BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (La belle et le bette, France, 2015)

January 28, 2016

beauty and the beast Greetings again from the darkness. If you are looking for dancing tea cups or singing candelabras, you’ve come to the wrong movie. If you are looking for the Gothic approach to the dark psychological analysis of the original story … again, you’ve come to the wrong movie. Director Christophe Gans (Silent Hill, 2006) offers up a version that is neither animated Disney (1991) nor Jean Cocteau (1946), though his film does have a visual flair that will likely keep audiences (it’s not for very young kids) engaged throughout.

The familiar story was first written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villenueve in 1740, however, it’s the revised version from Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756 that provides the fairy tale/fable that has been filmed so many times since. The story’s genealogy based in France instills a bit more hope and responsibility in a project starring Vincent Cassel, Lea Seydoux and Andre Dussolier, and directed by the Frenchman Gans.

Ms. Seydoux is an admirable Belle, and her grace and beauty make for quite the contrast to her needy and entitled sisters. Her time in the castle with the Beast is limited, and therein is the film’s biggest weakness. We never really see the transformation of the Beast to a man who repents, turns over a new leaf, and is worthy of love … it all just kind of happens thanks to the beautiful dresses. Mr. Gans and Sandra Vo-Anh co-wrote the script, and this misstep deflates the core of the story. We are on our own to interpret the messages of class warfare, greed, and judging others by looks. The focus instead is on the visual presentation, which at times is spectacular.

The set design and costumes are especially impressive and elaborate, and though the look of the Beast may not be precisely to your imagination, the film isn’t shy about putting him front and center with the camera. Vincent Cassel’s time as the Prince is pretty well done, and the CGI and explanation of the gold doe, nymph of the forest, magic healing water, pack of beagles and the curse are enough to move the story along … even if some details are lacking.

A bedtime story being read to two young kids is the framing device and might explain why the fantasy world is emphasized over the dark psychological undertones (more prevalent in the Cocteau version). While some might view the ending as somewhat mawkish, it’s really nice to see happily-ever-after is not twisted into some contemporary take on independence.

watch the trailer:

 


THE LAST STAND (2013)

January 19, 2013

last stand2 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been almost 10 years since Arnold Schwarzenegger was last top billed in a movie. He’s remained in the headlines most of that time … some good, some not so much. If you are an Arnold fan, it’s nice to see him back on screen. And what do you expect from a Schwarzenegger movie? Big guns, big muscles and big laughs from the one-liners. The first U.S. film from noted Korean director Jee-woon Kim delivers all three … and, unfortunately, little else.

Arnold plays Sheriff Ray who has semi-retired to a quiet life in an Arizona border town after a career on an ill-fated Los Angeles police drug team. His deputies are played by screen vet and comic relief Luis Guzman, Zach Gilford, and Jaimie Alexander. An FBI Agent played by Forest Whitaker contacts the Sheriff and lets him know an last stand3escaped drug lord played by Eduardo Noriega is headed through the town on his way to cross the border. Peter Stormare‘s group is in town to clear the path. Things get messy from there.

The tongue-in-cheek parts work best, but the plot and overall script are pretty lacking in substance. This could almost be viewed as a Schwarzenegger tribute film. The self-deprecating humor keeps the film rolling, but some of it just tries too hard … especially the segments with Johnny Knoxville. Some of the action is so over-the-top it draws the desired laughs from the audience, but be prepared for lots of gun play and plenty of Chevy commercial time.

last stand5 We also get a quick scene from Harry Dean Stanton and Rodrigo Santoro has a small role as a former war hero – turned town drunk who gets his shot at redemption. But make no mistake, this is Arnold’s movie and his chance to show that he still has it. The screen presence is still there, but his skills might play better in a more limited support role. That said, I triple dog dare you to not crack a smile when he is firing guns, in a frantic car chase through the corn fields, and engaged in hand to hand combat on the border bridge. After all … he did say he would be back!

*** NOTE to Directors: when you cast Forest Whitaker, don’t film him running … it’s not a pretty sight

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of Arnold the movie star and look forward to seeing him back on screen

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting a serious movie about a small town sheriff – this one is closer to trashy B cinema than Oscar.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yMc9h3h9bs


BLACKTHORN

November 3, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. George Roy Hill‘s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of my all-time favorites. Action, adventure, gun play, wise-cracking, romance, charming lead actors, and a touch of western legend, all combine for a very entertaining film. Spanish screenwriter and director Mateo Gil (s/p, The Sea Inside) takes up the story 20 years from the infamous freeze frame that ended Hill’s 1969 film.

Sure, you might need suspension of disbelief since we all remember the hundreds of Bolivian soldiers firing at once when Butch and Sundance attempted their escape, but this film is really more about aging and trying to put things right in a life that took a wrong turn. The Butch we are first introduced to is writing a letter to the son of Etta Place, after her death. He writes that it’s time to come home – meaning he is to leave the quiet life in rural Bolivia and make the long journey back to the U.S.

 This aging “Uncle Butch” is played by the great Sam Shepard. Mr. Shepard is not just a Pulitzer winning writer, but he has always had an incredibly strong screen presence … a wonderful face and trustworthy voice. Here is in full grizzled cowboy mode and sports the bright eyes we remember from Paul Newman, while displaying a newfound peace raising horses in the Bolivian countryside. He lives this life as James Blackthorn, not Butch Cassidy. He even has a relationship with one of the local ladies, who seems filled with the spirit that Butch had as a younger man.

 Blackthorn collects his savings from the bank … a bit ironic, eh? He sets off on the journey, but is quickly knocked off course thanks to the recklessness of a Spainish thief played by Eduardo Noriega. Noriega says he can makes things right and the two form an unlikely team. Unfortunately, Butch has become more trusting in his old age, and Noriega turns out not to be the partner than Sundance once was.

This whole story is a bit outlandish, but it’s at its best when Blackthorn runs smack dab into Makinley, one of the old Pinkerton men who was chasing him twenty years ago. Turns out, Makinley (Stephen Rea) is a social outcast because he was the only one who thought the boys survived that attack so many years ago. Seems both Makinley and Blackthorn have been cast aside and trapped for two decades in Bolivia.

 While Shepard is outstanding, he shares star billing with the terrain of Bolivia. It definitely holds its own versus the Monument Valley we have seen in so many westerns over the years. The salt flats are particularly beautiful and treacherous, and filmed with skill by the director. We are also treated to periodic flashbacks and a few of the key moments for the younger Butch (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Sundance (Padraic Delaney) and Etta (Dominique McElligott). We learn that the partnership was truly that … one for all.

This film will probably have little box office success, but it’s certainly worth a look for those of you intrigued by the Butch and Sundance legend, and are able to wonder just WHAT IF ….

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of the original Butch & Sundance OR you never miss a chance to see Sam Shepard onscreen OR you would like to see the rarely seen natural beauty of Bolivia

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: a slow moving western hold little appeal for you OR you just aren’t willing to buy into the idea that maybe Butch and Sundance survived the Bolivian Army massacre

watch the trailer: