Belle (2014 dir. Amma Asante)

Standard

Anyone who classes themselves as a true friend will know of my interest in the stories and experiences of the African-Caribbean diaspora and my penchant for period dramas, thus it will be of no surprise that I went out of my way to see this film.

Inspired by a painting of  Lady Elizabeth Dido Lindsay, Britain’s first black aristocrat, Belle explores the social conventions and hypocrisies of 18th century England. 

The film was written by black British writer Misan Sagay and directed by Amma Asante and boasts a sterling cast of accomplished actors such as Tom Wilkinson and Miranda Richardson as well as relative newcomers Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Sam Reid; all of whom contribute to making this film a real gem.

The film, I hope, symbolises a move amongst those in the British media to portray the lives of black Britons before 1948, although the British film industry need to pull their socks up and tell us the stories of The Empire Windrush generation too.

Belle is an excellent British film and one that I would expect to become a classic. As well as an alluring love story it addresses race, gender and class inequality in the 1700s.

Image

The painting, by an anonymous artist, that inspired the screenplay, now hung at Scone Palace in Perth, Scotland, the family seat.

 

Advertisements

The Fault in Our Stars (2014 dir. Josh Boone)

Standard

For a film depicting teenage love this film is a pleasant surprise and although the main characters are supposed to be in their teens this story has so much substance that it is suitable for those of any age.

Hazel, played by Shailene Woodley of The Descendents and Divergent, is a young lung cancer patient who meets 18 year old amputee Augustus, Ansel Elgort, at a group therapy session. She is struck by his honesty and fearlessness as he is with her beauty and wit and after the session they leave together. Their friendship grows into a mutual unconditional love that few adults experience and although advised against it they journey to Amsterdam to visit Hazel’s favourite author.

Many people will cry during this film, it has memorable and inspirational dialogue, which I am sure will be quoted by fans again and again, and some beautiful exchanges between the pair; having you laughing out loud one minute and weeping hopelessly into your hands the next.

An idealistic yet beautiful story about how love ought to be.

Paradise: Love (2012 dir. Ulrich Seidl)

Aside

Paradise: Love is a quirky black comedy set in modern-day Kenya. It is part of Seidl’s Paradise trilogy which features films Paradise: Faith and Paradise: Hope.

It is the final instalment and follows 50-year-old Teresa, a lonely over weight and stressed out Austrian, who goes to Kenya to meet up with a friend. Locally her friend is known as a “sugar mama” which basically means a kind of sex tourist, picking up young black Kenyan men for sex in exchange for money and expensive gifts, she boasts about buying her lover a motorbike as an investment toward her sex life and later buys a dancer to perform at Teresa’s birthday gathering with the intention of having sex with him.

At first Teresa is subdued, shy and giggly. Although intrigued by the Kenyan men she is uncertain about picking them up and literally runs away from her first sexual encounter.

At times the film is awkward as Teresa and friends talk about all the Kenyan hotel workers looking the same. The women objectify the Kenyan men referring to them as wild and exotic. During the story Teresa becomes less and less innocent as do the men she picks up.

Paradise: Love is a brave film which is both harsh and tender with an excellent performance by Margarethe Tiesel.

20140502-232422.jpg

12 Years A Slave (2014 dir. Steve McQueen)

Standard

Sandra’s Verdict

British director Steve McQueen does an excellent job adapting Solomon Northup’s 1853 biographical book 12 Years A Slave about his own experience when he was kidnapped and sold into slavery and sent to New Orleans. Northup, born a free man, lived in New York with his wife and two children, as an accomplished violinist he made his income playing society balls and as a carpenter, but was tricked by two white men and enticed to follow them to Washington to join a fictitious circus, whilst there they got him drunk, destroyed his identification documents and sold him to slave traders under the name of a southern slave called Platt Hamilton.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s depiction of the conflicted Northup is captivating and heartbreaking as you see him forced to act against his conscience and I expect that he will be nominated for the Best Actor award at the Oscars in March. Likewise I expect Lupita Nyong’o to pick up the Rising Star BAFTA for her portrayal of the brutalised Patsey, the object of slavemaster Epp’s molestations. Fassbender, a McQueen favourite, is on form, as usual, as the cruel alcoholic Epps and Cumberbatch is equally good as the more forgiving but by no means less culpable Ford.

12 Years A Slave is the first Hollywood film to follow a slave narrative and I hope it has paved the way for more to follow. It is an absolute ‘must see’ for the insights, truths and contradictions that it presents. It would be a fully deserving winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture.

20140111-211356.jpg

Django Unchained (2013 dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Standard

Andrew’s Verdict

20140111-201612.jpg

Actually I had high hopes for this film before I walked into the cinema coupled with a slight thought that ‘Tarantino’s films have been ok but not as good as Jackie Brown/ Pulp Fiction’. Well I would put Django up there as one of his best. The script is fantastic and I believe Christophe Waltz should be treated like a gem. He was great in Inglorious Bastards and his performance in this film is even better. That goes for all the cast: I thought Jamie Fox, DiCaprio, Jackson and really the entire cast delivered an ensemble that I have to praise. Blaxploitation abounds and there are hilarious moments and also graphic scences that bring to the fore the rawness of slavery and racism. The first part of the film sees Waltz and Fox and as Waltz takes Fox under his wing and teaches him the art of bounty hunting. In fact its the force of Walt’s character and the sharp wit that we come to love. Fox in contrast blossoms towards the end of the film as the journey to save his wife takes the bounty hunts into the home of southern slavery and its peculiar white/ black, master/ slave relationship which will probably surprise audience who aren’t familiar with the exploitation of blacks outside of the work field. It seems interesting that this film and Lincoln are out at the same time and might point to something about the current zeitgeist.

Really Tarantino is back to his best. He’s taken his love of spagetthi westerns, Blacksploitation and the music of that era and created an unbelievable referenced film that is enjoyable, cringe worthy, thought provoking and manly. What I really like about this film is the balance, and what I mean by that is how often do you sit through a 2:45 hrs and not notice day turn to night?

Something Wild (1961 dir. Jack Garfen)

Standard

Sandra’s Verdict

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I attended a small screening of Something Wild with the director, Jack Garfen, at the Renoir in Bloomsbury last week and was fortunate enough to listen to him introduce the film and be able to question him about the film’s themes and depictions after the feature.

Carroll Baker, Garfen’s wife at the time of filming, plays the 17-year-old protagonist Mary Anne in this formerly banned film with delicacy and agression. Although her character is raped early on in the film she remains immaculate and sophisticated (not a hair out-of-place) as she then goes through poverty, self-destruction and captivity. Having kept ‘what has happened’ a secret she leaves her parental home and prematurely moves into the adult world of Manhattan’s rougher quarter. During the course of the film she seems to tumble-down a rabbit hole, marching, floating and stumbling, she passes through various locations without finding peace and leads herself to the edge of Manhattan Bridge where she is pulled, ‘saved’ and captured by Mike (Ralph Meeker).

We are then taken through a series of scenes where Mike having failed to win her over with milk, bread and steak keeps her locked in his one-roomed basement flat. After a series of fracases, during which Mary Ann kicks out at her strangle holds and Mike attempts to show his admiration, though flawed and dependent, she is finally to reach an equilibrium again via Broadway and Central Park. It is unfortunate then that she returns to Mike’s needy embrace.

The craftsmanship of Something Wild is excellent from the script to set design to lighting. Nevertheless I could not understand why after being freed Mary Ann would return to wed her captor and I posed this question to Garfen at the end of the screening. Garfen of course defended his ending and talked of the praise that the film had got from some feminists because of the strong female protagonist. His interviewer pointed out that feminists, who argued that she was not truly liberated because she returned to her captor and thus suffered Stockholm syndrome, were missing the point.

The film according to Garfen dealt with a lot of issues that were in his subconscious at the time of making it, such as his having survived a Dachau concentration camp in Nazi Germany whilst his Jewish family were killed, his relationships and his emigration to New York. Garfen identied with Mary Ann having also been in captivity and consequentially unable to accept love from the women he had been involved with. This is an interesting comparison but I think it is important to accept that although Garfen attempts to give the film a romantic ending with Mary Ann being married and reunited with her mother, this seems hurried and unconvincing as she seems to have resolved everything over the course of a few months.

I enjoyed this film and accept that in its context it was a challenging film for audiences to watch; however I cannot help but feel disappointed by the backtracking at the end. I would have preferred it if May Ann had liberated herself and moved forward toward an alternative future rather than meet the expectations of marriage, children, and bondage.

The Samurai That Night (2012 dir. Masaaki Akahori)

Video

Sandra’s Verdict

The Samurai That Night is an excellent film. I must say however, for the benefit of those expecting swords and kimonos, that it is not a film about an actual samurai, so do not expect to be entertained with fast motion takes, rapid editing or jaw dropping CGI. The film, which has already won a Golden Zenith at the Montreal World Film Festival, does deal with a common belief  present in samurai films, the idea that the murder of innocent women or children should be avenged and our main protagonist, awkward Kenichi Nakamura- portrayed by Masato Sakai, must deal with this grave dilemma.

We join Kenichi, or Ken as is preferred by his wife, two days before the five-year anniversary of her death. She (Maki Sakai) was killed in a hit and run by Kijima (Takayuki Yamada) who has recently been freed from prison after being convicted for her death. Both men are still coming to terms with the event. Ken is mild-mannered, whilst keeping up with the running of his small ironworks business, he remains reclusive, not speaking much until the film’s climatic scenes at the end. By contrast Kijima is aggro and in initial conflict with all he interacts with.

I enjoyed the film’s mundane realism which firmly places the plot into a modern urban context and allows the audience to relate to the Japanese characters. The film also depicts the formalities and reserved nuances of Japanese culture, most of the characters, apart from roguish Kijima, are apologetic and overly polite by British standards.

I was only disappointed by a couple of lines worth of dialogue between Ken and Kijima, where Ken suggests that they talk about television, I felt this to be cheesy and belittling of the journey the characters had made toward their final confrontation. Other than this I found The Samurai That Night to be a very good choice and definitely worth watching particularly on a rainy autumn afternoon. I am very pleased at its selection for the BFI’s London Film Festival.