Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Beauty and the Beast: A "Live" Action Adaptation

There are no spoilers here for Beauty and the Beast if you've seen the 1991 Disney animated version or the Broadway show which opened in 1993. In reality, the new version is actually more of an adaptation of the Broadway show than the cartoon, but it does expand the mythology of the story. If my memory serves, the songs in the new movie that were not in the animated film and may be new to some are from the stage show with the exception of two new songs, "Evermore" and "Days in the Sun." At any rate, if you are expecting some strange twist in the new film there is nothing new. If you've never seen the original, you need to get out more often and you have no idea what you are missing.

There is only one real new reveal in this movie and that is we learn what happened to Belle's (Emma Watson) mother. No. I am not going to tell you. It also adds nothing to the story. There has also been some controversy as to including a gay character in the new version. In the original, LeFou, now played by Josh Gad, was kind of Chester, the little dog, with Gaston (Luke Evans) as Spike, the big dog, for kids. For adults, however, it was reasonably clear that part of the humor of Gaston and LeFou was that Gaston was so self-absorbed, he didn't get why LeFou idolized him. Trying to drive home this in the new movie also serves no real purpose. It is a controversy that is much ado.

So let's talk movie! As long as you accept CGI as live action, then Beauty and the Beast is live action. There are a few characters that have been expanded upon with some favorites still offering us a chance to be their guest. There is, of course, Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) who play their respective roles perfectly. Emma Thompson lends her gifts to becoming Mrs. Potts and mother to Chip (Nathan Mack). The role of the feather duster, renamed Plumette from Fifi in the new version, is played Gugu Mbatha-Raw and the Wardrobe, Madame Garderobe, is played by Audra McDonald have expanded roles. A new addition is a harpsichord, Maestro Cadenza, played by the inestimable Stanley Tucci. The cast of "objects" are perfect and a great deal of fun.

Two other expanded roles are those of the Enchantress (Hattie Morahan) and the always astonishing Kevin Cline as Belle's dad, Maurice. Both add to and expand the original story. Cline shines in his playing of the single dad trying to bring up an educated female in Eighteenth-Century France.

The central characters are of course Belle, Gaston, LeFou and the Beast (Dan Stevens).  I thought Emma Watson was a bit weak in the opening number of "Bon Jour" but that may also just be the quality of the sound mixing for that number and that my hearing is not what it used to be. Watson though still captures our collective hearts as the girl who is just a little strange. Gaston and LeFou are fun and have captured the roles. I admit that I am not a huge fan of Josh Gad, but he is really suited to the role of LeFou. Evans is the quintessential egomaniac and Disney bad guy as Gaston, who is a bit less comic and a bit crueler than the original. To say that Dan Stevens is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actors is an understatement. His work in Legion is stellar and so is his performance as Beast.  It is little wonder that given the iconic nature of the original cast for the cartoon, Disney has pulled out all the stops in bringing together such an incredible cast of great actors to take on the roles that were immortalized in the animated version. 

If there is one thing that is a bit over-done in this version is the "flying camera" pan which seems to be director Bill Condon's favorite shot. While it is cool a couple of times, it gets a bit old and jarring in 3-D. Speaking of which, if you see the movie in 3-D the snowball is perhaps the first time I've ever almost ducked in a 3-D movie. 

I like the movie and it sets a great tone. I will buy the Blu-ray. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Logan, Not Your Average Superhero Movie

Seventeen years ago, Hugh Jackman became The Wolverine in the X-Men movie franchise. He was
an instant success. Despite some often panned movies, there was always Jackman's Logan, Weapon X, Wolverine...that fans loved. He is a fan favorite and will remain the iconic actor by which all who follow in the role will be measured. Even though Jackman's Wolverine never donned the famed yellow spandex of the comic book, He leaves us with his last and probably best of the X-Men movies ever made, Logan.

Logan is inspired by the comic book series Old Man Logan. It is loosely based on the alternative world series, but still, it works as yet another timeline in the X-Men saga. The movie is set in 2029. That does not mean it's the same timeline as the other movies since most of the X-Men movies are not sequential anyways. It is as Time puts it, perhaps the most complex timeline in the movie universe. It also doesn't actually mean that Logan takes place in any of the timelines.

Only a few minor spoilers follow. Nothing that isn't revealed in the exposition of the movie. 

Logan, who has tried to leave Wolverine behind him, drives a limousine in Texas. He has taken the now 90 plus year-old Professor Charles Xavier to live in an abandoned mill in Mexico. While he drives to make his living, Charles is cared for by mutant and one-time mutant hunter, Caliban, an albino. Professor X is suffering from a deteriorating brain disease which makes his powerful telepathic mind a danger. There are several veiled references to the three mutants as being in hiding because of an event in which Professor X lost control of his ability. There are also references that most of the other mutants have disappeared or died, but there is no reference or detail. Patrick Stewart returns as Professor X and has also announced that this too will be his last time in the chair.

Logan has finally begun to age. Something is physically wrong with the superhero but has he also lost his drive to do good? We will find out when Logan and Professor X are introduced to a young mutant named Laura. Laura is a mutant that was created through genetic manipulation using Logan's own DNA. In the comics, she will become Weapon 23 who donned the mantle of the Wolverine in the alternative world. In the movie, she is a child who was first trained as a weapon and killer.  She is played by the newcomer, Dafne Keen who plays a very believable child-weapon. They are confronted by villains galore. Most notably is the leader of the military team trying to recapture Laura, Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and evil mad-scientist Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant).

Logan is a different superhero movie. Its tone is somber and often dark. Wolverine is not the man he once was. He is beaten by what he has witnessed by his long life. His only remaining "family" is Professor X and the albino mutant, Caliban, that once hunted him and others like him. It is this that drives the movie, and also makes it probably the best in the saga so far. I for one will miss Jackman and Stewart but I also look forward to the new. Logan is the perfect bookend to the time that Jackman has spent as The Wolverine and the best, I think, of the X-Men franchise.

Logan is rated R for language and its extreme violence. The rating truly matches the gritty tone of the movie. It also has no after credit scene. Don't despair. It makes perfect sense and if you truly miss the after credit scene, you get a brief preview of Deadpool 2 at the beginning.

I will buy the Blue-ray.