Review: Beauty and the Beast

4.5 stars

The much anticipated Beauty and the Beast remake hit cinemas on Friday and for a 90s child who grew up wishing she was Belle, it was wonderful.

The film does a fantastic job of recreating the best moments from the original, while embellishing the story with elements from the original tale and introducing some new moments to make it original.

The cast was stellar; Emma Watson channelled the book-worm we all know and love perfectly, bringing the feminism she is so well known for into some wonderful moments which make Belle an even more feisty heroine. Gaston and Le Fou make a hilarious pair, with the blantant misogynism tempered by well-placed humour.

This version’s Beast is more cantankerous than terrifying, despite the CGI revamp with horns – but then it is easier to see why Belle can fall in love with him, as he becomes less her captor than a victim also.

The CGI was incredible, with the servant characters looking more ornate than ever and the castle truly magical. Stylistically, references to the period through costume, wigs and make-up helped to root the tale in a setting. The songs did justice to their predecessors, so much so that a stalwart fan might find themselves mouthing along. As a bookworm, I appreciated the small nods to the original tale, which help to unite and embellish symbols from the cartoon. Equally newer elements helped to bring out more backstory, particularly around Belle’s mother, giving the whole story more substance, which it really needs to carry as a more three-dimensional live action piece.

There were a few moments where I was frustrated at moments from the original that were omitted, or missed opportunities to be just a little more feminist. However, it is an adaptation, not a complete transposition of the cartoon, and equally it can’t please everyone. All in all it was a wonderfully nostalgic trip down memory road and a fantastic new experience all at the same time.

 

Review: The Jungle Book



Disney’s series of remakes have been controversial among fans, with some stalwartly refusing to let go of their favourite animations and others desperate to see the stories updated for adults.

There is absolutely no denying these live action remakes are for adults who are still kids at heart, but so far that has not hampered the quality in the slightest, if anything improving it. The Jungle Book is no exception. The CGI is incredibly impressive, resulting in a visually stunning production which captures the landscape and changing seasons of the jungle with acute and precise emotion. 

The storyline is almost as perfect, closely referencing Kipling’s original story while also paying homage to the beloved animation by including versions of the songs ‘Bare Necessities’ and ‘I Wanna Be Like You’, which fit the modernised style well and obviously brought a wave of nostalgia to many viewers.

Incredibly impressive… visually stunning… with acute and precise emotion

The impeccable casting was the cherry on top. Elba was fantastically evil without running the risk of becoming a pantomime villain. Murray brought lighthearted humour to the table as Baloo, while Walken’s King Louie became an almost mafia-like gangster villain which was an interesting characterisation.

Neel Sethi as Mowgli however, was the one who stole the show. It could not be imagined how difficult it must have been to be the only actor appearing on screen, particularly at such a young age. His performance was sweet, moving and utterly believable, despite the fact that he was talking to wolves, panthers and bears. 

Overall this adaptation was beautiful, heartwarming, full of nostalgia and genuinely brilliant. If this is the standard which Disney are setting then I cannot wait for their next project. 

Review: High Rise

  

I haven’t read any JG Ballard so I’m unable to pronounce as to whether Ben Wheatley got High Rise ‘right’. So from the perspective of an almost unknowing cinema goer this to me felt like a very clever, very well done dystopian fantasy.  

It nailed the seventies with the colours, the costumes, and the hair not to mention the prolific sex. An atmospheric score included ‘SOS’ by Abba in a variety of styles to suit the moment. And obviously the subject was of great significance.

The high rise becomes a microcosm of society with the rich at the top sucking up the electricity, leaving the poor of the lower floors without power. The rich have dogs and the poor have children. The rich have parties in period costume, in a way that, perhaps heavy handedly, recalls pre-Revolution France. The lower floors have parties I imagine to be typical of the 70s, filed with sex and drugs.

  Image from Wikipedia

The main plot device is obvious, and apparent from the beginning: the lower floors are becoming dissatisfied and anarchy ensues. The question is more how does it happen and what will happen next?

It is strange, intriguing and perfectly captured typical postmodern fears of social collapse. For this it is highly entertaining and incredibly clever. However at some moments you do start to feel that the point has been made and it is dragging it out just a little. Equally if you are an animal lover to the point where you struggle to hold back the tears if something soft and furry gets hurt then this film will not be pleasurable for you.

While I didn’t particularly enjoy that element I can at least say that the adaptation was fun, engrossing and very cleverly executed. While some have commented that it was overdone so much that the message was lost, I think it got the balance just right, involving you in the action enough so that you almost feel complicit while keeping you at enough of a distance to understand the warning. And what is that you ask? Go watch it and find out. 

Review: Hail, Caesar!

5 stars
Lights, camera, action! The Coen brothers’ latest effort takes us back to the 1950s – the golden age of Hollywood. Shot using film, the colour carries a nostalgic golden glow, lending a real atmosphere to the film however it is far from sickly sweet. 
 Image fromempireonline.com
 
We follow ‘fixer’ Eddie Mannix through the trials and tribulations of life looking after movie stars and film directors, namely, when lead actor, Baird Whitlock, lead in the studio’s most crucial film, is kidnapped.

On top of this Mannix has to deal with a pregnancy scandal, how to make a film depicting Christ accurate and a demanding boss, with actors and directors who are even worse.
  Image from Bustle

The plot is very simple, something which could easily have gone very wrong and made for a weak and boring narrative. However, pair this with sharp humour, mix in plenty of satire, a dash of flashy dance numbers and serve with some of the biggest names in Hollywood and you are on to a winner. 

Hail, Caesar! celebrates Hollywood’s golden era while simultaneously parodying it. It is rare that a satire can also be such a ‘feel-good’ film but this truly is. The appearances from the likes of George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum felt almost like cameos, with each character comprising of a seperate issue in Mannix’s day, and all based on their different sets.

However, it is this quality that balances on the fine line of satire; you can’t help but feel that with such big names these actors are playfully mocking their own industry and role in it. 

  Image from theverge.com

Deceptively simple, yet incredibly clever and entertaining, Hail, Caesar! is quite simply a lot of fun. 

Review: The Hateful Eight

From the moment I saw the trailer and the cast line-up for The Hateful Eight I knew I had to see it. Described as a cross between Agatha Christie and a Western, this film definitely fits the bill and is another example of the brilliance of Tarantino.

The film opens with an old western style credits scene, with garish yellow typography evoking the heritage which Tarantino is drawing from. The first scenes take place across a blindingly white snowy landscape, made all the more beautiful by the cinematography with choice to use 70mm film a brilliant one. While I didn’t see any of the special screenings for this, even the standard viewing was gorgeous with light leaks and sun glare making the practically arctic setting even more atmospheric; I could practically feel the cold.

Tarantino’s storytelling was taken to a whole new level with the use of numbered and titled chapters to break up the story line. This technique is later accompanied by a voice-over and flashback to change the narrative perspective, which is a sharp shock to the audience who have become utterly immersed in the story so far. It does however show Tarantino’s skill in developing a narrative that can engross, shock, distance and then captivate his audience.
The cast for the film is just important as the director himself, with Samuel L. Jackson playing a freed-slave and ex-Union solider now turned bounty hunter in the years after the civil war. This sets up some incredibly interesting racial politics, as many of Tarantino’s works do, which come to drive the action of the film. Jennifer Jason Leigh is brilliant as the seemingly mad and terrifying Daisy Domergue, who is the murderess being taken to Red Rock for hanging. She is hilariously funny, immensely engaging and slightly grotesque all at the same time.

An oncoming blizzard forces a collection of colourful characters, and strangers, to stay at Minnie’s Haberdashery with racial and political tensions soon rising. Walter Goggins as the supposed new sheriff of Red Rock, is excellent, with a commanding presence and huge personality, reminiscent of Boyd Crowder in Justified, but not a straight imitation, illustrating that while Goggins has a particular style, he is more than a one trick pony.

The pace is slow at first but builds up to an incredibly scene where Samuel L Jackson’s character confronts the former confederate general staying there also. This scene is testimony to the power of both Tarantino and Jackson, being violent, chilling and hugely uncomfortable, without spilling a drop of blood, but also being immensely comical at the same time. From here the story really takes force, with the twist and the ending unraveling before you can even guess what will happen

Overall this was a fantastic film, and I would rate it very highly all round, being visually arresting, with some brilliant performances, and with incredible direction, a combination which make for truly engaging and entertaining storytelling.

Image by www.joblo.com

Review: Legend

Legend will be one of the biggest films of the year and is highly likely to see Tom Hardy, playing both Kray twins, winning awards.

As such I had high hopes for the film. I was not disappointed.

It opens with a female narrator introducing the ‘legendary’ Kray twins. We soon find out this narrator is Frances, Reggie Kray’s wife. The film explains the background to the Kray’s lives, Ronnie’s mental health issues and their work as gangsters. Alongside this, the costumes and filming and Cockney accents immerse us in 60s East End London.We follow their lives through what appears to be a love story between Ronnie and Frances. If you don’t know what happens this would all seem to end happily ever after.

We see Tom Hardy charm as the smooth, slick Reggie Kray, who invites our sympathy both because of, and despite, the criminal aspects of his life. We also see him as the scarier, more unstable Ronnie Kray. His portrayal of the two different characters was truly brilliant and entirely effective, we see their similarities alongside their utterly different personalities. The interplay between the twins offers us hilarious comedy, a dynamic that is all the more impressive for Hardy to have maintained on his own.

Frances continues to narrate throughout, providing the audience with a refreshing female voice and perspective on this conventionally male dominated narrative. However, we slowly see the seemingly happy and lighthearted situation begin to deteriorate as the Krays’ criminal lives catch up with them. This means Reggie’s relationship with Frances becomes increasingly strained. However, the Krays’ criminality is also their power and avoiding the repercussions of his actions means that Reggie can marry Frances.

Things go from bad to worse. We see both twins deteriorate and the once charming Reggie becomes as bad as his brother; we lose our sympathies with his sickening neglect and violence. meanwhile we see Frances sink into a depression she can only control through pills.

The following scenes depicting Frances’ fate were truly heartbreaking. In a cinema full of people I was in floods of tears, a surefire sign of a good film.

Those scenes and the remainder of the film proved an uncomfortable but striking watch. The story of the Kray twins is undeniably horrible, but like all violent killers they provide a cultural intrigue that is perfect material for the cinema; pair this with an actor who is almost a national treasure and we have the perfect recipe for an incredible blockbuster. This film tells a true story that has been enshrined as legend, and with a skillful, funny and moving portrayal of the rise and downfall of Britain’s most notorious gangsters, Legend is an absolute must see.

Turning Traditions, Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret State is one if the best films I have seen in a long time.

A lover of all things to do with spying and espionage I had high hopes for this film and was not disappointed.

The film has everything, it is funny, full of action, dramatic and even sexy. The plot is not complex but for a film of this nature it is surprising and not so obvious that you can work it out immediately. Expect to have to cover your eyes or hold your breath as the film really pushes you to the edge of your seats. 

The story centres on a secret organisation based in Britain called the Kingsmen, but it is independent of any government affiliation. The organisation embodies all the traditional perceptions of the British security services, in their old fashioned ways as a bit of a gentleman’s club; associated with the aristocracy and members from Oxbridge (this makes from brilliant humour on a number of occasions but especially in one crack about universities).

Harry Hart (Colin Firth) attempts to compensate for past failure by recruiting the son of a deceased colleague. The bright and brilliant delinquent Eggsy (Tarin Egerton) must prove himself against the youth of the aristocracy in order to achieve a coveted place as part of the Kingsmen.

The film has everything, it is funny, full of action, dramatic and even sexy.

Meanwhile the billionaire businessman Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) subverts stereotypes as the American version of a Bond villain. Valentine, surprisingly has good intentions, but his mad scheme will (obviously) cause world-wide disaster that only Eggsy and the other protagonists can stop to save the day. So the plot is a little obvious, but not exactly the same thing you’ve seen again and again.

The film is aware of the tradition it is playing into, using the tropes of Bond villains and satire of the Austin Powers films to pave a new way, a comedy that is not entirely satire but is certainly self-mocking. The violence is gratuitous in a shockingly funny way, as are the few sex references and the overly caricatured villains. We see plenty if stylised explosions, people being sliced shot, bludgeoned and worse, I will not lie, I had to shut my eyes through some bits. Despite this we can easily identify with the sentiment of the film; we want the criminal Eggsy to beat the toffs and win his place.

After seeing this on Valentine’s Day, I would be inclined to say it’s the perfect date film (I’m not a fan of chick flicks). While the humour won’t appeal to everyone, it will encompass a wide audience from teenagers to older generations who grew up with Bond.

The film is a hilarious reworking of the genre, and I strongly recommend biting the bullet and giving it a go, even if you do have to cover your eyes in some parts.

Weird but wonderful: Inherent Vice

At the Tyneside Cinema’s Book Club screening for Inherent Vice I wasn’t sure what to expect, though Pychon’s The Crying of Lot 49 is next on my list I hadn’t read anything by the author before.

Approaching the film in the way only an English student could, with a pre screening talk and post screening discussion, I felt more enlightened about the film than I otherwise might. The Pynchon specialist, who also happens to be my lecturer, highlighted many issues I may not have recognised as relevant and discussed a film noir culture that I was largely ignorant of.

The film begins. One of the benefits of the book club screening is that the informative talk comes at the expense of annoying adverts. The film is narrated by a friend of Doc’s who maintains a stoned drawl as she describes the events we see unfold. This narration not only contributes to the drug induced atmosphere of everything on screen but also acts as a guide to the mystifying west coast world of Doc’s investigation which the audience never fully comes to understand. The film is a confusing mix of film noir, crime mystery and comedy; it is incredibly complex.

A private investigator, Doc the stoner is approached by his ex-girlfriend Shasta who subsequently disappears alongside the rich real estate developer, Mickey Molfmann. who she admits to Doc is her lover. Looking for Shasta and investigating the theory she approached him with, Doc delves into the darkest parts of the city, namely the drugs scene. As a ‘hippy’ himself, but one who works for the justice system, Doc is simultaneously part of the establishment and the counterculture.

It’s a film you will need to see more than once to get your head around

We see everything through Doc and his drug induced haze symbolised literally through a pervasive fog. The film is also a self reflexive meta-narrative in its awareness of typical tropes and conventions of the genre. It uses well known actors such as Benico del Toro and Michael K Williams, almost borrowing their characters from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Wire, feeding further into a simultaneous adherence to, and parody of, the genre.

At the same time as we see the ludicrous nature of the 70s lifestyle portrayed, we can sympathise with Doc and his friends. Their wish to have fun and remove themselves from the capitalist American society they inhabit only lands them in a more exploitative culture. We see a sharp critique of both sets of lifestyles, but we are also left with some level of reconciliation (without wanting to spoil the ending).

Typically, as part of the film noir genre, there are scenes that make for very uncomfortable watching. But the sex and violence isn’t gratuitous, it serves a necessarily purpose; it demonstrates power plays, emotional crises and the characters dealing with the extremes of the world around them. Equally, the atmosphere of the film is heavy; scenes of drug induced drawling become heavy and difficult to watch. Despite this the film has a drive, an accumulative force through the build up of events. We are pulled along with Doc, seeing through his eyes and experiencing his revelations.

The film is weird and wonderful. Dazzlingly bright and blindingly dark and confusing, we see 70s Gordita Beach (based on Manhattan Beach) depicted sharply yet hazily. We see the consumer culture alongside the hippy dream. The whole thing is beautiful, disgusting, funny, uncomfortable and downright overwhelming. It’s a film you will need to see more than once to get your head around, but I can only imagine enjoying it more every time.