This beast second best

1991’s Beauty and the Beast was the first animated feature nominated for an Oscar and unfortunately, this latest version is destined to remain second best.

Make no mistake, the current live-action version brought to you by director Bill Condon (Dream Girls) is an entirely competent piece of film making, but there is a distinct lack of heart amid the many visual spectacles that is difficult to pinpoint.

Emma Watson (Harry Potter) is a smart and plucky Belle, the no-nonsense book worm who loves her father and isn’t afraid to stand up to the Beast. She is at her best in the opening number when strolling through the town and thwarting the attentions of Gaston.

Once she arrives at the castle, she seems to lose her spark and become much more reactionary to events.

Watson is an intelligent and lovely actress with a surprisingly good singing voice. Her reaction at seeing the library for the first time is convincing, but it would have been nice to see her inventive nature spark some more interaction with the household characters.

There is a great song called Home in Beauty and The Beast, The Musical, which was omitted from this film although an instrumental version was played in the moment where she would have sung it. It would have been better to allow her to sing it as the lyrics reveal a lovely character development in Belle which was then missing.

Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) is convincing as The Beast. We get a glimpse of his former arrogant handsomeness and those blue eyes pierce through our hearts even as he is covered in fur and latex monstrousness.

In this version, they have given Beast a solo after he allows Belle to leave the castle to return to her father. It’s a nice moment that allows us to have a peak into his turmoil.

A scene that doesn’t accomplish its goal is the new convention of allowing Beast and Belle to travel anywhere in the world she wants. She chooses the Paris room where her parents lived when she was an infant and where her mother died. The side-bar story only muddies the water and slows down the action.

It’s a big cast and there are a few outstanding performances of note: Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda) is touching as Maurice, Belle’s eccentric father.

Luke Evans (Fast & Furious) is marvellously virile as the bulging, biceped Gaston who turns from wooing heartthrob to leader of a lynch mob.

Gosh Gad (Frozen) is fantastic as LeFou, Disney’s first openly gay character. Much has been made of this in the media but it is so subtly hinted at, one wonders what all the fuss was about.

Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) does a commendable job as Mrs. Potts and the title song Beauty and the Beast stands up to the legendary Angela Landsbury version.

Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge) is excellent as Lumiere and he nails the vocals in the whirlwind production number Be Our Guest.

Audra McDonald is an opera star who shines as Madame Garderobe and whose vocalizing is a real standout in the closing number.

There are a few barriers that this film breaks through from sexual orientation to mixed marriages. It is encouraging to see Disney step so boldly forward in 2017.

The film is opulently beautiful and provides a lovely 129 minutes of escapism, but it ultimately fails to be a “tale as old as time."

I give this film 4 out of 5 hearts.

Great story fails as movie

A United Kingdom – Frustratingly Restrained

A compelling story, gifted actors and a gorgeous African setting combine to make what should be a moving and memorable film yet A United Kingdom leaves much to be desired.

Based on the true story of the former king of Botswana and the British woman whose marriage in the late 1940s caused an international uproar, director Amma Asante (Belle) has created a visually lovely film that unfortunately fails to inspire.

It’s not entirely Asante’s fault as the script from Guy Hibbert (Eye In The Sky) oversimplifies not only the characters portrayed, but also the complex themes the film attempts to tackle.  

Seretse Khama (David Oyelowlo – Selma) is the heir to the throne of British protectorate Bechuanaland (later named Botswana) who attends university in London to gain a law degree. While in London, Seretse falls in love with a young, white office clerk Ruth (Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl) in an era where mixed marriages were not only rare, but universally frowned upon.

Seretse and Ruth suffer societal disapproval from all angles. Her middle-class father disowns her, his uncle, the current king disowns him, and even the British government tries to intimidate her into leaving the relationship.

Despite the mounting pressure from all sides, the two are unable to imagine a life apart and marry before Seretse is due to return home.

When they move to Africa, Seretse and Ruth are chagrinned to find that unacceptance to their union has followed them there and extends to the local villagers and even Seretse’s own family.

As Ruth notes, “We’ve completely underestimated this, haven’t we?”

Their marriage becomes a political football as Seretse is called back to London under the pretense of having to fill out important paperwork. Fearing that if he and Ruth were to go together, they would be forever unable to return, he goes alone.

The government promptly exiles him from Bechuanaland and they are forced to spend years living apart.

This is an important and powerful story in an era of intense discrimination and South African apartheid, so it is disappointing that as the stakes become more intense, the film loses its own intensity.

David Oyelowlo is a classically trained stage actor whose emotional connection and commitment to his character is exceptional. We believe his torment between his love for his country and his love for his wife and it is Oyewlowlo’s impassioned performance that absolutely carries the film.

Rosamund Pike is iridescent as the long-suffering Ruth. Pike has a sincerity and a quiet confidence that radiates from the screen and makes her a perfect choice for the role.

Playing a couple forced to live continents apart with minimal communication for years, theirs is a  story that should pull at heart strings yet it doesn’t. There is a safe politeness about A United Kingdom that creates a “made for TV” feel that is a disservice to the content and the actors.

Racism is still a significant problem in 2017 and trailblazers like the Khamas should be noted and celebrated.

While A United Kingdom is an important story, it is a frustratingly unsatisfying one.

I give this film three out of five hearts.

Logan tells great story

Unlike many superhero films of late, Logan is refreshingly old-school and human.

There is tremendous restraint and maturity in this current X-Men franchise release: in the acting, the directing and the lack of CGI extravaganza.

This movie, the third and final film of the Wolverine series, represents actor Hugh Jackman’s swan song in a role he has played for 18 years.

Taking place in the year 2029, we find that the world has changed; mutants have (mostly) been eradicated through a type of biological warfare that disabled genetic mutation in the population.

The once invincible Wolverine has fallen on hard times. Broke, beaten and unable to heal like he used to, he’s a dull shadow of his former self. His skin is mottled and lined, his trademark mutton chops have fused into a bushy beard and his eyes are bleary from alcoholism and world-weary exhaustion.

Wolverine got old!

Eking out a meagre existence living under the radar, Logan now drives a limousine. Once a week, he drives over the Mexico border to visit 90-year old Charles who is hidden away in a derelict industrial facility tended to by the albino Caliban.

Charles now suffers from intermittent senility and seizures and must be medicated lest his considerable psychic power be unleashed. There are hints of a catastrophic incident years ago that necessitated Charles’ current fugitive status and the need for his regular sedation.

Caliban is also weary of playing nurse to Charles for the last year and despite talk of escaping to a remote Mexican Oceanside town, all three participants seem to know even as they discuss it that it is a pipe dream that will never happen.

What upsets this dystopian apple cart is the arrival of Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez – Orange Is The New Black) who desperately needs Logan’s help. She is a nurse on the run from a “big pharma bad guy” and is harboring a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen – The Refugees).

They need Logan to take them to a place called Eden in North Dakota where they will be safe. Promising him $50K to do the deed, Logan senses his opportunity to finally escape with Charles to the bucolic seaside retirement they have talked about. He grudgingly accepts the task.

One of Wolverine’s through lines has been his reluctance to be a super hero or to get involved and this time is no exception. He never asked to become a mutant and now more than ever, it is a burden.

The adamantium that was put into his body is now poisoning him. It’s an irreversible process that can be delayed with the right serum, but not corrected.

Enter the rogue geneticist Dr. Rice responsible for all the havoc (Richard E. Grant - Jackie) with a venal cohort (Boyd Holbrook – Gone Girl) and an army of paramilitary cyborgs. They need to get Laura back and will do anything it takes to retrieve their property.

What ensues is a traditional chase film that leaves a bloody trail of bodies as Logan, Charles and Laura flee north and to freedom.

Wide-eyed, silent and almost feral, Laura is full of surprises as the movie unfolds and we find Charles bonding to her as a grandfather would and Logan reluctantly assuming the role of guardian.   

Logan is rated R for a reason – it is a violent film and not for the faint of heart. However, there is mature storytelling here and real restraint on display through much of the film so when the violence does erupt, it happens in an organic way that serves the genre.

Hugh Jackman gives his best performance yet as the titular character Logan. His relationship with Charles and Laura fully humanizes him and is a touching and appropriate close to his character.

Patrick Stewart is quite brilliant as the aged Charles slipping in and out of lucidity and provides the film with much needed levity and tenderness.

Newcomer Dafne Keen is perfectly cast as the mysterious Laura and I predict we will be seeing much more of this girl in the years to come.

Solid acting and overall smart film making make Logan a movie worth seeing. If you are an X-Men fan, this is a must-see installment and once again, it leaves door wide open for a new generation of future mutant heroes.

I give this film 4.5 out of 5 hearts.


Kim's Oscar review

The Academy Awards are always a political football, one where Hollywood feels compelled to make a statement to the world about who and what it values most.

Some years, the sentiment is directly in line with creative merit and in other years, key people and projects are overlooked. This year was certainly no exception.

Best Supporting Actress: The winner, Viola Davis (Fences), deserved to win this award. She is a force of nature in this gut-wrenching film about a lower middle class black family in the early 1950s.

See my Oscar prediction in my review: “There is no question that Davis will take the Oscar for best actress this year and I predict Washington will be nominated, but will not win.”

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight). There was no question that Ali would take this award. His role in this film is pivotal and he played it with grit and commitment. While Ryan Gosling was charming as hell in La La Land, the role simply did not have the emotional weight to garner an Oscar.

Best Actress: Emma Stone (La La Land). Yup, loved Emma in this film. Her audition scene is what clinched her win in this most magical film. See my review:  “I’m predicting an Oscar win for best score as well as nominations for best film, director, actor and best actress.”

Best Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea). This win was hardly surprising as Affleck’s role carries the film and his restrained performance as a broken man was consistent and relentless.

Best Animated Film: Zootopia. Disagree. Kubo and the Two strings was a far more intricate and artistically interesting film. While I really enjoyed Zootopia and appreciate the importance of its theme of equality, Kubo was my pick for best animated film.

Best Director: Damian Chazelle (La La Land). Agreed! This gorgeous film also took Best Cinematography and Best Set Design. There are several one-take shots that must have been a logistical nightmare to shoot and they pulled it off beautifully. Well deserved labour of love (Chazelle was also nominated for best original screenplay).

Best Film: Moonlight. Here’s where the politics of the Academy come into play. Regardless of how big a hit the film is or however many other awards it is nominated for, the academy rarely votes for comedies or musicals.  Not since 2002’s musical Chicago has a non-drama won for best picture.

Hollywood loves to choose edgy and/or serious subject matter for its Best Film category despite box office success, other awards or overall popularity.

The Golden Globe awards has it right; there should be a separation in categories of Comedy/Musical and Drama. At the Golden Globes, they even use this separation for Best Actor/Actress awards and it makes sense.

The emotional weight of a role in a comedy or a musical is far different from a drama and should be categorized differently.

As a show, the 89th Academy Awards was unremarkable. Host Jimmy Kimmel was affable, but bland. He’s no Billy Crystal, sigh.

A few highlights were:

  • Viola Davis’s acceptance speech
  • the bus of unsuspecting tourists mingling with celebrities
  • the way the La La Land cast handled the Best Picture fiasco at the end.

It was a great reminder that it’s just a bunch of regular fallible folks up there on that stage after all.

More Kim's Flick Pics articles

About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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