Category: movie reviews

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast

To celebrate the end of school, we had a movie night. Trying to pick a movie that will actually interest all my children (and be appropriate for all of them) isn’t exactly an easy choice. We typically end up watching things that aren’t really great for MC, but keep Tomas’s interest. This time, I decided to go with something that would be good for MC, but which Tomas might not love: the new live action Beauty and the Beast. (I was pleasantly surprised when Tomas expressed enthusiasm to see it, and watched (and enjoyed) it willingly. Yay!)

When I was in high school, animated Disney movies were sort of like Pixar movies were a few years ago. Between The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast, Disney seemed to be unable to go wrong. (Until Pocahontas came out and reminded us that yes, they could.) But for a stretch there, it was all awesome. I was (and continue to be) a big Disney fan. Bought the soundtracks. Saw the movies multiple times. The whole deal. Beauty and the Beast is a show I even saw on Broadway.

Still, I was skeptical about how it would turn out. The buzz I heard was all positive, but you never know with one of these productions.

In the end, I really loved the movie. Well acted, well sung, well directed, with special effects that somehow managed to pull it all off. (I bought the non-3D version, but that Be Our Guest number almost made me wish I’d gone for 3D.) Really, the only quibble I had was personal: they excluded two of my favorite numbers from the Broadway musical version (“Home” and “If I Can’t Love Her”). Normally I wouldn’t hold that against a movie, except they made the decision to include the orchestral version of Home for a snippet of the movie. To me, that’s like letting someone smell something delicious, and then letting them know they can’t eat any of it. Why bring it up at all if you’re just going to ignore it? I got all excited, and then . . . nothing. (As for “If I Can’t Love Her.” they went and included a Josh Groban version on the soundtrack. Come on! Put it in the movie!)

(For reference, here are the two songs I wish they’d included)

But really, how good does the movie have to be where my only complaints are about relatively obscure things they didn’t include that I have a personal attachment to? The movie was a delight from start to finish, and it did exactly what it set out to do: adapt the animated version almost note for note. It really made me admire the original all that much more. It’s got an engaging story and characters that are actually well rounded. The live action expands on some of that, but it didn’t need to do much. Casting Emma Watson in the lead role pretty much set the movie up for success right away. And you know the singing is pretty impressive when I waited through the credits to double check if any of the actors were dubbed. (They weren’t!)

I ended up giving it a 9/10.

Pete’s Dragon is a Bad Movie

Not the old version, mind you. The old Pete’s Dragon is great. Lighthearted fun, and drunk Mickey Rooney. It doesn’t get much better than that. Oh. And songs. The songs are great too. The original was so good, it makes you wonder why they felt there was a need to update it, other than money.

But I like money, and I can’t blame people for wanting to make some of their own. And some of the live adaptations of Disney films have been really solid, so why not?

The thing is, the end result in this case was pretty bad. What’s worse is that it there were a lot of good things surrounding the bad that made it that much more frustrating. The acting wasn’t terrible. The effects were great. There were pieces of a genuinely good movie and plot in there, so you could see that there might be something really awesome, if it all fell into place.

But it doesn’t.

The  movie is much more serious than the original. It’s got no songs. And it has no drunk Mickey Rooney. I’m okay with all of it in principle, but where it all goes horribly wrong is in the story. Denisa liked the movie, so perhaps some of this is just me being irritated that the plotting and characters were so poorly thrown together, since that’s something I look and try to do professionally.

The big problem: the characters served the plot to an extreme. (There’s going to be spoilers here, so if you don’t want to read those, move on.) There’s a character who’s basically only there to go for the stereotypical “I’m a man! I have a gun! I must shoot things and cut down trees and go catch a dragon!) And he somehow gets his hands on a whole bunch of tranquilizer guns and the darts to go with them, so he and a few friends go out to find that dragon in a place in the woods that took them hours to find, getting lost in the process (but magically finding their way back to their car in about 5 seconds when they needed to).

Fine. Whatever. They want the dragon, so they tranq the dragon up. And then somehow they move that dragon in the space of an hour or two (an afternoon at most) onto a huge truck. I have no idea how they managed to do this. They must have needed to cut down a whole mess of trees to have that happen, but then the trees are all still there when they go back. But never mind that. And never mind the fact that there were some other adults present who should have been telling them to stop.

Nope. They got the dragon back. And then they proceed to be stupid and bullheaded about keeping the dragon. (So they can . . . make money somehow? Unclear.)

The characterization problems aren’t limited to the idiot hunter. Nope, they extend to other characters as well. For example, Pete stays with a family for one evening. During that one evening, the dragon sees him reading a book with the fam, and concludes Pete doesn’t want him anymore. Fine. The dragon’s dense, I guess? But Bryce Dallas Howard also somehow becomes so attached to Pete in that one evening that she’s desperate to keep him. Who knows why.

That just keeps coming up in the movie again and again. Characters do things because that’s what they need to do in order for the plot to move forward. None of the payoffs are earned, but the music swells and the actors pretend they are.

A smaller problem: There’s a subtheme through the movie of evil loggers ruining the forest. But this is just thrown in here and there and not developed at all. This indicates to me that it was a bigger plot point in a different version, but it was edited out almost entirely, which is a symptom of a movie that has been drastically altered from what it used to be. Edited to make it into something else. I would like to see the original version, if it’s out there, to see what went on with it.

You can see this in the way the movie plays out its climax as well. There are three or four different points where it seems the problems are all solved. Three or four climaxes. But the movie just keeps on going. Keeps on having new resolutions. It doesn’t make any sense.

For a movie or book to really work, you need that suspension of disbelief. You need the audience to believe the characters might make decisions they way they’re portrayed. If they don’t, then it all falls apart. That’s what happened to me in this movie. Perhaps some of it was I was disappointed it was messing up a childhood favorite, but I’m usually good at separating myself from that. I think there were just little blips of issues at first, and they made me pay attention to the plot. Start looking at it critically.

By the end, I just wanted the movie to stop. 3/10. Go watch the original and save yourself 2 hours.

Movie Review: Spotlight

Oscar time is almost upon us, so it’s high time I finally caught up on last year’s winner, right? Spotlight is available right now on Netflix, and it’s a flat out incredible film.

I’d been avoiding it mainly because it seemed like it would be a downer of a movie. The investigation into the Catholic priest child abuse scandal in Boston? How in the world could that do anything but depress me? And when I’m busy, I don’t want to have my entertainment bring me down. But the time had finally come to check it out, and I’m very glad I did.

In a nutshell, this movie is the best depiction of the research process that I’ve ever seen. From the forming of the initial question (Is it true that Catholic priests were abusing children?) to the way it deepens as the research unfolds (how many? When? Where?), it’s all there in black and white. As a professional librarian, this is the sort of thing that really excites me. (Go figure.) Research can be incredibly difficult and complex, but at the same time, it can be very exciting to do, and this movie somehow captures all of that. (Probably because the stakes on the line are so much higher than with many other research projects.)

More than that, it’s got excellent acting and writing. There’s a reason it won the Oscar for best original screenplay. Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton both stand out in the cast (Keaton is so much better in this than in Birdman, which felt much more like a gimmick to me than anything else.) The  plot ratchets up the tension well, and by the end you just have to keep watching because you’re so intent on finding out what happens.

The movie is rated R for the subject matter and a few swear words (2 or 3 f bombs), but I really feel like this is one movie everyone should watch. Not just to find out how awesome research is, but to see what happens when people in power use that power to cover up evil. I could just as easily see this sort of thing play out in Salt Lake City as Boston. Churches do a lot of good, and so if all that good comes at the cost of a little bit of bad, what’s the harm? That sort of thinking can really fester and rot away the insides of a good organization, until good people are making very bad decisions. It sets up a false dichotomy, because it’s not an either/or situation. Good churches can both do good and not do bad. It’s not like the Catholic church could only do the good things it was accomplishing only on that condition that 6% of its priests were able to continue to molest children.

So if you typically avoid R-rated films, this is one I’d consider watching anyway.

I gave it 10/10.

When Childhood Movies Don’t Disappoint: The Parent Trap

I noticed the original Hayley Mills Parent Trap was put on Netflix a few weeks ago. This was a movie I’d watched a number of times as a kid, and I always really remembered it fondly. Which, these days, is usually a good sign that I should avoid watching it again. I’ve been burned by my earlier bad taste too many times. But the thing with childhood favorites is I always feel compelled to pass them on to my children. If I liked the movie back then, won’t they like it now?

So we watched it together as a family the other night. And for once, I discovered that the movie held up remarkably well. I still really enjoyed it from start to finish.

For those of you who don’t know, the movie’s about twins whose parents divorced when they were babies. Mom went to Boston, Dad went to California, and they each took a child with them. Because who cares about what the kids think, right?

Fast forward a decade or so, and through a strange coincidence, the twins end up at the exact same summer camp. They can’t stand each other at first, but they become friends and deduce they’re actually siblings. Since they’re identical, and each wants to meet the parent they don’t know, they swap places and parents when they leave camp. The ultimate goal, of course, is to reunite their parents and convince them that they still love each other. But there’s a twist: Dad’s met a new woman, and he’s planning on getting married soon, so the twins are going to have to accelerate their plans a fair bit.

Comedy ensues.

It’s really a pleasure from start to finish. Sure, there’s a bit of clunky acting now and then. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Hayley Mills was acting with herself, so responses are tough. But the special effects still stand up, and the story’s a lot of fun too (as long as you don’t think too hard about it). The family enjoyed it, and I can happily recommend the movie to anyone else looking for a fun evening with their kids.

Well done, Disney.

Movie Review: I Am Not a Serial Killer

It’s not every day I get to review a movie based on one of my friend’s books. That’s pretty exciting right there. Dan Wells’ I Am Not a Serial Killer is a really cool book, first and foremost. I read it back in the day and loved it then, and I remember him talking it up on our way to WorldCon in LA, back when I first met him. A kid who’s obsessed with serial killers and knows he has all the markings of becoming one himself, and wants to somehow avoid that? Awesome concept for a character, and really well executed in the book. Add to that a plot about an actual serial killer picking off people in a small town, and you have a recipe for success.

So the book is great. But how is the adaptation?

Uneven. (Sorry, Dan. Please don’t unleash your minions on me. I just call ‘em like I see ‘em.)

It’s tough, because there’s a lot I really like about the movie. First and foremost is the acting. Christopher Lloyd (Doc from Back to the Future) does a great job of playing the lead’s elderly next door neighbor, and the lead himself (Max Records, from Where the Wild Things Are) is my favorite part of the film. He really portrays John Cleaver so well, showing a boy on the brink between light and darkness. There’s a scene where John confronts his mom that’s really terrifying in a very real sense, and the success of it is squarely on Records. The acting is super.

The feel of the movie is also great. It felt like a nice throwback movie from the late 70s/early 80s. Trimmed down and bare bones, but in a good way. It didn’t shove it in your face ala Stranger Things, but it pervaded the whole production.

The conflicts and plot from the book carry over well, so that helps a lot too. The set up is the same, so all is ready for a great movie.

It’s the adaptation where things fall apart. Specifically, transitioning all elements of the plot successfully.

In the book, John has a love interest that presents problems for him. He’s attracted to a girl, but he’s trying not to stalk her, despite not really knowing how to approach her otherwise. That’s done well in the movie, but it feels tacked on. Ultimately, the plot development goes nowhere. It’s vestigial, with not enough given to it to have it make sense to people who aren’t familiar with the book.

A second, bigger example of this is the climax of the movie. Trying to keep this as spoiler free as possible, the way the villain is fought comes from out of the blue. There’s no discussion of the villain’s weaknesses or experimentation to find them. Dan didn’t do that in the book. He set things up wonderfully, so you know exactly what can and can’t be done to win.

Honestly, it felt to me like something had been filmed (in both cases: the villain and the love interest) and had been left on the editing floor. Maybe I’m wrong. For three quarters of the movie, everything’s awesome. It starts slowly, but builds really nicely. And then the resolution just feels rushed and haphazard. Disappointing.

Check the movie out if you’re interested in creepy independent horror, or if you want to see some cool acting performances. I gave it a 6/10, though this is with my new “Bryce is rating movies more harshly” mantra.

Anyone else out there already seen it? What did you think?

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