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Beauty and the Beast Goes Big And Then Goes Home

Jeremiah

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Bill Condon is the only person who could direct a live-action adaptation of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. He is drawn to stories about outsiders such as Gods And Monsters or Mr. Holmes. Condon is also no stranger to the fantastical Candyman: Farewell to The Flesh or Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 & 2I haven’t even mentioned Dreamgirls, the Beyonce musical and winner of five Academy Awards. If you’re looking for a man who could bring the classic and beloved tale of Belle and the Beast to life, Bill Condon is uniquely qualified.

When the movie goes all out, larger than life, this is a musical with a capital ‘M”. It’s a joy. The movie starts out roaring out of the gate. It’s the mandatory prologue telling us about the selfish prince and the hag who curses him to a life of bestial purgatory. The movie adds a bit about how the village is cursed so as to have forgotten about the prince, which neatly closes a plot hole from the animated film.

It’s a terrific scene. The Prince is throwing a ball for some reason or other, but Condon and his cinematographer Tobias Schliessler really allow us to experience the opulence and decadence of the Prince’s lifestyle. There’s a lushness to the scenes that lend an air grandiosity to the whole enterprise. 

We then meet Belle (Emma Watson) in a rousing classical old school MGM musical number “Belle”. The only real flaw in the number is Watson. She’s not terrible. She’s not great either. In the end, she’s good enough. The townspeople tell us about how Belle is such an odd duck because she reads and has opinions.

We also meet Gaston (Luke Evans) and LeFou (Josh Gad), and we realize holy crap these two can sing. Evans and Gad have terrific chemistry together as they sing and ham their way through the movie. Everybody is good. They’re too damn talented not to be. You have Kevin Kline, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Audra Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Dan Stevens.

Beauty and the Beast is filled with little moments by great actors working with a great director and landing a solid emotional punch. The problem is it’s all peaks and valleys. For example “Be Our Guest” is so much fun you almost think the movie has found it’s groove. It’s a visual spectacle worth of Disney and Condon. But then there’s a never-ending scene where the Beast has a solo. It’s drab and monotonous. The melody and the lyrics are ill-suited for each other. There’s a rousing orchestral moment during the ‘feel sad now’ moment, and the whole thing just feels forced.

The main problem is Belle and the Beast. Watson is an immensely talented actress, but she’s not given much to do here. Stevens, who I fucking loved in The Guest is usually magnetic and intense. Here the two seem to miss each other even while sharing the same screen.

Part of it is the special effects. Stevens as the Beast is… off. His look is almost more man than beast. The way the Beast is rendered, while visually striking, lends the character an air of not really existing with any kind of weight. There were times in Kong: Skull Island where the giant ape felt real, even though I knew he wasn’t. He seemed to exist in his space. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle and Beast often share the same space without feeling like they are.

It doesn’t help that Belle and the Beast hardly talk to each other. Sure they have scenes together, but rare is the scene where the two actually converse. Most of Watson’s scenes are with the servants in the mansion: Cogsworth, Lumiere, and company. These scenes mire Watson in exposition and give her little chance to do any acting.

But holy Jeebus does this movie look gorgeous. Does it feel like a giant mega-budget Broadway musical that someone adapted to film? Yes, but with three great songs and a few original, oddly tempoed songs thrown in just to keep the movie from being good.

Honestly, Beauty and the Beast is kind of a mess. It’s rote and boring for long stretches of time. There are expected emotional payoffs that come up empty because the movie hasn’t done the leg work to make us feel it. There’s added backstory about Belle’s mother, but it really doesn’t add anything other than information. Whatever emotional payoff it tries to wrangle out of it comes up wanting.

The changes made to the original 1991 animated movie feel more like padding than organic changes to flesh out characters or story arcs. I did like the diversity in casting, though. It was nice to see PoC play characters that didn’t require them to be PoC. (Though, show of hands, who would have loved to see Mbatha-Raw as Belle?) As for all the hullabaloo about Gad’s LeFou and his gay moment? I’d say if you blink you’ll miss it, only I didn’t blink and I still missed it. It was only as the credits rolled that I realized the moment that caused all the ruckus.

Disney has been re-imaging their classic animated movies into live action adaptations for a few years now. With each one, they’ve tried to update the story or look at it through a non-patriarchal lens. In other words, they were updates, reboots, remakes, whatever you want to call them. They were stories that tried to do something different than the original.

Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast added thirty minutes to its runtime and little else. This is a kid-friendly movie for the whole family. It’s also a toothless bore throughout most of its run. This shouldn’t be. The people behind the camera, as well as the people in front, are too damned talented for something this mediocre.


Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Jeremiah lives in Los Angeles and divides his time between living in a movie theatre and writing mysteries. There might also be some ghostbusting being performed in his spare time.

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The Official Trailer for ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Is Here

Kori

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And my inner fourth-grader cannot stop crying. Based on the eponymous 1963 classic by Madeleine L’Engle, Ava Duvernay’s A Wrinkle in Time gives us a sneak peak on what to expect from her visionary imagining of the tale.

I’m probably not unique in my reaction. My aunt gave me this book as a Christmas gift when I was nine. She’d read it when she was a little girl and really enjoyed it, and she wanted to pass it on to me, because “you remind me a lot of Meg.” I fell in love with the book and over the next few years voraciously read L’Engle’s other works in the Murry (Kairos) series and in the Austin (Chronos) series.

Duvernay’s trailer does not disappoint. Stunning visuals and character insights await as we see Meg (Storm Reid), her brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and friend Calvin (Levi Miller) journey across the universe with Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey).

For those of you who haven’t read the novel, Meg’s father (Chris Pine) disappears when testing out his theory of bending the fabric of space, leaving Meg, her siblings, and her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) behind. Meg struggles in his absence and then meets the three Mrs. They reveal that Meg’s father is being held prisoner by a growing darkness, and they need Meg to help save not only him but the universe as well. This is a bold step from the House of Mouse, who have recently seemed content to rely on reboots of existing classics and established franchises for new film content.

A Wrinkle in Time is set to premiere on March 9th, 2018 and also stars Michael Peña, Zach Galifianakis, and Rowen Blanchard. 


Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

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‘Justice League’ Is Flat Out Magical

Jeremiah

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Justice League is bad like Road House is bad and great like The Highlander is great. In other words, it’s really not that good, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t have a great time. A fact Justice League seems more than okay with.

There is a debate about how much of the success, or failure, should go to Joss Whedon and how much should go to Zack Snyder. For simplicity’s sake, we will go with the name on the title card. Regardless of the obvious Whedon touches here and there, in an odd way this feels like vintage Snyder.

But the fact there were two different directors at the helm, both with vastly different styles and personalities, lends Justice League a distinctive flavor all it’s own. Justice League hums with a wonderful if bizarre, idiosyncratic manic energy. Yet, there’s a tonal consistency throughout the whole thing that makes it all feel part of one whole.

The opening scene is one of the more unusual moviegoing experiences this year. Superman (Henry Cavill) is being filmed and questioned by two excited kids. The scene itself is fine; the problem is Cavill’s mouth. After production wrapped, Cavill began filming another movie and grew a mustache. When Cavill was called back for re-shoots, the other studio wouldn’t let him shave the mustache off. The result is our being denied a beautiful mustachioed Superman and being gifted one of the most terrifying uncanny valley effects of an upper lip I hope to never top.

The phantom lip aside the opening credits are vintage Snyder. I would venture to say the opening credits are some of the best visual and narrative storytelling Snyder has done in a good long while. It sets the mood and gives us a feel for how the world is post-Superman.

The movie has the look and feel of a comic book movie. As Justice League steamed ahead, I found myself wondering why I felt so anxious. It was then I realized I was having good old fashioned fun. The type of fun that has the Batman (Ben Affleck) beat up a low-level thug just to use him for bait to attract a flying man-bug only to leave the thug on the rooftop after he kills the creature.

Justice League hits the ground running. It’s origin story devoid of laborious exposition. We start off with flying humanoid insectoids (parademons), move on to Mother Boxes, and then it’s on to Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). Steppenwolf is what is known as a MacGuffin; he’s necessary but only to propel the plot forever onward.

As onward as a script with essentially three stories mashed together can go. Disjointed as the stories may be it’s never dull and often times kind of charming. I loved how Justice League opens up by showing us the arrival of yet another harbinger of the apocalypse only to abruptly switch to a story about a group of emo loners finding each other and start a band. It’s even better when that story stops cold and turns into a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys adventure as the gang robs graves and breaks into Lexcorp labs to enact a Frankenstein-esque ascension.

I wouldn’t say Justice League forgets about Steppenwolf, but I would say it’s clear it’s only using Steppenwolf. But this is all fine considering Steppenwolf is hardly that interesting or fun of a character. How much time do you really want to spend with a villain who can easily find Mother Boxes in Themyscira and Atlantis but is so stumped by the location of the third in Metropolis that he takes hostages to suss out its whereabouts?

Thankfully we have Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Justice League outright makes the argument that Diana is actually the Superman we deserve. Even as Batman, of all people, talks about how much Superman was a beacon of hope, a shining light on a hill, he points to Diana and says “But you’re a leader.” So for much of the Justice League, we have essentially Bruce Wayne giving Diana Prince pep talks about essentially running for student council president. It’s amazing because fuck yeah Diana Prince is amazing and people should be telling her that every damn second of every day.

So when they finally do bring Superman back from the dead he’s basically utilized for his abilities, the leading is done in a wonderful sort of co-captain way by Diana and Bruce. Gadot is forced to play a different Diana, but it’s not markedly different. Because the story seems to be worked on by men at almost every stage of the process her arc has more to do with getting over the loss of Steve Trevor; literally a hundred years ago.

The fingerprints of men are all over this film. From the hilarious costume changes for the Themysciran Amazons to the numerous low angle butt shots. Some of this seems accidental. The Themysciran armor seems designed to show off the muscular abs and biceps of the warriors. It’s an attempt to show literal strong women. I’m not excusing it so much as trying to figure out why the hell they went in such a bizarre situation.

Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is reduced to the grieving girlfriend who doubles as a third act signifier. Martha Kent (Diane Lane) is made to utter some preposterous overly countrified things. Mera (Amber Heard) does, I don’t know what she does actually. But she’s onscreen for a couple of minutes, and she guilts Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) into doing the right thing.

All this only heightens the fact that men were clearly the head of every decision making process. Despite all of this Gadot proves herself, once again, a movie star. She walks through every scene of this movie with confidence, poise, and a fierce badassery. Not even the male gaze can diminish her presence and ability. No matter the outfit Gadot emerges unscathed as we are left desperately pining for Wonder Woman 2.

Everyone from Affleck to Ray Fisher as Victor Stone/Cyborg gives an enjoyable performance. Fisher is given little to do aside from trying to out-brood the Dark Knight.  But he manages to find moments in the rubble. “Why have you not told them I’m alive?” He asks his father, Silas (Joe Morton). “Are you afraid they would see a monster?”  Silas assures Victor that he’s not a monster.  “It’s odd that you thought I was talking about me.”

There are great bits of dialogue strewn throughout as well as some howlers. Such as when Ma Kent utters “You know bankers. They pounce like cougars on a dime.” But even when the dialogue ventures into the outright corny the characters are recognizable. For the first time in three movies, Superman feels like Superman. There’s such a joy when Kal-El shows up to the final battle I felt like a child again. The phantom lip comes and goes. It’s never as bad as the opening scene, but you’ll be on the edge of your seat as it reappears, like a jump scare.

There’s a lunacy to the whole Justice League affair, but it wears its lunacy on its sleeve with unabashed pride. It all works. The stuff that doesn’t work, the bad special effects, corny dialogue, hilariously misplaced music homages, it all comes together for a singular joyous, raucous good time.

Justice League feels as if people who love comic books got together and made a comic book movie that’s not ashamed it’s a comic book movie. There’s an undercurrent of despair undercutting most of the first half of Justice League. A feeling that the world is not as it should be and that basic justice and decency have fled for warmer climates. To Joss Whedon, Chris Terrio, and Zack Snyder’s credit Justice League never gives in to these feelings.

Instead, they have the audacity to be funny, sad, dorky, cheesy, and sincere. The heroes are actually heroic even if like Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) they need to be mentored along the way. Justice League is demonstrably hopeful as opposed to theoretically hopeful. The characters and story aren’t bogged down by ponderous, boring pseudo-intellectualized ideas about heroism.

The movie is a mixed bag to be sure. Sometimes what’s so great about it feeds into what also makes it so bad; like a Klein bottle. It’s a wonderfully nutty alchemy in which it’s hard to parse one from the other. Justice League is not the Citizen Kane of superhero movies, but then again it’s not trying to be. It is what it is, and what it is is something all it’s own.


Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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Finally, the Incredibles 2 Has A Trailer

CJ

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Disney is about to give me a heart attack with this teaser for The Incredibles 2.

Featuring Jack-Jack and Mr. Incredible in this long (LONG) awaited snippet, the rumors are finally real: The Incredibles are making their return to the screens and super-crashing right into our hearts again. This has been the longest gap in Pixar sequels to date—a whopping 14 years. Honestly, I didn’t know if I would ever see it, and we still have some time to go.

As someone who watched the first Incredibles film way too many times, I am now absolutely giddy with excitement. From the looks of things and what has been confirmed, we’ll be picking up right where we left off. Although it is fresh off the presses, this trailer highlights what we already knew: Jack-Jack has powers, and destructive ones indeed. Now I’m sure the bulk of the film will feature how the Incredibles family will have to deal with him and controlling them, hopefully with the backdrop of a big bad that our leading little man can use for target practice.

My only true, real request is that the ensemble cast is just as good as its predecessor. The original film’s charm came from the ensemble. While I loved the family dynamic, Edna, Syndrome, and Frozone all made it memorable and gave Pixar fans a collective vendetta for a reprise.

The Incredibles 2 bursts into theaters next summer on June 15, 2018.


Images and Video Courtesy of Disney and Pixar

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