Movie Review: Apostle

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Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) attempts to rescue his sister from the evil Malcolm (Michael Sheen) in Apostle, Gareth Evans’ first English-language film since 2006. (Source: IMDb)

Welsh director Gareth Evans made a big name for himself when he moved to Indonesia to direct The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2. Starring Iko Uwais among other native actors, these martial arts films both opened to critical acclaim (except for Ebert, who panned the first film describing it as “a visualized video game that spares the audience the inconvenience of playing it”) and have gained a cult following. Now– he makes his first attempt into Victorian horror with Netflix original Apostle, which influence The Wicker Man, The Witch, Silence, and The Village. It’s just as unnerving as one would expect.

In the 1900s, ex-priest Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) travels to Erisden, a remote island off the Welsh coast, to save his sister Jennifer (Elen Rhys) from an evil religious cult, led by the prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen). During his investigation, he learns about the island’s dark secrets from its residents, including Malcolm’s daughter Andrea (Lucy Boynton, Sing Street). Thomas must rescue his daughter before Malcolm puts him under his wing.

What fascinates me about this movie is the complex nature of the island and its residents. It questions the existence of God and whether He is poisoning the minds of its followers. In one of the most gut-wrenching scenes, Thomas discussed about a painful memory of getting a cross burnt into his back. “The promise of the divine is but an illusion,” he says. “Nothing in the world is pure. God is pain. God is suffering. God is betrayal.” Stevens’ performance as the charismatic Thomas with a violent side is one to cherish.

Evans gives his movie enough time to develop its characters; giving them a sense of dread. Sheen’s Malcolm will stop at nothing to execute his people who disrespect his religion, especially if someone fails to memorize his verses. They are punished by grisly torture devices. Those with a strong stomach will be on the edge of their seat during the brutal second act, accompanied by a suspenseful score by Fajar Yusekemal and Aria Prayogi. Matt Flannery’s cinematography captures the beauty and insanity of the island to perfection.

Apostle might be too complex at times, but it still manages to shock and captivate its viewers. While not for the faint-of-heart, this is a refreshing return to the English-language for Evans. It might be fair to watch it more than once.

3/4

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Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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Belle (Emma Watson) gives her father (Kevin Kline) a hand in the latest remake of Beauty and the Beast. (Source: Digital Spy)

How can a fairy tale about a girl with Stockholm syndrome become an instant Disney animated classic? The 1991 animated version of Beauty and the Beast has memorable songs, characters, and gorgeous animation is more than enough reasons why generations of people watch it over and over again. Unlike Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, the recent remakes of Cinderella and The Jungle Book stick to their traditional Disney roots while modernizing it at the same time. The new live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast is certainly no exception.

Everybody knows the story. Belle (Emma Watson) is a booksmart, independent young woman living in the village of Villeneuve whose father Maurice (Kevin Kline) is a brilliant artist and tinkerer. While walking into town, war veteran Gaston (Lee Evans) tries everything he can to marry Belle, in spite of his arrogance. One day, Maurice is kidnapped by the Beast (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey) and seeks refuge in a beautiful castle. Hearing the news, Belle flees to castle and encounters the staff—including Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and Chip (Nathan Mack)—who have been transformed into various objects due to a spell that, if all the rose pedals fall, the Beast will forever be a Beast, and…you know the rest.

There has been controversy prior to the release of Beauty and the Beast concerning the portrayal of LeFou as a gay character. A movie theater in Alabama went as far as banning it altogether. While in Malaysia and Russia, the certification boards suggested young kids are not allowed to see the movie because of the “gay moment”. LeFou always had a thing for Gaston (not to mention the original having homosexual undertones as well). That said moment is very brief and does not hurt the quality of the film.

Director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Mr. Holmes) feels right at home here. He, along with screenwriter Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflowers, the upcoming Wonder), keeps the tone the same as the original featuring gorgeous sets and costumes, Alan Menken’s beautiful music (providing the classic songs we know and love and new, original songs), and colorful visuals. While everyone remembers the iconic song “Beauty and the Beast”, my favorite has always been “Be Our Guest”. Before I had doubts whether the visuals would come across as creepy, but I am surprised how the entire movie turned out. This particular music number improves upon the original (it oozes with color)!

I cannot imagine a better cast! Emma Watson has come a long way from her years of playing Hermione Granger in the beloved Harry Potter series. Here, she is the perfect actress to play Belle! While her singing is not out-of-this-world amazing (but not entirely awful), she breathes a lot of life into her performance. This movie gives more of a backstory of where she has come from. She knows a lot about books. She could easily get lost in the castle’s massive library. Stevens brings a lot of life in Beast (especially through the motion capture). He cannot be anywhere without her, particularly in one scene where he sings his heart out about his affections for her (“Evermore”—one of the movie’s original songs). McGregor and McKellen provide a lot of laughs, while Lee Evans and Josh Gad steal the show.

Beauty and the Beast has strong messages about what is on the inside rather than the outside. Families will certainly have a ball (no pun intended) laughing and being blown away by the looks of the movie. This is what magic is made of.

3/4