Tag Archives: Emma Thompson

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Tale as old as 1991, close as it can be.

The live-action adaptation of the 1991 animated film Beauty and the Beast is real, and it’s spectacular. I’ve never really been fond of feature-length animated films, so naturally I was keen to check out the live-action version of the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. My kids really wanted to see it too.

Basically, if you like the original, you’ll like this version. Beauty and the Beast follows the animated film very closely, from all the characters to the plot points to the songs, with only a handful of things added to give the story an extra dimension. Given that it’s a timeless, universal tale, the adaptation doesn’t lose anything in terms of the appeal of the story, and with CGI as good as it is  now, the look of the Beast and the enchanted household appliances are generally good enough to get by.

This review, therefore, really comes down to what brings the live-action to life, which are the performances of the actors and the special effects. Yes, director Bill Condon (Dream Girls, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 &2) and writers Stephen Chbosky (Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Huntsman: Winter’s War) played big roles, but let’s face it—a lot of other talented people in Hollywood probably could have produced something very similar.

For me, the clear standout was the villain Gaston, played wonderfully by Luke Evans. I didn’t think Gaston was all that memorable in the animated version, though here Evans makes Gaston a charismatic and insufferable douche who hits all the right notes in both performance and song. Alongside Gaston was enamored sidekick LeFou, played by Josh Gad, who I haven’t been a huge fan of but admit was great for this role. More on him later. Oh, and it’s always good to see Kevin Kline on screen, this time as Maurice, Belle’s protective father.

No complaints either in terms of the household appliances, played by the biggest stars of the movie. You’ve got Sir Ian McKellen as clock Cogsworth, Ewan McGregor as candelabra Lumiere, Stanley Tucci as harpsichord Maestro Cadenza, Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as feather duster Plumette. All of them deliver voice performances that bring gravitas to the film without overshadowing the leads.

Speaking of the leads, I must say Emma Watson would not be my first choice for Belle, and I stand by that statement having watched her performance, which is passable but not fantastic. For me, she still had too many shades of Hermione in her expressions and delivery, but to be fair to her I am not as critical of her singing voice, which sounded fine to me. She’s not a broadway legend like Paige O’Hara, so you can’t expect her to sing like one. Let’s just say Watson was good as Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone were in La La Land.

By contrast, I give a big thumbs up to Dan Stevens as the Beast. He must have had some computer help with his voice, but for the most part he gets the sounds perfect. And I have no complaints about his motion capture work. The Beast, whose look and sound I had worried about prior to the film’s release, turned out to be all right.

That said, I found some of the CGI for the Beast a little bit off 100%. Sometimes it’s in the facial expressions, sometimes it’s the hair, and sometimes it was the way he walked and moved. I may be nitpicking but when films like Rise/Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and The Jungle Book are so flawless you know they could have done better.

These few minor quibbles aside, Beauty and the Beast is a solid and faithful live-action adaptation of a beloved classic. It’s certainly better than Maleficent, though I felt like it lacked the freshness of Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 live-action version of Cinderella, which came across as a different experience. This was a safer, more direct, by-the-book adaptation, and there’s nothing wrong with that when the original is so good. Even though I knew everything that was going to happen I still had fun with it, though I think the film could have been elevated to another level with a slightly different take on the material.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: Don’t get and don’t care about the so-called “controversies”—LeFou being gay (big effing deal) and Belle being a victim of Stockholm syndrome (get a life, it’s based on a freaking fairy tale).

Burnt (2015)

burnt

I wasn’t all that interested in seeing Burnt, a film about a good-looking but emotionally damaged chef played by Bradley Cooper. And as it turns out, I probably should have stayed away, because I sure got burnt by it.

At least it starts off well. We find out that Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper), a former hotshot chef in Paris, is returning from some kind of self-imposed exile and is ready to take over the London culinary scene by storm. And he has a clear goal in mind: his third Michelin star.

The big names flash up during the opening credits: Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl, Alicia Vikander, Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson. It was looking really promising, and I foolishly got my hopes up.

Burnt does have some positives. The stars do deliver in terms of performances, with Cooper and Miller in particular exhibiting enough thespian skills to make us believe that they are top-class chefs (that said, Bruhl, who I loved in Drive, was quite hard to understand because of his fast-talking/accent). The dramatic kitchen scenes can be intense, and people who like watching those cooking shows with screaming head chefs will appreciate all the swearing and humiliation. And of course there’s the food porn. There wasn’t an overemphasis on the culinary delights, but they sure did look very delicate and delicious. That said, I don’t think director John Wells (August: Osage County) did enough to sell the food — other food-themed films like The Hundred-Foot Journey and Chef did a better job of making me salivate.

The fundamental problem with Burnt is that Cooper’s character, Adam Jones, is a dickhead. And not just a little one. A massively conceited, bitter, douchey, self-important, vile, and unrepentant dickhead who doesn’t deserve our sympathy or empathy. I get that they’re trying to make him unappealing so that he can be redeemed — that’s blatantly obvious from the start — but his antics just build up so much animosity that it makes it impossible to care or root for the character. By the time he’s ready to be likable it’s already far too late.

Jones isn’t the only one, either. In fact, it’s hard to find one character you can truly root for in the movie. Some of them are okay, I suppose, but no one who can really make you care enough to develop a genuine emotional connection to the story. Maybe you need to have worked in that type of high-stress environment to understand how these people think and function, but I grew frustrated from not giving a darn about their personal predicaments.

I got the feel when watching this film that it was trying to be a hard-hitting, edgy, compelling drama, though when you strip away all the big names, yelling and the cooking it’s really just a cliched redemption story. I can’t go into specifics without revealing spoilers, but it’s not hard to guess how certain plot points are played out.

On the whole, Burnt was a disappointment. To sum up the experience with food puns (naturally) — despite the pretty presentation and fancy names, Burnt was an overcooked effort with too much bitterness, ultimately leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Boom.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Saving Mr Banks (2013)

SAVING-MR.-BANKS-Poster

First Private Ryan, now Mr Banks. It seems Tom Hanks always has someone to save.

In Saving Mr Banks, Hanks plays none other than Mr Walt Disney, who has been courting the author of the Mary Poppins books, PL Travers (Emma Thompson) for 20 years in the hopes of delivering a big screen version to audiences. Unfortunately, Travers a bit of a stubborn biatch with very concrete ideas of who her characters are and the limits of what she would allow them to do, and so begins a difficult process of trying to please her while putting together the classic 1964 Mary Poppins film we all know about today.

I had lofty expectations for Saving Mr Banks, but in the end I just thought it was just an OK movie, somewhat sentimental, mildly amusing and rather predictable. It’s charming, warm and driven by wonderful performances and songs and all, though it’s a stretch to suggest it’s anything approaching one of the best films of 2013.

Part of the reason I’m not as high about the film as most others could be because I’ve never been a huge fan of Mary Poppins. In fact, I didn’t even see the film for the first time until I was in my 20s (or at least that’s how I remember it) and I had no idea the film was based on a book. I later saw a stage musical version of it and therefore know all the catchy songs quite well, but as a whole it doesn’t have a special place in my heart like it does for many others of my generation.

This is really a character journey film about the internal struggles of Travers, with Disney playing a more minor role as the facilitator. Travers is snooty, defensive and opinionated, but as we find out throughout the course of the film through flashbacks to her childhood, there is a reason for the way she’s turned out like this, and a reason why she’s so fixated on who her characters are. And the majority of it has to do with her loving father, played by Colin Farrell, is fighting a losing battle against demons of his own.

The 125-minute running time is mostly dedicated to Disney and his team trying to break through the ice and soften Travers up so that they can make the type of film they want to make. For me, the best parts are watching the Mary Poppins music composers, Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and BJ Novak), developing the famous songs such as Chim Chim Cher-ee and Let’s Go Fly a Kite — I found the process to be intriguing and fun, and I wonder how realistic it actually was.

The main problem I had with it — apart from the claims of historical revision and shameless Disney PR — is that Travers (notwithstanding Thompson’s brilliant performance) never comes across as a very likable person. Yes, you get to understand her and ride along with her as she undergoes her character journey, but the sense of empathy was lacking because I found her to be quite insufferable. The other problem is that we all know Mary Poppins gets made in the end, so no matter how much Travers threatens to pull out, we know how it’s going to turn out in the end, and knowing that this is a Disney film, we also know everything will ultimately be A-OK.

That said, from the perspective of an origins story, Saving Mr Banks is a fascinating look into how films were made back in the day. It’s also smartly written and educational (eg, you find out Travers is actually an Aussie!) without being saccharine. If you were/are a fan of Marry Poppins then it’s likely the film will resonate and provide a warm and fuzzy trip down memory lane. For me, on the other hand, it’s just a reasonably enjoyable couple of hours.

3.25 stars out of 5