A Review: Beauty and the Beast

Sometimes you just have to be the one with the unpopular opinion. It happens to me more often than I’d like! But I’m not afraid to express mine, and one of them happened to be that I wasn’t particularly excited about the remake of “Beauty and the Beast”. It seemed that once Emma Watson was cast, with her perfect Disney princess look, everyone and their mom was on board with rebooting a classic. I was a little more skeptical. I’ve never been a massive fan of Watson’s (despite being a hardcore Potter fanatic), though she is perfectly serviceable and just so gosh darn adorable. I was excited about much of the rest of the cast, as well as the prospect of new musical numbers. But the original animated film is such a lovely work of art and cinema that I wasn’t sure a live action remake would work. And while it’s not a perfect movie, I’m happy to say that I did enjoy it.

While there’s not a ton of new stuff here, we do get some more Beast & Belle back story which is nice, and the Beast himself is a much more well thought out and explained character. I greatly enjoyed his arc much more in this version; his new song “Evermore” is hauntingly beautiful and is a perfect showcase for how far the Beast has come in his patience, acceptance of his fate, and his love for Belle. It’s a beautiful part of the story and nice to see him actually have more screen time.

image via traileraddict.com

It did look gorgeous and should easily score some costume/production design nods at the Oscars. Everyone’s singing was actually awesome, and Dan Stevens, despite being CGI’d to oblivion, actually gave more to his character than most others in the movie (as previously stated in my rambling love for the Beast). Watson is just fine here, though again she seems to have a problem with appearing genuine at all times instead of slightly awkward. But she’s cute as a button and a very talented vocalist. Additionally, Luke Evans is perfect casting as Gaston and was awesome to watch. Overall an enjoyable experience, and one I’m glad I gave a chance.

Grade: B-

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Kong: Skull Island (aka scary, scary creatures)

I’m not sure what I expected from the 100000000th adaptation of the King Kong story, but I’m not sure this was it. All the trailers looked bonkers in the best way, and I was hoping for an ultra-cool, ultra-badass 70’s version of Kong where we got wartime politics, rock n’ roll, and giant monkeys. We got most of those things, but not really in the cohesive package I’d imagined.

This movie isn’t bad by any means, there’s stuff to like here. But it’s not really great either and that saddens me when it could have been so much more. “Skull Island” operates at its best when it’s embracing its B-movie action and tone. In typical B-movie fashion, the dialogue is mostly bad (or at least forgettable), and the characters are poorly written and expanded upon (I thought when Brie Larson won her Oscar movies would finally stop criminally underusing her but here we are). But there is also the dedication to action and craft, and its absolute devotedness to its subject, the beast himself.

image via impawards.com

For sheer awe, spectacle, and fun, Skull Island is a riot. It embraces its natural habitat and exposes creatures from the underworld that looks both nightmarish and fantastic. While some are a little less impressive (giant stick insect anyone?), Kong himself and a few other of his natural foes look amazing, and watching them fight each other provides a hint of how adrenaline inducing the fight between Kong and… well, another monster, will be.

It’s not a very good movie, I wish it had a bit more flair to it, but it does its job serviceably and seems to have fun doing it. I came for the ape action and stayed for the aesthetic, and was perfectly pleased with the outcome. Would need to be a much deeper movie tonally for it to work on all fronts, but the end result is a thrilling creature feature with a nice nostalgic spin on the King of the Apes.

Grade: C+

A Review: Logan

Despite having seen every X-Men film (aside from the recent “Apocalypse”), I had never seen either of the two Wolverine standalone films. I had heard enough negative reviews to have simply avoided them, not because I was averse to the idea of Wolverine in his own movie – he is truly one of the most well written comic book characters around, but more because I just hadn’t seen an example of a successful idea for the character of Wolverine on his own. Then along came “Logan”.

image via traileraddict.com

I’ll go ahead and tell you right now that if you’re one of those people who likes to think themselves “above” comic book movies, you would still dig this. I have seen many a superhero flick and there was almost no resemblance to those here. Sure, it’s about a superhero and there are great action sequences, but it doesn’t follow conventional blockbuster tropes. It’s actually a modern Western, gritty and down-to-earth, steeped in old filmmaking lore. What director James Mangold & co. were able to do here is hearken back to the good old days of filmmaking – sparse locations and sets, more character focus, simple but effective antagonists, and disguise it all in a way that also appeals to comic book fans and general movie audiences. It’s brilliant and a joy to behold.

I won’t go too much into the plot details of the film, because I feel they’re better left experienced and also because it’s better if you at least have a working knowledge of Wolverine and the X-Men going in and I’m not going to assume that everyone reading this has that. But even though prior knowledge will enhance your enjoyment and understanding, what I also liked about this film was that it is very much independent. It doesn’t concern itself with Easter eggs or setting up for a myriad of future sequels. It is content to exist on its own, in its own space.

Camera work is sublime thanks to Mangold and cinematographer John Mathieson. Gorgeous Southwestern landscapes are brought to full life, although there is an alternate black and white version called “Logan Noir” that I’m anxious to see as well. Story is concise, filled with emotion – mostly due to the fantastic camaraderie of the ever excellent Hugh Jackman and newcomer Dafne Keen who absolutely 100% steals the show here. Although the movie is indeed called “Logan” and it’s the title character we revolve around, Keen is very much central to the film’s plot and ideas and she is astounding. One of the finest young performances I’ve seen (just after Millie Bobby Brown), and one of the finest performances period I’ll see this year. Patrick Stewart and Stephen Merchant give very fine turns here as well. This movie is so wholly enjoyable and I can’t thank James Mangold enough for all the effort he and his team put in to make such an enduring and bold work of filmmaking.

Grade: A

A Trailer Review: Baby Driver

Okay so, if you’re reading this, you might know me. And if you know me even a little, you know that one of my all time favorite directors is Edgar Wright. I mean like, consistently top five. I think he is brilliant and his movies are wholly original and works of modern art. Needless to say it’s probably clear that his new feature, “Baby Driver”, the newest since 2013’s “The World’s End” is my most anticipated film of the year. His first solo writing credit, he directs a huge ensemble case including Oscar winners Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Bernthal, Lily James and Ansel Elgort as the Baby in “Baby Driver”.

The film premiered this past weekend to glowing reviews at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, TX. Along with that premiere, Wright and co. released the very first theatrical trailer for the film which blew my freaking mind.

As you can see from the footage, it looks like Wright has put together something altogether unique. An action thriller that relies on music as heavily as any traditional musical would – only instead of pirouettes and choreography it’s high speed chases and bullets ringing though the criminal underworld. It looks like a blast of a wild ride, and something branded with Wright’s personal stamp, which is only ever a very good thing. I cannot wait any longer to see this movie – is it August yet?!

A Review: Get Out

When I heard Jordan Peele of “Key & Peele” fame was writing and directing a horror movie, I was intrigued. Little did I know, Peele was not only making a horror movie – he was making one of the best horror movies of recent years, one that combined genuine scares with humor and societal themes on racism.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is a big city photographer taking a weekend trip to the childhood home of his (relatively) new girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), to meet her parents. One note: Chris is black, and Rose is white –  and she hasn’t told her parents that he’s black. They’re not racist! she insists. They won’t care.

Upon arriving at the Armitage estate, Chris notices something is… off. Not only are Rose’s parents Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) acting unusually strange around him, but the family’s black housemaid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) are also distant, unmoved, and almost disturbed by Chris’ presence. Like the audience, Chris is slowly realizing everything is not as it seems.

image via jetmag.com

But the beauty of the situation is that of course Chris is right, something sinister is happening, but at first you almost wonder. As a black man, Chris must experience racial tension of this sort every day, even from well-meaning white folks. So is this simply heightened because of the nervous circumstances? Or is something very suspicious and darkly chilling actually occurring?

Peele takes the best of horror – paranoia, and uses this to communicate the black American experience. Watching this as a white female, I can never truly grasp the reality of Chris’ experience. But I can understand that this extended metaphor is intended to show us that racism is alive in America, that it can occur in unexpected ways, and that we must do all we can to step into another person’s shoes and understand what makes them different and celebrate that, but also realize how we are all very much the same. There is a moment near the end that just about made me sick with the presumption that I (and probably everyone who saw it) tacked on to the situation from the connotations we knew it would probably have. That in itself should tell us that something is wrong here in America.

Aside from this hyper relevant social themes, Peele does an incredible job with the whole film. The script is sharp and so the acting is top-notch. The scares are genuinely thrilling and the third act action is excellently directed. It shows us that not only can Peele master the social themes and humor, but proves himself to be a great action-horror director. I can’t wait to see what he has planned next.

Grade: A+

A Review: John Wick Chapter Two

Well everyone, I really failed at reviewing a lot of my favorite movies of the last year. Maybe in between these newer ones I will go back and review them, because I really want to! But I also want to actually keep up with them for this new year – so far I’ve seen two films released in 2017 and “John Wick: Chapter Two” was the first.

image via indiewire.com
image via indiewire.com

I was late to the “John Wick” trend and only caught the 2014 original a few days before the sequel hit theatres. I’m not sure why it took me so long but boy am I glad I finally took the plunge! This is a world of neon action, nearly invincible assassins, blood and intrigue. “John Wick” was a rare breed of action movie that was just pure, visceral fun. Like any good sequel (which is a very strange phrase usually), “John Wick: Chapter Two” builds on this and expands it in even more exciting ways.

Here we find our leading man, John Wick, only about a week or so removed from the events of the first film. He’s just demolished a good portion of a criminal organization he used to work for – and all because the boss’s dumbass kid killed his dog and stole his car. Now he’s back in the world, much as he tries to resist. The life follows him and he finds himself making good on a debt from years past, while trying to escape the forces that threaten to overwhelm him, shadows of people he used to know.

I’m loving this series so hard. I mean it’s no five-star, and it would rate higher but sometimes the dialogue is a bit cheesy you know what I mean. But that’s because it is what it is, which is high-caliber action, and it’s a masterwork for that genre. Like its predecessor, it’s stylish and smart and overall bloody. It stays just long enough to give you good thrills and doesn’t linger. It sets up a massive criminal underworld but doesn’t try to get too intricate. Basically it is action’s perfect blend. It’s massively good time and you can sign me up for John Wick: Chapter Three right the fuck now.

Grade: B+

2017 Oscar Winner Predictions

What a great year for film and my FAVORITE DAY OF THE YEAR is tomorrow! Happy Oscar Sunday in advance! Here are my final predictions in all 24 categories. Some are crazy and I’m 50/50 on (Best Actor, Original Screenplay, Costume Design, all the stupid shorts). But in the long run I had to make a decision and went with the gut.
Best Picture
· La La Land
Best Director
· Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Best Actor
· Denzel Washington (Fences)
Best Actress
· Emma Stone (La La Land)
Best Supporting Actor
· Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Best Supporting Actress
· Viola Davis (Fences)
Best Adapted Screenplay
· Moonlight (Barry Jenkins & Tarell Alvin McCraney)
Best Original Screenplay
· Manchester By the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
Best Cinematography
· La La Land (Linus Sandgren)
Best Film Editing
· La La Land (Tom Cross)
Best Costume Design
· Jackie (Madeline Fontaine)
Best Makeup & Hairstyling
· Star Trek Beyond
Best Original Score
· La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
Best Original Song
· “City of Stars” from La La Land, music by Justin Hurwitz with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Best Production Design
· La La Land (David Wasco & Sandy Reynolds-Wasco)
Best Sound Editing
· Hacksaw Ridge (Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright)
Best Sound Mixing
· La La Land (Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee, and Steve A. Morrow)
Best Visual Effects
· The Jungle Book
Best Foreign Language Film
· The Salesman (Iran)
Best Animated Feature
· Zootopia
Best Animated Short
· Piper
Best Documentary Feature
· OJ: Made in America
Best Documentary Short
· Joe’s Violin
Best Live Action Short
· Ennemis Interieurs