Double Reviews: Passing + The Forty-Year-Old Version

Passing and The Forty-Year Old Version are two Netflix films I saw recently that share some similarities. Both are feature film debuts of two female filmmakers, Rebecca Hall and Radha Blank, respectively, and both deal with racial inequality, albeit set in two different periods and dealt with in very different ways.

PASSING (2021)

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“Passing” follows the unexpected reunion of two high school friends, whose renewed acquaintance ignites a mutual obsession that threatens both of their carefully constructed realities.

The term ‘passing’ refers the practice of members of minority or oppressed races, religions, ethnic groups, etc., pretending to be members of the majority culture (in this case white) to escape prejudice. Apparently it’s a personal topic for actress-turned-filmmaker Rebecca Hall as her own biracial mother and grandfather both passed themselves off as white.

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The film is beautifully shot in black and white, which is a fitting artistic choice given the subject matter. At the center of the story is Irene (a sublime Tessa Thompson) whose chance encounter with a childhood friend Claire (Ruth Negga) at an upscale NYC cafe. Thompson is mesmerizing in the first 10 minutes… as she treads carefully in the way she appears in public, completely aware of her status as a black woman living in New York in the 20s. Hall shows the details of the surrounding as well as the costumes the women are wearing, as those help tell a story as well as being gorgeous to look at.

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I think Passing is an admirable directorial debut that’s both intriguing but also a bit frustrating at times. It’s not so much that it’s slow (I actually enjoy slow-burn movies), but everything is so polished that it’s emotionally-distant. The depiction of Irene’s family life with her wealthy doctor husband Brian (André Holland) and their two boys give a glimpse of the affluent lifestyle (they even have a maid) in a two-story Brookstone Apartment. They are keenly aware that most black people suffer terrible racial injustices elsewhere as they discuss people getting lynched and brutally killed in the South, a subject Irene doesn’t want to dwell on.

There’s not much exploration about Claire’s home life with her white husband John (Alexander Skarsgård) who’s an unapologetic racist. The moment he proclaimed that fact right in front of Irene definitely makes your skin crawl. There’s a really interesting buildup between Irene and Claire, but the fascination wears off rather quickly as I find myself having trouble connecting with either of them, as both are hiding under a veil to conceal their true emotions, even from each other.

Obsession, envy, jealousy are all themes explored throughout, but despite its provocative finale, it doesn’t quite mask its superficiality. The ambiguous ending actually makes me gasp as seems to come out of nowhere. It’s perhaps the boldest move of the entire film, a savage, violent end to an otherwise graceful, even delicate film. But then again, as Irene says to her friend Hugh (Bill Camp) at one point, people–and in this case films–aren’t always what they seem.

3/5 stars


The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)

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Radha is a down-on-her-luck NY playwright, who is desperate for a breakthrough before 40. Reinventing herself as rapper RadhaMUSPrime, she vacillates between the worlds of Hip Hop and theater in order to find her true voice.

I had missed this film last year, but thanks to my friend’s insistence that I finally got around to seeing it. I’m still kicking myself why it took me so long to watch this!

It’s rare to find a film that has such an authentic voice, so it’s so refreshing to see one that has it in abundance. FYOV… the acronym of the title is the same as its mantra… Find Your Own Voice, an inspiring and fitting theme for the film that lives up to it and then some! Radha Blank tells her own personal story so brilliantly! Basically playing herself, I was completely absorbed by her realness and sense of humor, navigating life as a high school drama teacher and fulfilling her dream as a playwright. Nothing is more motivating, as well as burdensome, to an artist than an early accolade, as Radha was one of the recipient of 30-under-30 award for one of her plays. It’s apparent she is struggling to live up to that early kudos, while her longtime friend/agent Archie (Peter Kim) never stops believing in her.

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I love the documentary shooting style by DP Eric Branco, which suits the narrative Radha is telling. The IMDb trivia page describes the story as a reference to the ‘Hollywood Shuffle,’ about a Black artist confronting the white gatekeepers on who gets to tell a Black story and how. I wasn’t aware of that term but as a non-white, immigrant writer, I definitely can relate to that struggle. White gaze’s eroticism on the pain of people of color’ is nothing new, but seeing it realized in this film in the form of powerful theatre producer J. Whitman (Reed Birney) is so damning and revolting. He only wanted to produce Radha’s play if she’s willing to modify it to appeal to more white audiences, and they changes so much of it she could barely recognize her own work in it.

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I enjoy the warm-yet-testy relationship between Radha and Archie. He means well but it’s obvious his ‘creative push’ for her is self-serving. When Radha finally got a possible big break on her play, Archie said ‘This is the major production you wanted’... Her reply was: ‘Do I want it this way?’ Just that conversation alone strikes a chord with me, which makes me root for Radha even more.

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The moment Radha finally did find her own voice in the form of rap is so cool and filled with a real, raw emotion. I really enjoy her rapping style and most of all her evocative lyrics, and I’m usually not a fan of rap music at all. She finds a young DJ named D (Oswin Benjamin) who she thinks might be able to help her. Despite a bit of a rough start, D actually appreciates that she’s got something to say (‘I make the beats but sometimes I need some storytelling’) and becomes more than just an artistic ally. The tentative romance also feels real and not forced, as Radha begins to open up a bit and let someone in who sees her for who she is.

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I absolutely adore this movie as it presents an artist struggle in such a real way, warts and all… even her relationship with her students is fun to watch despite the vulgar and raunchy language. This movie made me laugh and cry, it’s thought-provoking, funny, relatable and emotional, just what every movie should be! The real star is Radha herself who refuses to be put in a box and be told what kind of art she should make. That final defiant moment at the close of her opening night play makes me get up and cheer.

This movie was a Grand Jury Prize nominee at Sundance where Radha won a Best Directing prize. It’s a phenomenal debut and it stands as one of my favorite films directed by women so far! I sure hope to see more of Radha Blank’s work in the future, both in front and behind the camera.

4.5/5 stars


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This post is part of Dell On MoviesGIRL WEEK 2021 Blogathon – It’s that time of year when Dell invited his fellow bloggers to focus on women in movies. You can join the fun by posting or talking about films with females in the lead, directed by women, or feature women in some other prominent role.


So have you seen Passing or The Forty-Year-Old Version? Let me know what you think!

Bye bye 2016! End of year recap & musings on favorite things we saw this year

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Whaddayaknow… it’s the last day of 2016. It’s been a tumultuous year to say the least… definitely a hectic one for obituary writers. I know many people have said that 2016 is cursed because so many famous people died. Well I certainly don’t believe that. Yes, many of those celebs passed away too soon, and some might think it’s the most death we’ve had in the year, but no, I don’t think any particular year is ever cursed. Still, I am saddened by the death of those who’ve made an impact on me… the likes of Alan Rickman, Prince, Charmian Carr, Alan Thicke, Carrie Fisher, and George Michael 😦

I guess I’m an optimist as I’d rather not dwell on the negatives and try to see the good side of things. There are things I’m thankful for, some I’ve mentioned here… I don’t know how much longer I’d keep on blogging but as of right now, I’m still thankful for being a part of the film blogging community and the fun & privileges it’s afforded me.

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Speaking of which, it’s as good a time as any to thank my fellow bloggers who’ve commented on my blog for their support…

Jordan, Cindy, Margaret, MarkMichael, Steven, CourtneyKeith, Brittani, Getter, Allie, Nostra, Tom, Chris E., Esther, Eddie, Dan, WendellVinnie, Jay/Sean and Katy.

I usually post my top 10 list of the year later in January, but I did make a top 10 list of favorites from the first half of 2016… out of that list, Love & Friendship and Captain Fantastic will likely be on my final top 10 BEST list. As for worst, well, I’ve been fortunate to avoid a bunch of stinkers this year, so right now I can only think of two abominables that deserve to be on my WORST list… London Has Fallen and Passengers.

Just for fun, I thought I’d do a top 10 random favorites from the past year, like I did for my 2014 Farewell post:

Favorite leading female performance: Amy Adams (Arrival)


Favorite supporting female performance:
Naomie Harris (Moonlight)

Favorite leading male performance: tied – Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) & Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash)

Favorite supporting male performance: Mahersala Ali (Moonlight)

Favorite 2016 TV series: Westworld

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Favorite performance by kid actors (under 15): tied – the kids in Stranger Things & Julian Dennison (Hunt for the Wilderpeople)

Favorite film posters: La La Land


Favorite filmmaker discovery:
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Favorite talent(s) discovery: Ruth Negga (Loving) & Dominic Rains (Burn Country, Funeral Day)


Favorite director/writer duo
: Remy Auberjonois and Kate Nowlin for Blood Stripe

Favorite film setting: New Zealand in Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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Favorite film/tv soundtrack: Sing Street and Westworld

Favorite cinematic crush: Sam Riley (natch!)

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Can’t wait to see BBC’s SS-GB and Free Fire next year!!


Now, I thought it’d be fun if this year I ask my blog contributors to do a brief recap of some of their favorites. I can’t thank them enough for being a part of my wee blog, so check out what they have to say…

Laura’s recap

I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to write for this blog. It’s been fun having an excuse to write (outside of my mostly-neglected personal blog), I’ve gotten to see movies I might not have chosen to go to otherwise, and it’s provided multiple cheap date nights. It’s also given me a few of my favorite movies for the year, from major blockbusters to indie films from up-and-coming talent.

  • Ouija 2: Origin of Evil. As a lot of my readers know, I love horror, and while I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one at all (because the first one was super boring), I was so pleasantly surprised when it turned out to actually be really good. It was legitimately scary, which hasn’t been the case with a lot of horror movies released over the past few years, and it was well-done overall, from the acting to the cinematography. Its score on Rotten Tomatoes was incredible, especially for a horror movie sequel, and it was well-earned.
  • The Eyes of My Mother. Keeping with the horror theme, this Twin Cities Film Fest submission was excellent. It was stylistic and unnerving and I could not believe that this was writer/director Nicolas Pesce’s first film, especially at the ridiculously young age of twenty-six. After such a strong beginning, I can’t wait to see more in what will hopefully be a long, illustrious career.
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Yes, I had issues with this movie. The writing could have been much better, especially from such a normally talented individual. But as a die-hard Harry Potter fan, I was still so happy to hear the first few notes of Hedwig’s Theme played over the WB logo, and getting to see all of these incredible creatures I’d been imagining since childhood so beautifully rendered on the big screen was so satisfying.

As for my favorite discovery, it’s definitely Nicolas Pesce, the writer/director of Eyes of my Mother. I was amazed that this was his debut as a filmmaker and especially blown away by how young he was to have such an incredible first movie. Considering how much I loved Eyes of My Mother, I can only imagine what else he’ll come up with as his (hopefully illustrious) career progresses.

Vince’s recap

Vince shared his top 5 films he saw in 2016:

  • Cleo from 5-7 (1962): I’m still mourning the absence of the Criterion Collection from HULU. This was one of the last I saw from Criterion that made me ask myself, “Why hadn’t I seen this before?” More engaging than the usual French new wave and a lot less pretentious in my opinion. A great intro to the work of Agnes Varda.
  • Arrival (2016): I was very impressed with this low-key gem. As a devout fan of Amy Adams (minus her forgettable Lois Lane roles) this did not disappoint. Already looking forward to Villeneuve’s Bladerunner sequel.
  • Kubo and the Two Strings (2016): I wrote a review of this earlier this year for Flixchatter and it gave me some hope for the state of animation for the coming year. Good story, some creative risk-taking and beautiful design are standards to live up to.

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  • Storm in a Teacup (1937): One of the few classics remaining in HULU, this one stars Vivien Leigh (who is gorgeous as usual) and a young Rex Harrison in an everyman role as an idealistic journalist meddling in small town politics. No Henry Higgins here but this light comedy has some things to offer in film world full of melodrama and skepticism.
  • Sing (2016): I screened this with my two young boys (courtesy of Flixchatter) and even though it is full of the usual song and dance populating most average animated films these days, they managed to do it right this time without the annoying shadow of American Idol or the Voice. Not too heavy but quite entertaining. My boys loved it. (Full review to follow)

Ted’s recap

2016 was kind of a disappointing year for me when it comes to entertainment. I love seeing big summer blockbuster films at the cinemas but for the first time in many years, I’ve skipped quite a few of them this past summer. With the exceptions of Captain America: Civil War, Jason Bourne and Star Trek: Beyond, I didn’t bother with other big summer releases. Thankfully those three big summer films were very entertaining to me. I hope next summer; Hollywood will release quality summer blockbusters instead of just lame sequels. I’m glad I saw a couple of smaller films at the theater that were quite good, Hell or High Water and Don’t Breathe came out of nowhere and were very successful with both critics and audiences.

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While the summer season was forgettable to me, the fall/winter movies were much better. I really enjoyed Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Sully and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I have yet to see my most anticipated movie of the year, Martin Scorsese’s Silence, I hope it won’t be a disappointment like this year has been so far.

Television shows have been quite good the last few years and with the popularity of Netflix original shows, I thought both DareDevil and Luke Cage were some of the best shows on TV this year. Another show on Netflix that I can’t get enough of is House of Cards, season 4 was an improvement because I was very disappointed with how season 3 turned out.

Blog Plans for 2017:

52FilmsByWomenWell, I made a pledge to watch 52 FILMS By Women, part of WomenInFilm.org but I’m about 10 films short, and that includes rewatches of films by women, i.e. Belle, Bride & Prejudice and You’ve Got Mail. So I definitely plan to watch more films written and/or directed by women in the new year and beyond!

I don’t know if I’ll participate in Blind Spot series again this year, but I might take part in Wandering Through The Shelves’ Thursday Movie Picks more often to give me a break from reviewing films. I also want to do more Music Break posts next year.


Well that’s FlixChatter’s year-end recap folks! Here’s to a more joyful, blessed & prosperous NEW YEAR… cinematically and otherwise.

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Five for the Fifth: DECEMBER 2016 Edition

Welcome to FlixChatter’s primary blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

1. We’re now on the last FFTF edition of 2016, wow! Well, just this past week, Netflix Offline was trending on Twitter and it was the biggest news on Flipboard that week. I actually haven’t been desperately wishing to download Netflix movies as even when I’m on the plane where there are no Internet, I usually just watch what’s available on the airline entertainment channel. But I could see that it’s a dream come true for many of you who’ve been wanting to watch movies anywhere on their smartphone or tablet offline. I’d also think it’d have greater appeal in international markets such as Africa and Asia, where internet service is less ubiquitous than it is in the United States.

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Now, not everything on its vast library is available to download, but surely all the Netflix Original series/movies would be available. Just don’t expect any of the Disney stuff to be downloadable anytime soon, or ever.

So which films or TV shows have you downloaded or planning on downloading straight away? 

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2. Boy, James Gunn has been quite busy lately. On top of working on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, he actually had time to write the script of this action thriller. One commenter on Youtube dubbed ‘Office Space meets The Purge, yikes! The Belko Experiment isn’t exactly my cup of tea, despite the pretty good cast, but surely it’ll find an audience.

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Now, switching gear to the follow up to yet another reboot of a franchise nobody is really clamoring to see. I gotta admit though, the cast of Tom Cruise AND Russell Crowe, and the fact that Christopher McQuarrie directs it, intrigues me a bit. Behold the first trailer of The Mummy:

It might as well be titled Mission Impossible: Paranormal. Cruise is on the run once again with a pretty girl (half his age) in tow. But is Cruise the mummy?? He’s shown waking up on a morgue after a horrific plane crash with not a scratch on him! That would be a fun twist wouldn’t it? But what is Crowe supposed to be in this story?? Well I’m sure we’ll have more trailers until its June 2017 release.

Anyhoo, thoughts about either one of these trailers?

3. On Saturday mornings my hubby and I usually sleep in a bit and would watch some stuff on our iPad in bed. We ended up watching the entire episode of Variety’s Actors On Actors series featuring Taraji P. Henson and Ryan Reynolds. 

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It was really fun to watch these tête-à-têtes as various actors get candid about their struggles and triumphs in the business. There’s quite a lineup in this year’s series, so I plan on watching a bunch of them later.

Have you watched these? Which episode and/or actor pairings are your fave?
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4. Ok, for the fourth question, let’s discuss about cinematic discoveries. It’s up for debate whether 2016 has been a good or mediocre year for movies. But every year I’m always grateful for new talent discoveries… actors who either have been acting for a while (Mahershala Ali) or those who’ve made their debut (Julian Dennison).

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As you can see, I’m eternally grateful to Moonlight for introducing me to SO many great talents! I have to mention the trio of actors portraying the protagonist as well. I might do a full post on this topic later, but for now I’d like to know…

Who’s your favorite talent(s) you discovered in 2016?

5. This month Five for the Fifth’s guest is Cindy from Cindy Bruchman’s Blog! It’s about a show on Netflix I’ve been curious about… and its leading man (Alexander Dreymon) sure looks very crush-worthy 😉

So here’s Cindy’s question:

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While a fan of Game of Thrones, I’m impressed with ‘The Last Kingdom.’ It simulates the historical culture of Britain circa 800 A.D., and I love the authentic touches of the filming, the plot, and the acting. It doesn’t have the magical realism of GoT, but I have to say I prefer it.

So have you seen “The Last Kingdom”? What do you like about and/or who’s your favorite character?


Well, that’s it for the DECEMBER edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Take part by picking a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! 

Week In Review: Hunt For the Wilderpeople + Loving + The Little Prince

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How’s your weekend everyone? It’s been a while since I did a roundup post, but I figure it’s a good way for me to ease my way into blogging again. It’s been a particularly gratifying week as I saw two of my highly-anticipated films, Loving and Hunt For the Wilderpeople. As Winter has officially arrived, we pretty much hibernated this weekend so my hubby and I saw The Little Prince on Netflix Saturday night.

Below is my mini reviews of two of the films I saw this past week, plus quick thoughts on the New Zealander adventure comedy…

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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I became a huge fan of Taika Waititi‘s work since the hilarious vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows. Well, he’s come up with yet another riotously-funny movie that could practically double as a travel video for New Zealand!

I will do a full review of this later in December, but right now all I can say is… RUN, don’t walk to rent this movie!! I’m gutted that I missed this on the big screen, not sure that it even had a theatrical release here in MN. In any case, I enjoyed the heck out of this one. LOVE the unlikely duo of veteran actor Sam Neill with newcomer Julian Dennison, a riotous 14-year-old NZ child actor with an amazing comic timing and screen presence. He’s inspired me to do a top 10 list of great 2016 performances by kid actors, so stay tuned for that!


Loving

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Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married.

This film couldn’t have come at a better time, as America is surely in tumultuous times right now. It seems appalling that interracial marriage was still illegal in some states fifty some years ago, but have we really come that far since? The latest film from Jeff Nichols is beautifully-told, graceful and affecting as the filmmaker focused on the couple themselves instead of making a political statement. Yes of course the film has a major political and social implication, as the Supreme Court decision on Loving v. Virginia put an end to all miscegenation laws in 1967. But at the end of the day, the story is about two human beings who loved each other and wanted to raise a family together.

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Both Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton portrayed Mildred and Richard with such quiet grace and sincerity. It’s an understated performance that speaks volumes and conveys the tension as well as poignancy of what they went through. For someone withe the name Loving, Richard surely lives up to that and it’s truly a beautiful marriage built on not just love, but mutual respect. Michael Shannon has a small–but–memorable cameo as a LIFE magazine photographer who took the iconic shots of the couple as they simply hang out in their home, watching tv, playing with their kids, etc. There’s also Marton Csokas as the ‘villain’ of the story, the Virginia sheriff who arrested them.

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The script, direction and performance all work beautifully to bring the Lovings’ story to life. The cinematography and music are beautiful and evocative, it works in transporting us to a certain period of Americana. But it’s the journey of the Lovings that I shall never forget. By making the film about the couple, forgoing court drama theatrics, Nichols made a deeply moving film that connected with me in a refreshingly real way.

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The Little Prince (2015)

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A little girl lives in a very grown-up world with her mother, who tries to prepare her for it. Her neighbor, the Aviator, introduces the girl to an extraordinary world where anything is possible, the world of the Little Prince.

Truth be told, I’m not that familiar with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, despite it being the fourth most translated book in the world. This is the first animated feature film adaptation of the book, directed by Mark Osborne (Kung Fu Panda), boasting a terrific cast that includes Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Ricky Gervais, etc.

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I have a penchant for these kinds of imaginative stories, one that blends in reality and fantasy set in striking visuals. The little girl’s relationship with her overly-ambitious mother is an interesting commentary about the overly-structured life of an adult vs the wide-eyed openness of a child exploring the world. I have to admit it took me a while to get into this one at first, even after the girl (Mackenzie Foy, who was in Interstellar) meets the narrator, an elderly man (Jeff Bridges) who told her the tale about the aviator and the little prince. I’m often lost in the beauty of the visuals, especially the stop-motion scenes in the desert created using paper. It’s absolutely gorgeous with a dreamy quality, but yet for some reason I couldn’t connect to the story nor the characters as much as I wanted to. I wonder if at times there’s a case of ‘lost in translation’ here from the original story.

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There are philosophical quotes that resonated with me however, such as “One sees clearly only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eye.” I also enjoyed the music by Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey, which nicely complements the ethereal, watercolor look of the film. It certainly is worth a watch, for sure it’s a technical/visual marvel, even if the film overall isn’t as breathtaking as I had hoped.

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More reviews coming your way…

I’ve written up my full review of Doctor Strange coming later this week. My hubby and I saw Arrival last weekend, right after we’re back from our Zion/Vegas trip, which was truly one of the best, most affecting sci-fi film I’ve seen in a good while.  I plan on writing my review of Arrival and Moonlight (one of the two October Movies of the Month!) later this week. I’ll be seeing the new Brad Pitt/Marion Cotillard spy drama Allied tonight, and if the snow storm doesn’t wreck havoc on traffic, hopefully I’ll be seeing Hidden Figures tomorrow night! Oh and my new blog contributor Laura S. also gave me a review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, so stay tuned for a slew of new reviews in the next few weeks!

#SlowlyGettingMyBloggingMojoBack 😉


So did you see anything good this weekend? If you’ve seen any of these movies, I’m curious to hear what YOU think.