BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017)

March 14, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. An entire generation still enjoys their childhood animated movie memories thanks to Disney’s The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Lion King (1994). We are now a quarter-century later and Disney is looking to re-create the magic (and hopefully cash in) with Live Action versions of all three …as it did with Cinderella (2015) and last year’s The Jungle Book (sensing a trend?). Up now is director Bill Condon’s mixture of live action, CGI and music for Beauty and the Beast.

The 18th century story (1740) by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve was re-written and shortened by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont after Barbot’s death. Director Jean Cocteau’s 1946 French film version looks to have been a key influence for this updated ‘Beast’, while the 2014 version with Vincent Cassel will probably now be rendered forgotten. Screenwriters Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Huntsman: Winter’s War) team with Oscar winner Condon, whose musical movie resume includes Chicago and Dreamgirls, to inject some contemporary aspects to Belle’s personality, as well as a bit more backstory for quite a few characters … all while staying true to the 1991 version.

Emma Watson proves a nice choice for Belle as she has what it takes to be nice yet tough, while still being an oddball within her own community. Belle is a bookworm who dares to help other girls to read, while also being the brains behind her father’s (Kevin Kline) work. She realizes her neighbors view her as a curiosity – and there is even a song to prove it! Ms. Watson brings strength, independence, and courage to the role. These traits and others are on full display even before her first encounter with the beast.

Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”) is the beneficiary of an extended backstory for the Prince, which includes a large dance and musical production at the castle, leading to his being cursed for having no love in his heart. Most of the scenes with Beast utilize CGI for the face and head. This effect worked for me as I found the look fascinating and able to fulfill the necessary emotions, though the non-beast Prince would be considered the weakest link in this fairy tale chain.

Since the comparisons to the 1991 version are inevitable, and certainly a matter of personal opinion, Luke Evans made a wonderfully pompous Gaston, while Josh Gad was quite humorous as LeFou, Gaston’s loyal sidekick who is also the center of the misplaced controversy (not worthy of discussion here). The staff – both live versions and special effects – includes Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Ian McKellan as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe, Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette. Each bring their own touch to the roles, with Ms. McDonald being a particular standout, and Ms. Thompson having the most thankless job as replacement for Angela Lansbury.

While I found this version quite enjoyable and well done, it’s a bit confusing why the decision was made to go so dark and foreboding. It’s not young kid friendly at all, and seems as if the target audience is millennials who were raised on the 1991 version. This was done at the expense of inviting a new generation to explore the story and characters. Parents should probably avoid taking any kids under age 10 or 11, and the film easily could have received a PG-13 rating.

8-time Oscar winner Alan Menken returns to score the film (he did the 1991 version as well), plus he wrote new songs with Tim Rice and there are some original lyrics by Howard Ashman. With only one viewing, it’s doubtful any of the new songs will be instant classics, but “Be Our Guest” is a definite crowd-pleaser (again).

Of course, it’s an impossible task to please everyone when you mess with the classics, but overall, it’s a nice twist for fans of the 1991 animated version. Likely a missed opportunity to bring new youngsters into the fantastical BATB world, it does show that the animated to live action transformation can be well done … and that’s a relief with The Lion King and The Little Mermaid on the way. Dear Disney – don’t mess ‘em up!

Be our guest … watch the trailer:

 


MR. HOLMES (2015)

July 16, 2015

mr holmes Greetings again from the darkness. Be honest … would you be excited to see a film if it were described as follows: “A grumpy 93 year old man struggles with his failing mind and deteriorating body as he tends to his beehives during retirement in a small coastal town”. Chances are that synopsis would cause you to skip on to whatever else is showing at the theatre. However, a single revelation would likely change your mind … the elderly man is actually legendary detective Sherlock Holmes.

Ian McKellen stars and holds little back as he portrays the elderly Holmes trying to reconcile the past, the present and his failing health. And yes, there is one last case to solve … only it’s the last case he actually solved 35 years earlier. Sadly, Holmes can’t recall how that case ended, and the fictionalized version written by his friend John Watson offers no resolution.

We first see Holmes as he returns from an international trip – a trip that seems a bit out of place with the rest of the movie; at least until it circles back near the end of the film. In fact, we get quite a bit of back and forth between the present and past, and McKellen pulls off both the elder and much younger Holmes … though his performance as the faltering, frail one-time genius is Oscar caliber.

Laura Linney plays his housekeeper, but it’s her son Roger (Milo Parker) who jells with Holmes and re-kindles that twinkle in the eye. The scenes with Roger and Holmes provide poignancy and humor, and also the dose of reality so necessary to a film focusing on a living legend.

Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Gods and Monsters) directs the film, which is based on the novel “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullin, and pretty quickly pulls the rug out from under us on the iconic deerstalker cap and the ever-present pipe. Still, only the staunchest, least-flexible fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character will be turned off by this mostly gentle and insightful look at aging – and a reminder that even fictional geniuses grow old.

Baker Street makes an appearance, as does the charred and blackened Hiroshima site, and a blurry Dr. Watson. Don’t expect the frantic pace of Robert Downey, Jr or the elegant precision of Basil Rathbone and Benedict Cumberbatch. Instead, enjoy the subtle moments, the wry smiles and the valiant attempt to bring a mortal end to the seemingly immortal Great Detective … with a few clues tossed in for good fun.

watch the trailer: