write exactly what this film is about.12-years-a-slave-quad

A black man is kidnapped into slavery in mid-1800s America, he’s beaten up for 2 hours and then Brad Pitt writes a letter for him so he’s freed.

12 Years A Slave Review: Who’s In It?

The lead – playing the part of the kidnapped protagonist Solomon Northup- is Chiwetel Ejiofor, and his supporting cast includes the likes of Benedict “Sherlock” Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o.

12 Years A Slave: How Highly Is It Rated?

As you might expect from my opening remarks, this is a very highly thought of film with high marking reviews everywhere you would care to look. Imdb give it 8.5 from around 45,000 votes, both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic give it 97%, and as you can see from the movie’s poster, it gets 5 star reviews from critics all over the place.

Thoughts – So Why Don’t I Like It?

You might sit there reading this and think “Why doesn’t he like such a critically acclaimed movie?”. Well I’ll tell you.

But first I’ll tell you why I think people like it.

The subject matter is the key to 12 Years A Slave. It’s being described as a “shocking” and “unflinching” portrayal of how slavery really was, and that it pulls no punches.

And that’s true. You won’t hear me argue against that.

The thing is though, I suspect critics feel they dare not go against the grain and criticise such a serious subject matter for fear of trivialising it.

Well I’m not trivialising it either, but that doesn’t mean it gets a free pass and heaped with praise just because of the subject matter. I get that slavery was a horrible thing in the pre-Civil War Era, but surely anyone with half a brain knows that? Is the idea that some people think that slavery’s best representation is the Disney film Song of the South (even though that is set after the abolition of slavery I might add)?

I’ve seen films that deal with the way slaves have been treated; hell, look at Django Unchained as an example of that. And sure, that film was over the top, but the core message that the oppressive white man of the American South seriously mistreated slaves was in there alongside the comedy and the ridiculous cartoon violence towards the end.

But Django Unchained had more than that; it had entertainment value.

12 Years A Slave has no entertainment value.

I’m guessing we’re supposed to reflect on how bad things were back then after we watch it, but like I just said, I think anyone with common sense knew that.

So what does it have apart from that? Practically nothing.

As a story, 12 Years A Slave just doesn’t cut the mustard. Once Solomon Northup is kidnapped, all we have is two hours of him lurching from one set piece where he’s beaten up or mistreated to the next, with almost no storyline to it. Nothing develops and it’s just one long slog. Is that the point? Maybe it is, but that doesn’t make for entertainment.

I do tell a lie there though; the film is padded out with two side-plots that go nowhere. The first is a woman whose children are taken away from him, and that’s not resolved. The next is that evil Plantation owner Michael Fassbender has a sort-of-relationship with one of his slaves, much to the annoyance of his wife, and that doesn’t go anywhere either.

Then, with no real reason other than it was perhaps time to wrap things up, Brad Pitt arrives on the scene and sorts out his freedom.

It just had no flow to it, and I attribute that in some part to the director.

The Direction

Now, whenever you read anything about 12 Years A Slave, you’re told about the masterful job Steve McQueen did. I couldn’t disagree more.

Here are my main reasons for that…

  1. The film starts off with an entirely pointless prolepsis (flash forward). There was just no need for it; it’s an overused, lazy directorial trick that lost its impact as long ago as the TV series Alias.
  2. For a film entitled 12 Years A Slave, it would have been good to get some perception of how long he was a slave for. But there was none. None at all. Nobody appeared to age and there was no indication of the passing of time whatsoever. If you didn’t get told how long he was a slave in the title of the film, you wouldn’t know by watching.
  3. I think he thought that showing the results of people getting lashed would hit home, but I feel desensitized to that sort of thing now. That’s not his fault of course, but while some are saying what he did was groundbreaking, I would disagree.
  4. It isn’t made especially clear how or why he was kidnapped.

But I will give him some credit. There were a handful of very strong scenes in there, most notably the one where Solomon is left almost hanging, and the rest of the slaves just went about their business without even trying to help him. That was powerful.

And similarly, some of the scenes involving the character of Patsey and the jealous plantation owner’s wife were pretty shocking.

Those are not enough though, and what we were left with was so much dead screen time and repetition that with an hour to go I was almost climbing the walls with boredom.

I guess though that “Oscar-worthy” movies have to run way beyond the 2 hour mark to be taken seriously, eh?

12 years A Slave Review: Final Thoughts

When I was leaving the cinema tonight, I heard some of the things the other patrons were saying about 12 Years A Slave. In the main, they were discussing how hard-hitting and violent it was and how it made them think about slavery.

And I get that; I honestly do.

But I go to see a film to be entertained. I think it’s more than possible for a film to educate and entertain at the same time, and that should be the standard by which all great films should be held.

12 Years A Slave will show the people of 2014 just how bad slavery was, and it makes no effort to sugar coat it or to make it melodramatic or over the top.

But it didn’t entertain me. It had no progressing narrative, it had some ropey directorial moments and it just dragged on and on.

So do yourself a favour; if you want to be entertained, don’t bother. And if you want to be educated, there’s bound to be a documentary somewhere that does that better too.