Guest Review: Beauty and The Beast (2017)

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Directed By: Bill Condon
Written By: Stephen Chbosky & Evan Spiliotopoulos
Runtime: 2 hours 9 minutes

I cannot begin to explain how excited I was to get to review this movie. If I hadn’t been in a theater with about twenty-five other reviewers, I might have burst into tears as soon as the title appeared on screen. Beauty and the Beast was the first movie I ever saw in theaters, and it will always have a special place in my heart. It’s still one of my favorite movies. It’s a beautiful film, has some of the most memorable songs of all time, and features a princess whose defining characteristic is her love of reading. When I heard about the live-action remake, I was both excited and nervous. I’m not the kind of person who worries that a bad adaptation of a beloved classic will destroy my childhood, but I still wanted to like the new version. Luckily for me, I was not disappointed.

If you’ve been living under a rock your entire life and don’t know the story, Beauty and the Beast is about a beautiful bookworm named Belle (Emma Watson), who lives in a small French village with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), where her bookish ways are misunderstood by the other townspeople, including Belle’s brawny, brutish suitor, Gaston (Luke Evans). One night, when a traveling Maurice unwittingly trespasses in a castle in the middle of the forest, he is taken prisoner by the beast (Dan Stevens), a prince who was cursed (along with his servants, who were all turned into household objects) by an enchantress. The only way to break the curse is for the beast to find true love, and to be loved in return. Belle bravely offers to trade places with her father, and, over time, begins to see what kind of man the beast can be past his appearance.

As someone who is very sentimental about the original, I can safely say this is an incredibly faithful adaptation. Much of the dialogue from the original is included verbatim in the remake, and there are lots of little moments and details from the animated version that are featured in this one, making me feel wonderfully nostalgic. At the same time, the remake offers some much-needed updates. For example, Belle is a better-developed character in this version. Besides just being a bookworm mostly interested in fairy tales, she helps her father with his creations and shows her own innovation. She’s also more relatable, showing her self-consciousness about how the other villagers view her as “odd.” The romance between Belle and the Beast is better handled as well. The movie shows how their friendship develops first, which makes the transition to romance more believable. The fact that Emma Watson and Dan Stevens have excellent chemistry helps sell it as well.

Besides the actors behind the titular characters, the rest of the cast give wonderful performances as well. Luke Evans and Josh Gad were born to play Gaston and Le Fou. Kevin Kline is a less scatterbrained (but still dreamy) Maurice, and the chemistry between him and Emma is heartwarming. The household staff all gave solid performances, and Ewan McGregor as Lumiere and Ian McKellen as Cogsworth were especially entertaining.

Besides the adaptation in general, I was mostly nervous about how the singing would be. Emma Watson is a fantastic actress, but I wasn’t sure how she’d do as a singer, and she had some pretty big shoes to fill. Fortunately, she did not disappoint. Watson has a lovely, bright-toned voice, and while it’s not as full-sounding as Paige O’Hara’s was in the original, it was still an excellent fit for the character. Luke Evans gives a decent performance as well; while there isn’t as much bravado in his voice during Gaston as I would like, he really shines in Kill the Beast. Ewan McGregor nails Be Our Guest with his warm, sparkling voice, although something about the number overall feels kind of underwhelming; I’m not sure if the tempo is a little slower, or if the phrasing could be tighter, or there isn’t as much background chorus as there was in the original, but it doesn’t pack the same punch the Oscar-winning number did in the animated version, although it is still enjoyable. Emma Thompson’s rendition of Mrs. Potts’s titular song holds its own against Angela Lansbury’s, which is no small feat. Naturally, Broadway royalty Audra McDonald as Garderobe is the best singer out of the cast, and while her song at the beginning isn’t particularly memorable, she still makes it sound amazing; seriously, she could sing the dictionary and make it sound good. My last music-related critique is that the orchestra is pretty overpowering and tends to drown out the singing a bit.

Lastly, the movie is visually stunning, as anyone who has seen the trailers has probably already gathered. The big group scenes are beautifully shot and reminiscent of the original. The sets are lovely, and the castle is especially breathtaking. The CGI for the beast and the other enchanted characters is very impressive. Most memorable, though, are the costumes; they remain faithful to the animated version while still adding incredible detail. While Belle’s trademark yellow ball gown is gorgeous, my favorite is the one she wears in the final scene of the movie; if I ever get married, I will walk down the aisle in a replica of that dress. 
 While I’m sure I will continue to be skeptical of this wave of live-action remakes Disney has been churning out, Beauty and the Beast is excellent, both as an adaptation of an animated film and as a movie on its own. Whether you’re a hardcore, nostalgic Disney fan like I am or a casual movie-goer, I have no doubt you will enjoy this.

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Have you seen ‘Beauty & The Beast’? Well, what did you think? 

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Mini Reviews of Steve Jobs + Mr. Holmes + temporary blogging hatus

Hello everyone! You might’ve noticed I’m not blogging as regularly of late after the flurry of Twin Cities Film Fest. Well, I’ve been wanting to take a real blogging break and since this is Thanksgiving week, it sounds like the perfect time.

I’ve been wanting to really focus on my script and so I also plan to blog less in the coming weeks. I’m really close to finishing my script but as with many things in life, the last stretch is often the toughest. But before I do so, I wanted to share just my quick thoughts on two recent films in which the protagonist has been the subject of many films/tv projects. Thankfully we’ve got two very competent thespians in the lead of both movies (movie geeks will probably realize they’ve played the same role in the X-Men franchise).

STEVE JOBS (2015)
    SteveJobsMovie2015Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter. The story unfolds backstage at three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac.

My hubby and I are huge fan of everything Steve Jobs had built, as we pretty much use solely Apple products in our homes: Macbook, iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, etc. So we’re quite familiar with his life and my hubby has read Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson and at first I was rather reluctant to see this given that it’s mostly a work of fiction. Well, ahead of the press screening, I read a bunch of articles that outline its inaccuracies, which I’ve listed in this comment section. That fact actually helped tamper my expectation about the film, but as soon as the film started I was immediately engrossed in the film. Ok so Michael Fassbender didn’t resemble Steve Jobs one bit, but it hardly matters once he started spewing lines from Aaron Sorkin‘s sharp script.

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I have to say the film is quite mesmerizing, Fassbender is as charismatic as ever, as I think he captured the essence of Jobs’s magnetic but difficult personality. Apparently he memorized the entirety of the 180-page script which is just incredible. The supporting cast is equally phenomenal. Kate Winslet is fantastic as Jobs’ loyal marketing exec Joanna Hoffman and the constant banters they have are entertaining, even her Polish accent is quite believable. But my favorite supporting cast has got to be Jeff Daniels as Jobs’ former BFF and business partners John Sculley whom Jobs stopped speaking with when he was fired from Apple. Even Sculley himself was reportedly impressed by Daniels’ performance, even though most of the conversations between them never took place. One thing I didn’t really care for is Seth Rogen‘s performance as Steve Wozniak, which seems so sensationalized and just didn’t ring true at all. Yes the rest was pure fiction but at least they seemed believable. It’s ironic since Rogen apparently met with Wozniak extensively for the role.

That said, I definitely recommend this film. Danny Boyle‘s fine directing brings the fine elements of the script and performance to life and the camera angles and intriguing shots certainly liven up an otherwise dull scenes of talking people. If you’re going into this film expecting excellent dialog and great acting, then you won’t be disappointed. Just don’t expect a documentary because Sorkin himself envisioned it more like a ‘painting, not a photograph.’

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Mr. Holmes (2015)

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Now, Sherlock Holmes’ adaptation has been done many times over, but this one seems to have an intriguing angle that’s rarely seen. The aged, retired London detective is dealing with early dementia, as he tries to remember his final case and a woman, the memory of whom still haunts him. Ian McKellen is perfectly cast in the role, playing Sherlock as a 60 and 93 years old. As he returns to Sussex  in 1947, he ends up befriending the young son of his housekeeper, Roger (Milo Parker). The interraction between these two is the heart of the film.

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The curious kid had been through Holmes’ study and it’s clear that he wanted the detective to work again. Through his proding and also because he’s still hunted by his final case, Holmes started writing again. The film goes through several flashback scenes, which is handled very well and definitely adds the mystery aspect one would expect from a Sherlock Holmes film. Hattie Morahan is terrific as the woman central to Holmes’ case and there’s a heartfelt exchange between the two that undoubtedly left a mark on him. As the film progressed, it’s apparent that the older Holmes is a changed man and that he has learned that intellect and logic alone often won’t solve issues involving matters of the heart.

McKellen is effortlessly magnetic here, as he always is, and he is whom I’d imagine an older Holmes to be. The usually excellent Laura Linney has a rather distracting British accent here as Holmes’ housekeeper, though I think towards the end she redeemed herself in the role. I do love Milo Parker as Roger who more than held his own against his much older and far more experienced co-star.

I wasn’t impressed with Bill Condon’s direction of The Fifth Estate (which strangely enough starred Benedict Cumberbatch who became famous playing Sherlock on BBC), but he did a good job here. It’s a slow-burn narrative that remains interesting even when there’s not much going on, and the film is beautifully shot. It’s the quintessential character study of a titular character that certainly merits its existence.

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Have you seen either one of these? Do share your thoughts in the comments!

Double Mini Reviews: RUSH and The Fifth Estate

These two films are both in the BOATS category, that is based on a true story. Whether it’s close or loosely based on the real deal is up for debates of course, especially in regards to The Fifth Estate as Julian Assange himself doesn’t support the film, though given his secretive nature, it doesn’t mean what takes place in the film isn’t true, either. In any case, both of these are not documentaries, so I don’t judge either film based on accuracy, but on the merit of the work as an art form.

RUSH

RUSH_PosterI have to admit that I hadn’t heard of either Hunt or Lauda before this film, who were fierce rivals during the 1970s Formula 1 racing period. I grew up with a brother who was into F-1 racing in the late 80s – mid 90s, so I was more familiar with the rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. By focusing on the rivalry between the two racers, RUSH is more of intriguing character-driven thriller instead of an all-action racing movie.

The beginning of the film shows the stark difference of not just their lifestyle, Hunt is the free-spirited playboy compared to the focused but reclusive Lauda, but also how each approaches the sport. The British Hunt is all about instinct whilst the Austrian Lauda is all about precision, he’d methodically and meticulously scrutinizes the technicality of his car before he climbs into it. Though the film has some thrilling racing sequences that really lives up to the title in giving you a boost of adrenaline rush, what really gets me is their relationship off the track. As someone who don’t normally follow this sport, it’s the characters and their stories that made me enjoy this film and what makes it memorable in the end.

Just as you’d expect in an extreme sport like this, a major incident occurs halfway through that’d make you gasp. I’m not going to spoil it for you but let’s just say there are some very uncomfortable scenes to watch here that seemed to go on forever. The attention to detail achieved by the cinematography and sound editing truly create an authentic feel of the racing experience. The car, the helmet, even the views of the drivers as they’re racing definitely get your heart pounding. The 1976 Japanese Grand Prix in torrential rain is especially gripping and the way the race is filmed is phenomenal. Yet the slower moments are also effective in showing the persona of the people risking their lives behind the wheel with every race.

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The two leads are excellent. Chris Hemsworth as Hunt and Daniel Brühl as Lauda share an effortless chemistry as both friends and foes. Hemsworth has a natural cocky-ness about him as he displayed in THOR, but he shows some emotional depth and vulnerability when the moment calls for it. Brühl is especially impressive in that he’s not only made up to resemble the real Lauda in his younger years, but he’s got the intensity and mannerism down perfectly. I was much more taken by his character overall and it’s largely a testament of Brühl’s compelling performance. He’s definitely an actor to watch for and I hope he gets a leading role in the future. There are not much to speak of in terms of supporting cast as the films are ultimately about Hunt and Lauda. Olivia Wilde and Romanian actress Alexandra Maria Lara are both pretty good as Hunt and Lauda’s love interest.

Overall it was a satisfying thriller that also packs an emotional punch. It’s fascinating to see the incredible drive of these racers, and in the case of Lauda, his will to not just excel but to survive is inspiring. Kudos to Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan for crafting a balanced look of visual prowess and intriguing drama. Combined with Hans Zimmer‘s dynamic score, RUSH is one of the most invigorating thrillers of the year.

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4 out of 5 reels

THE FIFTH ESTATE

A fifth estate is a group within a society that is seen as operating outside of the society’s normal groupings in terms of their roles and viewpoints, especially a group that is considered beyond the restrictions or rules of those other groupings. – per Wikipedia

TheFifthEstatePosterThis film traces the origin of perhaps 21st century’s most controversial organization Wikileaks, and its founder, Julian Assange. It’s interesting that the promo of this film asks us whether Assange is a hero or a traitor? Now of course it depends who you ask as you’d likely find a polarizing view on either side.

One thing I’ll say about the Australian-born Assange is that he’s quite a fascinating man. The master computer hacker is a tech whiz who’s well-traveled, having lived in Europe when he started working on WikiLeaks, as well as Nairobi, Tanzania, Iceland, etc. The film opens with him meeting a journalist Daniel Domscheit-Berg (whose book is one of the source for this story) in Germany, who was drawn to the seemingly noble enterprise of Wikileaks. Their first mission was to take down this huge bank that’s been doing illegal activities. He also admired the charismatic but elusive Assange as a mentor initially, though later it’s easy to see how their relationship became strained.

As I hadn’t been following the whole WikiLeaks scandal too closely, some of the events depicted here went over my head. At times it was hard to follow some of the details, more on that in a bit. But the one thing that interested me was the character study of Assange himself, which I thought was portrayed quite well by Benedict Cumberbatch. There had been reports that Assange himself emailed the British actor to ask him to not to participate in the film. How much that incident affected Cumberbatch’s performance I’ll never know, though he certainly doesn’t paint Assange as a likable man here. He’s brilliant to be sure, but his arrogance and ruthless nature who doesn’t care who gets hurt by his actions. No matter how good his intentions were, what he did with WikiLeaks has gone too far, but obviously the defiant Assange didn’t see it that way.

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Both Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl as Berg share about a similar amount of screen time and both are wonderful to watch. Once again Brühl proves to be a capable and versatile actor. I didn’t realize just how great the supporting cast are, but it’s nice to see the likes of David Thewlis, Peter Capaldi and Dan Stevens as the Guardian newspaper staff, and playing US Government offials are the immensely talented character actors Stanley Tucci and Laura Linney. Seems like such a small role is a waste of their talents but as always they’re excellent to watch.

The direction by Bill Condon and Josh Singer‘s script leave much to be desired however. To say the pace is uneven is putting it mildly, but the narrative structure is the main issue here. It’s tough enough that there are complex issues being presented, but the haphazard editing makes it even more confusing. It makes me appreciate David Fincher’s brilliant direction of The Social Network even more, and it shows that sharp execution is key when dealing with a story such as this. I do commend the fact the film raises a lot of intriguing ethical and legal issues without necessarily portraying Assange as an evil figure or otherwise, hence the traitor vs hero argument. But it could’ve been a heck of a lot more riveting instead of just mildly interesting and even somewhat tedious. I suppose it’s still worth a rent if you’re a fan of the cast, and I really can’t pick fault with their performances. I feel that if it hadn’t been for the cast though, I’d probably better off watching Alex Gibney’s documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks instead.

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Thoughts on either one of these films? I’d love to hear it!