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”

CIFF Review: The Impossible

You see a giant tidal wave hurtling toward you and your family one second, and the next, you’re gripping a tree, water rapidly flooding everywhere. You’re alone. A destroyed car floats by. You’re searching for some way to make it stop, and without warning, you feel a searing pain. The water seems to beat you senseless in an incoherent blur. You don’t see other people. You don’t see other bodies. You only hear the scream of your son. You have nothing but fear and uncertainty.

Uncertainty is that most important aspect of “The Impossible,” a moving, epic tearjerker about a deadly tsunami that hit Thailand in 2004. It concerns itself only with the idea of unknown consequences, the idea of failure and the pain of being unable to help more. These are the natural parts of survival. It’s not a message movie. It’s a human film.

One of the families caught up in this natural disaster are the Bennett’s, a British family from Japan on vacation in Thailand. Henry and Maria (Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts) have three boys aged 10, 7 and 5, and the five of them will spend the next few days searching for one another after this tragedy.

The oldest son, Lucas (Tom Holland), is split up with his mom, who is severely injured and needs her son’s help every step of the way. His struggle to lift his mother into a tree is as harrowing and intense as even the tumultuous rapids themselves.

He proves himself to be the true lead of the film. We see Lucas on his own, learning to be responsible and seeing the pain of the world around him the most broadly. Lucas takes on a very noble task of wandering the hospital trying to pair patients with family members. It’s an overwhelming task for anyone, least of all for someone his age. But he succeeds, and our hearts just seem to swell up at the sign of such human decency.

And yet what director Juan Antonio Bayona (“The Orphanage”) recognizes is that this reunion, nor the reunion of his own family, is fully a victory. As their plane leaves for home, the civilization is still in ruins, and that ocean seems mighty lonely.

“The Impossible” calls itself “a beautiful mystery” in this way. It’s at times a disgusting film of people vomiting blood, screeching in agony and looking absolutely decrepit, and yet its simple acts of charity and good fortune go a long way. It finds action in its lonely chases through vast, empty landscapes and crowded, noisy areas where no one can be found. Only at the beginning does it employ the disaster movie tropes.

Part of its success stems from the absolutely stunning visual effects and lifelike makeup. Opting out of digital effects, “The Impossible” incorporated one of the largest water tanks in the world to shoot the opening disaster, and it pays off by looking leaps and bounds better than Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter.”

Whereas Watts’s role throughout the film is to lie in agonizing pain, and McGregor is reduced to a weeping wreck, “The Impossible’s” real star is Holland. He demonstrates range that allows him to recognize that he’s about to become an orphan or that he’s not yet strong enough to make it on his own. Holland is a first time screen actor, but he’s been playing the title role in “Billy Elliot” on stage in London for years.

If there’s one big gripe about “The Impossible,” it’s that the film is whitewashed. Where are all the native Thai? Bayona claims that in this particular area where the family was located, the victims were about half tourists. The non-whites we see here are typically the ones helping the whites or not getting a word in because they’re not provided subtitles. Other travelling Europeans are missing their families, and we even hear some of their stories, but never of a local. In fact, the Bennett tragedy quite literally becomes the focal point of many people’s concerns in one pivotal scene when Henry makes a quick call home to say he’s unsure where Maria and Lucas are.

Despite this, I think audiences will take away that “The Impossible” is a beautiful, inclusive film about all human suffering and survival. But from a Spanish director and shot on-location in Thailand, I just wish it was more universal.

3 ½ stars

Haywire

“Haywire” is a no-frills action movie that measures what can be accomplished in a genre film.

Something with as many ass kickings as “Haywire” couldn’t possibly be called an experimental film, can it?

Steven Soderbergh built one around porn star Sasha Grey, so why not for martial arts fighter Gina Carano?

“Haywire” is a no-frills action movie that measures what can be accomplished in a genre film.

It minimizes on sweeping photography or handheld queasy cam effects and produces a stylized, precise and expertly choreographed film. Its simplicity is compelling just in admiring the craft of it all.

Carano plays Mallory Kane, a secret agent betrayed by her private contractor (Ewan McGregor), but the plot too is stripped to its bare bones to the point that the cryptic details are just filler for “Haywire’s” artsy combat set pieces.

Soderbergh gives us full-bodied fights that lovingly make use of space, his rapid editing still delineating clear angles as though he were photographing Carano in the octagon.

The gorgeous Carano makes for an unusual movie star with how at home she is during the film’s many battles.

She’s the key in a film uninterested with her striking sexuality. But Carano demands presence, and although she could serve as a better feminist icon than Fincher’s Lisbeth Salander, Carano is too tough and impressive for anyone to really notice or care.

3 ½ stars

I Love You Phillip Morris

Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor give some of the best performances of their career in this farcical biography.

Some Hollywood love stories just seem too good to be true. “I Love You Phillip Morris” seems way too good to be true, and yet somehow it is, but hardly in the cliché way one might expect from, well, Hollywood.

Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) is a man devoid of any identity but a pro at performing the expectations of society whenever the mood strikes him. As a child, he was adopted and became an upstanding poster boy. As an adult, Steven’s a cop and a model citizen living the American dream with a wife and kids. Following a car accident, he reveals he’s gay, but more accurately, flamboyantly gay, going as far as committing credit fraud to live a perfect life of fashionable luxury. And in prison, Steven’s the perfect cellmate laying down the rules of the yard and encouraging the sexual favors.

Yet with no personality to fall back on, Steven’s cheerful demeanor and everything that comes out of it is a lie. He means no ill will, so it’s impossible to dislike him, but if you’re going to be a fraud, why not be a fraud in the biggest way possible? Continue reading “I Love You Phillip Morris”

Beginners

In a smattering of close-up pictures and jump cuts, Mike Mills accelerates us through time and history during his film “Beginners.” He points out the sun, the stars, the president and what emotions look like. These symbols have come to define us, but they’re endowed by someone else, by society. His story is about three people learning to communicate their own personalities and embrace the idea and feeling of happiness, not just the image.

Few films are truly about communication. Even “The Social Network” merely analyzes speech patterns, internal coding and societal trends. “Beginners” understands that the words and symbols themselves have no meaning except the meaning we assign to them. Society has branded Hal (Christopher Plummer) as the member of a happy American family, complete with a job, wife, child and home in the suburbs. But after his wife dies, Hal, at the age of 75, confesses to his son Oliver (Ewan McGregor) that he’s gay.

This comes months before Hal’s death, yet in the time before and after Hal’s death, Oliver is just as confused with the symbols of success and friendship he’s been presented with. He does not begin to change until he meets the lovely Anna (“Inglourious Basterds’” Melanie Laurent) and she asks him, “Why are you at a party if you’re so sad?”

The beauty of that question is twofold. Firstly, why would anyone even think to ask a question like that? Aren’t their emotions simply implied by the people around them? But secondly, she asks this question with a pad and pencil. She has laryngitis, but not by accident, and not for the filmmaker to be cute. Look at how clearly Anna learns how to communicate with Oliver without words and even without expression behind makeup at a costume party.

“Beginners” speaks without speaking at all, and it is eloquent and beautiful in its quiet. Continue reading “Beginners”