BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 9 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some Action Violence, Peril and Frightening Images

Directed by: Bill Condon

Written by: Stephen Chbosky & Evan Spiliotopoulos

(based on the fairy tale BEAUTY AND THE BEAST by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont)

Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen & Emma Thompson

1991’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is the latest in a long line of Disney classics to get the live-action remake treatment. Even though none of these remakes have been bad thus far, I was a bit more skeptical on this film because 1991’s animated classic is one of Disney’s best movies (whereas the original SLEEPING BEAUTY, JUNGLE BOOK and CINDERELLA aren’t exactly amazing). Surprisingly, I found myself delighted with the 2017 rendition of this classic fairy tale romance. It’s not a masterpiece like the animated film that it’s based upon, but this live-action remake is great nonetheless. Featuring creative liberties (to set it apart as its own film), fantastical visuals and brilliant casting, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is sure to win over viewers of all ages.

Set in 18th century France, the plot follows bookworm Belle (Emma Watson), an outsider in a small-minded town. Though the villagers sneer at her constant reading and intelligence, one person who admires Belle for all the wrong reasons is war hero Gaston (Luke Evans). This pompous, egotistical stud is determined to make Belle his trophy wife, but she rebukes him at every corner. When her inventor father (Kevin Kline) goes missing in a dark area of a nearby forest, Belle discovers that he’s been imprisoned by a hairy Beast (Dan Stevens) and offers to take her father’s place to grant his freedom.

Belle’s courageous act may just wind up reversing a long-standing curse on the Beast’s castle…as he must find true love to break the spell that imprisons him and the castle’s many inhabitants (who have been transformed into living inanimate objects). Will love spring forth in the unlikeliest of places? Does personality matter more than outward appearance? Will the spell be broken? Seeing as you’ve likely watched the animated classic or are familiar with this fairy tale, you probably already know the answers to all of those questions. However, that doesn’t lessen this enchanting fantasy-romance.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST has great visuals for the most part. The various inanimate objects look cool and detailed, especially when they get to shine in musical numbers and a hilarious stand-off in the final act. The settings all appear real, even when the viewer is placed inside the Beast’s massive castle. Huge camera movements (panning out between towers and faraway places) lend a huge scope to this story and the atmosphere is appropriately fantastical. This remake completely nails the feeling of the 1991 original and the CGI is almost flawless.

The key word there being “almost” because Beast’s face looks unconvincingly cartoonish. This poor quality isn’t distracting to the point where it completely ruins major parts of the story, but there are moments in certain scenes where my mind went “that looks sloppy.” The effects on the Beast’s facial features are so mediocre that my mother (who never notices or cares about CGI) leaned over and asked me “Is the Beast’s face CGI?” upon first seeing him. The computer-animated Beast’s ugly mug sticks out, especially when compared to the beauty of everything else around him, in a unintentionally bad way.

That’s not detract from Dan Stevens as the Beast because his performance is true to the character. This remains the case when he sings a new song that’s original to this remake. Stevens’s solo “Evermore” is easily the best new tune added to the mix, while the rest of the fresh musical additions seem utterly bland and forgettable. This especially goes for “Days in the Sun” which seemed to be filling in for the far superior “Human Again” (which was added into rereleased versions of the 1991 film). Don’t worry though, because all the original beloved songs are included in this version and sung flawlessly. From the rowdy “Gaston” and high-energy “Be Our Guest” to the uplifting opener “Belle” and the beautiful-as-always “Beauty and the Beast,” this 2017 version captures the musical spirit of the original film!

Besides Dan Stevens as the Beast, the rest of the cast is packed full of A-list talent. Emma Watson (from the HARRY POTTER series and THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER) now joins the ever-growing list of live-action Disney princesses and makes a phenomenal Belle. Though she has an instantly recognizable face, Watson manages to disappear into the good-hearted bookworm protagonist. Kevin Kline shines as her loving father, with an added subplot that wasn’t in the original film. Luke Evans is perfectly cast as good-looking villain Gaston and Josh Gad is clearly having a blast as his sidekick LeFou. Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald and Gugu Mbatha-Raw all bring their voices to the main inanimate objects.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST isn’t perfect (like 1991’s animated masterpiece), but it remains a fantastic piece of magical entertainment nonetheless. Some scenes are directly recreated from the 90s classic, while new creative liberties have also been taken. Some of these additions work in the film’s favor, while a majority of the new songs are totally forgettable (with the exception of the Beast’s “Evermore”). The effects are spectacular for the most part, with the exception of the Beast’s distracting CGI face. Still, the film’s positives far outweigh its negatives. If you want a lively musical, an uplifting fantasy, emotional romance or good old-fashioned entertainment, then 2017’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST delivers on all of those fronts.

Grade: A-

LAST VEGAS (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sexual Content and Language

LastVegas poster

Directed by: Jon Turteltaub

Written by: Dan Fogelman

Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline & Mary Steenburgen

It’s not often that you see very many films celebrating getting older and wiser to the extent that LAST VEGAS does. These messages mainly pop up in coming-of-age stories with relatively young protagonists. There have been exceptions in recent years starring well-worn cinematic veterans in dramedy roles. THE BUCKET LIST is an obvious example of this, but 2013 had two of these films in nationwide release. One of which made a giant splash at the box office and another of which was sort of a flop. The bomb was GRUDGE MATCH and the splash was this film: LAST VEGAS. I was tempted to cover LAST VEGAS upon its original release, but never got around to it. So almost a year later, I’m watching and critiquing this story of four old folks trying to live it up in Last Vegas…only to find that it’s a so-so film.

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Billy, Paddy, Archie and Sam have been friends since their childhood together in Brooklyn. 58 years have passed since those happy times and these men are quickly reaching their final years of life. After Billy gets engaged to a young thirty-something woman, the trio of old fogies throw him a bachelor party in the best place for such occasions: Las Vegas! They’re old guys trying to live it up in a strange new world where many things have changed. As you might imagine, hijinks ensue and the old guys come to terms with their age in different ways.

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LAST VEGAS is fun in moments, but also tries to have a sentimental edge (especially in the all too predictable conclusion) that doesn’t work very well. If this movie didn’t star these four legendary actors, than it would probably be a downright terrible movie. It’s a film that does get tired and repetitive, developing a flimsy story on the one-note joke that these four old guys are trying to live it up in Las Vegas (which is crowded by plenty of young people, drinking, partying, and sex). The fun of the story hinges completely on the cast, all of whom are fun to watch. Plenty of comparisons have been drawn to this being an old folks’ version of THE HANGOVER and that’s a pretty accurate dead-on description. The humor (though definitely with some PG-13 content) keeps things very safe, which makes sense given that a majority of the target-audience for this movie would be disgusted by the heavy R-rated HANGOVER jokes.

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What little plot makes up LAST VEGAS is very predictable. Each character has their own story-arch and these are interesting to various degrees. Robert De Niro’s thread is actually the least enjoyable, but he’s the best actor here. Everyone can predict where things are eventually heading in regards to Morgan Freeman’s relationship with his worrisome son, the possibility that Michael Douglas is forcing his marriage to a far younger woman, and Kevin Kline’s quest to have superb sex with someone other than his wife. Notice I didn’t use any of the character’s names in that last paragraph. This is because nearly everyone will just see these actors as not so much playing characters but really hamming it up for the cameras. The plot is less of an actual interesting story and more of an excuse for these guys to hang out. It’s almost the Adam Sandler effect with his godawful GROWN UPS movies, but this one keeps more dignity intact.

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At the end of the day, LAST VEGAS is harmless and may delight the older crowd who can relate better to these characters than I can at the moment. I’m far from the point in my life of being as old as these folks, so I can’t honestly say that this movie was aimed towards me to begin with. There are a couple of funny moments and everything is kept light-hearted. It’s a fluffy experience that really has no lasting impact, but doesn’t necessarily do anything all-out bad either. The best part of this movie was seeing De Niro, Douglas, Freeman, and Kline together, even if it’s in a middle-of-the-road effort.

Grade: C

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