Beauty and the Beast

March 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans
Directed by: Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”)
Written by: Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and Evan Spiliotopoulous (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”)

As impressive a pair of live-action adaptations Disney was able to churn out in the last two years with 2015’s “Cinderella” and 2016’s “The Jungle Book,” it would’ve seemed like the studio figured out a surefire way to take a beloved classic film and enliven it for audiences who never owned a copy of the original on VHS. In “Beauty and the Beast,” however, director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”) doesn’t seem very interested in producing a fresh take of the 1991 animated movie. In fact, in this re-imagining starring Emma Watson (“Harry Potter” franchise), it looks as if the most important thing to do was adhere to the film’s “tale as old as time” adage and commitment to nostalgia. If anything, “Beauty and the Beast” is too faithful.

There are a few liberties screenwriters Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and Evan Spiliotopoulous (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”) take in the narrative that don’t add much to the overall emotion of the story. The backstory of the Beast (Dan Stevens) get more screen time as we learn the fate of his mother before he is turned into a hideous castle-dwelling monster. Identity politics also come into play as this version of “B&B” introduces us to Disney’s fist gay character, LeFou (Josh Gad), who in the original Disney movie was Gaston’s buffoonish punching bag. In this one, he’s a lively flirt.

Waston is serviceable as the intelligent and innocent Belle, but her interaction with the Beast in the first half of the movie leaves much to be desired. Their relationship lacks because the Beast is missing all of the charm and charisma of his animated predecessor. Becoming computer generated has done no favors for the Beast and we’re left with a hollow shell of a character that used to feel genuine, emotionally complex and enchanting.

While the art direction is nearly flawless albeit a bit overly gaudy at times, scenes like the dance in the ballroom or the “Be Our Guest” performance don’t visually pop like they once did. And when it comes to the new music, none of the songs from “How Does a Moment Last Forever” to the quite lullaby-like melody “Days in the Sun” are not memorable.

Wonderful set pieces, costumes, and childhood memories aside, “Beauty and the Beast” is fairly unexceptional. If French author Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s traditional fairy tale has never crossed your radar before, it’s probably best to start with the one that came during Disney’s Renaissance period. It is, by far, the more romantic and entertaining of the two.

Mr. Holmes

July 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker
Directed by: Bill Condon (“Kinsey”)
Written by: Jeffrey Hatcher (“The Duchess”)

Nineteenth century writer Author Conan Doyles’ beloved sleuthing character Sherlock Holmes is revisited during his twilight years in “Mr. Holmes,” a sophisticated, sensitive and well-written drama featuring the brilliant detective at his most vulnerable, but still sharp enough to give audiences reason enough to care about what has become of the famous detective long after he’s stopped solving mysteries. Credit to two-time Oscar-nominated actor Ian McKellen (“Gods and Monsters”) for giving Holmes new life in a subtle and endearing manner. It’s a performance that takes an iconic character and humanizes him in a way literary fans will be pleased to see.

Directed by Bill Condon (“Kinsey,” “Dreamgirls”), who disappointed with “The Fifth Estate” after getting the “Twilight Saga” out of his system, “Mr. Holmes” rejoins the aging detective after he returns home from Japan in search of a plant with healing powers. Holmes is frail and his mind isn’t what it used to be. He is living out his quiet retirement secluded in his seaside home with his glum housekeeper Mrs. Munroe (Laura Linney) and her spirited young son Roger (Milo Parker), who takes a liking to Holmes as a grandfather figure. While Holmes is still pretty sharp at deducing, he’s happy enough just tending to his honey bees and spending his final years at rest. When Roger, however, rekindles thoughts of his final unsolved case, Holmes is thrust back into the past to reassess what really occurred during his final investigation, which ultimately led to his retirement.

Emotions come flooding back for Holmes during this time and there no one better to take those years of grief and refine them quite like McKellen. If anything, “Mr. Holmes” is an exploration of self, accepting what has been lost over the years and finding comfort in knowing the world is a better place because of your contribution to it. Robert Downey Jr. might’ve had more flair in his two recent action film adaptations in 2009 and 2011, as does Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC series, but one could argue McKellen’s Holmes is just as stylish. The character lends itself to him in such an intimate way and McKellen pays tribute by being impressive.

The Fifth Estate

October 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie
Directed by: Bill Condon (“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2”)
Written by: Josh Singer (debut)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been no stranger to the spotlight in recent years. Seizing seemingly every opportunity he has to strip away the layers of secrecy from some of the world’s most powerful institutions, Assange has, for better or worse, personally embodied WikiLeaks’ truth-telling mission. Though the saga is still very much ongoing, Hollywood has churned out a dramatization of the birth, growth, and prominence of Wikileaks and its eccentric founder in “The Fifth Estate.”

With an agenda of releasing the world’s most tightly guarded secrets, computer hacker Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) forms WikiLeaks, a website which anonymous whistleblowers can upload information and reveal dark truths about governments and corporations to anyone who desires them. In an effort to grow, Assange teams up with Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl) who shares his values in the freedom of information. After years of substantial leaks, the two find themselves sitting on one of the biggest information leaks in history. From there, it’s a battle of opposing views on whether releasing sensitive information is worth the potential endangerment of the lives of thousands of people.

The character of Assange proves to be fertile ground for Cumberbatch. He absorbs the role and is by far the strongest element of the film. He commands the screen every second he appears and effectively conveys the larger-than-life persona that Assange has cultivated, all while getting details such as his voice down to perfection. Bruhl is also strong as Daniel Berg, serving as somewhat of a moral compass to the WikiLeaks mission. Unfortunately, his character is bogged down by an unsatisfying romantic plot.

“The Fifth Estate” features a rather kinetic storytelling device that is scatterbrained and unnecessarily confusing. Besides globe jumping, the narrative of Assange is regularly interrupted by the introduction of smaller storylines and characters. Further complicating things is a subpar script that most frequently finds the Assange character speaking in maxims without providing any true substance behind his insistence on the freedom of information. There is also a visual device in the film that fails in its execution where this fantastical idea of Assange running the organization by himself materializes into scenes where Assange is found behind various nameplates in a warehouse of desks.

There will undoubtedly be a lot of comparisons to another WikiLeaks film that has been released this year, Alex Gibney’s documentary “We Steal Secrets.” As another exhaustive look at Assange through the years, Gibney’s film hit its most interesting points when touching on the topics of the leaks of the U.S. military bombing of civilians by Bradley Manning (now known as Chelsea) and the subsequent Afghan War Logs, the name given to the biggest U.S. military intelligence leak to date. “The Fifth Estate” barely touches on the fascinating look at Manning and his motives, and also ignores Assange’s accusations of sexual assault, the main reason that he currently remains sequestered in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. It is no surprise that the most engaging and riveting sections of “The Fifth Estate” come in the wake of the release of the Afghan War Logs, which makes the decision to devote such a small section of the film to it even more puzzling.

The debate on the morality and stance on WikiLeaks and the war on information is a divisive one, and one that continues to this day. Regardless of your stance, the details of the sources of the leaks are fascinating topics that this film merely glosses over. “The Fifth Estate” strives to get into the motives, ego, and eccentricities of Assange but never does. Cumberbatch is fantastic here, but those looking for true insight and the full story of Assange and WikiLeaks are better off searching out the documentary instead.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2

November 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner
Directed by: Bill Condon (“Breaking Dawn – Part 1,” “Dreamgirls”)
Written by: Melissa Rosenberg (“Breaking Dawn – Part 1”)

We made it, everyone! The end of “The Twilight Saga” is here! Husbands and boyfriends across the nation can rest easy knowing that, at least for now, the ham-handed, crushingly-romantic gothic nightmare adaptations are finally drawing to a close. The final chapter, “Breaking Dawn — Part 2” picks up where it’s terrible, interminable predecessor left off: with Bella Cullen’s (Kristen Stewart) awakening as a vampire. After her marriage to sparkly bloodsucker Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) results in a dangerously destructive pregnancy, Edward “turns” Bella while in labor in order to save her life. When the half-human/half-vampire baby is born, shape-shifting wolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) “imprints” on her, meaning the newborn is destined to become Jacob’s soulmate. Um…

Anyway, when the dust settles, wolf-Jacob, Bella, and her rapidly-aging daughter Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy) are spotted by distant Cullen cousin Irina (Maggie Grace), who mistakes the girl for an “immortal child,” an uncontrollable vampire turned too young. Such a thing has been forbidden, and Irina reports this broken law to the Volturi, the old-school velvet-caped, scroll-reading vampire clan led by Aro (an hilariously crazy Michael Sheen) and Jane (Dakota Fanning, wasted again). The Volturi set out to destroy Renesmee in order to protect the future vampires everywhere while the Cullens and their associates prepare to defend the young girl with both testimony and battle.

As with the first film, “Part 2” visibly strains under the pressure that came with splitting the final book of the series into two separate movies. After a game-changing introduction following newborn vampire Bella hunting both cougars and oblivious mountain climbers, the film settles in for a bloated, muddy middle act featuring the cast sitting around and waiting for the ultimate battle to come. Various half-cooked vampire allies trickle in along the way, each sporting shoddy make-up and a store-brand superpower seemingly stolen from lesser members of the X-Men. The series has never fully realized its potential when it comes to mythologizing its vampires, and this blown opportunity to expand its ranks with some cool, non-mopey badasses isn’t surprising, but it’s still disappointing.

Familiar problems still haunt the series, even with four massive blockbusters under its belt. The special effects remain frustratingly shoddy at times, such as the vampires’ super speed or the nightmare-inducing CGI baby Renesmee head stuck on a real child’s body.  The giant Quileute wolves don’t look great either, but the trade-off for that is less screen time for Lautner and the other terribly wooden actors that play human characters.

All is nearly forgiven, though, when the truly batshit climax unspools. I won’t spoil it here, but howls of laughter and gasps of horror give way to an amazingly inventive twist that, frankly, I didn’t think I’d ever see the likes of in a “Twilight” movie. Credit returning director Bill Condon and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg since, tellingly, it’s here that the film deviates sharply from the source novel. If only that had been tried 4⅔’s movies ago.

Breaking Dawn – Part 1

November 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner
Directed by: Bill Condon (“Kinsey,”)
Written by:  Melissa Rosenberg (“The Twilight Saga: New Moon”)

If you’re like me, a male in his early thirties, your introduction to the “Twilight” series of books  came by way of a wife or girlfriend who became utterly obsessed with them, swooning over the overlong tales of Bella Swan, the unremarkable teenage girl everyone loves for some reason, and her romance with Edward Cullen, the handsome, eternally-teenaged vampire who falls madly in love with her, again for reasons unknown, and the love triangle it creates when Native American werewolf Jacob Black also falls in love with Bella because, hey, why not?

If your significant other was anything like my ex-girlfriend, she was so taken with these crappy novels written for teenage girls that she started to buy into the idea of epic romance and glared at you with disgust because yeah, maybe you did practical stuff for her like scrape the ice off her windshield on cold mornings, but you weren’t punching werewolves in the face to save her life like Edward was. Never mind the fact that she was damn near 30 years old, she wanted some chiseled, dangerous, sparkly-skinned creature of fantasy to profess his undying love for her, not some regular guy with oily skin.

As far as the “Twilight” movies go, the filmmakers have so far done little to attract people who weren’t already pre-disposed to liking the books (read: men).  Stocked with attractive-yet-terrible “actors” and peppered with crummy special effects, the films deviated little from the novels, content with just puking the prose onto the screen with little regard for how stupid much of it looked and sounded when performed by real human beings. Sure, the fans of the book series ate them up, making them huge hits at the box office, but none of the films have actually been any good. But at least they weren’t as skull-crushingly terrible as “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1” is.

The movie opens with the cast preparing for the wedding of human teenager Bella (Kristen Stewart) to dashing vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson). Of course this angers Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who hilariously rips his shirt off in a rage during a rainstorm after hurling the wedding invitation to the ground. After he phases into a werewolf and runs away 15 seconds into the movie, everything grinds to a halt. In what is clearly an effort to make people pay to see another whole film next year, the decision was made to divide the final book of the series into two movies. The result is a movie that moves so slowly it threatens to go back in time.

Director Bill Condon (“Kinsey,” “Dreamgirls”) fills the first hour of the movie with narrative molasses like an interminable wedding scene that feels like it takes place in real time and a honeymoon scene that features our main characters playing chess, whereas the second hour ramps up the insanity while still moving at a snail’s pace. It’s tough to accomplish, but “Breaking Dawn Part 1” manages to make truly crazy things like life-sucking demon fetuses, arguing wolves (!),  and vampire C-sections completely and totally boring.

The title of the movie is a threat. Consider the phrase “Part 1” to be a dire warning that “Part 2” is coming.