Posts Tagged ‘emma watson’

I’ll be the first to admit it : to the extent that I’ve racked up any “cool points” with my readers over the years, they’re pretty much all out the window by me admitting that I’ve even seen — much less bothered to review — director Bill Condon’s new live-action iteration of Disney’s animated classic Beauty And The Beast. The only pathetically tepid thing I can offer in my “defense” is that, judging by its mammoth performance at the box office, the entire rest of the fucking world has seen it, too, but still — it’s my job to be cynical to the point of obstinacy about this sort of production just as a matter of course, and to the extent that I’ve let any of you down by plopping down my hard-earned money on this blatantly saccharine offering, knowing full well what I was getting into from the outset, let me just apologize right off the bat and get it out of the way.

Oh, sure, I could reach and say the fact that the Christians are upset about this flick because it has the nerve to state the obvious fact that LeFou is gay (“just a little change — small to say the least”) and has a mad man-crush on Gaston was equal parts amusing and pathetic enough to sufficiently rouse my curiosity, but there’s really no saving face here. I was gonna end up seeing this thing come what may, and if you think I’m lame for that, then you’re gonna think I’m even more lame when I come right out and say that I actually liked it quite a bit, as well.  Bail out on this review right now, then, if you must — I certainly won’t hold it against you.

With all that out of the way, then, let’s get back to the question posed in my headline — how, exactly, do you successfully update a story that everyone knows already? In this case, Condon hit on exactly the right answer : apart from some minor tinkering around the edges, you pretty much don’t. The CGI advances of recent decades made a nominally “un-animated” (although a good 75% of this film was probably shot in front of a green screen) version of Beauty And The Beast more or less a no-brainer, but beyond the format shift, and necessary casting changes, there’s really no need to do anything different, and so what we have here at the end of the day isn’t so much a “remake” as it is a literal translation from cartoon to — well, shit, computerized cartoon with some actors along for the ride. Granted, some of the original’s shaky (to put it mildly) moral and ethical premises haven’t aged well (meet the girl of your dreams by taking her prisoner? Come on), but the musical numbers that are the real beating heart of the movie are bigger, bolder, and flawlessly executed here, the (slight) wrinkles peppered into the proceedings throughout deepen the tale’s mythology without contradicting anything, and by and large the casting choices are pitch-perfect : Emma Watson is Belle, plain and simple, Dan Stevens likewise nails is as The Beast, Luke Evans is pure arrogant sleaze as Gaston, Josh Gad’s take on LeFou is equal parts endearing and nauseating, Ewan McGregor is clearly having a blast as Lumiere, Ian McKellen is the only person you’d want to voice/later portray Cogsworth and delivers with aplomb, Stanley Tucci is an inspired choice as Cadenza, and Emma Thompson, well — she’s probably got the biggest shoes to fill as Mrs. Potts, but I think even Angela Lansbury herself would say “job well done” without hesitation for her work here. The only performer who seems to be a bit listless and/or lost is Kevin Kline as Belle’s father, Maurice, who (surprsingly) never really seems to have a handle on the character and ends up mailing things in about halfway through. Everybody else? Shoot, they shine.

All that being said, “what’s the point?” is a more than reasonable question to ask here — the original isn’t going anywhere, and this more or less note-for-note re-vamp doesn’t do anything to dispel the notion that it’s a naked cash grab that in no way needs to exist, but given that it was going to happen regardless, maybe the better query to be posing is “why not?” If you can put a cast this good together, get ’em (almost) all to knock it out of the park, and there’s a billion dollars or more waiting for you on the other side of the metaphorical rainbow, if you were Disney, why wouldn’t you do it? You’ve gotta be more than happy to meet this film on its own terms, sure — to suspend your understandable disdain for the company behind it, to overlook its previously-mentioned dubious subtexts, and to allow your desire for either glowingly-constructed nostalgia or simple “feel-good” entertainment to overrule your common sense — but if you’re willing to let it serve you up a heaping slice of good, old-fashioned “movie magic,” guess what? It’ll give you precisely that and then some.

There’s no shame, especially in this day and age, in wanting to simply escape for a couple of hours — after all, the president and half (or more) of his sleazy cronies appear to be working for a hostile foreign government, the congressional “authorities” charged with getting to the bottom of this treason appear to be playing defense for the administration, the open corruption and conflicts of interest oozing from many members of the cabinet is being buried under a deluge of even worse news, and our nuclear arsenal is now under the control of a bona fide mentally unstable nutcase. Either Trump is on borrowed time or our democracy is, and right now it’s hard to say which will end up surviving. We’re all under ridiculous amounts of psychological stress and the future — as in, whether or not we’re even gonna have one — has never appeared more uncertain. Who couldn’t stand to be transported away from this madness for a little while?

So go on — put your pride, and perhaps even your ethical standards, on the shelf for a bit. Turn off that pesky brain and just go with the flow that Condon and his skilled cohorts seamlessly pull you into within moments of this film starting. Don’t worry about it. Don’t feel guilty. You deserve this mindlessly delicious confection — certain as the sun rising in the east.

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The big problem with most comedy these days is that it just isn’t funny. Granted, my idea of “good” comedy might be different from yours — I prefer the kind of humor that forces society to take a hard look at itself while simultaneously making us laugh (George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, even some early Richard Pryor are good examples of what I’m talking about), and not the sort that actively encourages us to be even bigger morons and fuck-ups than we already are by celebrating all our most base, lowest-common-denominator elements under the thin veneer of “poking fun at ourselves.”

In other words, I don’t like stupid shit, and this summer’s offerings at the box office are loaded with the worst offenders when it comes to peddling stupid shit. The truly loathsome Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson have teamed up again for The Internship. The worst culprits of all, Adam Sandler, Kevin James, and David Spade (Chris Rock still gets a pass in my book, though not for much longer if he keeps this shit up) are back in Grown Ups 2. And almost every other unfunny asshole on the planet is on board for the movie that we’re here to (briefly) discuss today, This Is The End.

Yup, friends, the comedy landscape is indeed bleak, and with the spectre of  another brain-dead Will Ferrell extended character sketch breathing down our necks in the form of Anchorman 2, it doesn’t look like things will be improving anytime soon. Oh well — at least Ben Still is nowhere to be found on the radar screen for now.

Seriously, about the only thing This Is The End proves is that the only thing less entertaining than watching Seth Rogen (who also co-directed and co-wrote this stinkbomb along with Evan Goldberg), Jonah Hill, James Franco (who I usually actually like), Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Jay Baruchel, Rihanna, Emma Watson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Channing Tatum playing other people is watching them play themselves. Oh, sure, their characterization here is self-deprecating on its surface, but poke beneath that for one nanosecond and you’ll see that this tone is a phony one and that the real raison d’etre for this film is for all these folks to tell us how awesome they are for a couple of hours. Just mix in the occasional pot, sex, or bodily fluids joke and you’re successfully hoodwinked 95% of the country into thinking you’re really just an average guy or gal like them.

Sorry, not buying it. “Celebrities Vs. The End Of The World” is as shallow an idea in practice as it sounds on paper, friends, and watching the rich and famous try to navigate their way through the apocalypse turns out to be so goddamn idiotic that you’ll be actively wishing for the world to end before the movie does, if only to save you from one more in-joke or self-aggrandizing public chest-thumping in the guise of toilet humor.

Seriously, who is the audience for a movie like this? Are we so obsessed with the vapid celebrity “lifestyle” that we’re willing to genuflect before these people and hand them our cash (full disclosure — I snuck into this one)  for telling us how cool they are to our faces? How pathetic and gullible have we become? How willing  to actively participate in our own cultural dumbing-down?

Ya know, maybe this is all we really deserve at this point, if we’ve become this cowed, complacent, and resigned to our own slow-burn apocalypse. What was it they said about the fall of Rome and bread and circuses?

The only joke in This Is The End is the massive, and frankly kinda tragic, one that’s being played on all of us.

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The idle rich are suffering from a deep and abiding sense of existential torment — brought on, largely, by sheer ennui — that we mere mortals will never be able to fully comprehend or appreciate. I know this because Sofia Coppola’s been drumming it into our heads for about the past 15 years or so.  Look, I’m as firm a believer in the old expression “write what you know,” but come on — this is starting to get a little bit ridiculous.

I was, at one point, a die-hard Coppola defender (at first) and admirer (later) — I felt the ruthless drubbing she took as the de facto catch-pail for all the things that were wrong with The Godfather, Part III was both unwarranted and unnecessary. It wasn’t her fault that her dad stuck her in his film at the 11th hour when Winona Ryder bailed on it, after all, and while she certainly couldn’t act, she’s also not gonna say no to her old man under such circumstances. He’s the one who should’ve  known better than to ever put her in that position — she was just trying to help him out, and got labeled as the public face of the film’s failure for her troubles.

Later, when she got into writing and directing proper herself, I was one of her biggest fans. The Virgin Suicides was, I felt, a very promising debut effort, and Lost In Translation absolutely blew me away. I know the ending of that film left a lot of people — even many who had enjoyed it immensely up to that point — feeling cold, but I thought it worked perfectly. Here, I thought, was a young(ish) director who had enough respect for, and faith in, her audience to let us figure things out for ourselves. No spoon-fed, easy answers here — if you wanted to get on the Sofia Coppola wavelength, you had to work for it. I was impressed. I was hooked.

And apparently, judging from everything she’s done since, I was wrong.

The cracks, frankly, were there to be seen quite early on — both The Virgin Suicides and Lost In Translation focused on the shallow, empty, aimless lives of upper-middle-class-to-extremely-wealthy characters, and while that’s all fine and good, Coppola has only ever gone halfway with her critique of that lifestyle — showing it to be a hollow, cul-de-sac wasteland, but choosing to paint its authors and/or willing participants as, in a sense, victims.

Needless to say, subsequent efforts like the offensive Marie Antoinette and the if-anything-even-more-offensive Somewhere only upped the ante in this regard, portraying the most callow, self-absorbed, frankly irredeemable characters as somehow being trapped in a life they never wanted —never mind that it’s also one they’d never give up.

Honestly, about the only thing I “learned” from these two flicks is that the rich have never had that much to do with their time, regardless of what century — or country —we’re talking about. So while the going trend in recent years seems to be to criticize Coppola for her films’ pacing and general non-structure, I’m not about to jump on that bandwagon — I actually find myself enjoying her free-form, languid, organic approach to cinema. What I absolutely don’t have any more time for, though, is her approach to her (always, essentially, exactly the same) subject matter : after all, even if a person is born with a silver spoon in their mouth, they don’t have to be a self-absorbed asshole. That’s a choice. And if that’s what a person chooses to be, then fuck ’em — I’m not interested in either them as people, or in their tepid, pathetic, intelligence-offending “woe is me, I’ve got everything I ever wanted and now I just don’t know what to do with myself” stories. Fuck ’em, fuck ’em, fuck ’em.

And if you give us one more movie like that, Ms. Coppola, then I’m sorry, but — fuck you, too. Fuck you for trying to get us to feel one single ounce of compassion for a bunch of bastards who don’t deserve it. Have you been paying attention to the headlines for the past decade or so? The rich have been stealing everything that isn’t nailed down in broad daylight and are headed for the metaphorical exits while leaving the rest of us to clean up the mess that they made. Whatever problems they have are of their own doing. You’re an educated person, Sofia — surely you’re aware for the phrase “sympathy for the devil”? I thought so. And I can tell you, in no uncertain terms, that the devil — in the form of the economic “elite” — has worn out his welcome with all the hard-working people who are stuck navigating their way through the ocean of shit he’s stuck us all in.

Which brings us, of course, to the newest entry in Coppola’s self-indulgent pity-party, The Bling Ring, a movie “inspired by actual events” that focuses on the efforts of a group of  fame-and-celebrity-obsessed teenagers (led by Katie Chang and Israel Broussard, who are joined in their hijinks by Claire Juilen, Taissa Farmiga, and Emma Watson — though Watson gets top billing on account of being the biggest “name” of the bunch, thus proving that whatever “anti-celebrity” message Coppola’s aiming for here is undone by her own film’s marketing campaign), who are pretty high on the socio-economic totem pole themselves, to ingratiate themselves up even further by any means necessary, legal or otherwise.

Again, we’re given a fairly half-hearted and gutless critique of the lavishness and excess that are supposedly “under the microscope” here, but when push comes to shove, the ultimate message in this film might be, if anything, even more insidious than we’ve become accustomed to from previous Coppola efforts. That’s because, yeah, even though Sofia actively (and, to her credit, as stylishly as ever, at least visually speaking) portrays the hedonistic lifestyle that our gang of young stalkers-and-burglars are trying to infiltrate as being one that certainly isn’t worth joining, she reserves her greatest editorial enmity not for the celebrities and the bloated studio and media system that promulgates their status, but for the kids who should’ve been satisfied with nearly having it all instead of buying into the 24-hour celebrity “news” cycle that constantly reinforces the idea that they should want even more. “These famous people are a bunch of douchebags” is a sentiment I can fully agree with, but sorry, I can’t go along with the idea that these teens are even bigger douchebags for breaking into their homes and cars, etc. I find these kids to be pathetic, stupid, and spoiled, sure — but I can’t go along with the idea that somehow they’re the ultimate villains in this film, which is definitely what our erstwhile daughter of privilege herself seems to be saying.

The actors, to their credit, all do a uniformly fine job portraying unlikable characters trying to ensconce themselves into a world of even-more-unlikable characters, and that makes this flick easier to bear, but the material itself is of such an intrinsically offensive nature that even the greatest performance couldn’t save it. Simply put, no matter how much we’re supposed to feel nothing but contempt and disdain for these privileged-yet-unfulfilled saps, even on their worst day they just wouldn’t know how to be as fundamentally worthless as Kim Kardashian is on her best. Even at their most vapid and egotistical, they’re still in the minor leagues.

Besides — I kinda like the idea that the Lindsay Lohans and Paris Hiltons of the world were temporarily inconvenienced (at worst) by these kids’ shenanigans. These are people, after all, who have not just way more shit than they need but way more shit than they could ever want, they’ll hardly miss the property that was stolen from them, and their insurance will cover any losses anyway, so — no harm, no foul in my book. The young rich bratty fucking punks who committed all these “crimes” are, of course, all nauseatingly entitled little shits, but I would actively encourage any and all poor kids out there to emulate, and even one-up, their actions, and thereby stick it back to the people who are sticking it to you every single day.

So, what are we left with at the end of The Bling Ring, then? A movie that’s ultimately just as shallow and pointless as the very “culture” it’s apparently “revealing.” Coppola is sending the exact same message here that she always does — don’t hate these people, they’re every bit as much prisoners of their status as you are, in fact even moreso, and whatever you do, please don’t steal any of their shit or try to be like them in any way (even though the media paints their lives as being some sort of “ideal” to aspire to) because — well, you’re just not part of the club. And if you try to force your way in, we’ll make a laughing stock of you and maybe even send you to one of those jails  your taxes pay for (we don’t pay any taxes ourselves). Yes, we’re all shallow, pompous, arrogant, empty people here in Celebrityville, USA, but don’t you see? That’s why you’re so stupid for wanting to join us.

Know your place. And stay there. You’ll be much happier that way — and we certainly will be.

 

So, yeah, it all ends. And it ends with a bang. And hard-core Harry Potter fans everywhere are wondering what to do next with their lives. And it’s grim and gritty and dark and foreboding and most definitely not for little kids. Harry grew up, things got dark, and then it all ended.

Honestly, that’s the trajectory of the Harry Potter franchise summed up as simply, and yet completely, as possible. And yet —

I find it hard to be anywhere near as dismissive of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows : Part 2, or, for that matter, of the entire Potter series in general, as I am of the Transformers cinematic printing press, simply because what we have here is both a genuine cultural phenomenon, the like of which will probably never be seen again, and because the folks who made these flicks never seemed to be content to just stop caring, go on autopilot, and assume we’d all just show up and fork over our cash. In short, they did their best to earn the public’s hard-won dollars. They never stopped giving a shit, and it never stopped showing.

Now, even though your humble host has seen each and every Potter movie, I’ll confess right now to never being the hugest fan of the series. I had no problem with it, per se, and generally found them to be well-executed and more or less interesting. they just never grabbed me enough to form the emotional bond with the characters that so many fans seem to have — but you know, I get it. Especially when it comes to the people who came of age while this series was going and literally watched Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint grow up with them. This thing has been a part of their lives, goddamnit, and I understand why they’d find it so hard to let it go. There weren’t too many dry eyes in the place when the end credits rolled, that’s for sure.

And just to give more credit where credit is due, just as J. K. Rowling’s book series got kids reading again for the first time in forever, the Potter films have gotten a new generation of kids into movie magic, and the technical art of making good, solid films. Not since Lucas and Romero’s venerable cinematic series captured the imaginations of teens and young adults who wanted to make the art of creating celluloid illusions the backbone of their lives’ work has anything like this happened. The next wave of special effects and CGI superstars are going to be folks who grew up on Harry Potter.

And so an era, well and truly, has ended here. And it’s ended in grand style. Director David Yates has crafted an engaging and dare I say even thrilling finale that ticks every box on the Potter fan’s checklist yet somehow avoids feeling like a cynical technical exercise. If you loved these films, you’re gonna love how it all turns out, and even though you probably knew the story going in, you’ll still be on the edge of your seat most of the way through. That’s saying something. If you’ve loved this whole thing from the start, this is a final chapter that returns your love and says “thanks for being with us” while giving you everything in a Potter story you’ve ever wanted. A flick that the uninitiated can still enjoy while the diehards have, quite literally, the time of their movie lives.

And that’s probably the secret to this series’ success right there — it managed to keep the masses (like myself) entertained, while creating, and then consistently reaching, a core audience of true believers on a level few movie franchises can ever hope to achieve.

My wizard’s hat is off to Yates and company for sending off this series in the way that it — and its million of loyal fans — deserved. The Harry Potter series may be over, but magic, especially movie magic, is definitely alive and well.