Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Beauty And The Beast

Beauty And The Beast, Cert: PG, 129 mins, Walt Disney Pictures.

Disney continues its prolific slate of live-action remakes. There was Alice In Wonderland, Cinderella, Maleficent and Oz: The Great And Powerful (my favourite by a yellow-brick mile). It’s a strategy with no sign of slowing down, with Mulan, Peter Pan and The Lion King all in the works, along with The Nutcracker and a Mary Poppins sequel currently being made.
  Its latest re-envisioning, is of Beauty And The Beast, the 1991 classic which made history for being the first animated-feature ever to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. An unbelievable twenty-six years later, the decidedly dark tale of unlikely love, cursed spells, red roses and talking household objects, returns to enchant a new generation.
  It’s an exuberant, bells and whistles experience: rich, glossy, dappled to within an inch of its blockbusting, GCI-sprinkled life. So much so, that all the hype generated by trailers and Twitter-spheres, can’t help but leave you feeling delighted, warm, and yet oddly hollow. The problem with being so faithful to a beloved original, is that this adaptation can feel like its set-pieces (and occasionally over-long songs) are highlights, engaged in a box-ticking exercise.
 That said, it is visually absolutely stunning. The sets and costumes (by powerhouse designers Sarah Greenwood and Jacqueline Durran - Pride And Prejudice, Atonement, Anna Karenina), are phenomenal, whether it’s the bustling re-creation of a so-called ‘provincial’ town, or an austere rendering of the incandescent castle. The effects are wonderful; all the more immersive in 3D: plates are whizzing, snowballs are thrown and candles flicker.
 Some performances work better than others. Emma Watson’s good, but for me, just looks too young to play Belle. The maturity of Keira Knightley or Gemma Arterton would’ve been better. Dan Stevens’ Beast, is covered under so much computerised motion-capture, that his performance disappears. Kevin Kline adds pathos, Luke Evans is terrific as a malevolently vain Gaston, and the voice-work is particularly strong. Ian McKellen has fun as the curmudgeonly cynical clock Cogsworth, and Emma Thompson’s absolutely perfect as sweet Mrs. Potts, but I’d have preferred to see them in human form for longer. The extraordinarily star-studded cast, yearning score and aesthetic flourishes, make it enduringly magical.

Rating: * * * *

Image result for beauty and the beast poster


Thursday, 9 March 2017

Logan

Logan, Cert: 15, 137 mins approx, 20th Century Fox and Marvel Studios.

It’s easy to forget that with today’s veritable menu of superhero or franchise blockbusters (my favourite genre) and their innumerable extrapolations of sequel, prequel, reboot and cinematic-universe crossover etc - it all began with X-Men. Since the early Superman films, they’d been lacking in popularity. That changed in 2000, when original X-Men director Bryan Singer, (helming four to date), made a surprise hit, reinvigorating audience anticipation. Its figurehead, was Hugh Jackman’s grouchy, adamantium-clawed Wolverine.
  Logan is the ninth installment, as well as the latest of three standalone chapters, which focus primarily on his character, with Jackman having long-stated this is his last appearance in the role.
 Critically lauded as the most impressive addition in recent years - it’s an almost radical departure: stripped-back, gritty, edgy and visceral. The saga’s tone has never gone this dark and daring before. While most audiences probably find this sudden change refreshing, with the cast saying: ‘It hardly felt like an X-Men movie at all’ - for me, that’s precisely the problem.
The regular X-Men films, canonically, not only feature all the mutants collaborating together, but also have spectacle, humour, action set-pieces laden with CGI, and consequently were so much more fun. I prefer them lighter and brighter, with more zip, pace, and that vital fantastical element foregrounded throughout.
Instead here, much of that is jettisoned, in favour of being so serious, paired-down, and extremely violent. Maybe not gratuitously so, but certainly unnecessary. Wolverine’s trademark slicing-and-dicing is still intact - but didn’t need quite so much blood - and occasional decapitation. It didn’t bother me personally, but the much publicised 15-rating is fully justified. Director James Mangold’s conscious choice to include both only intermittent action, and the briefest glimpse of super-powers, will suit some, and there are a few surprise twists. Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s shockingly frail Professor Xavier, hiding out in a Mexican dust-bowl, (a landscape aptly evoking the narrative’s themes of isolation), both give strong performances, as does Boyd Holbrook especially,  as a slimy new bionic villain. ‘You’re not the only one that’s been enhanced’ he drawls. As good as it is, X2 or Apocalypse are so much more satisfying.

Rating: * * *

Image result for Logan Movie Poster