Before 12 YEARS A SLAVE (15: Entertainment One) came along there were precious few films about slavery in the US told from the point of view of the enslaved.
I can only think of the milestone 1970s mini-series Roots, Quentin Tarantino’s revenge fantasy Django Unchained and a handful of others.
So director Steve McQueen’s Oscar-winning adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir is essential viewing for correcting that imbalance.
It’s also a tremendously powerful piece of film-making – a tale of suffering, endurance, courage and humanity about a man kidnapped and sold into slavery.
The scenes where characters are brutalised and tortured are shocking in the extreme and the film packs all the more wallop for the elegance with which it’s made.
But McQueen tempers that horror with a display of directorial craft so that the most emotional moments, like the long-held close-up of Northup singing, are delivered with maximum force.
Chiwetel Ejiofor’s fine lead performance fully deserves all the praise that’s been heaped upon it and the supports, especially Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender, are no less impressive.
> 47 RONIN (12: Universal) is a handsomely staged action blockbuster blending Japanese myth with Hollywood-style CGI beasties.
Keanu Reeves stars as Kai, an outcast foundling who finds himself fronting a small band of masterless samurai called ronin.
They were betrayed by a ruthless warlord and banished from their homeland, but they receive fresh hope in the shape of this mysterious former slave, who leads them into battle against monstrous and magical enemies as they seek to reclaim their status.
The movie both benefits and suffers from its splendidly all-Japanese support cast. They look great, but are obliged to speak in English, so subtitles might have been employed.
Although things tend to flag around the action and the film lacks the sense of fighting overwhelming odds that, say, The Seven Samurai had, it’s a decent effort and quite moving in its final moments.
> While it will resonate more if you’re familiar with the original TV show, as most of the characters and actors reappear, there’s enough charm, wit and mystery to make VERONICA MARS (12: Warner) worth watching.
The US series starring Kristen Bell as small-town student sleuth Veronica ran for three seasons between 2004 and 2007. Then last year Bell and series creator Rob Thomas launched an online appeal and thanks to loyal fans were able to raise nearly $6million to make the feature.
All that love and lolly is warranted as the film is a class act, with Bell back as the former teen private eye, now in her 20s and working as a lawyer in New York.
She’s compelled to return to her Californian home town of Neptune when an ex-boyfriend is charged with murder.
> We all love a terrible movie – and THE CANYONS (18: Sony) is an absolute stinker.
This erotic thriller, directed by the once-great Paul Schrader, features James Deen, who learns of a secret affair between his former actress girlfriend (Lindsay Lohan) and the lead in his film project. He spirals out of control and his cruel mind games escalate into violence.