The Greatest Show On Earth

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…spoilers await below…

Slowly, but surely, I am beginning to tolerate select horror flicks — thus far, I’ve been able to withstand the shocks of Sleepy Hollow (1998), The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, but when I see a horror movie, it has to be more than blood and gore. What I look for are relatable characters and a solid story. The aforementioned three had all that, and so does 2017’s feature film remake of It, the Stephen King story that terrorized a generation.

This iteration moves the year to the 1980’s, remaining in Derry, a New England hamlet, where horror besets its children. Kids of all ages go missing unexpectedly from an unknown menace, and the adults in the community don’t give half a damn, so a group of kids, rejects from their school and families, take it upon themselves to defeat this threat once and for all — but can they confront what they fear in the process?

To those who don’t know, the titular “It” is commonly shown in the form of the utterly terrifying Pennywise, the dancing clown — straight out of the pages of your deepest nightmares and masterfully portrayed by Bill Skarsgård (True Blood), this is a villain like no other, and easily ousts Tim Curry’s portrayal from the 1990 miniseries. True, while Skarsgård owes his character to Curry’s portrayal, the former plays him in a less wordy manner – he speaks with his actions more often than his voice, which is higher than Curry’s, giving him a persona akin to a child molester; quite apropos for the role. Further, the design for Pennywise is also strikingly different — gone is the Bozo knockoff of the 1990 version and instead is one akin to a Victorian court jester. Some would say that contradicts the resetting to the 1980’s; I think it only helps the nightmarish, otherworldly look of Pennywise — a child’s fears usually are of things before their time. Speaking of, also amazing are the child actors, most of them newcomers, all of whom are fantastic as the members of the Losers’ Club. What I found fascinating about their characters is that they each have something that they’re scarred by — Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) lost his brother to Pennywise and has a stammering problem; Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is bullied for being overweight; Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is suspected as a child prostitute and under the control of a molester father, and so on — not one of these characters is innocent, but it only makes them stronger and deeper in their convictions, and they’re all played as human as possible, and that speaks volumes of their acting talents.

The film’s director, Andy Muschetti, famed for having directed the surprise 2013 horror hit Mama, has truly reinvented the crowded field of Stephen King adaptations, most of them beneath contempt. Unlike this year’s first King “adaptation,” The Dark Tower, Muschetti fought tooth and nail, with the aid of this film’s producers, to include more of the novel verbatim in this film. In spite of the loss of the famed “Ritual of Chüd” sequence, this movie still soars, and earned the admiration of Stephen King himself — such praise is very rare for obvious reasons.

It should be noted that the movie doesn’t end here. Those familiar with the novel and/or miniseries will know that the story has two parts to it, and this film is no different. At the end, though the opening title card reads “It,” we are shown the film’s full title before the end credits: “It: Chapter One.” A daring move, to be sure, and no sequel was greenlit at the time of completion, but judging by the Thursday numbers as of this writing, our heroes will rise again to destroy the proverbial “It,” once and for all. I, for one, can hardly wait for Chapter Two to release. Welcome to the Losers’ Club!

Rating: 5/5

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Like A Bolt Out Of The Blue

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While Marvel Studios has been, on average, going strong in the feature film market, television is another matter – Agents of SHIELD has become little more than The Marvel Easter Egg Hunt, and the Netflix shows amount to an R-rated version of the former. Agent Carter was fabulous, but as it was cancelled in its second season, we will likely never know its full potential. That being said, Marvel’s latest venture, Inhumans, holds great potential for both their life on the air and the future of television.

On the hidden lunar kingdom of Attilan, the race of Inhumans have made their home, ruled peacefully by a watchful king, Black Bolt (Anson Mount, Hell on Wheels), and loving Queen, Medusa (Serinda Swan, TRON: Legacy). However, insurrection becomes the order of the day when Black Bolt’s jealous brother, Maximus (Iwan Rheon, Game of Thrones), leads a coup for the throne. With the aid of Princess Crystal (Isabelle Cornish, Australia Day) and her teleporting giant dog, Lockjaw (work with me), they escape to Hawaii, where they find themselves ill-equipped to Earth’s limitations, all while being hunted by the illegitimate occupant of their throne.

Even though it began as a feature film — a release date, an attached star (Groot himself, Vin Diesel, as Black Bolt) and everything — Inhumans works well as a series thus far, with a very early 90’s feel to it, reminiscent of the first two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but its first two episodes move slowly as a feature, something that will surely flow better on the small screen in installments. Whether this is a result of padding a feature film script or standard operating procedure at ABC (the answer is yes), it’s a minor gripe compared to its two big advantages.

Number one is its cast, led by Anson Mount as Black Bolt — to play a literal strong, silent type could be suicide for an actor, but Mount’s characterization of Bolt is resilient, yet charming — at least, for a character whose voice can level cities. In truth, he isn’t entirely silent — Mount, the showrunners and several ASL experts concocted a sign language that he uses to communicate, something not even thought of in the comics. I look forward to seeing the King of Attilan learning actual ASL, if for nothing more than awareness’ sake! Medusa, on the other, a source of fear for comic devotees due to visual effects seen in the trailers, needn’t worry about the effects, nor Serinda Swan’s portrayal of the Attilanian Queen. She’s not a standout performer just yet in the series — not all shows start off on the best foot — but the romance between her and Black Bolt is palpable; beautiful, even. By the end, you’ll be a shipper. A surprising addition to the cast is Ken Leung (Keeping The Faith) as the royal visionary, Karnak (“Zim-Zallah-Bim,” Johnny Carson) — I knew he was cast, but his powers are impressive and, in this fan’s eyes, may tie into the MCU at large sooner than we think. I mean, is it any coincidence that his powers bear a design similar to spells in the Mystic Arts (see also: Doctor Strange)? We shall see.

Number two is the technical merits behind the show — famously billed as the first show filmed with IMAX cameras and showing only in IMAX theaters ahead of its debut on ABC, this is the most polished and gorgeous show I’ve seen produced by network television! Visual effects, particularly Lockjaw himself, shine with no trace of green screen or cut corners — are you watching, Once Upon A Time? — and in an IMAX theater, sound is bounding — every crash, every stab and every slam of a hoof is amplified with gusto in IMAX Sound. Bravo; can we have more network shows in IMAX?

Yes, the show is bogged down with some gripes — everyone above the pay grade of an extra has to be pretty as per ABC tradition — even people in the lower caste of Attilan are pretty, which kind of defeats the purpose, story wise. ABC, please hire actors with less than perfect teeth, facial deformities and Autism in all your roles with no corrections. Call yourself inclusive, eh? Minor gripes include Isabelle Cornish, a bit of a teenage weak link thus far as Crystal, but I hope I’ll be proven wrong as I was with Agents of SHIELD‘s FitzSimmons, and Iwan Rheon is a bit dry as Maximus, but I’ve never seen his work on Game of Thrones, or any episodes of the aforementioned, but again, let’s let these actors find their groove in the MCU.

Thus far, Inhumans is imperfect, but few shows are right out of the gate. Heck, Star Trek: The Next Generation took three seasons to kick it into gear, and with any luck, Marvel’s Royal Family will triumph before its eight episode limit! To your health, my King & Queen!

Rating: 3/5

 

 

Oh, What A Girl Can Do!

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Nostalgia comes in great waves today, with all manner of films revisiting classic themes — from Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 to War for the Planet of the Apes, Hollywood is, more accurately, in a nostalgic monsoon, but in the case of this week’s new release, Atomic Blonde, we have said nostalgia tailored for an R-rated audience. This movie belongs to the 80’s kids and their parents, but with the modern sensibility of a commanding female lead who owns the show.

Based on the comic book The Coldest City, the story is set in November 1989, days before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) plays MI6 Agent Lorraine Broughton, a super-spy at the top of her line, sent on an extraction mission to East Berlin. With the help of ridiculously rogue agent David Percival (James McAvoy, Split), she must locate a stolen list of active operatives in the Secret Service, or it’s game over for the free world.

Let’s not mince words — this film is an audio/visual feast, showing wanton violence with an almost poetic look to it, and yet the action is surprisingly grounded, given director David Leitch’s background with the John Wick movies. The sound is not as invasive as I thought it would be — while bullets fly above your head, you can still hear the dialogue clearly, all set to a litany of 80’s pop songs for much of its soundtrack. All that being said, the script isn’t much to write home about — too many curveballs are thrown into the works; even the viewer begins to doubt what is true or not. There are at least three twist endings, one of which you see coming miles away, so that’s no good.

Despite the handicap of the script, the acting is brilliant — If you expected hammy acting amidst a violent script, you’ll be proven wrong, but anyone expecting a cold-blooded feminist blockbuster tailored for the “reSister” of today will get something wholly other — Theron plays Lorraine more as a femme Timothy Dalton-era James Bond — one who would snap your neck like a twig for Queen and Country, all while wearing a coy smile on her face. She owns the screen on which the movie plays, but in any lesser situation, the requisite male lead would be mere eye candy. Thankfully, such is not the case here — co-star McAvoy brings the perturbing filth one usually sees in the movies he makes across the pond to a mass-market American release, and he owns his character with disgusting pleasure. Notable supporting cast members include John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane), bringing a shot of humor into the film as a bumbling CIA agent, James Faulkner (Downton Abbey) as C, Lorraine’s superior and head of MI6, and Sofia Boutella (The Mummy) in a role that, if I told you, would spoil the movie.

Atomic Blonde is not very good, but it’s no sin to see it — it’s a fun film that, while it won’t quite scratch the itch of those begging for a female 007, is a symphonic example of an action film, embodying the best of Guy Hamilton and Robert Rodriguez, set to the tunes of liberation. That is what we came to see, is it not?

Rating: 3/5

Keep Calm & Carry On

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Now that he’s done with his The Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan has been knocking it out of the park with original cinema – Interstellar brought a Kubrick-level odyssey to revitalize the new space race, and with the newly-released Dunkirk, he has brought one of the greatest war epics ever made.

The movie is not dependent on star power or acting in general — true, while English stars like Kenneth Branagh (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Tom Hardy (Bronson), James D’Arcy (Cloud Atlas) and Harry Styles are in this film, they are mere faces in this sprawling landscape, and that’s 100 percent how it should be. This is all about emotions in the heat of escape while the enemy surrounds you like a massive Wolfpack. The script, also written by Christopher Nolan, portrays this accurately, but those fearing it is a drawn-out affair needn’t — this is his second shortest film (next to his debut, Following), running about 1 hour, 47 minutes. Nothing is stretched for dramatic effect; if you were in this moment, this is how those around you would act.

In addition to writing and directing, Nolan proudly shot the film entirely on Kodak 70MM stock, with some shots filmed in IMAX 70MM film, and when seen in either format on a curved screen, the film is engrossing, practically enveloping you in the flying bullets, the rising seawater and the bombs hitting the sand — and they say film is dead! Composer Hans Zimmer (The Lion King) also puts pedal to metal and brings an enthralling score that incorporates sounds akin to airplanes and air raid sirens — he’s leagues above the “bwaaaaaaahm-BWAAAAAAAAAHMMMMMM” of The Dark Knight Rises. Be forewarned, though — you may never hear the ticking of a watch the same way again.

Dunkirk is more than one of the best films of the year so far, it’s one of the finest made about World War II, ranking alongside Hacksaw Ridge, They Were Expendable and Schindler’s List. Herein, haste is the order of the day and survival is victory. However, in the hysteria of war, there is a prevailing message the film sends, one of putting service before self. There truly is no hiding from the horrors of war, and as such, I do hope that Dunkirk does well, from this summer to the Oscars. Hell, I say show it to the U.S. Congress!

Rating: 5/5

Up The Water Spout

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Yet another movie from Sony releases this summer that is set in New York and is perfectly content with wasting its cast and crew on a scum-tier script — with six writers (?!) to its name, no less. I am talking about Spider-Man: Homecoming, and it ain’t glowing with praise. First things first; don’t let the title fool you — the movie has jack and squat to do with the fate of the Winter Soldier, last seen cryo-frozen in Wakanda in Captain America: Civil War. This is, instead, an attempt at writing an Marvel Cinematic Universe-style coming-of-age story that feels less like Marvel’s The Breakfast Club and more like their John Tucker Must Die.

I won’t give you the plot here, because if you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve already seen a better movie. Here is usually where I’d like to blame the director wholeheartedly, but I can’t do that in full — Jon Watts, known for work in comedies like the reboot of National Lampoon’s Vacation, directs this sextuplet script with a great eye for action scenes that isn’t usually possible with comedic directors — he brings to mind Peyton Reed’s vision on Ant-Man, which was a stunner. Speaking of the stunning, the lead cast members new to the MCU are terrific, with Tom Holland (The Lost City of Z) finally proving his mettle as both Peter Parker and the titular web-slinger — he is no longer the insufferable teen who looks like Jamie Bell’s stand-in once seen in Civil War. I love him more than I do the movie, and I say the same of the equally spectacular Michael Keaton (Batman Returns) as Adrian Toomes, alias the Vulture. Where his character’s development and dialogue fails (he decides to become evil because he loses a contracting job?), Keaton takes over, making sure to craft a memorable villain in spite of the phoned-in script. Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) is charming as ever as Peter’s Aunt May, also making the best out of asstastic material (Thai food jokes, guys? You’re bordering on racism.).

Supporting actors are hit-or-miss — hits include relative newcomer Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds, Peter’s best and only friend who has a bit of a loose tongue. He’s charming and hilarious without a trace of appearing insufferable. Laura Harrier (4th Man Out) is adorable as Liz, Peter’s classmate due for graduation who has a crush on his alter ego. Misses in this movie sadly outnumber the hits — pop star Zendaya plays lonely brainiac classmate Michelle. She claims to have no friends, aces at the academic challenge team and draws — if they gave her a smoking habit, they’d have John Hughes doing the twist in his grave. Tony Revolori (Dope) is too short and scrawny to play Peter’s bully-in-chief, Flash Thompson — I’m serious, he looks like the Wimpy Kid drawing! I eat punks like him for breakfast; here’s hoping he’s recast when the sequel comes ’round, preferably by someone with a six-pack.

The movie’s major offense is in how it portrays the MCU’s returning cast members. I’m sick of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark already; why must he be a total bitch? I hate him as Civil War portrayed him, why would I want to see more of that? He claims that Peter shouldn’t try to do Avenger-level things, but why not, I say? Tony alienated the team, so he needs all the help he can get. Story-wise, this is a giant middle finger down the throat of all who loved these characters since the beginning; I, for one, can’t wait for the Iron Man armor to be worn by another actor playing a different character.

There are few things to love about Spidey’s return to Marvel, but I do hold out hope for a sequel capped at two writers and with no more decimation of what people loved about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If anyone from Marvel is (still) reading, know this — you’re killing the golden goose; in the end, you’ll have the gold but not the brains to keep it laying. More’s the pity if you break its neck.

Rating: 1.5/5

What I’ve Done

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I’m going to try and keep this review as brief as possible.

On average, I adored the Transformers movies thus far — I saw the first installment in  high school, and every movie gave me cause to joyously regress to that fat, pimply kid and enjoy the candy corn that was the best toy movie franchise ever made. Sadly, there comes a point when a boy must mature into a man; for me, that moment came hours ago, when I saw Transformers: The Last Knight.

Filmed almost entirely in IMAX 3D, Michael Bay’s swansong to his time in the toy department makes use of the immersive format like nothing I’ve seen before, but if only more time was spent in the much-publicized writers’ room. Rest assured it’s not the ghastly hodgepodge that the second film, Revenge of the Fallen, was, but boy oh boy, is it uninspired. Then again, what could one expect of a group of writers headed by Akiva Goldsman, whose brainchildren include Batman & RobinWinter’s Tale and The Da Vinci Code? Speaking of uninspired, most of the human actors present in this film are somewhere between giving it their all and collecting a paycheck — Marky-Mark patently wants out, Isabela Moner is charming but sparsely seen, Anthony Hopkins and Laura Haddock are having too much fun, and Josh Duhamel… next.

The biggest offenders in this film are the sound editors and mixers — if this film had a middle name, it would be “bombastic.” Even for an IMAX-optimized movie, it’s deafness-inducing, and the last thing I want after seeing a movie is to be fitted with hearing aids — no Oscar nods for any of y’all.

Though The Last Knight is meh than meets the eye, I still hold a tiny glimmer of hope for the four-friggin-teen Transformers movies and spin-offs in development, so here’s hoping the Bayhem has met its end at the hands of coherence.

Rating: 2/5

Drink Up, Me Hearties, Yo Ho!

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HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is something of a brilliant fluke that printed lots of money and occasional awards in its heyday, but let’s not mince words — the sequels thus far, made with the potential of being a seafaring Star Wars saga, were land-locked crap. With the much-publicized “final film” that was released last week, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, I was hoping with bated breath for one last hurrah to make amends for the sequels that sucked. Having seen it, patience is clearly a virtue!

In this film, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, Alice Through The Looking-Glass) is a battered ol’ drunkie, with little to sustain him but the next rum bottle that touches his lips. Fate (read: sheer dumb luck) brings him into contact with Henry Turner (Brenton Twaites, Maleficent), the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) and Elizabeth Swann (Kiera Knightley, The Imitation Game), and he brings with him a threat from the ghostly Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men) and a desire to free his father from unending servitude. Teaming up with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario, The Maze Runner), a young astronomer accused of witchcraft, and Jack’s resident frenemy, Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech), they seek the Trident of Poseidon, an artifact capable of freeing anyone from a curse of the sea.

In all seriousness, this is not the best Pirates movie in the series — it does, however, have the luxury of being the best one since the immaculate original. Depp, as always, blends into character as if no years have passed, with all the wit and twit we love about Captain Jack, and yet this is not just his movie — just about everyone gets a chance to shine, with Thwaites finally beginning to prove his mettle as an actor beyond a pretty face and a haircut, and Bardem embodying all the creepy he had in Skyfall with a bit of a dark comedic edge to it. At times, Rush seems to be fulfilling a contract, but he brings all the necessary “arrr” to the role he created in 2002. Scodelario isn’t as bright in her role as I hoped she’d be, but she’s clearly having a good time making a costume drama in the company of great people. Speaking of, Sir Paul McCartney (A Hard Day’s Night), a Beatle in the flesh, appears as Jack’s uncle and namesake — try not to miss him!

Fresh eyes arrive to the series in the form of seasoned action directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Kon Tiki), giving a stronger sense of action choreography and an ability to see the beauty in locations, something they exhibited as producers on Netflix’s Marco Polo, but the real beauty of this movie is in its having a new writer — Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can). In addition to bringing a fresh eye, relatively unbound to the conventions of the previous sequels, and while there are rehashed lines and some plot holes, he seems to know exactly what the fans want, and in the end, he gives it to us — not only are Henry and Carina lovers by the end, Will and Elizabeth, longstanding mainstays of the series, are finally, definitively reunited in an ending that, while it should have been that of the third film, is warranted, welcome and warmed my greasy little heart to 450ºF! Bravo!

In its last-ditch effort for a return to form, this final Pirates largely succeeds. The script is definitely riddled with clichés; the acting ranges from nominal to yuckin’-it-up, but in the end, the franchise has met a graceful end and its fans, myself included, have finally gotten the happy ending that we deserved! So do yourself a favor and board a ship for a joyous voyage in 3D at your earliest convenience!

Rating: 3.5/5

I’d Like To Do It Again

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I grew up on stuff that meant nothing to my generation — from vintage comedies to Victrola records, my house was in 1950 while 1997 happened in the outside world. As a direct result, I was alienated from most of my class, but I did acquire a, dare I say, more refined sense of humor compared to my contemporaries. That being said, not enough comedies in theaters today make me laugh — I tend to groan throughout (Superbad) or take the story dead seriously (Tropic Thunder), so I rarely see them in theaters. In point of fact, the last one I saw as such was 2012’s Hit & Run, and I guffawed all the way through. Almost five years later, I found myself seeing Going In Style, and loving it from head to toe!

A remake of the 1979 film of the same name, Going In Style showcases the lives of three friends in their sunset years — Joe (Michael Caine, The Italian Job), Willie (Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption) and Albert (Alan Arkin, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming!) — robbed of their pensions and near broke. With no other way to live and expenses needing to be paid, Joe gets the idea to rob a bank — the same bank that managed the liquidation of their pensions. It does sound extremely dumb in synopsis form, and while the trailers paint a better picture than my words, they don’t do it enough justice — this is a very cute, touching film that happens to have some of the best laugh-out-loud moments I’ve ever seen (and the best ones are actually kept from the trailer! Bravo!)! Caine, Freeman and Arkin have never been funnier, and they’re joined by a grand cast of co-stars — among them, Ann-Margret (Bye Bye Birdie), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), Matt Dillon (Over The Edge), Siobhan Fallon Hogan (Holes) and Joey King (Oz: The Great and Powerful), each one getting a moment or two in the spotlight that make them indispensable to this film. No one present in this film is an unnecessary addition, which is something I can’t say about most movies in history.

Still, when the movie gets sentimental, it never stoops to sappy, Mitch Albom-y levels. It’s a movie made for the generation who grew up on the Billy Wilder compendium of comedies; movies that weren’t afraid to fiddle with your heartstrings as they tickled your funnybone, and that is made all the more impressive by its 42-year old director, Zach Braff. Known as the man behind romantic dramedies such as Garden State and The Last Kiss. Braff’s direction is a loving one, kind and courteous to the audiences watching this film with no real alternatives in a day and age of uninspired drivel like Trainwreck and Neighbors. There is no other movie this year like Going In Style — it’s a trip down Memory Lane that never takes its foot off the gas. True, it does slow down a bit in its third act, and that’s a bit of a pity, but on average, it’s a rollicking, fun ride through the pitfalls of old age.

Let’s be clear, Going In Style is not Oscar bait, despite advertisements billing its leads as “Academy Award Winners,” but it’s not made for the Hollywood elite, nor the moviegoer expecting to see The Hangover on Ensure; it’s a comedy that isn’t afraid to be poignant and adorable. You just don’t get movies like that anymore, and kudos to Zach Braff and all affiliated — this is a love letter from our generation to the past.

4.5/5

Perfect, A Pure Paragon

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If you are as much of a Disney fan as I (few are), then the thought of a live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast gave you cause to salivate — one that kept the songs and its composer, eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken! I was sold, but as the days to release got closer, I found myself getting more and more cautious — suppose the end result sucked, a la Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables? I am proud and thankful to say that this adaptation, directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls), is nothing short of brilliant. I write this review assuming that you are familiar with the base of the story (and you had better be!), and as such, spoilers follow.

One thing viewers of the 1993 Broadway show may not be aware of is that none of the songs written for said show carry over into this film, but fear not, as Menken and lyricist Sir Tim Rice write new songs that both make up for the missing ones and craft a new experience for the viewers of the show. Speaking of the songs, the movie is filled with brilliant performances, beginning with the Harry Potter franchise’s Emma Watson, who can sing, rest assured, and in spite of her promoted desire to modernize Belle, I was, as a feminist, glad to have seen her more resolute than openly militant — we’re bordering on the political, but I’m super happy this wasn’t rewritten as “Steinem and the Beast.” Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) makes a brilliant Beast, with one hell of a set of pipes — his signature number, “Evermore,” brought tears to my eyes, but it’s Luke Evans (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) who brings his latent background in musical theatre to the forefront and aces the role of Gaston with a great voice and the right levels of smarm, condescension and cruelty — just the right type of villain! Acting as his toady is Josh Gad (Back To You) as LeFou, who gets a larger story arc in this version, which fleshes him out without totally changing him. Kevin Kline (Silverado), as Belle’s father Maurice, brings a befuddled persona to the character, reminiscent of Buster Keaton in Richard Lester’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, with an equally kind nature requisite of the character. He doesn’t get much of a song — less than two minutes — but his necessity isn’t in his singing, and you’ll find out when you see this.

The servile characters of the castle just about steal the show, with Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!) and Ian McKellen (Cold Comfort Farm) leading the pack as Lumiere and Cogsworth, respectively. With great singing voices (although Sir Ian doesn’t get to show his much), they make “Be Our Guest” a showstopper even better than the original (there’s even a visual nod to Esther Williams’ swim ballet pictures!)! Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) is adorable and kindly as Mrs. Potts, with a more knowledgeable nature than in the animated film, and alongside her is relative newcomer Nathan Mack as Chip, who is freakin’ adorkable. Here’s to your long career, boy!

Underplayed, but still appreciated, are Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Concussion) as Plumette, the featherduster and Lumiere’s flame (…groan…), Audra MacDonald (A Raisin in the Sun) as Madame de Garderobe, a soprano-cum-wardrobe, and Stanley Tucci (The Whole Shebang) as new character Maestro Cadenza, a court composer turned harpsichord. They each get their moment to shine, to be sure, but a little more couldn’t hurt. Still, not a big enough gripe to warrant a lesser grade.

Again, those fearing too much modernization in this edition need not worry — what wasn’t broke (or baroque) in the 1991 classic mercifully remains unfixed in this version. Sure, there’s the much-publicized “gay-making” of LeFou, but if it wasn’t publicized, I guarantee nobody would have even suspected it. It’s mercurial, and those of a discriminatory position needn’t fear their children’s safety — you never needed to anyway. Other plot points that warranted expansion are done brilliantly so, from the whereabouts of Belle’s mother and what happened to the Enchantress, and that speaks volumes of the talents of writers Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being A Wallflower) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Huntsman: Winter’s War), both writers I didn’t care much for prior to this, and director Bill Condon, who may have directed both parts of the Twilight saga closer, Breaking Dawn, but aside from giving him experience in visual effects work, there’s nothing resembling those two duds in this film.

Bravo to all involved in this adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, who have created something as memorable as the musical and film that preceded it. It’s a pity it wasn’t released in time for last Oscar season, but it was better they take care of the film and not rush a single thread. I will happily see it again in IMAX 3D, and I urge all readers of this to see it too!

Rating: 5/5(?!)

It Ain’t Necessarily So

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Too often, films are left to rot – virtually the entire pantheon of silent films and most early Technicolor musicals are either missing in part or full due to negligence for future generations. It’s also common for the original negatives of 70mm epics to be lost to time and carelessness – from The Alamo to The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, it’s truly a crime to let art dissipate like this. However, some films are neglected due to hatred or disappointment, and sadly, Otto Preminger’s Porgy and Bess is one such a film to have lost its original TODD-AO camera negative, but not all hope is lost.

I had become fascinated with Preminger’s Porgy when I was browsing through the director’s filmography on IMDb — to think that the white director of Anatomy of a Murder did an almost all-black musical. As I dug further, I found that not all went well with the production, the history of which can be read in historian Foster Hirsch’s book, Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King, or on the film’s Wikipedia page. Altogether, the film was blackballed by the Hollywood intelligentsia and the NAACP, rendering it a flop and almost forgotten. The rights to the film were split threefold between the estates of the Gershwins, DuBose Heyward and Samuel Goldwyn, rendering any re-releases impossible, even on Turner Classic Movies.

Sheer dumb luck led me to a screening of the film at the Cleveland Institute of Art’s Cinemateque last November, and I was ecstatic. The screening was beyond sold out – numerous pop-up seats had to be added to the theater to accommodate demand – and aforementioned biographer Foster Hirsch was at hand, explaining the history behind the film as well as the print used for the screening. It was a 35mm positive from a Finnish film festival, laden with Dutch and Finnish subtitles, and with more than occasional short jumps in the soundtrack — it broke my greasy little heart, and yet I was still blown away.

The film is shot in long, panning takes, exposing the beauty and intricacies of the Catfish Row set, with a very saturated color scheme that brings to mind a Fragonard painting. Further, orchestrations by André Previn of the classic songs are masterful – from “Summertime” to the Finale Ultimo, I hung upon every note. Some may not like the fact that it was filmed on sets, or that the recitative is converted to spoken word, but truly, I feel it keeps the staged quality of the show while bringing it to the level of the general public without pandering for compromise.

Paramount among every facet of the film is the acting and singing. Sydney Poitier (Lillies of the Field) plays Porgy, a role he resents playing to this day, with grace and kindness, but also with the requisite strength we expect from an actor of his caliber, even if his singing is performed by Robert McFerrin (side note: this film has excellent sound-alike casting!). Dorothy Dandridge (Carmen Jones) plays Bess, Porgy’s woman with a past always returning to haunt her, and does it extremely well, especially due to the duress she was under during filming. Oddly enough, the singing Dandridge was dubbed by Adele Addison, due to the role being out of her range. Still, the casting holds well.

Supporting women include Pearl Bailey (The Fox & The Hound) as Maria, a restaurant owner on Catfish Row and friend to most everyone — and she gets some of the best slapstick moments I’ve ever seen — and Diahann Carrol (Claudine) as Clara, who opens the film with “Summertime.” Amazingly, two of the background dancers include author Maya Angelou and Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek: The Motion Picture)!

Supporting men are headlined by Brock Peters (To Kill A Mockingbird), playing decidedly against type as Crown, Bess’ abusive lover, and veteran character actor Clarence Muse (Broadway Bill) has a small part as Peter, the honey-man. The standout player, however, is Sammy Davis Jr. (Robin and the Seven Hoods) as Sportin’ Life, in a role he was thrilled to play, and it shows! His energy was so infectious that by the end of his standout number, It Ain’t Necessarily So, the audience was applauding and cheering! He further has all the smarm and calculated malice of a cobra in There’s A Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon for New York. It’s a crime he didn’t get an Oscar for this role, and it’s even sadder that his voice is not heard on the soundtrack LP, due to contract issues.

Sadly, the film was a bomb at the box office, and neither the Gershwins, Heyward or Goldwyn enjoyed the final product. The original negative is worn-out and just about gone, but thanks to Foster Hirsch, the film was given a new lease on life in 2007, when he negotiated a 35mm screening in New York City, with Brock Peters in attendance. Hirsch was also instrumental in getting the film rescued by the Library of Congress, who possess a 70mm positive of the film, and since the film is so hard to screen, the Cleveland screening got by because Dorothy Dandridge was a Clevelander and it was the 50th anniversary of the Cinemateque! How’s that for luck?

Hirsch was on hand during the intermission and after the film to answer any questions. In conversing with him, he mentioned that he was entering talks with Criterion to try and get the respective parties to allow a home video release. Here’s hoping, and I leave you all with a quote from Foster Hirsch, which he said just before the film started:

“I was having lunch with [Stephen] Sondheim the other day, and he told me, ‘When the world ends, nothing I’ve done will mean anything! Nothing in Musical Theatre will mean anything… except for one work, and that is Porgy and Bess!'”