Movie Review ~ Beauty and the Beast (2017)


The Facts
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Synopsis: An adaptation of the Disney fairy tale about a monstrous-looking prince and a young woman who fall in love.

Stars: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Sir Ian McKellen, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Luke Evans, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Dan Stevens, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Hattie Morahan

Director: Bill Condon

Rated: PG

Running Length: 129 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10, 7.5 on a second viewing)

Review: Let’s start with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: I had to see this live-action version of Beauty and the Beast twice before I felt I could really give it a fair shake.  I had been so looking forward to seeing Disney’s classic tale come to life that I perhaps went in with expectations dialed too high, spending much of the first screening feeling a bit, well, let-down.  Not that the production design wasn’t glorious (it is), not that the music wasn’t stirring (Alan Menken’s score still dazzles), and not that the actors giving flesh and bone life to characters crafted in animation studios weren’t up to the task (they are…mostly), but there was something that just didn’t hit my ‘Thrill Me’ button.  Seeing it again two weeks later in 3D accompanied by rich Dolby Atmos sound, I found some magic that wasn’t there before…but many of the problems remained.

Let’s go back to 1991 when Disney hand-drawn animation reached its full renaissance and true zenith with the release of Beauty and the Beast.  A dynamite blockbuster and instant classic, it also became the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture (other nominees that year? Bugsy, JFK, The Prince of Tides, and the winner The Silence of the Lambs) a title it held for 18 years until the list of nominees was expanded and Pixar’s Up nabbed a nom.  Disney recognized it had a property that could have a life beyond the silver screen and soon Beauty and the Beast became a highly popular and endlessly profitable Broadway musical.  With countless releases on video, DVD, BluRay and a 2012 re-release in 3D, the film is easily Disney’s bread and butter.  It’s no wonder, then, that with the popularity of Disney’s recent slate of live-action adaptations of their classic animated films (Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book), Beauty and the Beast is swooping back into theaters in a lavish new production.

You know the story, right?  Snooty, spoiled prince angers old beggar woman that’s really an enchantress in disguise.  Prince is turned into a beast and his staff are turned into various objects until the prince/beast learns to love and be loved in return.  Enter headstrong and misunderstood Belle who winds up imprisoned by the Beast but warms his cold heart.  The rest is fairy tale history.

My biggest issue with 2017’s BatB (let’s shorten it, shall we?) is its length.  The original film was a solid 84 minutes with very little in the way of excess plot, characters, or showiness but this film is 129 minutes and feels longer than it had to be.  That’s due to some baffling additions in plot and characters that feel like distractions from the action instead of support for the story.

Take Audra McDonald (Ricki and the Flash) and Stanley Tucci (Spotlight) as the castle entertainment turned into a wardrobe and a cadenza, respectively.  McDonald’s character isn’t new but the role is beefed up to ridiculous proportions, seemingly only to have an excuse to showcase McDonald’s glorious soprano.  Tucci’s piano man adds nothing to the plot and winds up taking time away from established characters Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellen, The Wolverine, crazily underused) and Lumiere (Scotsman Ewan McGregor, A Million Ways to Die in the West, nearly nailing a French accent).  Emma Thompson’s (Saving Mr. Banks) is no Angela Lansbury but, even though an obvious choice, her warm-hearted Mrs. Potts gets the job done, delivering a sweet interpretation of the title tune.

Screenwriter Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) has made the curious decision to provide a backstory for Belle and her father that involves Paris, a windmill, and the Black Plague.  While it may give more dimension to the character in general, it takes up too much time and again feels like it was added to introduce one of Menken’s new songs.

Ah…the songs.  Three songs from original musical written by Menken and the late Howard Ashman were nominated for an Oscar and hearing them again with a full orchestra it’s not hard to see (or hear) why.  ‘Belle’ is still an energetic introduction not only to our heroine but to her “poor provincial town” as well.  I missed some of the eccentric townsfolk Disney animators dreamed up, they’ve been replaced by bland-ish niceties that strangely seem more sinister than their hand-drawn inspirations ever did.  ‘Be Our Guest’ remains the star centerpiece with McGregor and an entire Crate and Barrel’s worth of kitchen fare going Busby Berkley when serving dinner.  I’ve heard ‘Beauty and the Beas’t a zillion times in a million different versions but it never fails to choke me up with its grand music but tender lyrics.  Surprisingly, the songs Menken and Tim Rice wrote for the Broadway musical are jettisoned for lesser carbon copies.  I can’t quite understand why the Beast’s knock-out Act 1 closing number ‘If I Can’t Love Her’ was replaced by ‘Evermore’ which says nearly the exact same thing.  So, too, for ‘Days in the Sun’, taking the place of ‘Human Again’ without much justification.  The only semi-winner in the bunch is ‘How Can a Moment Last Forever’, sung by Emma Watson and Kevin Kline in the movie and Celine Dion over the closing credits.  It’s a clear bid for an Oscar nomination and never count Menken out to sneak in and win the prize.

Director Bill Condon (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) has never had the lightest touch and it shows in several frenetically edited numbers that cut away when they should be pulling back and showing the choreography.  It’s interesting that the best staged number (‘Be Our Guest’) is the one largely done with CGI and not the otherwise exuberant opening number or villain Gaston’s big boastful number set in a beer hall.  I was worried that the enchanted objects would look odd and they most certainly do.  It takes a good fifteen minutes to adjust to these computer creations which are blended seamlessly into the live-action pieces.  The castle design is gorgeous and the film looks like it spent every nickel of its sizable budget.

In the title roles, Dan Stevens (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb) and Emma Watson (Noah) are just dandy but don’t truly possess the ‘It” factor that would make them feel like the only possible choices.  Watson’s got a good demeanor and knows exactly who Belle is, but her singing voice is AutoTuned to an almost comical level and I so missed hearing the soaring vocals of Paige O’Hara.  Though Stevens feels slightly too old next to Watson (giving further fodder to the whole Stockholm Syndrome debate that’s followed the tale since it’s origins), he manages to create an actual character within the constraints of his motion-captured Beast creation.  He’s got a nice singing voice too.

The best of the non-professionals is Luke Evans (The Raven) as Gaston.  Though he isn’t the ‘size of a barge’ as his character indicates in song, he’s a nicely nasty villain cut-off at the knees by the independent Belle and her protective father (Kevin Kline, The Big Chill).  He’s got a rich voice and makes each of his scenes and interactions count, I like that he didn’t try to excuse Gaston’s actions or show any redeeming qualities that might make us feel sorry for him.  Then there’s Josh Gad (The Wedding Ringer), an actor I just don’t get.  I liked him in Frozen when he was heard and not seen but as Gaston’s sidekick Lefou he’s easily the most grating presence in the film.  Condon gives Gad far too much slack to modernize his character through shamelessly mugging while lip-synching terribly and though his affections for Gaston are plain as day, the “exclusive gay moment” being buzzed about is a blink and you’ll miss it beat most won’t even recognize.

There’s no doubt this is going to make Disney another trillion dollars at the box office and in clever tie-ins but for me this was the least successful live-action update so far.  It wants to have it both ways; being reverential to the original one moment and not quite as precious to it in another.  Condon wraps it up with a terrible final edit that only made me angrier the second time I saw it. Rated PG, it rides the line of being too long for little kids and pretty scary when you throw in two fairly terrifying wolf attacks.  It’s much darker than the animated film so parents should think twice before taking the tots to this – popping in the original would be my suggestion.

The Silver Bullet ~ Beauty and the Beast (2017) – Trailer 2

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Synopsis: An adaptation of the classic fairy-tale about a monstrous prince and a young woman who fall in love.

Release Date: March 17, 2017

Thoughts: No, YOU teared up when you were watching this look at Beauty and the Beast…ok…I did too.  One of Disney’s most beloved animated fairy tales comes to live action life from director Bill Condon (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) in 2017 and it looks like, well, a beauty.  We all know the story so even seeing some spoilerific scenes doesn’t deter me from counting down the days until this one gets released.  Boasting an impressive cast with Emma Watson (The Bling Ring), Kevin Kline (The Big Chill), Emma Thompson (Beautiful Creatures), Sir Ian McKellen (X: Men – Days of Future Past), Josh Gad (Frozen), Luke Evans (The Raven), Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games), and Ewan McGregor (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) all signing and dancing up a storm, anticipation is high for Beauty and the Beast to be another jewel in Disney’s recent slate of live action remakes of their cartoon classics.

View the teaser trailer here: Beauty and the Beast – Teaser Trailer

The Silver Bullet ~ Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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Synopsis: An adaptation of the classic fairy-tale about a monstrous prince and a young woman who fall in love.

Release Date: March 17, 2017

Thoughts: Gosh darn it, there’s no denying that Disney is sure on a winning streak with re-purposing their animated fairy-tale canon as live action films. After the winning success of 2015’s Cinderella and the eye-popping visuals of The Jungle Book, Disney is unleashing the big guns in 2017 with their production of Beauty and the Beast.  Already well represented in the flesh in a Broadway show and touring companies around the world, the stars are aligning for this to be one beauty of a movie. This first teaser gave me legit goosebumps, mostly due to the creative use of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s haunting score and the briefest of first looks at Emma Watson (The Bling Ring) as Belle and the voices of Ian McKellen (The Wolverine) and Ewan McGregor (August: Osage County) as Cogsworth and Lumiere, respectively.  In future trailers I’m sure we’ll see more of Dan Stevens (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb) as Beast, Luke Evans (Dracula Untold) as Gaston, Audra McDonald (Ricki and the Flash) as Garderobe, Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) as Mrs. Potts, and Kevin Kline (The Big Chill) as Maurice.  Directed by Bill Condon (Mr. Holmes), I’m praying it’s light on gimmicky CGI and retains the heart that made the animated film such an instant classic.

Movie Review ~ Noah

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A man is chosen by God to undertake a momentous mission of rescue before an apocalyptic flood destroys the world.

Stars: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Logan Lerman, Nick Nolte

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 139 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: With the recent religious releases Son of God and God is Not Dead! doing surprisingly good box office business, I’m sure the studio heads at Paramount were breathing a tad easier as the release date for Noah crept ever closer. Buzz had been that the execs weren’t very confident in director Darren Aronofsky’s cut of the film so they screened several of their own versions to audiences to gauge their reaction. In the end the director’s cut won out, leaving me to wonder how bad the other edited versions were.

Honestly, I don’t think it matters much which version ended up being released because the whole film is such a meaty hunk of expired baloney that it may not have been salvageable in any form.

It’s hard to know exactly how to take Aronofsky’s Noah. Most people plunking down coin to see the epic will be expecting a re-telling of the Old Testament story about a man, an ark, and lots of animals trotting up two by two to avoid a massive flood that will wipe out civilization. What these people won’t be expecting, however, is a bloody and violent film featuring formerly A-list stars playing infuriatingly stubborn people that you wouldn’t want to spend 40 minutes on a boat with, let alone 40 days in torrential rain.

After a brief opening that covers the first few passages of the Bible, the film goes its own way by introducing mystical snake skins and stone creatures that one minute want to destroy man and the next are helping Noah and his brood build the ark. Looking like castoffs from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, these iff-ily rendered creatures supposedly are fallen angels encased in rock after they landed on earth in a fiery storm.

The threat of the destruction of civilization isn’t enough, though, so Aronofsky and co-screenwriter Ari Handel throw in another villain of the human kind in the form of a descendent of Cain. More extraneously inconsequential than interesting and played by the gruff Ray Winstone (Snow White and the Huntsman) as if his life depended on it, the character falls into high camp early on when we see his flowing locks of blonde hair that would make Rapunzel drool.

With about 50 minutes of actual material to work with, the film is stretched to a punishing 139 minutes by including lots of grandiose speechifying from nearly every main character…almost as if they had it in their contracts to be given their moment to shine. So we get lots of introspective musings and preachy pontificating on man’s inhumanity to man. Not wholly or outwardly religious, the film tries to make the issue of a wicked society not so much a Biblical idea but a atheistic one.

I’ve been a fan of Aronofsky’s work for a while now, though the only film of his I can bring myself to revisit is Black Swan, his brilliant psychological drama from 2010 that won Natalie Portman an Oscar. That film was a hallucinatory and riveting journey into madness and though Aronofsky tries to get inside the head of Noah in a similar fashion, it doesn’t the same effect.

Though he may have made a good Noah on paper, Russell Crowe (Man of Steel) seems so out of touch with the kind of roles he should be playing that it’s becoming pretty fascinating to see the jobs he’s taking on. For my money, he should have played Winstone’s part and let someone like Michael Fassbender or Christian Bale (both were offered the role and declined) have the role. Aronofsky has imagined Noah as so devout to his Creator that he is willing to do horrible things…and something about Crowe’s wild-eyed approach comes across more zealot than pious.

Co-starring with Crowe for the second time in 2014 (the first being February’s lame-o Winter’s Tale), Jennifer Connelly makes some headway with her underwritten role, though it comes late in the game with an impassioned speech that leaves her face awash with tears and snot. With her hair never much out of place and her teeth gleaming white (Noah’s family clearly had a good dental plan), Connelly brings a kind of precision to the role that works in her favor.

Another pair of co-stars re-united, The Perks of Being a Wallflower’s Emma Watson (The Bling Ring) and Logan Leerman are part of the Noah pack and while it’s appreciated that Watson continues to stretch her wings outside of the Harry Potter franchise, this role seems to get away from her. As the only other major female in the film, she delivers every important speech Connelly can’t be present to give herself.

Then there’s Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock), getting an early start on his yearly cinematic appearance in the “grizzled old man” role…this time playing Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather. I’m not sure Hopkins even reads his scripts anymore before signing on to a film because the Oscar winning actor has little to do but pass along useful information when needed. The animal stars of the show are entirely CGI and factor in very little to the overall scheme of things.

Visually, the film looks great in typical Aronofsky fashion. Shot in Iceland, the cinematography from Matthew Libatique (Iron Man 2) is stunning and is aided by a strong sound design layered nicely in with Clint Mansell’s (Stoker) rich score. Of particular interest is a five minute sequence halfway through the film where Crowe narrates the Genesis story, brought to life in stunning fashion. I’d recommend seeing the film (eventually when you can fast-forward it) for that segment alone.

So what’s my problem with the film? I’m not a Bible thumper or Sunday School devotee that had to have everything in perfect order and sticking to just the facts, jack. No, I’d have been totally on board with the film Aronofsky was trying to make…if I could just grasp what film that was. Though the filmmakers can suggest all day long that their goal was to keep the film non time-specific, the costume design suggests post-apolopytic, not B.C. chic.

For as visually and aurally pleasing as the movie most certainly is, the perils depicted are incredibly unpleasant to sit through. The last 20 minutes are particularly rough going and even for this habitual watch checker, I started feeling like time was going backward rather than inching closer to the end credits.

Had this film been called, say, Bernard or Jethro I think I would have been able to take it with a finer grain of salt. Slapping Noah on the film and then turning the story into a Middle Earth meets Waterworld soggy epic robs the film of its voice and robs the audience of $10. I still like Aronofsky and applaud him for having the balls to do what he’s done here…but I feel like I want to throw the Good Book at him.

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The Silver Bullet ~ Noah

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Synopsis: The Biblical Noah suffers visions of an apocalyptic deluge and takes measures to protect his family from the coming flood.

Release Date:  March 28. 2014

Thoughts: I’ve yet to meet a Darren Aronofsky flick that hasn’t divided audiences and his take on the epic tale of Noah and the Ark is sure to have its fair share of haters.  Quite long in development, the film reunites some former costars like Russell Crowe (Les Misérables) and Jennifer Connelly (Winter’s Tale) who appeared together in 2001’s A Beautiful Mind.  After playing opposite each other romantically in 2012’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Emma Watson (The Bling Ring) and Logan Lerman are now cast as siblings. Cinematically, this looks mighty impressive with strong detailed special effects and early hints of the director’s trademark obsessive attention to everything on screen.  Who knows exactly what version of the Noah tale will be told (rumor has it that it probably takes place in the past but could very well take place in the future) but if I know Aronofsky it will be a bold and committed affair. 

Interesting to note that this is the first of two high profile Hollywood projects with a Biblical slant being released in 2014.  In Decemember 2014, director Ridley Scott (Prometheus) releases Exodus starring Christian Bale (The Dark Knight) as Moses with some supporting work from Sigourney Weaver (Abduction) and Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby).

Movie Review ~ The Bling Ring

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Inspired by actual events, a group of fame-obsessed teenagers use the internet to track celebrities’ whereabouts in order to rob their homes.

Stars: Emma Watson, Leslie Mann, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Georgia Rock, Gavin Rossdale

Director: Sofia Coppola

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  As the daughter of one of Hollywood’s most successful directors of the 70’s, Sofia Coppola began her directing career with a hat trick  of smart and stylish films that felt like they had a true voice.  The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation (for which Coppola won an Oscar for her screenplay), and Marie Antoinette couldn’t have been more different in tone but it was evident they all came from the same creative force.  Stumbling with the troubled Somewhere, Coppola took her time in choosing her next project and what may have seemed like the right choice on paper winds up being a film that comes off as hollow and vacuous as the lives of the people it chronicles.

For a few days after seeing The Bling Ring I really thought about what Coppola was going after.  Maybe I was supposed to feel empty after watching the true life tale about privileged teens in Beverly Hills that are so bored and entitled they start to break into the homes of the rich and famous stars that line the Hollywood Hills.  Showing little remorse along the way, these thieves read up on the gossip blogs to see who will be out of town and then simply Google the address and get ready to line their pockets and backs with the luxurious clothing and jewelry they find within.

At a scant 90 minutes, the movie doesn’t exactly have a lot of ground to cover because the majority of the running length is just burglaries repeated over and over again.  To be fair, the movie starts with some nice Coppola touches of bright colors and interesting camera angles…but soon the material gets away from her and instead of positioning the arc of her film toward a certain intent she instead lets the movie run straight down the middle with very little creativity.

The lack of depth shown is frustrating but again…is that what the movie is all about?  The profound lack of worth and value started to upset my stomach after a while and had Coppola given the movie even the slightest bit of edge it could have nudged the experience into the wicked satire I think it could (and wants to ) be.

It’s hard to single out who the star of the film is.  I’d say it’s newcomer Katie Chang as the scheming ringleader of the group and while it becomes fuzzy at times whether Chang plays bland to perfection or if she’s just not in on the joke I was always interested to see what she’d do next.  Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, This Is The End) gets the best of the biting comedy bits but unfortunately still hasn’t mastered her American accent.  This makes most of her delivery funny but not the homerun Coppola probably intended.

No great cinematic fete/feast, The Bling Ring is the kind of meal that I’m sure many of the burgled starlets probably enjoy…light and forgettable with all the sauce and cheese on the side. 

 

Movie Review ~ This Is The End

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The Facts:

Synopsis: While attending a party at James Franco’s house, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and many other celebrities are faced with the apocalypse.

Stars: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill

Director: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen

Rated: R

Running Length: 107 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  The Red-Band trailer for This Is The End was tough to get through – don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problem with crude language or content but I always appreciate something of substance to back it up with and I wasn’t sure that the rest of This Is The End would be able to support the foul-mouthed tangents that would surely come with the film.  So I was pretty apprehensive going into a screening of the new film from Evan Goldberg and star Seth Rogen because I didn’t want to be the only one not laughing for two hours.

Turns out, I laughed a lot in the film though a day later I feel kinda bad about it.  Playing like the longest Funny or Die Video ever, This Is The End has moments of comedic glory that are pinned between vile nonsensical tangents (a two minute discussion over who defaced James Franco’s Penthouse Magazine  goes on precisely one minute and fifty-eight seconds too long),  questionable special effects, and an entire set-up that flames out long before the credits roll.

The first twenty minutes of the film are so very meta with Seth Rogen picking up visiting friend Jay Baruchel at the airport ready for a weekend together.  Seth brings Jay over to James Franco’s housewarming party where they meet Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and a host of other famous faces from the same circle these actors travel in (if you’re a fan of Freaks and Geeks you’ll be in heaven).  Everyone is playing themselves (or a movie version of themselves) and there’s some laughs to be had from seeing how certain actors behave when they aren’t in front of the camera.  Warning: fans of Michael Cera better brace themselves for a few visuals they won’t be able to un-see.  Another warning: if 90’s boy bands give you hives you’d better taken your allergy medicine because there’s a great cameo at the end that was pretty hysterical.

After those first twenty minutes, an apocalypse happens…literally.  Now, holed up in James Franco’s fortress of a house, Rogen, Baruchel, Robinson, Hill, and Danny McBride must band/bond together to face the end of days together.  Along the way they get a visit from Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), perform an exorcism on Hill, and wax poetic about everything from Milky Way’s to the trust between friends.

There’s a lot of big ideas and interesting moments in the film but it’s all covered with a frat-boy slime that starts to wear thin pretty fast.  Fans of the actors will find a lot to like here and any/all weed jokes are covered – including a home movie filmed sequel to Pineapple Express that for some may be worth the price of admission.

Still, there’s something to be said for a little bit of restraint and I couldn’t get over the notion that this would have been a lot funnier if it were a viral video making the rounds (not surprising this was based on a short viral video…go figure!) rather than a full length feature that can’t quite make it over the finish line.  That may all sound like I’m being a big ‘ole fuddy-duddy and I probably am.  Like I said, I guffawed with the best of them and found a lot of the more offensive material to be laughably over-the-top.  With The Hangover Part III releasing in May, June’s This Is The End may be exactly what Dr. Feelgood ordered for moviegoers that need some extra party time this summer.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Bling Ring

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Synopsis: Inspired by actual events, a group of fame-obsessed teenagers use the internet to track celebrities’ whereabouts in order to rob their homes.

Release Date:  June 14, 2013

Thoughts: Sofia Coppola had a nice hat trick of films in the last decade with The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation (with a screenplay that won her an Oscar) and Marie Antoinette.  Then she stumbled a bit with the jumbled Somewhere so it’s anyone’s guess where The Bling Ring will wind up.  I must admit the inspired by a true story angle piques my curiosity, especially because Coppola seems so observant when examining relationships between the notable and not quite noticed.  Emma Watson made a great post Harry Potter choice with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, let’s see if she continues knowing how to pick good projects.