Movie Diary for the Week of May 14-20, 2017

Perhaps because the movies I saw last week inadvertently had a common theme that was none too happy, this week I was determined to see movies that were more varied from each other.  The four movies that I saw could be paired loosely into two pairs (two of them being drama and two of them being science-fiction) as I ended up staggering between the two genres.  Here are the movies that I saw this past week:

 

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A United Kingdom (2016) – dir. Amma Assante

Rating: 81/100

I had been looking forward to this film, as I really liked Amma Assante’s 2013 film, Belle.  This film tells the remarkable true story of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), who was the heir to inherit the kingdom of Botswana, and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), the British Caucasian woman Khama fell in love with, married, and brought back to his homeland.  As with Belle (which was about a mixed race woman adopted into British aristocracy), the movie comprehensibly lays out the details of the political climate and vicissitudes that the couple had to face.  These include not only the obvious disapproval of interracial marriage in the 1940s (including that of Seretse’s uncle) but also the devious machinations of British diplomats who threaten to give up Botswana as a protectorate against South Africa, a neighboring country practicing apartheid.   Some may see the movie’s portrayal of the lead characters as too noble (and the beginning romance does seem a little too rosy even if the couple bonds over swing dancing, which I always enjoy).  However, I admire Assante’s strengths as a filmmaker to portray characters that are decent yet recognizably human.  She is one of the few filmmakers making stately political films in the classical tradition with lush cinematography and romantic flourishes.

 

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Alien: Covenant (2017) – dir. Ridley Scott

Rating: 62/100

This second prequel to Alien and follow-up to Prometheus (which I liked) moves closer to the sci-fi horror tradition of the original 1979 classic.  This one, however, leaves me more conflicted about whether I was satisfied.  On the good side, there is a fantastic dual performance by Michael Fassbender playing two androids (David, from Prometheus, and a new one, Walter aboard the ship, the Covenant).  Katherine Waterston also continues the tradition of a strong female heroine leading the series (although her character is not as well defined as her predecessors).  There are some effective (and gory) sci-fi horror scenes and some visuals that I could admire with sheer pleasure.  However, perhaps in response to the complaints about Prometheus leaving too many unanswered questions, this one just settles for straight-up horror instead of actually exploring some of the deeper questions posed by the earlier film.  It also leaves a lot of inconsistencies that I will leave to discussions in spoiler reviews or message boards (and I may weigh in some of my own thoughts for that).  I think director Ridley Scott, rather than simply caving in to audience expectations, should have pursued the ideas from Prometheus in a more streamlined fashion, as many elements established from that one are ignored.

 

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An Education (2009) – dir. Lone Scherfig

Rating: 78/100

I went back to see this movie not only to see Carey Mulligan’s star-making performance but also see more films starring Rosamund Pike that show her accomplished range (and it speaks to her versatility that she did not make me think at all about her most famous diabolical role in Gone Girl when watching A United Kingdom).  Mulligan received comparisons to Audrey Hepburn for this role and her alacrity and instant likability play a great part in setting the proper tone to Lone Scherfig’s movie that deals with dicey subject matter.  She is a 16-year old girl growing up in early 1960s Britain who is drawn into the pleasures of high-class society by an older man, David (Peter Sarsgaard) in his 30s.  Her frequenting of jazz clubs and traveling to Paris distract her from her pursuit of going to Oxford (via the studies she finds boring) and are all obviously part of the elaborate, unsavory seduction.  The movie could have been too depressing or unsettling but the movie maintains a tone that is not soft or exploitative but level-headed in the eyes of a teenager who learns an object lesson (and Mulligan’s performance prevents her character from seeming like a victim).  Pike plays the crucial role of one of David’s friends who becomes something of an older sister figure to Mulligan in the “high class” society that she ultimately does not want to partake in.  It is also a pleasure to watch several accomplished British actresses like Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams, and Sally Hawkins fill small but important roles.

 

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Colossal (2016) – dir. Nacho Vigalondo

Rating: 72/100

Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is a jobless party girl who drinks too much but then finds that her actions may be connected to a giant monster that is attacking Seoul, South Korea. That is the weird, wacky conceit of this movie that ultimately does not quite maintain the level of credibility to pull it off but manages to be mostly satisfying anyway thanks to a decent emotional thru line.  After Gloria is thrown out by her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens) in NYC, she moves back to her hometown in Connecticut and reconnects with an old childhood friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis).  When she enters a park in her neighborhood, she finds that the monster in Seoul actually mirrors her actions exactly.  The first half treats the idea comically, but the story turns more serious to become a character study on the destructive nature of rage and alcoholism.  We can go along with the conceit without a scientific explanation but what strains the credibility are some character shifts that seem abrupt without a proper buildup.  However, Hathaway’s performance holds it together for us to forgive those gaps, and the movie symbolically conveys how we should be more aware of the consequences and the potential monstrosity of our own actions.

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