Beauty and the Beast

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: PGBeauty and the Beast

Director: Bill Condon

Producers: David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman

Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos

Based on: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont

Music: Alan Menken (composer), Howard Ashman (lyricist), new material by Tim Rice

Starring: Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (Beast), Luke Evans (Gaston), Kevin Kline (Maurice), Josh Gad (Lefou), with Ewan McGregor (Lumiere), Emma Thompson (Mrs Potts), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), Stanley Tucci (Cadenza), Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Plumette)

Watching the live action re-make of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which has been successfully updated without losing the original’s charm, the first thought that occurred to me was why has it taken so long to make this film?

The new version is vibrant, entertaining, full of catchy songs, impressively realistic sets and gorgeous costumes plus energetic choreography, making the transition from animation to live action most effectively.

I watched the original version again after seeing the new film, and aside from a few lines of dialogue or moments of visual humour not being retained, the live action version works better because it provides the opportunity to create beautiful costumes and sets, and enlarge the number of performers in crowd scenes.

There are also new songs, which have transformed some characters from stereotypes to convincing individuals.

I particularly loved the Beast’s new song “Evermore” (sung with throbbing undertones by Beast Dan Stevens during the film and less heroically by Josh Groban over the end credits).

The townspeople clearly indicate their opinion of Belle as being odd in the rousing song “Belle”, which is how it was originally, but apparently the actress Emma Watson wanted Belle to be more in keeping with modern feminist portrayals so her independent streak seems stronger and she has added talents beyond being just a supportive daughter.

Although Emma Watson is not a strong singer, her solemnity and occasional hints of humour allow her to carry off her role with conviction, as she shows bravery and selflessness and is more than a match for the moody yet fascinating Beast.

A few scenes have been added or extended which help make Belle and the Beast’s burgeoning love seem more convincing as they go from being “barely even friends” to something more.

The updated screenplay has fixed a few plot-holes, including how long the curse has been in place. There is also an underlying urgency to end the curse because of the long-term effect it may have on the Beast’s servants, who have been animated beautifully, making me long to buy some of the merchandise.

The servants’ rendition of “Be our guest” is an absolute showstopper, this time with the added benefit of wonderful special effects and a fuller-bodied orchestra and chorus.

The villain Gaston is played with relish by Luke Evans, who is fêted during the boisterous tavern scene by faithful sidekick Lefou (a delightful Josh Gad). Gaston’s penchant for antler décor and his skill at “expectorating” are still laugh-inducing but he doesn’t appear as two-dimensional now, despite still being vain and self-centred. Ironically his inflated ego marks him as more “monstrous”, making him a far greater beast than the titular one.

A lot has been said about Gaston’s sidekick LeFou, who was an under-developed bumbling fool before, but who is now given depth, partly through his implied sexual orientation.

It’s pleasing to see Disney is trying to reflect modern-day sensibilities, while the racial diversity amongst the townspeople and servants at the castle is also refreshing.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and could barely resist humming along.

This version has refreshed and updated the original film without losing any of its enduring appeal, and no one should be “gloomy or complaining” about the result.

A visual and aural delight for young and old.

Fifty Shades Darker

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MA15+Fifty Shades Darker

Director: James Foley

Producers: Michael De Luca, E L James, Dana Brunetti

Based on the novel by: E L James

Screenplay by: Niall Leonard

Soundtrack score: Danny Elfman

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Kim Basinger, Marcia Gay Harden, Eric Johnson, Bella Heathcote, Rita Ora

The second film in the Fifty Shades series, based on the novel Fifty Shades Darker by E L James, is lame, tame and generally depressing, especially when compared with Fifty Shades of Grey, which had some lighter moments associated with the excitement of first love.

The second film was like watching a Mills & Boon telemovie with a wanna-be feisty heroine, brooding hero, and situations where the characters are forced to admit How Much They Mean to Each Other, set amidst a backdrop of obscene wealth (why are the heroes never accountants?).

Originally an e-novel loosely inspired by the Twilight saga, Fifty Shades of Grey ended with heroine Anastasia Steele (perky breasted Dakota Johnson) breaking up with gloomy yet ripped businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) because she couldn’t be the “submissive” he needed.

In Fifty Shades Darker she now claims “things are different”, deliberately teasing Christian and trying to seduce him in the Red Room, totally negating the strong stand she took earlier.

The Fifty Shades books and films have been criticised for glamorising domestic violence and abusive relationships. The books certainly depicted Christian as being oppressive, sexually deviant and overbearingly bossy, whereas the films portray him more as a once-victimised and still vulnerable person who has to be in control, and who probably just needs a good woman’s love to redeem him.

I don’t find the criticisms about emotional/physical abuse valid because Ana returns here of her own free will, makes conditions and often instigates the sexual interludes with Christian, who says that although he desires the kinky stuff, he needs her more. She seems compelled to test his resolve by deliberately encouraging him in sexual activities that are like awkwardly shot soft porn but curiously lack any arousing power, and which interrupt the actual story, such as it is.

Christian’s work life barely gets screen time (how does he make all that money?), while we’re supposed to believe Ana is a gifted business woman because she pitches one idea breathily at a board meeting to publish “new” writers instead of just established ones, which is received as though no-one had ever thought of it before.

Fifty Shades Darker has quality production values, beautiful cinematography (by John Schwartzman) of mountains and rain-slicked city streets, and a bopping soundtrack. There are established actors in minor roles, including Christian’s adoptive mother (a dignified Marcia Gay Harden), and his former Dominant, Elena (a well preserved but wasted Kim Basinger), but other characters from the first film barely register.

A former Submissive (Bella Heathcote) stalks Ana and appears to pose a threat that is resolved too quickly. The villain here is Ana’s former boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), who in one hilarious scene produces a printed photo of one he took earlier on his phone, just so he can evilly burn a hole through Christian’s face as a sign of future revenge in the third film.

Subtlety, credibility and entertainment are not hallmarks of this film, although there are some unintentional laughs. For sexual titillation watch the Sylvia Kristel version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1981), while for brooding romance you can’t beat Jane Eyre (Orson Welles version, 1943).

Mountain Cry

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MMountain Cry

Directed by: Larry Yang

Adapted Screenplay: Larry Yang

Music by: Nicolas Errèra

Cinematography by: Patrick Murguia

Starring: Yueting Lang, Ziyi Wang, Taishen Cheng, Ailei Yu, Jin Guo, Caigen Xu, Chendong Zhao; Siying Li.

Language: Chinese Mandarin

Subtitle Language: English

Based on: Lu Xun Literary Prize recipient novel of the same name written by Ge Shuiping.

Mountain Cry is a Chinese tale of a mute girl, Hong Xia (Yueting Lang), who moves to a remote rural village with her abusive husband, La Hong (Yu Ailei), and two children.

After her husband is killed by a detonation used in a badger trap set in the woods, a young villager, Han Chong (Ziyi Wang) is blamed for the accident.  The village council then forces Han to look after the young widow and her children until the debt is paid for killing her husband.

Mountain Cry has been beautifully adapted to the screen with director and screenwriter Larry Yang relating this amazing story of Chinese village life and the two main characters slowly falling in love.  But this film is so much more than a romance, there’s crime here and mystery.

The characters show more of themselves with each action, with each scene adding weight to the adage, show don’t tell.  There was such a gentle touch here with tragedy and longing, freedom given and taken away, responsibility and loyalty and love all revealed like leaves slowly falling.

When novels are adapted to the screen there can be the feeling of parts missing or the story being rushed or glossed over, but Mountain Cry was a complicated story given depth, revealed slowly allowing the audience to become absorbed by the mystery of Hong Xia’s life.  Not surprising that the film won Shanghai International Film Festival Media Award Best Director Award and Shanghai International Film Festival Media Award Best Scriptwriter Award.

Although set in 1984, there was a classic feel to the story: old fashioned tools used for farming, handmade paper and painted writing, and the echoing sound of voices and drums like the heartbeat of the vast mountains.

The scenery was captured beautifully by cinematographer, Patrick Murguia.  And the soundtrack a fitting accompaniment (Nicolas Errèra) to this classic Chinese tale.  But it was the characters who were the focus, and their relationships.

Although a tragedy, the story was lifted by the simple warmth of Han Chong and his ginger kitten, but you need a quiet mood for this one.  And I have to say the film was slow at times.  But by the end, I was completely absorbed and pleasantly surprised by the mystery and beauty of the story.

A slow reveal but well worth the journey.

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Sunset Song

GoMovieReviews Rating:

 

Directed By: Terence DaviesSunset Song

Based on the novel written by: Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Starring: Agyness Deyn, Peter Mullan; Kevin Guthrie.

Set in the early 20th century, Sunset Song is a heart breaking film but as director Terence Davies states, a story that needs to be told.

Chris (Agyness Deyn) is a young girl growing up in the beautiful enduring and sometimes harsh Scottish country of the Aberdeenshire.

This is a place where beauty may not last but will be the more beautiful for it.  Where love may not last but the land will continue to endure.

The story centres around Chris and her life from family tragedy to marriage to the First World War.

Sunset Song is a love story but also a story of Scotland and the bittersweet nature of life.  There’s such cruelty yet such sweetness that feels lost in this modern age.  And to be reminded of the sacrifice of our Grandparents and all those who lost their lives during the war and broke their family’s heart is truly humbling: Lest We Forget.

I was immediately captured by the opening scene of Chris lying in the middle of a crop of wheat, hidden from view; the sun on her face.  I used to do the same thing but amongst the green stalks of canola.  Being hidden from everything and everyone except the sky.

I loved the simplicity of this film.  The soundtrack mostly the characters themselves singing.

A close friend of Chris narrates the story, describing the poetry of Chris’ life.  The lightness of the words used to balance the harsh reality sometimes endured.  And that’s the main theme here – the endurance of the characters like the endurance of the Scottish landscape.  The camera work showing the rolling green hills, the rain, mud and filtered sunlight another character of this classic Scottish story.

Plenty of space and quiet was allowed into the film.  Personally, some of the scenes could have been cut or shortened.  But that’s just my mile-a-minute modern city brain.  The film slows the mind to grasp the sweetness, the tragedy; cruelty and humility.

I wondered at the use of nudity in the film, somewhat jarring in the context of modesty, but then there was also length given to the cruelty, the light from the church window and the sermon given, to the poetry and the singing – all given in equal measure, all giving weight to the film.  This is a modern understanding of a classic story to the heart of remembering and never forgetting.

So easy to get carried away with such an emotive story.  I find war films difficult because it’s too close; too real.  The times where child birth could so easily kill the mother, the times so easily forgotten.  But Sunset Song is beautiful film and well worth watching.

Bring your tissues, lasses, and lads, bring your heart.

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Me Before You

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Directed by: Thea SharrockMe Before You

Writer: Jojo Moyes – Screenplay and Novel

Starring: Sam Claflin, Emilia Clarke, Vanessa Kirby, Eileen Dunwoodie, Pablo Raybould, Gabrielle Downey, Steve Peacocke and Henri Charles.

When Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke) loses her job as a waitress at a café, she takes a position as a carer for the cantankerous quadriplegic, Will Traynor (Sam Claflin).

Born the eternal optimist, Lou works at winning a smile from a man who is literally on suicide watch.

Me Before You follows the relationship between Lou and Will, taking the audience through the highs and lows of a once adrenaline junky who had life in the palm of his hand to a man completely reliant on others to function in life or to even get out of bed.

So, between the super cheesy soundtrack, the Mary Poppins reincarnation exhibiting the most expressive eyebrows I’ve ever seen on film and a storyline made to squeeze tears, you can guess I’m not a fan of these drama/romance/tear jerkers!

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I can also say that Me Before You was a heartfelt story with lovely moments and well-paced drama.

I couldn’t help but love Lou (even with those eyebrows), with her quirky outfits and genuine love of life and people: I’ve never hated anyone,’ she says.  And yes, she’s believable if not ditzy.

Will Traynor was suitably irritable, with the two characters set up in a narrative formula of cranky meets sweet.

Aussie actor Steve Peacocke as Nathan was a pleasant surprise: a no nonsense nurse who takes on the heavy lifting – a practical character who added a realistic view of Sam’s injury.

But the cheese of the soundtrack!

Look, I felt this movie, I really did.  There were tears and not a dry eye in the cinema.  And it wasn’t because it was all sad and disability, there was mostly a lightness, carried by the optimistic Lou. But, it’s a story made to pull the heart strings – romance crossed with the tragedy of debilitating injury leading to the controversial contemplation of euthanasia.  Not a storyline I’d usually go for, but a film well-paced with thought put into the characters and effort put into the build of the relationship between Sam and Lou.

If this is your sort of movie, yeah, it’s great.  But you need to be in the mood for this one.  Make sure to bring the tissues.

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