March 26, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Emma Thompson

Disney, in its quest to cash in even further on its hit movies, is now adapting all of them into live-action features. It began with Cinderella, then took on the more ambitious Jungle Book, and now decided to tackle the even more difficult Beauty and the Beast, with its anthropomorphic household items.

The internet has been absolutely abuzz for months about Emma Watson taking on the role of Belle, from the expansion of her character into an inventor in her own right, to her refusal to wear a corset in the ballroom scene. (!) What the internet reports did not adequately prepare me for, though, were the other people in the movie. You know, the people who didn't get to show their faces in this movie and still had to be judged just on their voices. And to that, I say...

What the hell, Emma Thompson? 

Angela Lansbury is no one's favorite. I even watched Murder, She Wrote as a kid and was still like, "I don't love listening to her sing as Mrs. Potts." But then I heard Emma Thompson's version and all I could think about was Dick Van Dyke's terrible Cockney accent in Mary Poppins. I don't get it. It's not like Emma Thompson had to fake a British accent. She already has a perfectly nice voice, with an appropriately scolding British voice to sound motherly. Why do this to Mrs. Potts? Whyyyy???

And speaking of accents...

I couldn't pinpoint who, exactly, was voicing Lumière, other than the very, very obvious fact that it was not a Frenchman, but someone who was imitating a very terrible French accent. It was extra disappointing to find out in the credits that it was one my favorites, Ewan McGregor, but I suppose that only proves no man can play every role. I'm just not sure why, in a movie set in France, where everyone else has British accents, did they decide to try and be authentic with Lumière's accent, except not really because they didn't actually cast a French actor. But whatever, one more star name to sell a movie that's already famous!

Last, on my casting complaint list: Kevin Kline. Look, I know this movie wasn't meant to be an exact copy of the animated movie, but the dad in the first movie is so cute and old and you feel so badly for him when Gaston throws him in the looney bin. This isn't to say you don't feel bad for Kevin Kline when all that happens to him, but he just doesn't really scream "crazy but sweet old man." It's a minor detail (especially in comparison to Lumière and Mrs. Potts), but mistakes in casting really affect the whole movie.

There were, however, a lot of things the movie did right. For one thing, it addressed some of the gaping plot holes of the animated version of the story, like how did hundreds of townspeople suddenly forget there was a prince living in a castle right outside their village and if no one knew the Beast existed, how did Gaston lead the villagers there?

It also did make Belle more empowered and the whole story a little less Stockholm Syndrome-y. Also, her dress is a lot better than Cinderella's was, which looked like it had come straight from some Chinese knock-off factory with its plastic butterfly appliqués. Canary yellow is is not an easy color to pull off, but they made it look like something someone might actually want to wear.

The casting of Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as LeFou were fantastic. I mean sure, Gaston could have been a little more buff like The Rock, but these people also had to be able to sing. And that whole to-do over LeFou's gay moment was completely overblown--I mean, who didn't know he was gay from the original?!? (The man sings a tribute song to the wonders of Gaston. That didn't trigger anyone's radar??)

Overall, the movie is enjoyable, but not necessarily note-worthy. Personally, I was more impressed by their live-action Cinderella, which I hope bodes will for the upcoming adaptation of Mulan, which is rumored to be without music. I'll miss I'll Make A Man Out of You, but if it means avoiding Matt Damon singing as Shan Yu or something, it'll be worth it.

Final word: Underwhelming, but if you loved the original Beauty and the Beast, you're not not going to see it.

P.S. There were complaints that the Beast was better looking than the Prince (which was true), but that was also just in keeping with the animated version. Remember how disappointing it was when he transformed? Sorry Dan Stevens, but you looked better as a water buffalo with clothes.

P.P.S. Listening to the songs in the movie just reminds me how awesome Alan Menken is. Can we just have him compose the music for all Disney movies?

March 20, 2017

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Eddie Redmayne

Spin-offs are tricky. I don't automatically assume they are going to be terrible, like I do sequels, but they are often a disappointing addition to beloved series. Like reading Ender's Shadow or watching Lion King 1/2 starring Timon and Pumba. (Just kidding)

With Harry Potter the cultural touchstone it is, JK Rowling had a lot of guts to go and attempt a screenplay set in the magical world she had created, but without any of the familiar characters. Then again, she is JK Rowling and pretty much everything she writes is amazing. (If you don't follow her on Twitter, you should.)

I came into this movie solidly skeptical it could live up to anything Harry Potter related. And if you compare it to Harry, it doesn't. It does, however, firmly hold its own in a genre of fantasy and magic and escapism. It provides tons of inventive creatures, exciting action, and a non-magical character so likable you almost forget that Eddie Redmayne is supposed to be the star. It is also set in the US, where Rowling create a fun contrast of magic in the US vs. magic in the UK where viewers have the added fun of using all that stored Harry Potter knowledge that, let's be honest, serves little purpose in everyday life.

I don't think this movie will go down in history as anything special, or even as something Rowling will be known for, but if you're looking for a fun, easy watch, it delivers.

Final word: Better than expected.

March 7, 2017

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, et al

I've never really understood the battle of Star Wars vs. Star Trek. They're so different from one another, why can't people just enjoy both?

That said, I've never seen a single episode of the original Star Trek. I have, however, enjoyed all of the films in this reboot. I like Zachary Quinto as the sociopathic Spock, I like the nod to Geoge Takei with the casting of John Cho as a gay man, and I'm a fan of Simon Pegg pretty much all the way around. The only thing I question is whether they could have updated the crew outfits a bit...

So here is another successful chapter in the franchise. It's action-packed, it's exciting, and caps Chris Pine's rebellious-brooding-thing just before he ruins the movie. Is it predictable? Sure, but I don't demand a lot aside from accurate accents and good visual effects. The make-up looks realistic and the science-y technology in the film is cool enough I am transported to a future of zipping around different galaxies like it's NBD.

Besides, after all the doom and gloom of the other Oscar nominees, it's nice to take a mental break and appreciate some well done escapism.

Final word: Finally, a franchise I'm not sick of. Yet.