Beauty and the Beast, or; Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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Apparently, on my third or fourth birthday, I refused to be called anything other than Belle, thanks to my deep adoration (obsession) with Beauty and the Beast. It was one of my favourite Disney films as a kid, and has remained one of my favourites as an adult. So, twenty or so years later, I went into the live-action adaptation with high expectations, and slight trepidations . . .

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Belle of the ball?

I have to confess that I had my reservations about Emma Watson playing Belle. I’ve got a lot of love for Emma Watson – she’s a champion of women’s rights, has been doing some incredible things with her fame, and I mean, come on – she was Hermione Granger. That’s reason enough to like her. What made me nervous about the casting was that it seemed so . . . on the nose. It felt like the result of a fan vote, or a Buzzfeed poll. Like she was cast because she looked like her, because she’s as smart and beautiful as Belle is – and because everyone loves her. On paper, I suppose, it makes her a perfect fit. But I wondered if ‘perfect’ would be enough. Emma hasn’t had the most dynamic mix of roles post-Potter, and I worried that casting someone like her for someone like Belle would make the character feel one-dimensional. I wondered exactly what she could bring, or rather add, to the role I so revered.

As it transpired, Emma Watson did a pretty bang-up job. I mean, she was very faithful to the original, with a few new bits and bobs thrown in for good measure, but I suppose there’s only so much that can be changed about classic Disney films, particularly classic Disney princess films. It was a safe casting for a safe portrayal – she played Belle as Belle was in the original, more or less. So kudos to Emma Watson for delivering.

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Do-Re-Mi

Props to the cast – they can all hold a tune. I did wonder at the start of ‘Little Town’ why Emma Watson’s voice jarred a little, but I think it had more to do with the British accent than her vocal range. The ‘Gaston’ song scene was actually one of my favourite parts of the film – not only did it recreate the original scene beautifully, but it was vibrant, visually impressive, and, best of all, fun, almost like watching a stage show as opposed to a film. Maybe I enjoyed this scene so much because I was so wary of being critical of the rest, and it was nice to take a break from picking apart performances, and just enjoy the show. With new elements and insights into the classic story, new songs were inevitable. But in an adaptation that went to such lengths to stay true to the original, the new songs seemed slightly jarring on-screen. That might seem like a bit of a ‘stick-in-the-mud’ comment, though – more likely than not, it was just down to the fact that they weren’t imbued with the same sense of nostalgia, and memories of Disney singalongs. Nonetheless, they were all well written, and it was evident that a lot of effort had gone into making the extra songs match the tone (or tune) of the originals.

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Fairly Odd Parents

Besides changing from an inventor to an artist – and appearing significantly slimmer than his cartoon counterpart – Maurice remains the lovable, doting father, and was well played by Kevin Kline. The backstory of Belle’s mother, however, felt a little strange, and even redundant.  One of the questions that was never answered, or even asked, in the original was the whereabouts of Belle’s mum. This addition, while interesting to a degree, feels a little inconsequential to the plot. If anything, it made me wonder why Maurice couldn’t just tell Belle in the first place. He guarded the secret of her mother’s demise as if he’d killed her – why not just tell her that she died of disease, and save her many years’ worth of questions, and turmoil? And we can’t mention the backstory segment without talking about the book. The magical book given to the Beast by the enchantress that opens the door to the world . . . was I the only one still chewing over this when they left the cinema? It’s visually beautiful and enchanting, but a curious addition that seems to add little to the plot, and ask a whole lot of questions; how long does this teleportation last? How does it work exactly? How do you return? Can people see you when you arrive at your destination, or are you invisible? And that’s just to name a few – there was a whole lot more head scratching where that came from.

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Le Fou’s Moment

I’d heard a lot of praise before seeing the film about Disney’s ‘first LGBT relationship’. I’d heard that the film had been banned in Malaysia because of the scene. I’d heard that Disney were making ‘leaps and bounds’ in portraying all kinds of sexualities and relationships. So I have to confess myself a little disappointed when realizing that the ‘scene’ that had garnered so much praise and attention was quite literally a two-second clip of Le Fou joining hands with another man in a dance. A radical enough gesture for the historical period of the film, I’m sure, but over here, in 2017, I was expecting a little (or a lot) more. Baby steps, I suppose. Beauty and the Beast has taken one of the first, so let’s hope that the ones that follow will be bolder, and more confidently placed. A small shout out can be given to the casting directors – in an age where whitewashing and gender inequality are still such big problems in Hollywood, I was happy to see a lot more women on screen than there were in the original, and a slightly better mix of races (though in a film with two white leads and principal cast, that might not be saying much).

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Bewitched

I felt a little unconvinced when watching the scenes involving the enchantress, and remained so after leaving the cinema. Even now, I’m not sure what the point of her physical presence was on screen. In the opening scene, most certainly – her actions in the beginning are obviously a major plot driver. But beyond that, I’m not sure what purpose she serves by standing silently on screen, and glowing. Then there’s the scene where she heals Maurice, the scene where she’s in the tavern, the scene where she comes into the castle to collect the rose, and brings the beast back to life. Was it necessary? Has she visited other towns in the same vein of inflicting cruel and ironic punishments on those with major character flaws? Is she the Nanny McPhee or Ghost of Christmas Past who frequents any town in which someone must be shown the error of their ways? Perhaps the scenes were added to serve as a cautionary reminder about overlooking magical people that are hiding in plain sight. The townspeople overlooked this quiet girl, the outcast, who the audience knows has tremendous power – not unlike our heroine in her little town full of little people.

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A beautiful, enjoyable, and mostly faithful adaptation of one of Disney’s (or mine) most loved princesses. Despite a few minor gripes I may have had, I smiled the whole way through this live-action retelling of a tale as old as time.

I’d give it four roses out of five.

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John Wick: Chapter 2, or; Breakfast At Boogeyman’s

There was once a very angry, very frightening man. He lived alone except for a nameless dog. Until an old friend blew up his house . . .

*SPOILERS*

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Only a year after his first on-screen outing, The Boogeyman is back at it again in John Wick: Chapter 2. Before we get into this, let’s be clear – despite the fact that what follows may seem like evidence to the contrary, I did actually enjoy the film. Though not nearly as much as the first.

Let’s start with the script. The majority of the dialogue sounds like a first draft script that someone forgot to amend. The conversations sound recycled at best, and redundant at worst, thanks to the majority of the backstory having been explained by the character of Ian “Exposition” McShane. As a result, the hollow conversations that made the final cut serve no purpose in the plot, and add nothing to the film, or the characters. To some extent, John Wick may well have had more believability as a mute – a silent, ominous assassin, a symbol of something more than a single man. That’s what made the phone call from the first film – the one in which he didn’t say a word – so effective. The Boogeyman doesn’t need to explain himself, because everyone knows who he is, and what happens if they cross him. If you beat up The Boogeyman, steal his car, and kill his dog, The Boogeyman is coming to get you. Simple, intimidating – and cool. In other words, unless you’re going to give John Wick something smart, funny, or in any way consequential to say, don’t make him say anything at all. Let him do what he does best, and spare us all from the cringeworthy one-liners.

I think that was what made the first film different from, and better than, the second; it didn’t try to overcomplicate things. It was a badass, bloodthirsty revenge flick with very few main players, and a whole lot of dead henchmen. But that formula didn’t have quite the same effect the second time around, with nothing new or interesting to add.

The opening scene was the highlight of the movie for me. I mean, as opening scenes go, it was pretty damn cool. It had a car chase, it had a shoot out, it had hand-to-hand combat. Though one does have to wonder just how John could have continued all but unscathed after using his poor Mustang as a battering ram. When he got knocked over by a car in John Wick, he was knocked unconscious, and woke to find himself tied up in a warehouse.

Apparently, in Chapter 2, he’s impervious to cars as well as bullets.

The plot of John Wick: Chapter 2 is simple enough, if a little contrived. John Wick is called back into the life he tried to leave behind by an influential character from his past, who comes to him with a foolhardy mission that he has no choice but to accept. After protesting that he’s retired, burying his armoury under cement, and having his house blown up, he decides he can’t escape the ‘marker’ he’s been handed, and must continue. Bit of a deus ex machina. Introducing a fundamental plot device that is obvious to the characters, but has never even been mentioned on-screen before, is dangerous territory, especially if you expect the audience to swallow it up after only a brief explanation from old Winston. Granted, the filmmakers most likely only devised the markers after getting the go ahead for a sequel. Also granted that I’m looking way too deeply into a plot device used as an excuse to get John Wick killing again. Even so, it runs the risk of entering the ‘forget-everything-you-think-you-know-about’ cliche, which can prove fatal to a film such as this.

As with the first film, the real MVP of John Wick: Chapter 2 is the fight choreographer, and  the actors/stuntmen for executing the scenes so deftly (and cooly). Awesome choreography makes moments that have the potential to be laughable in this kind of shoot-em-up film enjoyable, rather than silly. One notable exception, however, would be John and Cassian rolling down three sets of stone steps in Italy while fighting, hitting the bottom, and continuing all but unscathed. That was pretty laughable, and titter I did. The pace of the film was a little jarring at times, too. It was either long, well choreographed fight scenes, or stilted, awkward, and inconsequential conversations with forgettable characters.

That being said, I did squeal a little when Morpheus – sorry, the King (?) – came on screen. Will you take the white pigeon, or the brown pigeon? Matrix nostalgia aside, even his character felt pretty redundant. The Boogeyman had no trouble seeking out his enemies alone in the first film. I know there’s a contract out on him by the time he goes to see Morpheus, but he goes to him for help moving underground to avoid all of the people trying to kill him, only to pop out of a tunnel and happily walks straight into a party full of hit men and bodyguards – trying to kill him.

I don’t think you thought this through, John.

Also, although the character calls himself the King, I’m not entirely sure what he rules over. The underground? Messages and SIM cards? Pigeons? A homeless network who have the advantage of moving through the city unseen, despite John Wick recognising one of them instantly as a member of the society, and asking to be taken to their leader? Shhh, it’s a secret.

But I digress. The gun shopping scene in Italy was pretty cool and stylish, and included a nice little cameo from Peter Serafinowicz (Pete! Garthan Saal!). I also liked the literal suit of armour/bulletproof jacket lining, and would love to know if that’s a real thing (though I think not). Shout out to the concierge, too, for putting up with a whole lot of assassin-ness again – and for dog-sitting. I felt pretty indifferent about Ruby Rose’s character, though. Yes, she’s hot. Yes, she’s flavour of the month. But she was on the screen early on until the end; if you want me to believe that she lasted that long in a film where The Boogeyman is killing five guys a second, you better show me kick-ass skills of hers. She shoots a lot, and fights a little, and after a short fight with John in the art gallery, she’s dead. A tip – don’t just hire a badass looking girl to look badass. Give the girl a backstory, a decent scrap, and a reason for being in – and surviving most of – the film. I thought her signing was pretty cool, though, and also served to show what a polyglot Mr Wick is.

It seems that John Wick: Chapter 2 went for style over substance, and even the coolest fight scenes couldn’t compensate entirely for a lacklustre script, and hollow plot. All in all, there were some parts to be enjoyed, some parts that needed work, and some parts that were a little silly.

Did it promise to be a well-thought out, well-grounded thriller? No. Did I go in expecting it to be? No. Did I enjoy it? Yes.

Would I watch it again? Probably not.

But hey, at least the dog survived this one.

…………

(Too soon?)

Rating

Two and a half guns out of five.

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