Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Disney Studios continues to churn out remake after remake of their classic animated features and Beauty and the Beast is the latest of these remakes. But the live feature has a lot to live up to, especially since it is a remake of the classic Best Picture nominated film. Although the film is beautiful and well told, it doesn’t live up to the Best Picture status of the original film.

Release Date: March 17, 2017
Writer: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewen McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Kline, Audra McDonald

Based directly on the 1991 animated classic, Beauty and the Beast is the story of a prince (Dan Stevens), who is transformed into a beast because he was selfish and showed no mercy or love to an old beggar woman. The prince and his servants live in a forgotten castle under a curse. The prince/beast must learn love and be loved by Belle (Emma Watson). Belle lives in a nearby village as an outcast because of her beauty and intellect. She is shunned when trying to teach the local girls to read. It is her beauty, though, that has captured the attention of village hero, Gaston (Luke Evans) and his companion LaFou (Josh Gad). Gaston is looking for a bride to grow him and family of good-looking boys. If you’ve seen the original millions of times, you know the rest.

Let’s just say it. Beauty and the Beast captures the beauty and spirit of the original movie. All the songs from Howard Ashman and Alan Menken are left intact. The story is relatively the same and what makes this version better than the original is that this film hits all the emotional moments perfectly. Director Bill Condon somehow manages to make you believe a beast and a beauty can fall in love. It is this one thing, that make Beauty and the Beast worth watching over and over and over again.

In theory, the live action version of an animated feature that was nominated for Best Picture, should be better than the original. Further, this new movie should be Best Picture worthy. As wonderful as the new Beauty and the Beast is, it will likely fail In its quest for Best Picture. Any failed attempt at greatness does not necessarily mean a movie is bad, but remaking he greatness of the animated classic is almost a fool’s errand.

Elaborate set pieces, enhanced CGI effects and filling in plots holes does not mean you are making a better film. It just means your adding more details and sometimes added details means you are adding noise. Let us discuss the differences.

Elaborate Details and Noise. Gone are the clean lines of animation. Here are the intricate designs of million dollar artists and production designers. This great visual noise. Although beautiful it pulls away from the action you should be focusing on. Lumiere and Cogsworth are a real candelabra and clock standing only 10 inches tall. Objects this small blend with a detailed background. During the Be Our Guest sequence, the simple lines of dancing plates and utensils is lost with realistic plates and utensils against an artistic walled background and set pieces.

New Songs. Beauty and the Beast utilizes all of the songs from the original and none from the Broadway musical. Several new songs are added to balance the film. Most are forgettable, but the Beast’s “Evermore” is Oscar-worthy.

That’s enough complaining. Although it really should serve as warning to any studio, who thinks they need to remake classics. Did this film need to be made? Not necessarily, but it was and its fantastic.

7 out of 10 stars

La La Land

There’s a lot going on with La La Land, including a great deal of Oscar buzz. If you’re a fan of the early movie musicals like Singin’ in the Rain, you’re going to love this LA homage to the musicals of the past.

Release Date: December 25, 2016
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

La La Land follows with romance of frustrated jazz musician, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and struggling actress, Mia (Emma Stone). Sebastian languishes playing in piano bars hoping one day to open his own jazz club in Los Angeles. Mia works as a barista in a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers studio lot. She hopes one day to become a successful actress.

Through a series of coincidental and non-coincidental encounters, our heroes meet, fight, one-up each other and fall in love. Did I mention this is a musical? All this happens through song and dance.  Did I also mention the movie takes place in Los Angeles? All this happens at various iconic LA landmarks.

The love story of La La Land intertwines the dreams of our two star-crossed lovers. Mia is a struggling actress looking for that all important first role. After a series of rejections and disappointments, Mia produces her heartfelt one-woman show as her final chance to be discovered.

Sebastian, on the other hand, laments the decline of jazz. He gives Mia an impassioned lesson on jazz theory and turns her into a convert (sort of). Sebastian hopes, one day, to open his own Jazz club…and start a relationship with Mia. Though, neither pays enough to support his dream–let alone a relationship.

If you like musicals, La La Land was made just for you. Writer/Director Damien Chazelle offers his homage to the Hollywood musical of the past. La La Land is clearly the over-the-top musical from opening number featuring dozens of singer-dancers strutting their stuff on a gridlocked freeway traffic, dancing in the stars at Griffith Observatory to the surreal ending akin to Gene Kelly’s ballet finale of Singin’ in the Rain.

The songs also have the feel of the musicals of long ago. Composer Justin Hurwitz wrote actual songs for our characters and not the sing/talk songs of Broadway. The music of La La Land is above average. The musical themes are fantastic, but sadly the lyrics are forgettable. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are above average dancers and average singers, but they convincingly play the roles of lovers and artists. I don’t know if Gosling can actually play the piano at the level his character should, but the way the piano playing is shot is extremely convincing.

La La Land is a hard sell to the non-theater geek. It’s clearly not for everyone. Actors instantly break into song. They dance in inexplicable locations and the story follows one cliché after the other. I get it. It’s weird, but musicals have the ability to lift our souls to the heavens (with a little suspension of disbelief). The song and dance of La La Land convey the beauty of love, the giddy fun of falling in love and the melancholy of losing your dream. That’s why we go to musicals.

By no means is La La Land a perfect movie. It drags severely in the third act. I really wanted to see this movie wrap up quickly. Like many of this year’s Oscar contenders, the ending saves the movie. Good movies tap into your emotions and force you to feel and connect with the emotions of the characters good or bad. The ending of La La Land connects with you and uplifts your spirits with the love of the two main characters.

9 out of 10 stars


For our favorite X-Men Wolverine, three times is a charm. Logan is clearly the best of the Wolverine movies and ranks high among the X-Men movies as well. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is forced to care of an aging and mentally decaying Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and protect a young mutant, X-23 (Dafne Keen) from a gang of mutant hunters.

Release Date: March 3, 2017
Writer: James Mangold, Scott Frank
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Steven Merchant, Boyd Holbrook

The movie Logan takes place in the year 2024. Almost all known mutants are gone, except Logan, Professor X and Caliban (Steven Merchant), whose power is mutant tracking. Logan has given up on the hero business and works as a limo driver. His pay goes to purchase medication for Professor X, who is unable to effectively control his powers. Uncontrolled Charles unleashes a strong mental force that causes intense paralysis for those surrounding him.

Logan himself is not doing well. After decades of Adamantium poisoning, Wolverine’s healing factor is slowing down. Yes, Wolverine is slowly dying. Along with the professor’s medicine, Logan is also saving money to buy and boat and live the rest of his and Charles’ days on the open sea.

Things get complicated when a mysterious woman and her daughter appear. She offers Logan enough money to purchase the boat. All he needs to do is deliver the young girl safely to “Eden.” This young girl is not what she appears to be. She is a new mutant created at a nearby laboratory. The lab was recently shut down and the children, who served as mutant experiments, were destroyed—except for X-23. This young girl has the same powers as Logan with claws, dexterity and healing factor.

The girl is being chased by mutant hunter and former lab enforcer, Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). His job is simple, stop at nothing to return X-23 or Laura to the lab.

What’s Good

Grounded Rated R Movie. One of the best things about Logan is that its rated R. Not just because of the gruesome violence and there is a lot of violence. This is the first time audiences get to truly see the real consequences of being sliced with razor sharp claws. Unlike the other X-Men movies there is blood, death and dismemberment.

The best thing about the R-rating is that it has freed writer/director James Mangold to make a superhero film that is grounded in reality. No over-the-top super powers, but a story of an eternal killing machine who is constantly confronted with his long life of murder and destruction.

Logan is a focused film. Logan is the story of Charles Xavier, James Howlett and Laura. While the X-Men films are about the survival of mutant-kind, Logan is about this strange new family. The stakes are focused on these three individuals. There are very real moments of family including Logan helping Charles go to the bathroom. Logan also is faced with the responsibility of passing on wisdom and experience to a young girl, who is basically his daughter.

Life Lesson for Aging Mutants. Uncovering cool new powers are not the focus in Logan. As mentioned before, Logan is dying. He just wants to die in peace, but deep down he knows that his bloody past will not allow that to happen. There is a moment of peace (the peaceful break of the film) when our heroes are befriended by the Munson family (Eric La Salle) and taken in for a homemade dinner and night’s rest. It is this moment that bring solace and peace to Professor X. Finally, the moment that Logan faces when he sees X-23 heading down the same road of killing he walked down.

Action Set Pieces. Emotions aside, Logan is still an action movie. The fight scenes are varied and exciting. They take place on the hot dry Mexican border, a quiet country farm, the mountainous Canadian border and the best fight in an small Arizona Casino.

What’s Not So Good

Child Actors. Logan has very few bad moments. There is a group of new mutant played by children and the acting of these children did not sit well. Admittedly, finding good child actors is not any easy task and trying to find a large group is even harder.

From there, it’s hard to pick apart a great movie. Interviews with the actors seem to indicate this is Jackman’s last foray into the role of Wolverine, unless Marvel Studios can pull off an Avengers-Wolverine crossover (highly unlikely). Logan is a touching send-off for one of movies most popular unknown heroes.

9 out of 10 stars

Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge is the true story of WWII Army Medic Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield). Director Mel Gibson brings the unique story of this heroic army medic to light.

Release Date: November 4, 2016
Writer: Robert Schenkken, Andrew Knight
Director: Mel Gibson
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Rachel Griffiths, Hugo Weaving

The best you can say about Desmond Doss is that he’s a conscientious objector, who suffers from a great deal of guilt. As the son of a WWI Veteran Tom Doss (Hugo Weaving), Desmond lives under the tough reign of his father. As a Seventh-Day Adventist, Desmond has vowed never to hold a gun or any other instrument of death. And as an American, he enters the military as a medic to fight along with his countrymen.

At first, Doss excels at boot camp in the areas of fitness and endurance, but everything goes south when Doss refuses to hold a gun. Squad leader Sargent Howell (Vince Vaughn) takes personal offense and presses Doss to be court martialed.

Hacksaw Ridge tells Doss’ story in three parts. The first is his upbringing. Young Desmond is somewhat of an outcast. His father is especially harsh with him and there is a level of fear in Desmond who has to cope with his father’s PTSD from his war days. It is eventually revealed the reason Doss will not so much as touch a gun.

Next, we follow Doss through boot camp. We are treated to the obligatory training sequences, but it is his struggle to stand-up for his pacifism that filmmaker Gibson focuses on. Doss goes through physical punishment from his squad and he ultimately faces court martial for insubordination.

Finally, the battle of Hacksaw Ridge itself in Okinawa. The battle is especially brutal. The Japanese outnumber the Americans. Just entering the battle requires soldiers to climb up netting along a steep cliff.  As brutal as the battle is, we are reminded that Doss is on his own unarmed.

There is a trend in war film to accurately portray the savagery of battle and the realism of bullets flying through bodies. Hacksaw Ridge is especially gruesome as one of the bloodiest battles of WWII with an abundance of exploding heads and dismembered limbs. Medic Doss attends to each man alive, applying pressure, administering pain medicine and transporting bodies to safety.

After the first wave, the Americans are driven back to the sea at the base of the cliffs as nightfall arrives. Doss is alone on the battlefield. It is here when the movie takes off and as Doss begins to literally grab the wounded on the battlefield and lower them to back to camp from atop the cliff. He grabs man after man, praying “Help me get one more.” There are moments where Doss is forced to face his enemy without weapons.

Hacksaw Ridge is an amazing film. It is hard to realize that there are battles that we as Americans have never known if it were not for film. Hacksaw Ridge is a story of faith and conviction. Garfield’s portrayal of Doss is at first a little goofy and overly religious, but you follow and feel his pain through the trials of boot camp to his final heroism in the third act.

As a whole, Hacksaw Ridge ranks high in the world of war films. The acting is top notch. The production values and realism are haunting. But like any biopic, there are certainly forced moments of amazement. For example, when bodies are being lowered to camp, of course someone is going to ask, “Who’s up there?” or “Where did all this wounded come from?”  Heroism is our greatest form of inspiration for times like today.

9 out of 10 stars