2017 Summer Movie Preview: May

Is it that time already!? You betcha!

After a rough winter in Maine, I can sit back, relax, and start thinking about what has yet to come out over the course of four months. 2017 has been quite a slow year for movies so far. Nevertheless, there have been more surprises released this year than I can imagine—from M. Night Shyamalan returning to top form to Hugh Jackman’s final outing as the Wolverine. Now—with the summer movie season officially here, there are a lot of massive blockbusters and small-budget pieces that I am looking forward to seeing and possibly skipping. Without further ado, let’s jump right into my thoughts on what is coming out in the month of May.

May 5

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Source: IMP Awards

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2Hell yeah! Time to see the guardians head back in action! Not only did I find the first film the best entry in the MCU, it’s also one of my favorite comic book movies. Seeing it three times in theaters, I love it with each viewing. With that being a surprise success among audiences and critics, it’s no surprise that director James Gunn is going to make a trilogy featuring these marvelous (no pun intended) and downright witty characters interact and kick some ass in the galaxy with Peter Quill’s awesome mixtapes. While Awesome Mix Vol. 2 is just as awesome as Awesome Mix Vol. 1, it bums me out that it doesn’t include David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” as Gunn intended. Oh well—maybe we will wait and see if he will put a David Bowie song on Awesome Mix Vol. 3 to pay tribute to his death. With that said, bring it on!

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Source: IMP Awards

The LoversA24 has come a long way since their first produced-film A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III—anyone of you remember that movie? No? Okay. Moving on.

After a long list of marvelous and often overlooked films (not to mention Moonlight being the first—and supposedly not the last—film by A24 to win Best Picture), they have produced some of the most bizarre, the most unique, and the most compelling films in recent memory. I believe The Lovers seems to be a charming romantic dramedy about an old couple considering a divorce until they decide to fall in love all over again.

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Source: IMP Awards

Three GenerationsAfter its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in 2015, the nationwide release of Three Generations (originally called About Ray) has been kept under wraps until right now. There have been a lot of movies in which cisgender actors play transgender characters (e.g. Academy Award-winner Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club and Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl). This movie—starring Elle Fanning (who has a long career ahead of her) as a girl making the decision of becoming a transgender boy with the support of her mother (Naomi Watts) and grandmother (Susan Sarandon)—continues that trend, which will probably do so for a long time. But—come on! Transgender actors need to have the chance to play those characters! It seems like Three Generations tackles the subject in such a manipulative fashion. Very much so that it might end up being a massive flop.

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Source: IMP Awards

The DinnerRichard Gere has been a familiar face in Hollywood for a long time. After getting praise for his performance in NormanThe Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, he stars in another movie, directed by Oren Moverman (2009’s Oscar-nominated The Messenger), about a politician inviting people to a fancy restaurant where their polite conversation turns into something intense when they talk about two boys committing a crime. In my opinion, this looks rather standard. Even though I like movies that are mostly told through conversation.

May 12

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Source: IMP Awards

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – It must be every little boy’s dream to become King Arthur. Charlie Hunnam seems to be the perfect actor to play him in this reimagining of the classic tale. From Sons of Anarchy to Pacific Rim to Crimson Peak to The Lost City of Z, he has a pretty damn impressive resume. Working alongside Jude Law, Eric Bana, and director Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, the underrated The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), this might be a pretty decent time in the theater.

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Source: IMP Awards

Snatched – Goldie Hawn is back after fifteen years to star as a mother going on vacation with her daughter (the raunchy Amy Schumer) after her boyfriend dumps her, which leads them getting kidnapped. Snatched almost sounds like your standard sitcom. With a talented filmmaker like Jonathan Levine (50/50, Warm Bodies) behind the camera and a decent screenwriter like Katie Dippold, however, it might be okay for a few good laughs. It might be the perfect Mother’s Day gift.

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Source: IMP Awards

Lowriders – I have a feeling this is a cross between 8 Mile and The Fast and the Furious. And not in a good way. It goes into the clichéd territory of an outsider being the best at his craft with the support of his friends and family. I’m skipping this one.

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Source: IMP Awards

The Wall – No—this movie is not about Donald Trump and his plans of building the wall on the Mexican border. This is a cat-and-mouse type of movie where two soldiers are trapped by an Iraqi sniper. Fresh from directing Edge of Tomorrow (also known as Live. Die. Repeat.), Doug Liman creates something with a much lower budget than his blockbusters. Known for playing Kick-Ass and Quicksilver, I find Aaron Taylor-Johnson to be a bland actor. But—it seems he might step his A-game here starring alongside John Cena. This looks like edge-of-your-seat fun.

May 19

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Source: IMP Awards

Alien: Covenant – Back in 2012, it was great to hear Ridley Scott has returned to the universe that made him such an all-star with Prometheus. After getting polarizing reception, Scott has made one gigantic flop (Exodus: Gods and Kings) and one gigantic success (The Martian) before returning for Alien: Covenant with an all-star cast, ranging from dramatic actors (Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup) to comedic actors (Danny McBride, James Franco). Alien is one of the best sci-fi films of all time, with the sequel Aliens (directed by James Cameron) being a slight improvement. This looks straight-up terrifying!

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Source: IMP Awards

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul – Great…another one of these movies. And not starring the same cast from the three previous films; given they are getting a little old (which is understandable). I have never seen a trailer so bad in a long time. Moving on.

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Source: IMP Awards

Everything, Everything – *sigh* Another sappy love story? I’m good, thanks.

May 26

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Source: IMP Awards

Baywatch (opens Thursday)Okay, this is somewhat more like it. The reboot of the popular television show looks pretty hysterical. Dwayne Johnson proves he has the right amount of comedic timing while being a straight-up badass. He seems to have great chemistry between his co-stars Zac Efron (who is just as ripped as Dwayne Johnson), Alexandria Deddario (San Andreas), Kelly Rohrbach, among others. That’s what matters most in comedies is the chemistry between the actors and having good timing with the jokes. I’m there for something funny, sexy, and full of testosterone.

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Source: IMP Awards

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – Another one of these movies? I have only seen the first film, which I loved, and On Stranger Tides, which I find underwhelming and forgettable. Johnny Depp returns in his pirate outfit and mannerisms as Captain Jack Sparrow seeking the Trident of Poseidon while encountering some new and familiar faces including Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley). I have a feeling this might go into the path of being as forgettable as the last film. I just don’t give a damn about a new Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

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Brad Pitt in War Machine. (Source: Business Insider)

War Machine – I can’t do a summer movie preview without talking about some movies that are going to be on Netflix. Brad Pitt is more than just having good looks. He also knows what he can do to be a great actor, from Ocean’s Eleven to Moneyball. Here, he seems to be bringing back his mannerisms of Aldo Raine from Inglourious Basterds and Wardaddy in Fury in this political war satire leading an amazing cast including Tilda Swinton, Topher Grace, Anthony Michael Hall, and Ben Kingsley. This is one film on Netflix I will definitely watch, no matter how good or bad it might be.

Recap:

Most Anticipated: Alien: Covenant, Baywatch, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Lovers, The Wall

Least Anticipated: Everything, Everything, Lowriders, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Three Generations

I hope you enjoyed reading on what my thoughts are on several movies for the month of May. Tell me in the comments below on what your most anticipated movies are for the month of May. Stay tuned for a movie preview for the month of June on Memorial Day. Take care.

Movie Review: Free Fire

 

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A group of people try to buy some guns in Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire. (Source: IMDb)

A year after the dystopian film High-Rise, director Ben Wheatley teams up with an ensemble cast. Something with a straightforward narrative yet ambitious style. Something featuring characters who have a loud mouth, a quick wit, yet terrible aim. Free Fire is one of those movies where it should have work as a thirty-minute short film than a ninety-minute feature length film. What Mad Max: Fury Road did for the open road, The Breakfast Club for the school, and Gravity for outer space, Free Fire sets entirely at an abandoned warehouse. I wish it captivated me more than it should have.

The year is 1978. Two IRA specialists—Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley)—meet up with Ord (Armie Hammer), Justine (Brie Larson), among others outside a warehouse in Boston. They are trying to settle a deal with buying guns from South African arms dealer Vern (Sharlto Copley) and former Black Panther Martin (Babou Ceesay). Tensions begin to rise between the two groups of people, resulting in a massive shootout.

Wheatley succeeds with bringing the 1970s culture to life. With the crazy hairstyles, sideburns, outfits, and the music ranging from Creedence Clearwater Revival to John Denver. The fast-paced editing of the warehouse shootout makes it seem as if you are in the middle of it all. The amount of violence, profanity and dark humor is almost reminiscent to the films of Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese (who is also the executive producer of Free Fire). Every actor is having a blast here (particularly Copley and Hammer stealing the show), shooting it up and exchanging some great dialogue, even going as far as taking part in some dangerous stunts. However, they hardly breathe any life into their characters. By the end, making the audience care less on who gets killed.

While far from being A24’s best film, it’s impossible not to have any fun with Free Fire. However, the tension falters a bit through the second act. The bullets don’t stop flying until it’s over. I can’t listen to John Denver the same way ever again.

2.5/4

Movie Review: The Fate of the Furious

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Cipher (Charlize Theron) makes Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) go rogue in the eighth installment in The Fast and Furious franchise. (Source: The Playlist)

It has been over fifteen years since the release of The Fast and the Furious. Ranging from street races to pulling off heists, the series has been taken to new heights. No matter how ridiculous the movies might be, they know what to offer for fans; over-the-top, gravity-defying stunts, beautiful cars, and seeing our heroes saving the world from something dangerous. As much as I enjoy these movies (except for Tokyo Drift), I don’t mind two more films. Furious 7 (my second favorite behind Fast Five) was an insane thrill-ride while providing an emotionally satisfying conclusion that would make the late Paul Walker proud. Yes, I cried at the end of last movie. Like everyone else, I thought the series would end right there. But—nope…

The Fate of the Furious (I know, terrible title) picks up after the events of the previous film. Brian and Mia have retired from the crew. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) are having their honeymoon in Cuba. After an exhilarating drag race, Dom encounters a mysterious woman named Cipher (Charlize Theron). Trying to leave the world of crime behind (like in every movie after the original), he is forced to go rogue with the cyberterrorist. Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood) assigns Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Ludacris), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) to save their friend and stop Cipher once and for all.

After rumors have surrounded about James Wan returning to direct another Fast and Furious movie (of course, he declined due to having to deal with the production hell of the last film), F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) steps in for Wan to provide just as much fun as the three previous installments. While the previous films are about getting together as a family, this movie is about being betrayed by one’s family. Case in point, Dom has been traumatized by his father’s death for years. He feels comfortable with his friends, especially reuniting with Letty. But—he is about to throw it all away.

Every fan always go into these movies for the wall-to-wall action (trust me, there is a lot of it to please the eye) and seeing these characters driving beautiful cars. There is also a lot of big laughs—from Hobbs’ introductory scene where he coaches his daughter’s soccer team to the interactions between Roman and Tej, as well as them flirting with Ramsey. Not to mention a lot of badassery.

How can anyone not love Dwayne Johnson? He is tough yet has a heart of gold. His one-liners are also impossible not to get a kick out of. As Cipher, Theron kills it with her punk look—from the dreadlocks and the Metallica shirt to her cyber powers (in one particular scene, she targets NYC by hacking people’s car and having control of them, causing chaos in the big city). She is up there with Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw (who reprises his role here providing laughs and his usual toughness) as one of the franchise’s better villains.

Despite the obvious narrative issues and Scott Eastwood’s bland performance, The Fate of the Furious provides enough for fans with the car chases, fist fights, gun shootings, and characters just having a blast. Bring on the last two films!

3.5/4

Movie Review: The Lost City of Z

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Jackson Teller and Cedric Diggory head into the Amazon to find The Lost City of Z. (Source: Mercury News)

Director James Gray (We Own the Night, The Immigrant) is becoming the new classical filmmaker. Along with cinematographer Darius Khondji, The Lost City of Z (or “Zed” if you are not from America) pays tribute to films by David Lean, Werner Herzog, and Steven Spielberg. Filmed in 35 mm film, every shot feels like a painting in motion. At 141 minutes, I wish this movie would have been longer.

This is a stirring epic following the true story of British war hero Percival Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) going on an expedition to the Amazon to find a lost civilization that once had gold. Along with Corporal Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) among others, they must face the biggest challenges the uncharted territory has to offer. Humidity, bugs, piranhas, skin infections, diseases, and so on. Once Fawcett discovers some symbols and artifacts deep in the jungle, he returns to the Royal Geographic Society in London to prove his case. He would go back every now and then to find the tribe. Are they cannibals? Or are they equal to everyone else?

Despite his children not recognizing him when he returns from the Amazon, he stills thinks about them and his wife Nina (Sienna Miller, known for playing the archetype of the loving mother and wife) supporting him every step of the way. “I know this is a sacrifice for all of us, but it will be worth it,” he says before he leaves for the Amazon.

In one scene, he is talking in front of the court after his first discovery of the Amazon. He shows the artifacts as well as a document, written by one of the conquistadors, about the lost city of Z. All this leads to his disappearance in 1925 where hundreds of people have searched for him. Hunnam’s portrayal of Fawcett as a courageous explorer and a loving father and husband is the finest moment of his career.

As Costin, Pattinson is almost unrecognizable with the beard. But—his wit the movie provides is a big welcome. Miller’s Nina is more than the typical mother and wife. Not only does she take care of her children, she also supports her husband and his expedition. Tom Holland’s Jack provides some of the film’s most powerful moments in the third act when he accepts to go with his father to try finding the city once and for all. Gray’s marvelous direction and Christopher Spelman’s luscious score makes for one sweeping journey of familial sacrifices.

To quote Richard Roeper: “Warning: If you and I are on a flight someday in the near future and I see you watching The Lost City of Z on a handheld device, I’m might snatch that thing out of your hands.”

Yeah…it’s that good!

4/4

Movie Review: Kedi

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A tabby sits on a ledge in Istanbul at sunset in the documentary Kedi. (Source: Vox)

“Without cats, Istanbul would lose part of its soul,” says one of the residents interviewed for Kedi (“Cat” in Turkish). This documentary follows seven out of thousands of stray cats roaming the streets of Turkey’s capital city. Each of them have a distinct personality and daily routine, not to mention keeping bugs and mice out. These furry creatures also interact with and being taken care of by their human counterparts. They are seen everywhere: fish markets, cafes, restaurants, sidewalks, roofs, ledges, benches, piers, and the list goes on and on. No wonder how these people can be so affectionate to these cats!

As a former cat owner, I never knew there would be a “cat metropolis” anywhere in the world. Cats are truly one-of-a-kind pets. They can be attentive and playful at one point, and can be a pain in the ass the next. It’s hard to waste another day not having a cat around. After seeing Kedi (there were only two people at my screening, which included myself and another guy), I had the feeling of adopting another cat of my own. Seeing a documentary focusing more on the human side is a breath of fresh air.

Director Ceyda Torun (a native of Istanbul) uses plenty of filming techniques to breathe life into her directorial debut. From having the camera low to the ground in level with the cats (eventually using night-vision to capture one of the cats attempting to catch a rat in the sewers) to going high in the air providing breathtaking aerial shots of Istanbul. Throughout the 80-minute duration, she never overexploits politics or religion. The residents do mention both in their interviews, but they never ramble on about them. It’s only up to the audience to ask questions about the future of Istanbul’s cat population as well as the city as a whole. What would happen if the cats are removed from the streets? Where will they go? It’s impossible for Istanbul to remove the bond between a cat and a human-being.

You might be wondering how the cats decide to roam around Istanbul for centuries. A variety of different breeds would go on a cargo ship to keep the rodents off. Once the ship arrives in Istanbul, the cats would jump off and hit the streets. They start making a living, so new generations of them would arrive in an unusual yet unique environment.

According to Islam, the prophet Muhammad became fond of cats. It was believed a cat saved him from a snakebite. There is a folktale about a cat named Muezza, who was found sleeping on the sleeve of Muhammad’s prayer robe. He promised to give his cat a special place in heaven. There is this essence in Kedi in which the residents have the trait of being fond of these felines.

It’s simply amazing to watch how much these people care for these cats. They tell interesting—sometimes funny and/or sad—stories, including how a bakery worker uses his tips for taking trips to the vet because one cat would walk into. A female artist believes that cats “have the femininity that women have lost”. An old man explains how raising kittens helped him get over his nervous breakdown. There is no doubt that cats and humans can have similar traits.

Kedi is a prime example of what it means to be human. I hope this expands throughout the States (and the rest of the world)—so audiences can get an idea of how Istanbulites make a living with the care of a loveable feline on their side. Cat lovers are certainly in for a purr-fect treat (yeah, I had to go there). One of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen!

4/4

Movie Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife

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Antonia Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) cares for her animals in The Zookeeper’s Wife. (Source: Lebanon Express)

Based on Diane Ackerman’s novel, The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the amazing true story of a Polish family fighting for their lives after their home country has been invaded by Nazi Germany. They saved a lot of people and their animals from the Warsaw Ghetto. New Zealand director Niki Caro, who created two of the most uplifting films of the 21st century—Whale Rider, McFarland, U.S.A.—creates a well-acted, beautifully shot, and occasionally haunting depiction of the beginnings of World War II. However, it feels rather familiar.

Antonia (Jessica Chastain) and Jan Zabinski (Johann Heldenbergh) are the owners of the Warsaw Zoo. They treat their animals like family. Antonia does her morning routine of riding her bike through the zoo with some of her family friends including a dromedary camel during the film’s opening scene (accompanied by Harry Gregson-Williams’ beautiful score). September 1, 1939, seems like another ordinary day until Germany invades Poland, which results in the start of World War II. With many of the animals killed from the attack, the Zabinskis hide in the zoo while saving hundreds of Jews from the Ghetto. Meanwhile, zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl), who happens to be a friend of Hitler’s, snoops around the zoo and offers to take some surviving animals to his zoos in Berlin and Munich.

Caro and screenwriter Angela Workman depict the horrors of the Polish invasion with some effort. The sets and the visuals make it look like a wonderful work of art. Nothing is just as spine-tingling as seeing two lionesses and a tiger roaming around the abandoned streets after the attack or when the German troops put the ghetto in flames. But—one of the problems with The Zookeeper’s Wife is that the tension is hardly there.

With a Polish accent, Chastain’s portrayal the titular role is convincing. With the right amount of optimism and subtlety, it shows how much she cares for those around her after Poland is overrun by the Nazis. In one scene, Antonia is in the basement with a mute Jewish girl Urszula (Shira Haaz), who has been raped. She talks to her about how much she trusts her animals. “You look into their eyes, and you know exactly what is in their hearts,” she says while holding a rabbit. Chastain is a delight!

From playing Austrian F1 racer Niki Lauda in Rush to Zemo in Captain America: Civil War, Brühl gives complexity and fierceness as Lutz Heck. He and Chastain stand out from the rest of the forgettable cast. While it drags and the script can be manipulative at times, and if the characters had more depth, The Zookeeper’s Wife had a lot of potential of being a great movie. One thing for sure, this is nothing compared to Schindler’s List.

2.5/4

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