Tag Archives: Josh Gad

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).

Pixels (2015)

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Hearing about a new Adam Sandler movies used to excite me, but now it just fills me with fear.

Pixels, on its face, at least seemed like an interesting idea brimming with potential: for some reason aliens attack Earth using massive real-life versions classic arcade games (like Galaga, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, etc), and the best video gamers in the world are called upon to save the human race.

It’s a nerd fantasy that’s supposed to inspire awe and nostalgia, or at least a offer a cool and fun visual feast thanks to modern special effects. The fact that it is directed by Chris Columbus, the dude who gave us the first two Harry Potter films, the first two Home Alone films and Mrs Doubtfire, also suggested that it would at least be a technically sound production.

I guess I shouldn’t have expected so much from an Adam Sandler movie.

Pixels is actually not a horrible film by Sandler’s recent standards. At the very least it’s not as atrocious as the Grown Ups movies or trash like Jack and Jill or Thats’s My Boy. It’s biggest problem is that it’s just really lazy. Everything just reeks of laziness. Lazy script, lazy performances, and even a lazy effort from the typically reliable Columbus.

Let’s start with the script. The story itself is a great idea, but that’s about it. The execution of the story is cliched and mechanical, arbitrarily ticking off plot points just to drag the narrative from point A to point B. Worse, it is completely lacking in logic. That’s normal for Sandler comedies of old, but those were great because they made sense within their own universe. There are decisions made in Pixels that make no sense in any world, and I’m not even talking about the sci-fi elements. It’s as though the script was reviewed by a petulant child who demanded that everything be amended to his/her liking, with no consideration of what developed brains might think.

Then there’s the performances. Sandler, at this stage, feels like he’s just phoning it in. There’s a deadness in his eyes that permeates his acting. It’s a shame, because there are flashes of the old Sandler in this film — when he’s being a smartarse tossing wisecracks and making fun of people. It’s the only time when he seems to have any energy. Instead, we get scenes like the one where his character is doing a moonwalk, and just when he’s about to do it the camera switches to the legs of someone who clearly isn’t Sandler (the legs look about 100 pounds lighter, for starters), before switching back to his upper body again. It’s that lazy.

Michelle Monaghan plays the token female character and there’s not a whole lot for her to do. The forced romance between her and Sandler’s character is predictable and cringeworthy, another example of the film’s laziness and excessive willingness to follow film tropes.

Kevin James again plays Sandler’s sidekick, though his character happens to be a very important person. I would say it’s completely implausible, but then again, we’re living in a world where Donald Trump could be US president soon. James has a few solid lines, but for the most part he’s relegated to the background.

The only actors I felt put in any real effort are Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad, who play two fellow top-level gamers. Dinklage plays Sandler’s douchebag childhood rival, and he seems to relish the opportunity to portray a character with some unusual fetishes. Gad plays a younger gaming prodigy who grows up to be a conspiracy nut who is still in love with a fictional gaming character. Both actors try, but only Dinklage is consistently funny. It’s not Gad’s fault; it’s just that his character isn’t interesting enough.

Lastly, we come to the ordinarily reliable Columbus. There’s nothing really wrong with the film from a technical perspective, and the special effects indeed very nice, but for whatever reason, Columbus fails to inject Pixels with what it needs most: a sense of fun and excitement. It’s strange, because the innovative ideas are all there. On paper, the real-life video game battles should be fantastic, though for me, apart from the Pac-Man stage, there wasn’t much to capture the imagination.

The end result is a surprisingly bland film with much less passion and enthusiasm than it ought to have had. It would be unfair to say Pixels has no merit. There is still a cool concept at heart, slick visuals and some laughs along the way. It’s just that the film with this much potential– even with Sandler’s involvement — should never have been this dull.

2.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Frozen (2013)

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I’ve always been a little biased against cartoon movies, even when I was a kid. I like the classic stories and cute characters, but for some reason I just prefer movies with real people. There are exceptions, such as Toy Story and Up, but these are clever modern tales, whereas the Disney ones, while enjoyable, don’t have quite the same effect on me.

Frozen is Disney’s latest adaptation of a classic tale, this time The Ice Queen from Hans Christian Anderson. Like the previous effort, Tangled, it features a blend of CGI and hand animation techniques which I think works very well and probably saves a lot of time and money too. The cast features Kristen Bell as Anna, the sister of Elsa, the Ice Queen, played by Idina Menzel, plus Josh Gad as Olaf, a magical snowman.

The plot is fairly straightforward. Elsa has special powers like the Iceman from X-Men, making her afraid that she will hurt the people she loves, such as her sister Anna. One day she loses it and unwittingly unleashes an eternal winter on their home land of Arendelle before running off to live on her own, forcing Anna to go look for her so things can be returned to normal.

As an animated feature, Frozen is done very well, with beautiful animations, likable characters, wild action sequences, and some of the best songs Disney has done in a very long time (who knew Kristen Bell had a set of pipes on her?) and I’m sure Oscars are in store. It’s arguably the best classic animated Disney film in years, and it is no surprise to me that the film has been a hit, especially with the kiddies.

On the other hand, the film is undoubtedly formulaic and doesn’t offer anything we haven’t really seen or felt before. There’s the beautiful princess, the charming and handsome love interest, the nasty villain, and of course the cute sidekick (which in this case is the snowman). The story, however, was lacking in my opinion, and more importantly, I didn’t find the film that funny — an amusing moment here and there, but the jokes are more obvious and less edgy than that from other recent animated films such as say Monsters University. 

This is probably my bias creeping through again so I’ll stop now. Objectively, Frozen is a delight, something both children and family should enjoy, though for me it’s just an above average animated film that doesn’t stand out among some of Disney’s more famous classics.

3.5 stars out of 5