Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Tale Not Quite as Old as Time.

A long time ago.....back in 1991 when I was getting ready to go into kindergarten, Disney released one of its finest, if not best, animated feature films of all time Beauty and the Beast. It had such beautiful music, fantastic lyrics, amazing voice talent, enchanting and exquisite animation, moving storytelling, and soaring vocal talent for the songs. It's no wonder that it was and has so far been the only animated feature film ever to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. And then we fast forward to 2017 to Disney's live action version of the same tale and it....doesn't quite live up to the previous animated film's splendor. The story and plot of the film is essentially the same as the animated version, although there is a lot of backstory and some additional songs added as well. So the star of the live action version is Emma Watson as Belle, and she is a rather talented actress and did a good job of playing Belle....but then she opened her mouth to sing and I was cringing. That woman cannot sing whatsoever, and I may not be a music person, but she sounded so incredibly flat each time she sang. Paige O'Hara who voiced and sang for Belle back in 1991 was perfection and had such a charming voice, and thus after hearing that then having to listen to Emma Watson it was very painful. I did like some of the additional dimensions Ms. Watson gave the character, but I think it kind of weighed down the beautiful magic of the original. Dan Stevens played the Beast and was primarily the voice, and he wasn't too bad although they could have chosen someone who could sing. In the original Robby Benson only sang a few notes so it didn't really matter, but in this he sang much more. I did like how they gave the Beast more character depth, and he did a very good job with the character and the voice, but once again not the vocals. Luke Evans played Gaston, and although he is very talented and I like a good bit of what he's done, I didn't care for his performance of the character whatsoever. Of course Mr. Evans couldn't really sing either and Richard White, who was the voice and sang for Gaston in the animated version had such a powerful and booming voice. So, Mr. Evan's vocals were rather dreadful, not to mention the writers made Gaston less villainous, dumber, weaker, and super cheesy; it was character catastrophe. Josh Gad as LeFou was also a disaster. I don't know what the writers and director were thinking, but his whole relationship with Gaston was odd and awkward. Unlike the first film where LeFou was Gaston's top henchman, in this version he was like that boy on the playground that keeps trying to be the friend of the biggest bully. Kevin Kline as Maurice was perfect, although no singing would have been better for him. One of the most iconic roles went to Ewan McGregor to bring alive; Lumiere. Granted, he did an excellent job, but no one can ever replace Jerry Orbach who gave the character eternal life. Ian McKellen played Cogsworth, and he tried so hard, but I wasn't really a fan of his performance. David Ogden Stiers is Cosgworth, with his perfect vocal capture of the character, and both he and Jerry Orbach had this amazing chemistry that McGregor and McKellen just didn't have. I love Emma Thompson, but Angela Lansbury will always be Mrs. Potts; no one else can pull off that character or sing that song quite like she did, and try as Ms. Thompson might, it just wasn't the same. Basically the live action version was almost entirely miscast in my opinion.
The director, Bill Condon, has actually directed a number of excellent films that I enjoyed, and granted he did a fine job of bringing the animated classic to life, but I think he tried too hard to make it more intensely dramatic and it lost that fairy tale magic. Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos wrote the screenplay and I have to say that considering all they did was essentially copy from the original, they didn't really add anything good to the story or characters at all, and just weighed the narrative down with useless backstory and weaker characters. Alan Menken wrote the score for the new film just as he did the old one, except he didn't have his secret weapon; Howard Ashman. Never in Disney's history has there been a pair like these two men, save for the Sherman brothers who were their predecessors. The score really lacked the same magic as the animated classic, and the newer songs certainly didn't have the same elegance or timelessness. Perhaps the best part of the entire film was the cinematography by Tobias A. Schliessler who definitely deserves an Academy Award nomination at least for his visually stunning work. That was the one thing that this adaptation of the animated class got perfectly right; it was visually stunning, elegant and beautiful just like the original. I know that I am in the minority, but I didn't care for this adaptation of Beauty and the Beast whatsoever, and if you really enjoy the story and music then I suggest you watch the animated classic. This live action version of the film does not improve on the original, and it lacks so much that made the 1991 version magical; and yes I know I keep using that word, but truly that is what the animated film possesses which is what makes it so good and timeless like many of the other classic animated Disney films. So please don't waste your time on this version of the film, go back and watch the 1991 animated film, and how the Walt Disney story of Beauty and the Beast was meant to be seen.

  Beauty and the Beast clip

Beauty and the Beast clip

Beauty and the Beast interviews

1991 Beauty and the Beast intro

Monday, August 14, 2017

A "Non-Zero Sum Game."

Science fiction is one of my favorite genres to watch and especially to write as one's limitations are only exceeded by one's imagination. When I first heard of Arrival and saw the trailer I wasn't really that interested in the film, and although it looked interesting there wasn't much that seem to differentiate it from other alien invasion films. The story is basically about a woman who is a linguist expert and how she and another man are able to eventually create a language to communicate with a group of alien beings who have landed in various locations throughout the earth. There is another underlying story that parallels that one, but honestly I'm still kind of confused when I think about it. Amy Adams played the lead character as Louise Banks very capably and perfectly; conflicted, flawed, passionate, and real. Ms. Adams really did well with her character, and honestly she was really the only interesting character in the entire film aside from the alien beings. Jeremy Renner played Ian Donnelly who was an expert physicist; he was humorous at times, but his character really didn't have a whole lot of depth and came off as rather flat. I'm not certain if it was his performance or how the character was written. Forest Whitaker played Colonel Weber who seemed to be head of operations for what was going on. He did a good job, but his character was completely boring. Aside from the alien beings, those were the dominant cast members. In general the casting was good, and wasn't the problem with the film.
Denis Villeneuve directed the film, and I actually loved his work on Sicario (even though I still believe the lead was miscast) but he captured the mood and what it would feel like to have something like actually occur on our planet so good for him. He even attained an Academy Award for Best Director, although I don't know if that was really warranted; his work on Sicario was far superior. Eric Heisserer wrote the screenplay which was oddly nominated for an Academy Award, because I believe that it was poorly written and caused the film to be one-dimensional and very confusing at the same time. In my opinion it was this poor writing that kept the film from being as good as it could have been. Again oddly enough, the film was also nominated for Best Picture, and I'm not certain why because for example, it isn't even of similar caliber to something like Hidden Figures. I think the Academy has a serious problem with their nominating process that needs to be fixed. Apparently the story of the film is based on something a Ted Chiang wrote, so maybe the story is to blame rather than the adaptation of it. The cinematography by Bradford Young was actually quite good and deserved the Academy Award nomination; there was something very ethereal and gripping that he captured so very being on the edge of a great battle and the silence that ensues. Jóhann Jóhannsson composed the music and I can't really recall any good themes or motifs, or even any good musical sequences, so I guess that speaks for itself. The film was nominated for a few other Academy Awards for sound mixing, editing, production design, and won an Academy Award for Best Sound Design. I didn't care for this film. It was occasionally interesting when I wasn't confused about what was going on. Which by the way a key plot point in this film had appeared in Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Interstellar, and Farscape so I wasn't wowed or shocked about the ending as I was already anticipating it. The designing a language bit for the alien beings was perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the entire film, but other than that it came off rather boring and flat. It's almost as if they were trying so hard to come up with something earth-shattering and different that it backfired. If you don't see this film you certainly aren't missing anything. The ending wasn't satisfying, and I was still quite confused about everything. This is definitely a film that I really don't have any interest to see again.

Arrival trailer

Arrival interviews with Amy Adams & Jeremy Renner

The Death of Stalin trailer (looks absolutely hilarious!)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

1,000 Reasons to Bring on the Beach.

I find oftentimes it's good to approach new ideas and new things with a neutral perspective, but frequently that doesn't seem to help change the outcome that you had going into shall we say a particular film. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets had several fascinating and remarkable elements in it, but it wasn't really able to overcome several fatal flaws. The story follows two individuals who seem to be intergalactic FBI agents of a sort and they go on several missions, leading up to eventually going to this place where species from over a 1,000 worlds live on this space station to stop some crazed aliens from wiping out all life on that station. So think Aliens meets Avatar except not anywhere near as good as Aliens or as groundbreaking as Avatar. Dane DeHaan plays the main character Major Valerian, and he does....okay, but honestly I'm not really partial to any of his work except for what he did in the HBO series In Treatment; more often than not he comes across rather bland, which is unfortunate because I believe he has a lot of talent. Perhaps the best part of the entire film and the best character is played by Cara Delevingne, Sergeant Laureline, who brought humor and an element of seriousness to the film that for the most part didn't come off as corny or over the top unlike what Mr. DeHaan brought to the film. I think she is an up and coming talent, and hopefully this film doesn't dash any of her potential future. Clive Owen played a snake like commander of some sort of military force, but his character was bland, static, and not very interesting at all. Ethan Hawke played the owner of what I'm assuming was a whorehouse, and had a very short yet flashy role, but it was a part of the film that seemed out of place and completely irrelevant. Herbie Hancock (yes the musician) played the Defence Minister of some faction that the two main characters were employed by; it was not a very interesting role, and I'm uncertain why he was given it. Lastly, perhaps the most useless and out of place character was played by Rihanna called Bubble, who was a shape shifter of sorts. It seemed like the creators of the film put her in the film just to say that they put "Rihanna" in the film. The woman can dance, but that's about the extent of her talent. I suppose the rest of the cast was good, but nobody really stood out, or any other character really.
The director, Luc Bessson, also wrote the screenplay and he has some good screen credit to his talent (The Fifth Element) but he didn't really do himself any favors with this film. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets suffered from a number of flaws which impacted its quality, but one of the most fatal flaws was its similarity to Avatar. The story and some of the core aliens really resembled the Na' Vi and their culture from that world. Also, the screenplay was poorly written; it was kind of like a weird blend of sci-fi, suspense, who-done-it, and action-adventure. The majority of the dialogue was corny and just oddly worded creating for some awkward scenes, especially with the two main characters. Apparently the film is based off a series of comic books, which seem to be relatively good source material, but nothing was done to make it soar off the pages. There was so much potential for this film to be great, but the writing was just awful; if that would have been improved, and the story changed, then the film would have been light years better. Of course one of my least favorite film composers created the music; Alexandre Desplat. I cannot really recall anything the least bit good or remarkable about the film score, which I'm not certain if it's because the film was dreadful or he's just a mediocre film composer. The cinematography by Thierry Arbogast was okay, but considering the scope with which he had to work with, I was expecting something far better. The costume design by Olivier Beriot was pretty good; a lot of creativity, but nothing really breathless or cool that stuck out. The action for the film was kind of blah too, although there was one sequence which was absolutely breathtaking, cool and absolutely dynamic; it involved Major Valerian trying to track down the aliens abducting a hostage. Other than that though, the action was fairly mediocre....kind of like the film overall. At times the film came across as rather preachy about certain social issues in today's culture. Essentially there was a lot of potential with this film, but it really came out as flat. It was entertaining enough, and interesting; but it wouldn't bother me to never watch it ever again, and unless you really enjoy science-fiction then you might as well skip this film.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets clip

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets interview

The Defenders trailer

Thursday, August 3, 2017

"She Was Always There..."

I had been wanting to see the Danish Girl for quite some time, and I just got around to seeing it the other day. Granted, there is much about the topic of this film that is politically charged, or even in dispute within the world of psychology and psychiatry, but I am only going to discuss the film itself not the politics of it. This movie is based on apparently the true life story of a Danish man who wanted to become a woman in all sense of the meaning, and he pursued this goal to the end result where he no longer considered himself a man but a woman. That's basically the story of the film. Eddie Redmayne plays Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe. If this film does anything, it shows beyond a shadow of doubt how talented Mr. Redmayne is. There isn't really an effective way for me to explain it in English what he did, or what he captured with his performance other than to say it was indeed profound. I don't know anything about the real life man this film is based off of, but by the end of the film one can truly believe that Mr. Redmayne is the character; that's how good he was. Alicia Vikander played the wife and won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work, and it was well deserved (although she should have won Best Actress since she had a major role in the film; dumb Oscar politics). The audience could agonize and empathize with her and she also agonized and empathized with her husband as he descended from heterosexuality to transsexualism, and what that experience was like for her. It was a brilliant performance and she earned that Oscar for sure. Honestly, these two were the movie, and although there were many cast members, none of them really stood out at all aside from these two; Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne are the reasons, and only reasons anyone would watch this film.
Tom Hooper (Les Miserables and The King's Speech) was an excellent director, and he knows historic subject matter very, very well. I really have no complaints with his direction whatsoever, aside from a few moments here and there where I found myself bored, but I was quite engaged the majority of the film. Lucinda Coxon wrote the screenplay and I have to say that she delivered remarkably well. Such elegant language so beautifully written, which really made the two main characters really come alive; it definitely should have been nominated for an Oscar (once again, dumb Oscar politics). Alexandre Desplat composed the music, and big surprise I didn't really care for it, and also it wasn't that good. It came off as really tinkly and pretty; there wasn't any heartwarming themes or motifs, or soaring melodies that were as compelling as the characters. It was a fairly simplistic score. Danny Cohen who did the cinematography was breathtaking; the way the camera captured so many of the scenes and the action happening on the set was exquisite; it reminded me of art, like one of Degas' paintings of the dancing girls. Overall it was a remarkably well made film, and beautifully acted. However, the film is very heavy and difficult to watch. It's not a lucky go happy film at all, even though it really starts out that way, it doesn't end that way at all. It's kind of like The Hours in that regard; extraordinarily well done, but really depressing to watch. That's where I feel The Danish Girl fits in, and so while I may watch it again one day, it's not something I would watch very often. This film isn't everybody's cup of tea, but I do appreciate what that it makes people think and consider something different than their own perspective. And it does so not in a preachy way, but in a personal way. So if you like all of that stuff then I recommend you watch it, and if not, then perhaps you should watch it and just think; this is not a pure entertainment film, it makes one think, and that's what I liked about it.
So I just recently finished reading the biography of former U.S. President Andrew Jackson written by H.W. Brands. All I have to say is wow! I am surprised that man lived as long as he did considering what he survived. Both of his parents died when he was a young boy, and thus he forged his own way and destiny in life, and he fought (literally) tooth and nail to get to be President of the United States of America as the country's seventh president. There was a lot I found remarkable about the man, and I was actually surprised that I ended up liking him more than I ever used to. I would definitely rank him as one of the greatest U.S. presidents ever. Honestly there is so much to say about the man; the duels he fought in the name of honor, how he looked out for the men under his command, the beautiful love and devotion he had for his wife, his fierce determination, and perhaps what struck me the most was his relentless and never-ending defense of the union of the United States of America. If there was anything that stuck with me, it was how fervent he was of the U.S. always remaining together united under one flag despite all of the differences the states had with each other, especially in those days with slavery being legal. He almost went to war with South Carolina for whispers of succession from the union. He was not hesitant at all to attack Britain, Spain or France to protect the U.S., or even the Native Americans. Granted, like every U.S. presidents he had faults and made mistakes but he created a powerful legacy by championing and empowering the rural and average Americans. His election was truly the first time real every day, ordinary Americans got to vote and choose their president rather than the elites of the country doing the choosing for them, and this radical change from Republicanism to Democracy is still the tradition in today's voting. Actually, Jackson proposed an amendment to the Constitution to eliminate the Electoral College and just have a straight popular vote, but that didn't go anywhere much to many people's irritation today. So next, I'm moving onto Jackson's nemesis; John Quincy Adams. I would urge all Americans to read and study up on the U.S. Presidents; knowledge is power, and in these days the more one is armed with accurate knowledge, the more protected all Americans are from what former U.S. President J.Q. Adams described as the chaotic forces of democracy. God be with us all.

The Danish Girl scene

Alicia Vikander interview

Goodbye Christopher Robin trailer