FEBRUARY 2017 Viewing Recap + Movie of the Month

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Boy it felt like it’s been ages since I actually wrote reviews. Naturally because of my short film project I haven’t had time to watch a ton of films, but I did go to a few screenings. Though Jan/Feb are considered dead months at the movies, but I did see some good ones! Since I won’t have time to do a full review, I’m including mini reviews of some of them here.

New-to-me Movies

A United Kingdom

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Director Amma Assante has done it again! I absolutely love her work in the period drama Belle from a few years back. A United Kingdom is another tale of forbidden love… and it’s beautifully done! David Oyelowo played Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana, who caused an international stir when he married a white London woman Ruth (Rosamund Pike) in the late 1940s. Both Oyelowo and Pike are wonderful in their roles, they have a lovely chemistry and both conveyed the emotion of their tumultuous relationship beautifully. The political aspect and the romance collide beautifully, done in such an elegant way with a touch of humor. Assante has definitely become one of my fave filmmakers now.

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Project Eden Vol. 1

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Glad I got to see this indie sci-fi on the big screen a couple of weeks ago. Read my recap of the Minneapolis premiere, quick thoughts about the film & my interview w/ the duo filmmakers. The film is not perfect but still, it’s got an intriguing vision and gave us enough to anticipate the sequel. The two MN actors in the lead (Emily Fradenburgh and Peter Hansen) are both terrific in their first big-budget indie film roles.

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LEGO Batman Movie

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The trailer made me laugh SO hard! I think the film is funny, with some really thigh-slappingly-hilarious moments, but I don’t think it’s as good as everyone’s been saying. I actually think the first LEGO movie is more entertaining overall. I just think some of the jokes are just goofy and silly that it actually stopped being funny. It’s also way too bombastic, especially towards the end. Still it’s a hoot to watch and the animation is great. My favorite parts are definitely the one between Batman (Will Arnett) and Alfred (Ralph Fiennes in another fabulous comedic role!), wish there were more of those. I LOVE the moment Batman accidentally kicked Alfred that sent him flying to his grand piano!! 😂

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Finding Dory

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I finally got a chance to see this one. It’s pretty enjoyable and the ride Dory & co. went on was fun albeit predictable. I have to say I think Finding Nemo is eons better and made a much more lasting impression on me.

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I will have reviews of these two later in March… but I absolutely LOVE both of them. Interesting that both bad-ass heroes, John Wick and Wolverine, got completely beat-up in their respective movies!

John Wick Chapter 2

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LOGAN

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Rewatches:

SenseSensibility

I only got time to rewatch one movie and I went with my absolute favorite… Ang Lee’s Sense & Sensibility never fails to lift up my spirits whenever I’m in a gloomy/melancholy mood. Everything I learn about love and life I learned from Elinor Dashwood and her sensible restraint.

Movies I’m hoping to see in March

Kong, Skull Island
Beauty & The Beast
Wilson
Personal Shopper


MOVIE OF THE MONTH

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Hands down the best X-Men film, and one of the best films of the superhero genre to date. That’s all I’m going to say right now, definitely see this even if you’re not a fan of comic book films.


Well that’s my viewing recap of February. What’s YOUR favorite film(s) of the month?

FlixChatter Review: BELLE (2013)

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As a big fan of period dramas, I’ve been looking forward to this film since last November when I first heard about it. Well, seven months later I finally got to see it and it’s certainly worth the wait.

The film opens with a Royal Navy Admiral (Matthew Goode) picking up a young mixed-race girl from a ship and brought her to live with his aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), where she’s raised alongside her cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon). Unlike the Austen/Brontës adaptations, Belle is based on a true story. In fact, filmmaker Amma Assante was inspired by an 18th century painting of the real life miss Belle. It’s also the first time I saw a period drama starring a mixed race woman, an illegitimate child no less, which no doubt made for a tricky predicament growing up in Georgian era. Lord Mansfield tried to shelter her from the horror of slavery, but not from the dismal reality of racism.

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How may I be too high in rank to dine with the servants and too low in rank to dine with my family?

The question above that Belle posed to Lord Mansfield (whom she called ‘papa’) sums up her situation perfectly. Though Belle is brought up in such a privileged home, she’s constantly reminded of her place in the world, which is really no place for anyone to belong to. The color of her skin also prevents her from fully participating in society traditions and especially the issue of finding a suitable husband. The fact that Belle later becomes a woman of means after she inherited her father’s considerable fortune only made it trickier. It’s as if she’s a ‘free slave who begs for a master,’ Belle said to her confidante, a dashing and idealistic son of a vicar, John Davinier (Sam Reid).

Many people are likely comparing this film to 12 Years of Slave, but I think this this film is more akin to the excellent-yet-underrated Amazing Grace, which focused on British politician William Wilberforce who endeavored to end the British transatlantic slave trade in the late 1700s. As in Amazing Grace, there’s no gory brutality of slavery being shown, but it doesn’t mean we didn’t feel the barbaric reality of such practice. Yet unlike those two films (and most films of its kind), it’s intriguing to see the story of racial inequality from a woman’s point of view. The fact that we’ve got a British female director (Amma Assante) at the helm and a female screenwriter penning the script (Misan Sagay) certainly gave the film a unique perspective.

Assante’s astute direction offers a nice balance between the moral drama and the love story, as we become more and more invested in the characters, most especially Belle. I love how Assante re-enacted the making of the painting I mentioned above, it’s one of the many highlights of the film for me. There are also a few humorous moments to break the tension of the heavy subject matter. The cinematography and art direction are beautiful, the costumes are as gorgeous as the cast, but most importantly, it’s not style over substance. The dialog feels natural and the script is laden with lots of quotable remarks that really drive the sentiments home.

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As for the performances, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Belle is the heart and soul of this film. I was quite taken by the English actress’ nuanced and emotional performance right from the start. This is hopefully her first of many leading roles as she is not only beautiful, but has the screen charisma to match. She’s able to convey a deep sense of hurt, but is just as convincing when she’s fiercely-defiant. The ensemble cast is chock full of the best of British thespians, starting with Wilkinson and Watson, as well as Penelope Wilson and Miranda Richardson delivering memorable supporting roles. Aussie-born British actor Sam Reid has everything you’d want in a period drama hero: dashing, gentle, kind, and with strong conviction. His Davinier is almost too good to be true, plus his scorching chemistry with Mbatha-Raw made for some breathless moments. The weak link here to me is Tom Felton who once again plays a villain of sort, all contemptuous sneer as the racist would-be suitor to Belle’s cousin Elizabeth. He’s practically playing a variation of Harry Potter‘s Draco Malfoy here.

Though the finale is quite predictable, it still packs quite an emotional punch. Now, I don’t know how historically Belle had influenced the abolition of slavery in England, but it can be presumed that she had a hand in shaping the decision of Lord Mansfield as Lord Chief Justice in his ruling over the Zong Massacre case. It’s the case where the slaves were deemed more worthy dead than alive, a reality that could very well happened to Dido herself had it not been for the ‘grace of God,’ as Davinier put it. Even with the creative license taken, the essence of Belle’s story seems intact.

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Final Thoughts: I knew this film would be good, but I absolutely loved this film and one I’d definitely add to my Blu-ray collection. I always find the social class intricacies in period dramas deeply intriguing, but Belle adds more layers to that with the race and slavery issue, whilst keeping a love story at the core. I really think that even those who aren’t fond of this genre would find this moving and inspiring. An impressive sophomore effort from miss Assante, I sure hope continues to make more films in the future!


Have you seen Belle? I’d love to hear what you think.