Monthly Archives: August 2014


Belle film posterSynopsis

Amma Asante’s film is inspired by a painting showing a bi-racial girl with a white woman.  Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw ) is of mixed race and is raised with her half cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon).  She is the daughter of Captain John Lindsay and an African Maria Belle.  She is brought up in Kenwood House by Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) who was famous for hearing the “Zong” ship court case in which the human “cargo” of slaves was murdered by being thrown overboard.  Lady Mary Murray (Penelope Wilton) is disappointed in love.  John Davis plays a clergyman’s son and he is idealistic about ending the slave trade.  Dido and Davis struggle for human rights and Mansfield gives his ruling…


This of course is a story about racial and gender identity, about slavery, class, love, and marriage.  It’s a thinking person’s costume drama for Jane Austen fans.  It’s about the buttoned-up snobberies barely contained.  We’ve seen the obscene face of slavery in 12 Years a Slave and now Belle takes us to the rococo drawing rooms where words and gestures are as if prized on an elegant tight rope woven with gilt. We wait for the arrogant characters to fall off and land on their backsides.  Belle does not avoid chocolate box sentimentality, as when Mansfield gives his judgement against the Zong slavers, it looks too much like ‘finding your dreams’ tearfulness, it’s epiphanic aspect emphasized by coinciding with Belle and Davis’ declaration of love.  I recall British TV’s Comic Strip which showed Rik Mayall as a judge tearfully throwing his hammer away at a happy ending and this is similar, though Tom Wilkinson does resist the public sob.  Wilkinson does a good job of consigning Mansfield’s past idealism to the self serving pragmatism that coincides with the requirements of influence and power. John Davis’ is on hand with the earnest anti-racist liberalism that we’re all familiar with now but looks anachronistic in the 18th century which boasted abolitionists of the slave trade, not of slavery.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw brings a feisty rebelliousness which is all the more effective for being well channelled into the elegant riposte, especially as she must negotiate the traps of proposed marriage to horrible suitors.  Absorbing.

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Posted by on August 11, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

dawn of the Planet of the Apes film posterSynopsis

Continues the story from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis) is now the leader of the apes and Koba is his surly second in command.  Their encampment stands in the way of a reservoir humans want to use.  There is conflict between humans in their rundown San Francisco and the apes.  Caesar is torn between regard for his old keeper and anger over human arrogance.  Gary Oldman tries to negotiate with the primates or there will be endless war.



Boule’s 1963 Planet of the Apes satirized human customs through the reversal of roles, with the apes dominant.  Ironically, that assault on human arrogance has now become a big franchise and it’s in danger of being overdone.  We had Planet of the Apes (1968), then the TV series, then Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2002), then Rise of the Apes, and now Dawn of the Apes.  What about “The Bit after the Dawn Going on Full Blown Planet of the Apes” for Pete’s sake?  Anyway, this film’s CGI is pretty impressive so we have got beyond fetishizing gimmickry (monkies on horses?) and we are as if stereoscopically enclosed by this simian dystopia.  The simian language acquistion should be funny but we’ve all sat through po-faced evolution lectures, haven’t we?  The guttural growling seems to work.  If you believe we have evolved from apes then Dawn is a sort of anti-evolutionary regression, a Benjamin Button journey for monkeys.  It works as a sort of radical anthropology, a primitive anti-utopia that drags us back to Darwinian basics.  Andy Serkis’ Caesar is obviously a labour of love, there is endless attention to the specifics of this proto human caricature.  Koba (that was Stalin’s nickname) is a snarling chimp in white war paint.  The post disease apocalyptic future is drawn in dense and convincing  detail.  San Francisco looks like jungled cement encampments, it’s human denizens behaving little better than apes.  When the ape army herds humans into makeshift cages, I couldn’t help cheering.  The human protagonists are the usual defensively apologetic liberals undone by the brutality of nature and human corruption.  My favourite scene is where the apes fight on a tower block of girders, it reminded me of a sci-fi story Transfigurations which starts out with apes guarding a pagoda.  The next prequel to Planet of Apes (surely there will be one) will be a gripping sequel to this.

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Posted by on August 10, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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