Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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Belle (Emma Watson) gives her father (Kevin Kline) a hand in the latest remake of Beauty and the Beast. (Source: Digital Spy)

How can a fairy tale about a girl with Stockholm syndrome become an instant Disney animated classic? The 1991 animated version of Beauty and the Beast has memorable songs, characters, and gorgeous animation is more than enough reasons why generations of people watch it over and over again. Unlike Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, the recent remakes of Cinderella and The Jungle Book stick to their traditional Disney roots while modernizing it at the same time. The new live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast is certainly no exception.

Everybody knows the story. Belle (Emma Watson) is a booksmart, independent young woman living in the village of Villeneuve whose father Maurice (Kevin Kline) is a brilliant artist and tinkerer. While walking into town, war veteran Gaston (Lee Evans) tries everything he can to marry Belle, in spite of his arrogance. One day, Maurice is kidnapped by the Beast (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey) and seeks refuge in a beautiful castle. Hearing the news, Belle flees to castle and encounters the staff—including Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and Chip (Nathan Mack)—who have been transformed into various objects due to a spell that, if all the rose pedals fall, the Beast will forever be a Beast, and…you know the rest.

There has been controversy prior to the release of Beauty and the Beast concerning the portrayal of LeFou as a gay character. A movie theater in Alabama went as far as banning it altogether. While in Malaysia and Russia, the certification boards suggested young kids are not allowed to see the movie because of the “gay moment”. LeFou always had a thing for Gaston (not to mention the original having homosexual undertones as well). That said moment is very brief and does not hurt the quality of the film.

Director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Mr. Holmes) feels right at home here. He, along with screenwriter Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflowers, the upcoming Wonder), keeps the tone the same as the original featuring gorgeous sets and costumes, Alan Menken’s beautiful music (providing the classic songs we know and love and new, original songs), and colorful visuals. While everyone remembers the iconic song “Beauty and the Beast”, my favorite has always been “Be Our Guest”. Before I had doubts whether the visuals would come across as creepy, but I am surprised how the entire movie turned out. This particular music number improves upon the original (it oozes with color)!

I cannot imagine a better cast! Emma Watson has come a long way from her years of playing Hermione Granger in the beloved Harry Potter series. Here, she is the perfect actress to play Belle! While her singing is not out-of-this-world amazing (but not entirely awful), she breathes a lot of life into her performance. This movie gives more of a backstory of where she has come from. She knows a lot about books. She could easily get lost in the castle’s massive library. Stevens brings a lot of life in Beast (especially through the motion capture). He cannot be anywhere without her, particularly in one scene where he sings his heart out about his affections for her (“Evermore”—one of the movie’s original songs). McGregor and McKellen provide a lot of laughs, while Lee Evans and Josh Gad steal the show.

Beauty and the Beast has strong messages about what is on the inside rather than the outside. Families will certainly have a ball (no pun intended) laughing and being blown away by the looks of the movie. This is what magic is made of.

3/4

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Movie Review: Kong: Skull Island

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Kong is still king in the latest entry in the MonsterVerse. (Source: IMDb)

It’s been over eighty years since “The Eighth Wonder of the World” made his first appearance. In 1933, during the height of the Great Depression, no one had ever seen a movie as ambitious as King Kong. Created through stop-motion effects (by special effects pioneer Willis O’Brien) and giant models, this giant ape became one of the first memorable movie monsters. The classic is still loved by generations of film buffs and filmmakers.

Kong travelled to Japan to fight monsters including Godzilla until settling in America to prove he’s the king. This aspired two remakes featuring Kong. The silly yet decent 1976 Dino De Laurentiis production saw him fall for our female protagonist on the island, but the big difference is he fights on top of the World Trade Center rather than the Empire State Building in both the original and the 2005 remake. The overlong yet marvelous 2005 version, directed by Peter Jackson, became a dream come true for the filmmaker. The 1933 original is what inspired him to make movies in the first place. If the world didn’t have Peter Jackson, we wouldn’t have another movie featuring King Kong.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts marks the return for the monster in Kong: Skull Island. This reboots screams the 1970s. The Vietnam War. The Nixon administration. The Peace Corps. Creedence Clearwater Revival. And, most importantly, it pays tribute to Apocalypse Now.

The year is 1973. Bill Randa (John Goodman) hires a diverse team of experts including British Special Forces Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) to map out Skull Island. Once they arrive, they encounter various creatures as well as Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who has been stranded on the island since the end of World War II. He is the perfect guy to ask about the island as a whole. As the team help each other off the island, they encounter the king himself.

As someone who enjoys monster movies, I couldn’t imagine if there would ever be a franchise featuring two of the most memorable monsters in cinema: King Kong and Godzilla. After seeing the 2014 version of Godzilla, I got the feeling of anxiety about the fact of another movie universe. With the MonsterVerse being a thing, it’s an awesome feeling to see a wonderful monster grace the silver screen once again in this day and age. The creatures in Kong: Skull Island easily overshadow the human characters. It’s not to say they are all forgettable.

The movie proves Hiddleston needs to be the next James Bond; he’s got the charisma and the badass fight choreography to pull it all off. Fresh from winning an Oscar for her performance in Room, Brie Larson is becoming one of the best actresses of this generation. She provides the bravery in her role as the photojournalist pushing the gender boundaries of the time. John C. Reilly steals every scene he’s in providing just enough laughs to even out the visually stunning and heart-pumping action.

The 2014 version of Godzilla and the 2005 version of King Kong both follow the roots of Jaws, where it takes an awfully long time to know the main characters before seeing the monster that the audience has been anticipating to see. With Kong: Skull Island, it doesn’t take long at all. The audience is introduced to the team and they are put on a wild ride. Once Kong makes him introduction, he is the biggest ape of them all—ranging about 100 feet tall. He’s aggressive yet defensive about his territory.

While the first act can be a bit rushed and some of the dialogue can be cheesy, there is enough visual beauty to feast the eyes. I can’t wait for Kong and Godzilla go at it in 2020.

3/4

Movie Review: A United Kingdom

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Sereste and Ruth Williams Khama (David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike) go to Africa in A United Kingdom. (Source: KPBS)

Movies featuring interracial couples can be tricky. If done poorly, it would be over-manipulative and over-sentimentalized. Last year’s Loving works due to the subtle nature of its subject matter (Loving v. Virginia). The U.S. has another movie featuring an interracial couple from the U.K. Directed by Amma Asante (of 2014’s overlooked Belle, about a mixed-raced girl raised as an aristocrat in the 18th century after England abolished slavery), A United Kingdom brings an important part of history to life.

The movie opens up in London in 1947. Serest Khama (David Oyelowo) is an heir of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) who is studying in Oxford. One night, he meets the lovely officer clerk Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). She’s white. He’s black. After going out dancing, they begin to fall for one another and eventually get married (despite the dismay of Ruth’s parents).

Their marriage conflicts between the British and South African governments. The latter initialized the apartheid policy, meaning black people can’t live with white people. The interracial couple end up in Africa, so Sereste can talk upon the villagers about taking the throne from his uncle.

Born in London to Ghanaian parents, Asante and screenwriter Guy Hibbert (Eye in the Sky) do a terrific job balancing romance with the politics of the time. Love is equal no matter the color one’s skin is. With World War II ended two years ago, a white person marrying a black person was not only rare but shocking to the world. Bechuanaland and South Africa were ruled by the British government who have easy access to gold, uranium, and other minerals. Sereste and Ruth fight for their lives to gain independence from the British.

Oyelowo’s powerful performance as Sereste proves how great of an actor he can be from starring in minor roles (such as Lincoln) to playing Martin Luther King in Selma. It’s hard not to take your eyes off of him, especially when he delivers an uplifting speech about his love for his country, his people, and most importantly, his wife. But—this is the beginning of his troubles. British government official Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport) and district commissioner Rufus Lancaster (Tom Felton, Malfoy from Harry Potter) fear about losing their resources. If he gets exiled from his homeland, what would he do without his wife and child? After her brilliant turn in Gone Girl, Pike gives a subtle performance as Ruth, in which she receives compassion from the villagers. Her chemistry with Oyelowo is truly one-of-a-kind. They provide enough warm-hearted wit to carry through the rough times.

Despite the incredible true story feeling, at times, forced and ignoring the “show, don’t tell” technique, A United Kingdom is a gorgeously shot, tender love story and historical piece. Good stuff!

3/4

Movie Review: Logan

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Logan (Hugh Jackman) cares for an aging Professor X (Patrick Stewart) in James Mangold’s emotional X-Men send-off.  (Source: IMDb)

It has been seventeen years since X-Men came out. It introduced a massive group of mutants including the Wolverine, aka Logan. An immortal mutant whose system is made out of adamantium. And his claws come out between his knuckles before heading into action. Wolverine is the heart and soul of the franchise, thanks to the perfect casting of Australia native Hugh Jackman.

Appearing in nine films—ranging from good to bad, the audience has learned about his backstory. In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, we see him go from fighting in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War, to becoming immortal. It quickly turns into a massive misfire resulting in a lousy introduction to Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool (thank God for his standalone feat from last year) and a big CGI-fueled fight between two brothers. And we also see Logan go to Japan (2013’s The Wolverine) and go back in time (X-Men: Days of Future Past).

In Logan, Jackman’s final outing as the titular superhero, James Mangold returns to direct an emotional rollercoaster ride for the superhero. The audience gets to see the vulnerable side of the Wolverine.

The year is 2029. The mutants are becoming extinct. Logan is working as a limousine chauffer on the Mexican border. His healing powers are beginning to disintegrate. He and Charles Xavier (the always superb Patrick Stewart) are the only X-Men remaining. Suffering from telepathic seizures, X has been getting help from Logan to stay stable. One day, a group of special agents—led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook)—are on the lookout for a girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), who has the same powers as Logan. She escapes with Logan and X to North Dakota.

Logan is exactly what everyone has been waiting for! A brutal character study about loss, regret, and the importance of family. Jackman gives the best portrayal of the superhero. He feels more like a real person than in the other films; not only is he broken physically but also emotionally. He has lost everything in his long life, and he tries to cope with his selfishness despite drinking a lot. X, who is suffering just as much as Logan, is starting to forget about everything around him.

Mangold, who directed 3:10 to Yuma (one of the best Westerns of the century), makes this character study feel like an old-fashioned Western. Not to mention the classic Shane being referenced in one scene. The movie is not without its sliced-and-diced action sequences. Since Logan is rated R, we finally get to see blood on Logan’s claws. And expect to see some of the most graphic action in the franchise (particularly the scene in the forest). By the end, I damn near choked up. This is perhaps the best superhero film to date!

F.Y.I. At the screening I went to, a young couple brought their infant child along with them. It has been said many times, Logan is NOT FOR KIDS!

4/4

Movie Review: John Wick: Chapter Two

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John Wick (Keanu Reeves) returns in the sequel to 2014’s modest box-office hit. (Source: IMDb)

This movie is right! John Wick is not very good at retiring.

2014’s John Wick is one of the best action films so far this decade. However, it’s a shame a lot of people didn’t see it in theaters. Stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski sits in the director’s chair to give a stylish portrayal of the criminal underworld of New York City. With some amazing action set-pieces, badass dialogue, and a sense of humanity. And Keanu Reeves knows what he does best while in a black suit. With the movie ending on a cliffhanger, I could not be more excited for the sequel.

If any of you were upset about the dog dying in the first film, don’t worry; no dogs are harmed in John Wick: Chapter Two. I know it’s a spoiler, but I don’t care.

After that wonderful opening action scene in the warehouse, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is still grieving over his dead wife (Bridget Moynahan, in flashbacks). With a new dog living with him in his beautiful home, he’s trying to forget about the past all over again. One day, he gets a visit from Italian crime lord Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), who forces John to return to the Continental (where everybody knows their name) to perform a task of assassinating Santino’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini). John reluctantly accepts, and goes all the way to Rome. He slowly begins to realize that Santino, his mute bodyguard Ares (Ruby Rose), and his men are after him. Eventually, John seeks the help of Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne, having a little Matrix reunion).

John Wick: Chapter Two improves upon its predecessor with its no-BS approach to the action-thriller genre. With Stahelski back as director, he brings so much gothic style through its straightforward narrative and stunning visuals. Compared to its predecessor, there is a surprising amount of dry humor scattered throughout. In one early scene, John gives his damaged Ford Mustang to Aurelio (John Leguizamo) saying it will be ready by “Christmas…2030”.

The action sequences almost feel like a dance; the choreography is expertly handled and the tension is at an all-time high. Nothing is more awesome than seeing John shoot-‘em-up in the catacombs of Rome. In a time where cheesy horror films and over-the-top, CGI-fueled action flicks are the norm, John Wick: Chapter Two breaks that spell.

4/4