Posts Tagged ‘Stanley Tucci’

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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Occasionally, a critic — even one of the strictly amateur variety such as myself — is compelled to offer an opinion that makes them feel like a bit of an asshole. Maybe there’s a flick you didn’t care too much for, but you’ve gotten to know one or more of the principles involved in its production either via social media or, in rare instances, the real, actual world, and they seem like genuinely nice folks who you’d hate to piss off. This has happened to me more than once and I take no particular joy and/or pride in it, trust me. Or maybe there’s a new film out from a director whose work you genuinely admire but his or her latest project just isn’t up to snuff. This is much more common, and you can generally let it roll like water off your back. Or perhaps there’s a movie making the rounds that’s so well-regarded among everyone else that your own negative review on it will mark you as something of a pariah among the rest of the “critical class.” This, frankly, shouldn’t bug you in the least.

These scenarios can all be dealt with to one degree or another and needn’t leave a stain on your conscience for very long, but damn — once in the deepest, bluest of moons, you don’t just offer an opinion that makes you feel like “a bit of an asshole,” but like a major asshole. Today, I’m sorry to say, is just such a day.

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Director Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight was the surprise winner of the “Best Picture” award for 2015 at the most recent Oscars ceremony, and is certainly an important, topical, and highly accurate procedural story that’s well worth seeing — even though I didn’t see it myself until well after it took home the biggest prize the Academy can bestow on a film (I saw it this afternoon, to be specific, at the neighborhood discount theater). So it’s not that I didn’t like the flick — please don’t get me wrong. But I’m kinda glad that I waited to see it “on the cheap,” and to be honest, I probably could have kept waiting until it hit DVD or even Netflix. That’s because my first thought upon leaving the theater was — well, why don’t we just save that for the end, since it’s what made me feel like a, as I described it, “major asshole.” Which plenty of folks will say I am anyway, but still —

The “pluses” on offer here are many, of course, but most fall squarely on the shoulders of the cast. Michael Keaton plays Boston Globe editor Walter “Robby” Robinson, who’s been tasked by his new boss, Marty Baron (portrayed by Liev Schreiber) with digging into the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal with a bit more vigor than the paper has in the past. Grinding the shoe leather in a concerted effort to break the story wide open are the ace reporters of his “Spotlight” unit (hence the title and all) Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), who are all given various opportunities to shine throughout the course of the film and duly make the most of them, particularly Ruffalo. Overseeing matters is John Slattery as legendary newsman Ben Bradlee, Jr., and a trio of lawyers played by Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, and Jamey Sheridan each impact the case, for good or ill, from their respective positions. It’s a superb group of actors that’s been assembled here, and McCarthy is to be credited for getting terrific work out of each and every one of them.

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What I’m not prepared to give him credit for, though, is having any discernible directorial style to speak of (even the tired and overused faux- “guerrilla filmmaking” or “street level” tropes would have been preferable to the dull, “point-and-shoot” approach that he takes throughout here), nor for mining any of the quite obviously rich human tragedy that underpins this frankly ground-shaking series of events for dramatic effect. We only see a couple of victims for a very short time, only meet one of the accused priests (who’s both disturbingly confessional and even more disturbingly obtuse) for about two minutes tops, and the rest of the flick is just pure nuts-and-bolts newspaper work that McCarthy and co-screenwriter Josh Singer  are serving up. It does an okay job with that material, sure, but it’s not going to make you forget All The President’s Men or anything — what’s really remarkable, though (and I don’t mean that in a complimentary sense) is how it’s pretty darn hard to feel a genuine sense of emotional detachment from a film about one of the most wealthy and powerful organizations in the world covering up for a bunch of friggin’ child molesters within its own ranks, yet somehow Spotlight manages to pull it off. I’d be tempted to call it a perverse sort of miracle, even, but the Catholic church might be tempted to take credit for it, so I won’t. Towards the end they attempt to imbue each of the reporters and editors with a bit of a personal connection to the story they’ve spent, by then, literally months working on, but it’s a case of “too little, too late,” and it both feels forced and falls flat.

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And so we’ve arrived at the “why I feel like an asshole” moment that I started talking about roughly 800 words back. And it all comes down to that thought in my head as I left the theater. I’ll give you the exact words that ran through my mind in a moment, but the reason I hated myself for even thinking them is because the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal is an absolutely devastating story whose size and scope is almost beyond comprehension at this point. It’s a genuine worldwide epidemic that has destroyed countless lives when its victims turned to drugs, alcohol, or even suicide to either mask or end their suffering. It’s been going on for God only knows how long, it continues to go on to this day, and even after paying out who knows how many millions (not nearly enough, if you ask me) of dollars in settlements, the same church leaders who spent the better part of their lives and careers sweeping it under the rug still don’t seem to grasp why it’s such a big deal. I might be a major asshole, but these guys are unconscionably major assholes.

So, yeah — this is a story that needed to be told. And I’m glad it was. And no one should ever forget it. The victims deserve not just financial settlements or some vague and amorphous sense of “closure,” but outright fucking justice, and the perpetrators and their enablers deserve to be dealt with not just by their fictitious God, but by real, human courts of law and penal systems. The work that the Boston Globe did to report on this epic tragedy in important. The work that Tom McCarthy and his cast and crew did it translating that story into film is important. But — and it’s a big but — that nagging thought I had as the credits rolled on Spotlight, and that I’ve had ever since, is (insert sarcastic drumroll if you must) : “this felt like a made-for-TV ‘Movie of the Week’ with an overqualified cast.”

I wisely ditched out on the Catholic church (and all religion) in my mind and heart when I was about six years old and physically as soon as I flew my parents’ coop, but some remnant of good, old-fashioned “Catholic Guilt” must still be lingering in the dark corners of my subconscious because I feel like I should burn in a Hell that I don’t even believe exists just for thinking that. But my conscience would bother me even more if I expressed anything other than my absolute, honest assessment of this — or, heck, any — film to my readers, so there you have it.