Beauty and the Beast

Bill Condon’s live action remake of Disney’s animated classic is recreated with true loving care

BeautyandtheBeastPosterBravo Disney! Take a bow. If you’re going to make a shameless, expensive remake of one of your all time classic animated films, do it as well as this new “Beauty and the Beast.” Make it as explosively colorful, graceful and charming as Bill Condon’s film.

The new “Beauty and the Beast” lovingly and painstakingly recreates the original as though it were a shot for shot fan video. That may sound like a step down from the animated film’s originality, but Condon devotes such loving care that it’s not hard to get caught up in the magic. Continue reading “Beauty and the Beast”

Noah

Darren Aronofsky’s Bible adaptation is ambitious but is all over the place.

Randy “The Ram” in “The Wrestler” abused himself in the ring just so that he could feel anything. In the end he brought himself to the brink of his strength. Nina Sayers in “Black Swan” tortured her body to achieve perfection and beauty and ultimately found herself battling her psyche.

Darren Aronofsky’s protagonists are conflicted souls, testing their minds, morals and beliefs in pursuit of something nobler. The biblical story of Noah finds his faith in God pit against mankind, forced to choose between innocence, justice and love.

Or at least that’s Aronofsky’s version. “Noah” is Aronofsky’s ambitious interpretation of the Bible tale, and unlike the surreal grittiness found in his previous films, his mix of fantasy and portent is a paradoxical mess. It’s a movie about beauty in which the colors have been sapped from all traces of the Earth. It’s one of human decency in which mankind is depicted as ravenous, ugly, violent, carnivorous or worse, flavorless. It’s a morality tale in which the hero is less given a moral choice as he is driven to madness. It’s a movie about faith, miracles and spirituality, but ostensibly avoids religion or even the mention of the word “God”.

Continue reading “Noah”

The 3rd Annual Anti-Oscars

The movies and the performers that don’t stand a chance of getting nominated this year.

Each year there are movies and performers that don’t just fail to get nominated for the Academy Awards but aren’t even in the conversation. This is where the Anti-Oscars were born.

Blogs, critics and Oscar pundits spend a lot of time discussing what’s in and less discussing what’s out. So although I’ve taken the time to do actual Oscar predictions, hopefully this piece can shed some light on under the radar work while placing it in the context of this behemoth we call the Oscar race.

See last year’s Anti-Oscars

Best Picture

  • Prisoners
  • The Spectacular Now
  • Spring Breakers
  • The Place Beyond the Pines
  • Upstream Color
  • Frances Ha
  • This is the End
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Some of this year’s actual Oscar nominees are as strong as they’ve ever been, and yet it still boggles the mind that the Academy considers there to be nine better movies than “Before Midnight”. That nominee, along with “Blue Jasmine,” “All is Lost” and “Fruitvale Station,” will likely miss the cut, but they were at least on someone’s radar.

Movies like “The Spectacular Now” and “Frances Ha” are those indie gems that never get noticed by the Academy, maybe an Original Screenplay nod if they’re lucky. They represent the modernity and the youth often missing in the Oscars. They’re actors’ films with minimal story but an exploration of a point in life, and they share the style that makes them distinctly cinema.

Spring Breakers” and “Upstream Color” are on the other end of the spectrum, indies too weird and polarizing to even be considered by the old fashioned Academy, even if their membership is slanting younger. Both utilize excessive style and their directors’ daring vision to create jarring, innovative films, one about way too much and the other arguably about nothing at all. Both however are beguiling, hypnotic mysteries.

In the middle are “Prisoners” and “The Place Beyond the Pines,” both midsize thrillers that were labeled as either too ridiculous or too portentous. They stretch storytelling boundaries with their ambitious screenplays, and they earn major thrills that even some of the likely Best Picture contenders can’t muster.

And last are the two studio movies, “This is the End” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” one a bit more massive than the other. These movies are why most people go to the movies, and they’re the ones that almost never show up on Hollywood’s most important night. They combine massive movie star appeal with rambunctious and accessible storytelling. But most of all, they’re fun. If the Oscars can be  self-serious homework, these movies are a different sort of escapism. Continue reading “The 3rd Annual Anti-Oscars”

2013: The Year in Superlatives

The Best of Everything Else in 2013

Each year there are so many great movie moments worth cherishing and recommending. This year got fairly ridiculous in how many media outlets had to make extensive lists for even the most minuscule things. I don’t have the time, patience or resources to write so many year-end lists, but it remains fun to make them. You can read my Best Movies of the Year list here; many included there can be found here.

Top 15 Scenes

  • Solomon Northup dangles from a noose struggling to keep his toes on the ground as other slaves go about their day in the background of an agonizingly long wide shot
  • Jesse and a half naked Celine argue in a Greek hotel room
  • Richie DiMasso and Edith Greensley dance in a club and agree in a bathroom stall to “No more fake shit” while a drunk Rosalyn predicts the exact moment when her husband Irving will say “We need to talk business”
  • The Weston family dinner table scene
  • The opening shot of “Gravity”
  • Captain Phillips can barely function as he’s just been rescued and Navy doctors tend to him
  • Theodore and his operating system Samantha have sex for the first time
  • Llewyn Davis auditions with a solo of “The Death of Queen Jane” before a producer coldly says to him “I don’t see any money here”
  • David and Ross Grant steal a compressor from a barn that turns out not to be their father’s
  • Detective Loki isn’t sure if he hears a faint whistle coming from somewhere
  • India and her uncle Charlie play a duet on piano complete with tension and forbidden sexual sensations
  • Audrina Patridge’s completely bright and see-through Hollywood home is robbed as seen from a single shot far off in the distance
  • Sutter has a fight with Aimee and kicks her out of his car
  • James Franco and Danny McBride argue about where they can and can’t masturbate
  • Kris is drugged and hypnotized by an unseen assailant with “a deformity in which his face is made by the same material as the sun” Continue reading “2013: The Year in Superlatives”

The Bling Ring

With minimal stylization and embellishment, Sofia Coppola makes the fashion of The Bling Ring into a silly and mundane farce.

 

Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” rounds out a trio of movies over the last few months that dig into the mystical fascination with the have-more culture. Harmony Korine showed in “Spring Breakers” that this mentality can be disgusting and terrifying, Baz Luhrmann demonstrated with “Gatsby” that it can be destructive, and Coppola has shown just how boring and silly this affinity for celebs, fashion and luxury can be.

Coppola has waded these waters before, depicting the lives of the glamorous, wealthy and famous in quasi-comedies that feel dull, mundane and simplistic. Yet to call “The Bling Ring” her most high-octane movie yet doesn’t say much. It depicts the crimes of five Los Angeles teenagers with detached apathy, like Coppola is staring back at the vacuous on-screen teens with the same expressions they turn toward their parents.

Based on a true story, “The Bling Ring” begins with Marc (Israel Broussard), a new kid in school, making friends with Rebecca (Katie Chang). She admires his style, perhaps, and the two pass time sitting idly at the beach, calling out to friends with the poshest of pleasantries like “Yo bitch.”

She passively encourages Marc to start breaking into cars and homes with her. The two steal wads of cash and select purses, blouses and watches with ease, doing so not because it’s right or wrong or gives them a high but because it was there and it was easy. Continue reading “The Bling Ring”

This is the End

More so than a scathing look at Hollywood, “This is the End” is Seth Rogen and Company taking the piss, lampooning their screen selves for yucks all around.

There might be a few people disappointed that “This is the End” effectively closes the door on a “Pineapple Express” sequel in one quick, hilarious scene. The “Superbad” reunion is even shorter. And for what it’s worth, “This is the End” might just be the last time you see any of these actors make a movie this silly and outrageous again.

But I guess that’s appropriate for a comedy about the end of the world. If Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were going to make a movie that allows Seth, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Danny McBride and all their other assorted friends the chance to play the fool one last time, they’d better do so in the most spectacularly destructive way possible.

Although they’re all playing themselves, this time officially, Rogen and Company have effectively driven the stake in their on-screen personas that have followed them through so many films since the “Knocked Up” days. They’ve been impaled by street lamps, sucked into sinkholes, eaten by cannibals and raped by demons, and maybe now they can usher in a new era of comedies from the ashes of their hilariously vulgar corpses.

More so than a scathing look at Hollywood, “This is the End” is the crew taking the piss, lampooning their screen selves for yucks all around. The film begins with Jay visiting Seth in L.A., in which the two have an epic weekend of pot and video games ahead of them. Is this their lifestyle? Perhaps not, but we as an audience can’t truly see them any other way. Continue reading “This is the End”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

There’s something all those coming of age stories have forgotten over the years. For some, discovering what you love comes with a feeling of regret. How different would I be if I found all these great things sooner? Would I be smarter? Would I be more honest? Would I have put up with so much abuse? Where would my life be?

These are questions we should ask as teenagers, but for some it comes later than others, if at all. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” shows just how difficult that can be for people so young. But because it celebrates youth, music, love, rebellion and discovery, it’s a film that allows us to see and understand the world a little better. It’s a rare film that can help us grow.

The movie is based off a cult teen novel of the same name, and although it only came out in 1999, the book has for some meant as much to contemporary youth as “The Catcher in the Rye” has for so long. With how defensive today’s kids are about adapting their favorite novels into movies, something with such a passionate following could not have been directed or written by anyone other than the book’s author, Stephen Chbosky.

Thankfully he has made his book into a film, and he’s made a lovely one. Rather than stage it as a collection of anonymous letters like his novel, the film follows many of the punches of a standard coming-of-age drama. It lacks the narrative simplicity of “The Breakfast Club,” the indie charm of “Juno” or the visual splendor of “Rushmore,” but it matches all of those in endearing characters, confident dialogue and timelessness. Continue reading “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

My Week With Marilyn

Marilyn Monroe was an impossibly difficult actress to work with because she seemed so incompetent and insecure at every turn. But when she got it right, she made magic happen.

“My Week With Marilyn” makes a point of this numerous times. It adores the blonde bombshell so much that it drills her greatness into your head. And yet, Michelle Williams is so effervescent and captivating by rejuvenating Monroe’s presence that she makes lightning strike twice. Continue reading “My Week With Marilyn”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II” is a film of reunion, redemption and reconciliation. The fans that have grown up with the characters of what is now the largest franchise in movie history have not come for the end, but have come to say goodbye.

In a homecoming roll call of old friends and enemies, “Harry Potter” comes to a close in this eighth and final sequel. Yes, this is the conclusion to a story already split in two, but this is more of an opportunity for everyone to reflect on the life that started nearly 10 years ago today, and how we now realize how the magic will live on.

It’s for the legendary Maggie Smith to put on one last fiery show. It’s for Robbie Coltrane to charm us one last time, the big lug. It’s for Michael Gambon to take a long-awaited final bow. It’s for Helena Bonham Carter to literally explode on screen. It’s for Ralph Fiennes and Alan Rickman to finally revel in their own villainy.

And it’s for Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson to show they’ve at last grown up.

The kids proved to be the best of casting choices a decade ago, and here they show maturity, not teen angst, as the fate of the wizarding world rests upon their shoulders. Continue reading “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Harry, Ron and Hermione are no longer kids. But throughout “The Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” we catch a glimmer of them trying to retain their lost childhood. It’s a touching moment of empathy that mirrors the emotion the audience is trying to recapture as they watch this penultimate installment to the most popular film franchise of all time.

I shared that reaction as I watched the latest Harry Potter movie. I surmised that people of my age go to see the Potter movies because firstly they provide that escapism back to reading the books as kids in how close the adaptations are. And in doing so, they secondly unite millions of Harry Potter fanatics that for one evening can share in a bit of a nerdgasm if you will.

You see, for all of “The Deathly Hallows’s” darker edges, more complex narratives and absence of another year at Hogwarts, this film feels very much like every Potter film that came before it, especially the previous two David Yates directed films, who also directs parts one and two. It still mixes in enough cheesy, goofy moments for everyone who’s been so invested in the franchise to now giggle at. And it likewise provides enough somber moments that fans can let out a collective gasp.

It made me realize that the Potter films are to be seen the way I saw it this past weekend, in the heat of the moment with an audience brimming with excitement. That palpable joy contained in the theater cannot be recreated when watching at home on DVD, HBO, ABC Family, wherever. Once you leave that simulated Potterverse, the material never holds up as well.

The same is true of “The Deathly Hallows,” which I enjoyed immensely, but suspect I may feel differently prior to the release of the next film.

It’s because there are moments as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are searching for the remaining horcruxes that the dark tone caves in on itself to provide a little comic whimsy. One mission will take them into the heart of the Ministry of Magic, and along the way they have some fun with the Polyjuice potion that allows them to morph into someone else, and not to mention some more fun with a toilet. The gang also meets up with an assortment of characters and creatures from the previous novels and films, and although the house elf Dobby provides a few smiles when he arrives, let’s say I was glad to see him leave again.

But I do think this is one of the better Harry Potter films, and most certainly Yates’s best. The juicy tidbits he provides to “The Deathly Hallows” do help the film stand out, and I look forward to revisiting these scenes when I’m not sitting in the second row of a multiplex.

I mentioned that the main characters, who have proven to be marvelous casting choices for so long now, can be caught reflecting on their lost childhood. Hermione is seen wiping her parents’ memories clean of her existence to keep them safe. Harry is forced to send away the Dursleys, and we see him lingering over the cupboard under the stairs.

Soon they’re swept away into the open, dangerous world, and emotions and sexual tension get the better of them. Yates leaves behind much of the teen romance angst that muddled the sixth film and puts all of the chemistry between Harry and Ron towards Hermione out in the open. And there’s a goofy moment when Harry begins to dance with Hermione that is allowed to linger into a touching little vignette. By themselves on this journey, the film very much belongs to Radcliffe, Grint and Watson, and they own it.

They convincingly lead us to their quest for The Deathly Hallows, three legendary and powerful objects derived from a fairy tale. The way in which we learn this wizarding folklore is through an elegantly done animated sequence unlike anything seen in the Potter films before. The shadowy figures that comprise it make a sequence strong enough to stand on its own as a beautifully done short film.

I was pleased to see how much I admired in between the dense layers of the plot and action scenes directed like they belonged in a psychological horror movie. So I’ll admit, I could’ve done without all the heavy chases and epic battles, but it’s all paced well and underscored by an eerie musical composition by the great Alexandre Desplat.

So for all my bitterness towards Potter’s excessively wide spread over pop culture and its forgettable qualities as it is endlessly paraded out, I offer a strong recommendation to see it now, while the magic is still there.

3 ½ stars