MSPIFF Review: The Sounding (2017)

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Directed By: Catherine Eaton
Written By: Catherine Eaton, Bryan Delaney
Runtime: 93 minutes

Writing a story where the main character communicates solely through Shakespeare quotes could be disastrous. In the wrong hands, it could feel like a cheesy theater warm-up or a high school English assignment. Fortunately Catherine Eaton, co-writer/director/star of the independent film The Sounding, is able to take an idea that could have been so hokey and turn it into something unique and beautiful.

The Sounding follows Liv (Catherine Eaton) a woman who has chosen not to speak her entire life. Her dying grandfather, Lionel (Harris Yulin), who raised and cared for her, invites his friend and neuropsychiatrist Michael (Teddy Sears) to the island to protect and advocate for Liv after he dies, insisting that her muteness is intentional and not related to any mental health issues, although Michael is skeptical. Once Lionel dies, Liv finally starts speaking-but only in quotes from William Shakespeare’s works. This, coupled with Liv disappearing for three days to grieve for her grandfather, leads Michael to commit her to a psychiatric hospital, where she struggles to make the staff and Michael understand her new choice of communication.

The acting in this movie is exceptional, and while the entire cast is impressive, the film’s lead (and University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater Company alum!) Catherine Eaton is easily the stand-out actor. She doesn’t speak for roughly the first half hour of the movie and still gives a lovely, emotional performance. When does finally speak, it’s exclusively in quotes from Shakespeare’s works, which already requires incredible skill to do within the actual plays; making the lines come to life out of context takes serious talent. Harris Yulin also gives a wonderful performance as Lionel. During a Q&A after the movie, Catherine said that Harris wouldn’t perform a single line until he was absolutely sure he understood it, and that dedication shows in every moment of his screen time.

In addition to the strong acting, The Sounding is beautifully filmed with lots of intimate closeups balanced with wide, scenic shots of the East coast. These shots, paired with an incredible soundtrack, create a gorgeous tone. There’s one scene right after Lionel dies that might be one of my favorite shots in film I’ve seen this year: Liv is standing at the rocky edge of the water, her back to the camera, as she scatters Lionel’s ashes. It alternates between long shots of the crashing waves and closeups of the ashes smeared on Liv’s hand, all while this booming, echoing, a capella folk song (which we later see is being sung by a few of Lionel’s friends- including Roland, played by Frankie Faison– at the funeral) plays in the background. It’s stunning.

My biggest concern writing-wise was how accurately the psychiatric field and mental health would be portrayed in the movie, since it’s not an easy topic to write about, but fortunately my worries were unfounded. Catherine did extensive research on the subject, visiting several psychiatric facilities and having two professionals on set as consultants throughout filming. My one nitpick regarding this is that some of the conversations between Michael and his friend and fellow psychiatrist Ed (David Furr) definitely violated HIPAA, but I might only be bothered about that because I work in health insurance and I can’t suspend my disbelief where protected health information is concerned.

My one real critique of this movie is that the way Liv ends up in the psychiatric hospital seems a little contrived. Having Michael be the one to have her committed and then immediately regret it and try to get her out doesn’t make much sense, regardless of his skepticism of her mental stability. There are other ways Liv could have ended up in the hospital that would have still been believable, and Michael trying to get her out while at the same time trying to make sense of her behavior wouldn’t have felt so conflicted.

Overall, though, The Sounding is a fantastic film, and I’m looking forward to seeing more from Catherine Eaton in the future.

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Have you seen ‘The Sounding’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: The Fate of the Furious (2017)

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The first Fast and Furious film came out 18 years ago and no one would have predicted that it would became one of the most successful franchises in Hollywood. Heck, when I saw the third sequel The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift, the worst in the series, I thought for sure we won’t be seeing anymore Fast and Furious films. Boy was I wrong, the later sequels somehow became more financially successful than the previous ones.

The eighth film in the series begins with Dom (Vin Diesel) and his now wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) honeymooning in Cuba. While there Dom ran into a mysterious woman who turns out to be a super cyber terrorist named Cipher (Charlize Theron). Cipher wants Dom to help her steal some super powerful weapons from the US, Russian and German government so she can start World War 3. Of course Dom being Dom, he refused but Cipher is holding someone closes to him hostage and if he won’t do as she says, that person will be killed. That’s pretty much the basic storyline for this entry, Dom has to betray his team/family and throughout the film, there are tons of car chases, explosions, shoot outs and of course good looking people running around in skimpy clothes.

The script by franchise’s regular Chris Morgan is pretty simple, he knows his audience and fans of the series won’t be disappointed. I do have some issues with the script, I won’t spoil it here but he tried to wrap everything up from the last two films that kind of made the previous pictures irrelevant. Apparently, they’re planning to make two more films after this one. Stepping into the director’s chair this time is F. Gary Gray. I’ve enjoyed some of his previous work and it’s obvious he was chosen because he’d worked with most of the actors in this film in the past. With a reported budget of $250mil, Gray staged some pretty crazy action sequences, including a pretty fun big car chase through the streets of NYC. But compare to the previous films, especially the ones directed by Justin Lin, his action sequences lacked energy and kind of boring. A climatic chase that involves a submarine could’ve been a lot of fun but he decided to inter cut it with some silly flashback sequence that explained a “twist” that most viewers could’ve seen miles away. I think he and his editor should’ve done a better job with what I assume was the most expensive sequence to shoot for the film.

As for performances, Diesel is again took his role way too seriously and he even shed tears in one scene! I think he needs to simmer down with his performance in the next one and have a good time. On the other hand, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Jason Statham knows the kind of film they’re in and having a great time with it. Their bantering gets the most laughs and of course they look good kicking butts. I don’t remember when The Rock’s character Hobbs became superhuman but he’s somehow fights like Superman in this film. Theron is moving to more action related films in this phase of her career and she’s great as the Bondish supervillain. Heck I think the Bond producers should cast her as the main villain in the next Bond film. The rest of cast were fine as usual and they even introduced a new pretty boy to replace Paul Walker. Clint Eastwood’s son Scott is now the new team member and I’m sure we’ll see more of him in the future films. Also returning is Kurt Russell as a super secret government agent who provides Hobbs and his team with everything they need to stop WW3 from happening. Last but certainly not least is Helen Mirren who seemed to have a great time in her small a cameo role.

I have some issues with the script, mostly of the “twist” towards the end but otherwise, I had a fun time with this latest sequel. Fans of the series should be pleased with it since it delivered what they wanted to see. Big car chases, shoot outs and of course explosions. So if you’re planning to see it, go to the biggest screen you can find and hopefully it’s equipped with Dolby Atmos.

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Have you seen The Fate of the Furious? Well, what did you think?

Finally… Hearts Want Short Film shoot begins!

It says ONE MORE DAY above but as I’m writing this post, it’s actually less than NINE hours until cameras are rolling!! 😬

As you can imagine, my hubby Ivan Maramis and I likely won’t get much sleep much tonight. We’ve been making a ton of lists… and checking ’em twice (or more) to make sure we don’t miss anything. From props, snacks, call sheets to contracts for all cast/crew… there are SO many little details to go over my head’s spinning! Being this is my first time in making a film, naturally I’m super nervous but extremely excited at the same time. But I’m confident in my cast/crew, that they will BRING IT and do a stellar job! In fact, I KNOW they will!

The fact that today is EASTER sure keeps things in perspective. I feel ever so blessed to be given this opportunity of a lifetime to make our first film… I firmly believe we wouldn’t have gotten here without the Lord’s blessings.

For updates on the film, check out Hearts Want FB page… I’ve been updating the page with photos from our blocking rehearsal…

… as well as a video snippet of my two phenomenal leads practicing a scene.

I’ve also been meaning to post this a while back, but check out the trailer from the amazing short film Sad Clown, directed by Jason P. Schumacher, a seasoned Minnesota filmmaker who’s directing Hearts Want!

>>>
Besides my two talented (and gorgeous) leads Sam SimmonsPeter Christian Hansen, I’m also blessed with a seasoned, hard-working 18-people crew! Most of them have been making quite a few of films, in fact some have won some awards from film festivals. But aside from that, they’re also the nicest, fun-loving and gracious bunch of people that I know it’ll be a joy working with them! So yeah, I fully believe my project is in good & capable hands.


THANKS to all of you blog readers who have been following my passion project. Please pray and send well wishes our way as we’ll be filming 10-14+ hour days both Monday & Tuesday!

I shall have more guest reviews in the coming weeks, including The Fate of The Furious, The Promise as well as a review from 2017 Minneapolis/St.Paul Film Festival (MSPIFF) that begins last week!

 

Guest Review: GIFTED (2017)

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Directed By: Marc Webb
Written By: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Lindsay Duncan
Runtime: 1 hr 41 minutes

I walked out of Gifted loudly bemoaning Chris Evans’ lack of acting skills when I heard a man behind me say something even more controversial: that Gifted suffers from a “simple plot”.

No, sweet idiot, it did not have a simple plot.

I mean, if you fell asleep for part of the movie, you could be forgiven for thinking such a thing. But if you were paying even a moderate amount of attention, you should know better. Superficially, Gifted is about a young man who is the sole custodian of his sister’s daughter until it becomes apparent that the little girl might be a genius and his mother sues for custody. That’s just the logline, though. The meat of the story is in the grandmother’s zeal for her daughter’s success and then her granddaughter’s promise. The story is partly a painful parable about living vicariously through one’s children and partly a nod to the long-lived, ever-changing battle women have fought for their place in STEM fields.

That said, I might be giving Tom Flynn too much credit. He makes a few stereotypically male slip ups in his storytelling: calling a strong female character “bossy”, making off-color comments about mistresses, and taking a mildly unsavory stance on consent. He also does everything that he can to make a story that is very obviously about two women and a girl instead about the one man they all share.
Of course, that one male character is a doozy. Frank Adler, played oh so stoically by Chris Evans, is hard-working, funny, intelligent, empathetic, and possesses an enviable moral compass. His character should have been left there, as the perfect single-father, but it is Chris Evans, so he’s also suave, gorgeous, and handily achieves a Love Interest. This was presumably to give the movie its PG-13 rating, which is one of the largest mistake that the movie makes.

I know it’s cute when kids swear and I get that Hollywood thinks that attractive people making out will always make them more money, but the consequential PG-13 rating was a poor trade off. Parents who probably would have otherwise brought their children to see the movie, which is an inspirational story featuring Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace) a relatable little girl who is the full package: she’s a genius, a hero, and obsessed with her cat. Why the studios didn’t fight for a PG rating is completely beyond me. Kids would love her.

Chris Evans was really the only weak member of the cast: he is a beautiful human, but he struggles to emote, and a lot of his dialogue felt wooden and unnatural. Luckily, he is always acting opposite incredibly gifted performers. Mckenna Grace can cry like nobody’s business, Jenny Slate (you might recognize her as “Mona Lisa” from Parks and Rec) is surprisingly good as the first grade teacher all of us wanted, Octavia Spencer is unsurprisingly flawless, and Lindsay Duncan wrangles a supporting role so handily that she makes the entire movie about her. In a good way.

There are some weird racial undertones throughout the film. The Adler’s neighbor Roberta Taylor (Octavia Spencer) is yet another iteration of the mammy trope, which needs to be retired. Taylor criticizes Adler for hiring a black lawyer, a comment that is jarring, super racist, and was a very successful laugh line in the theater where I saw the film. Out of any other character’s mouth it would have been unacceptable, but because no one had to think about how white the screenwriter was when Spencer spoke, the joke worked. I’m disappointed, but not entirely surprised, that the line made it past a first draft. Ditto to people laughing at it.

Despite having many flaws, I still think that Gifted is worth seeing. The cinematography is beautiful, if sometimes a little self-indulgent. One scene, in which Mary climbs her uncle’s body and peppers him with questions about God, is told completely in silhouette, set against an orange sunset. It’s a beautiful film, with a magnificent cast, and a mostly empowering storyline.

And it’s not simple if you’re paying attention.


hollyHolly P. is a twenty-something millennial who enjoys shouting at people on the internet, riding her bicycle, and overbooking her schedule. She prefers storytelling that has a point and comedy that isn’t mean. Her favorite movies are Aladdin, the Watchmen (even though the book was way better), and Hot Fuzz.  She’s seen every Lord of the Rings movie at least a dozen times.  You can follow her @tertiaryhep on twitter or @hollyhollyoxenfreee on Instagram. She’s also on Tinder, but if you find her there she’ll probably ghost on you because wtf is dating in the 21st century.


Have you seen ‘Gifted’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)

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Written/Directed By: Ang Lee
Cast: Joe Alwyn, Mackenzie Leigh, Steve Martin, Garrett Hedlund
Runtime: 1 hr 53 minutes

It is frustrating when a film has all the ingredients to be brilliant but ends up just a good movie. The story of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016) is an original and painfully satirical study of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is also a film limited by all-too-obvious visual messages and clichéd one-liners that reduce a possible artwork to an emotionally tame and uneven film.

The story unfolds over a single day in America with flashbacks to a live combat incident in Iraq. A news clip goes viral when young army specialist Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is filmed trying to save the life of his sergeant.  His Bravo squad are celebrated as heroes and given a two-week promotional tour across America to boost dwindling support for the war. The tour highlight is an appearance in a glitzy halftime show at a Dallas Cowboys game. They are ushered around like a troupe of performing monkeys with little regard for what they have been through or how glaring theatrics might affect soldiers coming straight out of battle. Meanwhile, their tour guide is trying to stitch up a film deal with the tightwad team owner (played by Steve Martin) as virgin Billy falls for a cheerleader (Mackenzie Leigh) who loves war heroes.

The storyline bears little resemblance to the typical war genre film, but this one is not about guns, bombs and bodies. Filmed in ultra-high definition with extensive shallow depth of field, Billy and the squad are often in pin-sharp focus against soft backgrounds, a technique that keeps them in a separate plane of existence to the crassly insensitive stage onto which they have been thrust. The surreal stadium scenes are a spectacular but clichéd message about commodity wars for a public wanting to ‘make America great again’. It is hard not to empathise with Billy or feel his disorientation as he watches prancing cheerleaders and hears musical fireworks exploding all around him while he struggles with flashbacks of hand-to-hand combat in the midst of a mortar firestorm.

There is much to commend in this film. Young Joe Alwyn plays a complex role with nuance beyond his experience. The cinematography is vivid (almost to the point of distraction), and the pace and casting is strong (although comic Steve Martin seems out of place). A lighter directorial hand may have produced a more naturally flowing story without the corny melodrama and trite one-liners like “that day no longer belongs to you…its America’s story now” or “we’re a nation of children who fight in other countries to grow up”. But you will long remember that stadium extravaganza as an echo-chamber for the horrors of PTSD. For that alone, this film is worth seeing.

cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’? Well, what did you think? 

Week In Review… and quick update on my short film

Happy Monday everyone! Hope you had a great weekend. Spring has finally sprung here in the Upper Midwest… it actually felt nice enough I could forgo my jacket for part of the day Friday! Speaking of Friday, it was also one of the busiest day I’ve ever had… which I’ve shared on my FB below…

Well, it shouldn’t be surprising to most of you that my hours, days and weeks have been consumed by my short film project. I did see three films this past weekend however… including a rewatch of Captain America Civil War as it’s now on Netflix!

I rented SING earlier in the week and really enjoyed it! I really loved the trailer, but fortunately it lived up to it (unlike The Secret Life of Pets). So many fun characters, especially the Rosita the pig (and her brood of kids!) and Johnny the gorilla. The cover songs were great too and I thought the story was pretty moving and engaging throughout, and the ending managed to surprise me in a lovely way. I highly recommend it if you enjoy animated films that’s much more than just a visual treat.

I also finally saw Beauty & The Beast! Boy I had been SO excited about it for like a year but when it’s finally here three weeks ago I was so swamped I could barely got excited for any movie. But I needed a break after such a hectic and quite stressful week, and this movie did just the trick!

Now I will say that it still doesn’t beat the Disney animated classic, but I already knew that before I even saw it. With that in mind, I still found it to be pretty entertaining. I think Emma Watson did well as Belle, which is key in me liking the movie. I especially love the relationship between Belle and her dad, played by the venerable Kevin Kline.

Oh and the song… the songs!! Alan Menken is a musical genius who’ve made a bunch of my all time fave Disney songs, here he teamed up with Howard Ashman and added some new favorites!

I’ll do a music break of the movie at some point, but man, the three new songs How Does a Moment Last Forever (Montmartre), Days in the Sun and Evermore are absolutely lovely!! I initially cringed when I heard the Beast singing, but the emotional song literally made me sob. Yes I’m such a sap 😛


Ok so it’s just 15 days until my filming!

Things are changing rapidly every single day. The short script is officially ‘done’ and sent to my actors, though of course it’s not really final until filming wraps. After losing a director nearly month before filming, we’ve now pretty much got a full crew!

I knew indie filmmaking is fast and furious but it seems our pre-prod process is at lightning speed even by that standard! I gotta say though it’s been a ton of fun even with the stress… I’ve been running on adrenaline these days that I know I will miss the crazy rush of it all once the film is done.

Thankfully I’ve got a super talented & supportive hubby Ivan who did the photoshoot with my two stunning lead actors Sam Simmons & Peter Christian Hansen on Saturday 3/25. They’ll be used for various promos and even props for the film. Below are just a few of the shots he took over the course of just 3 hours!

Well, there’s still much to be done between now and April 17… it’s been quite a thrill ride for me and I’m learning so much every single day.

We’re now on Facebook!!

Check out BTS photos & videos from our pre-prod photoshoot, as well as other updates on the film. Please LIKE, comment & share. Thank you!


Well that’s the scoop on my life so far folks… hope you’ll support my project when the time comes 😉

Guest Review: PATERSON (2016)

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Written/Directed By: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani
Runtime: 1 hr 58 minutes

Jim Jarmusch films can be challenging and Paterson (2016) is no exception. Audiences who are accustomed to plot or character-driven stories will find themselves grappling instead with a mood in search of a reason. Without a genre label to help, we must work through an exploratory essay into the ordinariness of human existence elevated occasionally by the creative impulse to write poetry. If it sounds cerebral, then it’s a Jarmusch film.

Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver in Paterson, USA. If that sounds odd, then it matches this whimsical story based on the typical week of a nondescript transport worker who lives not a life but a routine. His unchanging beige existence is in bold relief to his beautiful Iranian-born wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) who is artistically creative and continually reshaping her goals. Their lovable and irascible bulldog Marvin is the story’s primary source of humour. Paterson drifts into writing poems throughout his day, composing lines in his head, and sometimes his silken words appear as on-screen text framed by banality like an urban bus window. His free-flowing verses are a contrast to his symmetrical and ordered life. While Laura thinks they should be shared with the world, he is bashful about them because the sentences do not rhyme. The pattern of his days is always the same, punctuated by what happens to others rather than what happens to him. Quirky characters create capsule sketches that represent the mundanity of living: a woe-riddled supervisor, a broken romance, a curious Japanese tourist, overheard passenger conversations, and a broken down bus – all part of a quiet existential stream notable only for its inconsequence.

Narrative turning points work like signposts that tell us that something significant is about to occur in a story, but there are none here. Each time it appears possible that the story might progress in some interesting new direction nothing happens, perhaps to reflect how Paterson lives his life. There are layers of unreality across many scenes and the dialogue often feels as if it is being delivered at a script reading: clear diction, perfect rhythm, without emotion. This slight air of inauthenticity forms a backdrop for the sincerity and lyricism present in Paterson’s poetry. It may or may not be good poetry; that is not the point. It is about contrasting layers of reality and they are evident elsewhere, always with the same effect. When a small girl who also writes poetry says “Cool. My bus driver is a poet” we feel like responding: “well, why not?”; creativity hides everywhere.

Not everyone will stay with this film because of its minimalist pace, deadpan humour, prolonged silences, understated acting and noticeably sparse music to lift the emotional tone. It is devoid of regular cinematic artifice and feels like we have momentarily glimpsed into the inner space of a true gentle soul and can walk away the better for it.

cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘PATERSON’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: LIFE (2017)

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Directed By: Daniel Espinosa
Written By: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Runtime: 1 hr 43 minutes

I wish I could at least pretend to be as cool as the other writers who sit around me at these press screenings. I wish I could go to a genuinely scary movie like Life and calmly take notes, looking up at the screen dispassionately as I mentally critique some of the lamer dialogue. But I’m not cool, so instead I sit there cringing for an hour and a half, fighting the urge to put my hands over my eyes during a couple especially gag-worthy moments, “ohmygodohmyohmygodohmygod” written all over my face. On the bright side, any movie that can elicit this kind of reaction is pretty impressive.

Life follows a crew on the International Space Station (Hiroyuki Sanada as Sho Murakami, Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams, Rebecca Ferguson as Miranda North, Jake Gyllenhaal as David Jordan, Olga Dihovichnaya as Ekaterina Golovkina, and Ariyon Bakare as Hugh Derry) that has obtained a Martian soil sample containing a living organism dubbed “Calvin.” While initially thrilled at their discovery of life on another planet, the crew soon has to fight for their lives as Calvin quickly evolves into a terrifying creature that threatens both them and, if they don’t stop it, life on Earth.

While fighting a terrifying extraterrestrial is hardly an original concept for a film, it is still incredibly well done here. Both the pacing of the movie and the soundtrack create a suspenseful atmosphere the whole hour and forty-three minutes. The CGI is impressive, and Calvin is a truly spooky creation; the design isn’t over the top, but it’s still genuinely scary, and the way it moves is so unnerving. The whole cast gives a strong performance, especially Hiroyuki Sanada and Jake Gyllenhaal, who have a couple stand-out moments during some particularly emotional scenes. However, the actors do tend to mumble some of their lines, making them hard to understand at times. There is also some lazy dialogue-clichéd jokes, comments stating the obvious- that falls flat and sometimes distracts from the overall feel of the movie.

Despite the couple issues I had with this film, I really enjoyed Life. I can see myself watching it again and being just as creeped out as the first time, which, for a sci-fi/horror movie, is no easy feat. If you want to be on the edge of your seat for most of the run time, definitely check this one out.

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Have you seen ‘LIFE’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: THE INNOCENTS (2016)

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Directed By: Anne Fontaine
Cast: Lou de Laâge, Agata Buzek, Agata Kulesza
Runtime: 1 hr 55 minutes

Most war films recount history as if women were never involved or their experiences not worth mentioning. That is just one of many reasons why The Innocents (2016) stands out in the war film genre: it is about, for, and made by women. The result is a soulful essay about atrocities committed against a group of nuns during the second world war, portrayed as a complex metaphorical struggle between religious faith, medical science, and evil.

The linear plotline is as austere as the film’s narrative. We meet a serene and devout convent of Benedictine nuns in Poland who go about their daily prayer with quiet conviction and meticulous adherence to ritual. The serenity is shattered by the scream of a nun about to give birth. One nun fetches a French Red Cross medical intern Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laáge) who sneaks out of the aid mission to help. She learns that Soviet soldiers had raped the nuns and several births were imminent. Mathilde is a non-believer yet is bewildered by the strength of the nun’s faith and compelled to help. The nuns believe they are complicit in sin, and some are unable to even submit to medical examination while others do so with deep shame. The tension between sin and evil erupts when the baby is born and Mother Superior takes it out for fostering but instead leaves it in the forest. With more births coming, a convent full of babies cannot survive under Soviet occupation. It is Mathilde who finds an ingenious solution that ensures their survival.

Within this narrative arc, there are several strands that explore the nature and practice of faith by a group of women with varied backgrounds and different relationships with their god. Throughout the story, the tension between belief and logic creates a haunting presence. Young Mathilde struggles in a vortex of faith, science and evil, and comes to learn that there are no absolutes. The dystopia of war shatters all, yet faith survives in love and devotion to helping others. She grows emotionally with the experience just as the nun’s learn tolerance of those who do not share their faith.

While the film has a strong cast of fine performers, it is Lou de Laage who shines brightly in a difficult role. She seamlessly traverses a wide emotional range from inspired awe to resolute determination to help, including restrained romantic explorations with a senior colleague. The portrait-like cinematography conveys the bleak landscape and convent solitude with a sympathetic lens that avoids despair. The film is a tribute not only to the violated nuns but to women of all nationalities mistreated at the hands of military forces. Rape in war continues in modern times, with many nations in denial and others struggling with unresolved shame. This is not an entertaining story, but a dark episode of history on which light has long been needed.

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cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘The Innocents’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: Beauty and The Beast (2017)

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Directed By: Bill Condon
Written By: Stephen Chbosky & Evan Spiliotopoulos
Runtime: 2 hours 9 minutes

I cannot begin to explain how excited I was to get to review this movie. If I hadn’t been in a theater with about twenty-five other reviewers, I might have burst into tears as soon as the title appeared on screen. Beauty and the Beast was the first movie I ever saw in theaters, and it will always have a special place in my heart. It’s still one of my favorite movies. It’s a beautiful film, has some of the most memorable songs of all time, and features a princess whose defining characteristic is her love of reading. When I heard about the live-action remake, I was both excited and nervous. I’m not the kind of person who worries that a bad adaptation of a beloved classic will destroy my childhood, but I still wanted to like the new version. Luckily for me, I was not disappointed.

If you’ve been living under a rock your entire life and don’t know the story, Beauty and the Beast is about a beautiful bookworm named Belle (Emma Watson), who lives in a small French village with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), where her bookish ways are misunderstood by the other townspeople, including Belle’s brawny, brutish suitor, Gaston (Luke Evans). One night, when a traveling Maurice unwittingly trespasses in a castle in the middle of the forest, he is taken prisoner by the beast (Dan Stevens), a prince who was cursed (along with his servants, who were all turned into household objects) by an enchantress. The only way to break the curse is for the beast to find true love, and to be loved in return. Belle bravely offers to trade places with her father, and, over time, begins to see what kind of man the beast can be past his appearance.

As someone who is very sentimental about the original, I can safely say this is an incredibly faithful adaptation. Much of the dialogue from the original is included verbatim in the remake, and there are lots of little moments and details from the animated version that are featured in this one, making me feel wonderfully nostalgic. At the same time, the remake offers some much-needed updates. For example, Belle is a better-developed character in this version. Besides just being a bookworm mostly interested in fairy tales, she helps her father with his creations and shows her own innovation. She’s also more relatable, showing her self-consciousness about how the other villagers view her as “odd.” The romance between Belle and the Beast is better handled as well. The movie shows how their friendship develops first, which makes the transition to romance more believable. The fact that Emma Watson and Dan Stevens have excellent chemistry helps sell it as well.

Besides the actors behind the titular characters, the rest of the cast give wonderful performances as well. Luke Evans and Josh Gad were born to play Gaston and Le Fou. Kevin Kline is a less scatterbrained (but still dreamy) Maurice, and the chemistry between him and Emma is heartwarming. The household staff all gave solid performances, and Ewan McGregor as Lumiere and Ian McKellen as Cogsworth were especially entertaining.

Besides the adaptation in general, I was mostly nervous about how the singing would be. Emma Watson is a fantastic actress, but I wasn’t sure how she’d do as a singer, and she had some pretty big shoes to fill. Fortunately, she did not disappoint. Watson has a lovely, bright-toned voice, and while it’s not as full-sounding as Paige O’Hara’s was in the original, it was still an excellent fit for the character. Luke Evans gives a decent performance as well; while there isn’t as much bravado in his voice during Gaston as I would like, he really shines in Kill the Beast. Ewan McGregor nails Be Our Guest with his warm, sparkling voice, although something about the number overall feels kind of underwhelming; I’m not sure if the tempo is a little slower, or if the phrasing could be tighter, or there isn’t as much background chorus as there was in the original, but it doesn’t pack the same punch the Oscar-winning number did in the animated version, although it is still enjoyable. Emma Thompson’s rendition of Mrs. Potts’s titular song holds its own against Angela Lansbury’s, which is no small feat. Naturally, Broadway royalty Audra McDonald as Garderobe is the best singer out of the cast, and while her song at the beginning isn’t particularly memorable, she still makes it sound amazing; seriously, she could sing the dictionary and make it sound good. My last music-related critique is that the orchestra is pretty overpowering and tends to drown out the singing a bit.

Lastly, the movie is visually stunning, as anyone who has seen the trailers has probably already gathered. The big group scenes are beautifully shot and reminiscent of the original. The sets are lovely, and the castle is especially breathtaking. The CGI for the beast and the other enchanted characters is very impressive. Most memorable, though, are the costumes; they remain faithful to the animated version while still adding incredible detail. While Belle’s trademark yellow ball gown is gorgeous, my favorite is the one she wears in the final scene of the movie; if I ever get married, I will walk down the aisle in a replica of that dress. 
 While I’m sure I will continue to be skeptical of this wave of live-action remakes Disney has been churning out, Beauty and the Beast is excellent, both as an adaptation of an animated film and as a movie on its own. Whether you’re a hardcore, nostalgic Disney fan like I am or a casual movie-goer, I have no doubt you will enjoy this.

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Have you seen ‘Beauty & The Beast’? Well, what did you think?