Belle (2013)

Belle (2013)        Belle UK Film Poster

UK Release Date: June 13th, 2014

Running Time: 104 mins.

Director: Amma Asante

Writer: Misan Sagay (Screenplay),

Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Sam Reid, Sarah Gadon, Emily Watson, Matthew Goode, Tom Felton, James Norton, Miranda Richardson,

Amma Asante’s Belle has the hallmarks of a costume drama thanks to the setting of Georgian England and its focus on relationships but due to the titular character it is different from other films of the genre. The inspiration for the film comes from a beautiful and lively painting (attributed to Johann Zoffany) of a mixed-race girl and a Dido Elizabeth Belle and Mary Murraywhite girl, both recently revealed to be half-cousins, both given flattering portrait treatment and both depicted as equals. What makes it strange is that this was painted at a time when Britain was a colonial empire and a centre of the slave trade and both people have equal prominence. The mixed-race girl in the picture is Belle. At a time when the voice of slavers was a loud one in the British Empire because the country derived a massive amount of income from the slave trade, Belle lived the life of an aristocrat and would find herself connected to a court case which would decide the fate of the British slave trade. Assante takes this as a starting point to craft a costume drama with a civil-rights edge that tackles race and gender.

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Skyfall

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Skyfall                                                        Skyfall US Theatrical Poster

Release Date:  26th October 2012 (UK)

Running Time: 143 mins.

Director: Sam Mendes

Writer: Robert Wade, Neal Purvis, John Logan, Ian Fleming (Original Characters)

Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear

Skyfall comes at an interesting time as it marks the 50th year of the Bond franchise and it follows the disastrous Quantum of Solace which. Skyfall has to be good as it is under assault from modern spies like Jason Bourne who just feel more relevant. How good is it?

Magnificent!

Istanbul, James Bond (Craig) is on assignment with fellow field agent Eve (Harris) tracking down a computer hard drive which contains the identity of almost every NATO agent embedded in terrorist cells around the globe. Things go wrong when Bond is wounded and falls into a river leaving M (Dench), back in London, with an agent down and major security headache all while she is being pressured into retirement by the Parliamentary security committee chairman Gareth Mallory (Fiennes). Then MI6 headquarters is attacked during a cyber-terrorist assault on British Intelligence. With events spiralling out of M’s control Bond comes back, joining forces with the new Q (Whishaw), to track down the person behind the attack, first heading to Shanghai then to Macau where he meets Severin (Marlohe), a woman who knows about the plot and how it is linked to a man named Raoul Silva (Bardem).

I have to admit that I am not the biggest fan of Bond. Despite being British and having watched every film in the franchise I always found the fantasy elements and the thin characters rather dull. There was never any sense of jeopardy and the stories were increasingly irrelevant. I soon switched to the Bourne trilogy of films. When Casino Royale was released it introduced a new Bond in the form of Daniel Craig and it replaced the silly gadgets and outlandish plots with gritty realism and gripping character drama. I loved it. Then A Quantum of Solace was released, a film that had a lot on character but awful action, a boring villain and a dull plot. Once again I lost interest. Thankfully Skyfall manages to resurrect the franchise by bringing everything back to basics, back to M and MI6 and back to Bond himself.

Skyfall Bond (Craig)

The film feels more relevant than other Bonds. Gone are the invisible cars and exploding pens and in comes a cyber-terrorism plot linked to the characters and Britain’s history. While a bit fantastical it is less far-fetched than the franchise is used to.

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Shame

The idea of there being any misery surrounding sex addiction seems laughable but this powerful and touching film proves that when sex becomes a compulsion it can be devastating. Here is the first brilliant film of 2012 thanks to a brilliant script, direction and two central performances.

Brandon (Fassbender) is an outwardly successful corporate type leading a seemingly charmed existence in Manhattan. However beneath his confident exterior lies a sex addict with a desperate need for flesh regardless of whether it is live or virtual. When his emotional extrovert younger sister Sissy (Mulligan) arrives at his apartment unannounced, Brandon’s fragile life begins to unravel and the true face of his problems begins to show through his facade.

Michael Fassbender in Shame

The first shot of the film has Michael Fassbender lying on a bed in post-coital pose but he looks enervated. There is no sense of awe and wonder or achievement traditionally conveyed after sex in films just exhaustion and sadness in Fassbender’s face. Straightaway you realise that there is a darkness dwelling underneath everything.

This view is further compounded by the locations. Brandon’s life takes place in a wintry looking New York, all unmemorable offices and restaurants with the steel and glass of post-modern architecture. His apartment has a sterile feel due to its minimalist style and the only colour comes from record sleeves and stashes of porn he has hidden about. There is an overall lack of warmth in the world which is mirrored in the sex which has had joy and life leeched out of it because it has become a compulsion for Brandon, a procession of nude bodies and squalid, loveless encounters which act as a fix and that is without mentioning the endless pornography he watches online.

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