Archives for the month of: March, 2017

This movie is both painfully earnest and technically bad. It’s like somebody tried to make The Young Victoria from the other side of empire but had never heard anyone have a conversation or seen a movie. The pacing is atrocious, the dialogue is heavy on exposition and light on verisimilitude, and the message clocks you in the face.

Now, lack of subtlety would be all right if it weren’t incoherent and a little insulting. Admittedly few people are particularly familiar with the circumstances around the annexation of Hawai’i. Clunky speeches and cartoonishly evil nutcases are not the answer. Historical movies exist, even movies about colonial shenanigans. Take cues from a good one; they don’t have to consist entirely of awkward monologues. And if you want to emphasize Ka’iulani’s political boldness, spend less time on her romantic life.

The storyline, such as it is, is fairly classic. Hawai’i is facing American domination, and the young princess (Q’Orianka Kilcher) finds herself being educated in England with MV5BMTY2NDcwNjM2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTE4ODE0Mw@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_a friend of her father’s, Theophilus Davies (Julian Glover, who presumably had poker debts). He has a son, Clive (Shaun Evans), and a daughter, Alice (Tamzin Merchant). Clive serves the excellent purpose of falling in love with Ka’iulani, standing up for her to comically stilted snobs, and then funking it when life gets tricky. Alice is there as a contrast to everyone else in England, who is horrible. Letters come at the most opportune of moments, people find their voices just when they’re about to be shouted down, Ka’iulani is so candid and kindly that people just don’t know how to deal with her… It’s like a storybook written by a moron. A sincere, well-meaning moron.

The cast does its best with the material, but that isn’t a lot. So much is left on the table–Ka’iulani died less than a year after the annexation, presumably of heartbreak. Why not include that, for real emotional weight, rather than the silly teenage soppiness? Why not spend more time with her splendid aunt, the Queen (Leo Anderson Akana)? Why not address how she’s spent most of the film away from Hawai’i, and how that might be complicated?

Director: Marc Forby
Rating: PG
Length: 97 minutes
Score: 1/5

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MV5BMTUwNjUxMTM4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODExMDQzMTI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_If you ever worried about how a ten-year-old orphan gets cruelly cursed forever for being an honestly rather mild type of brat, the new live-action adaptation of Beauty & the Beast somewhat mitigates the problem. Time stands still for him, so he is grown when the curse falls, and no more grown when it ends. But now he has an explicitly unhappy childhood, and is, one feels, more to be pitied than censured.

On the whole, the plot holes of the animated movie are filled–the alarmingly various weather, the mysteriously unknown castle some twenty minutes away from the village, Mrs. Potts’s age… Few are added, amazingly, though Belle (Emma Watson) becomes less practical in matters of dress for visual effect and spends a surprising amount of time in her underwear. Gaston (Luke Evans) has a backstory now, and slides gracefully from amusingly vacuous to really quite evil. Mr. Evans commits completely to the part; he’s great.

The casting generally is strong. Lefou (Josh Gad) is having the most fun, and has the most material, but everyone else–Lumière (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), the wardrobe (Audra McDonald) and her husband the harpsichord (Stanley Tucci), and the feather duster (Gugu Mbatha-Raw)–is also enjoyably jolly. Their houseware-persons are well-executed, although Lumière was slightly too mechanical for my tastes, particularly about the knees. Maurice (Kevin Kline) is easier to take seriously than in the cartoon, which may surprise you.

Visuals are stupendous, although they did the annoying Disney thing of having a building that is made entirely of staircases and bridges for no discernible reason. The yellow dress does not disappoint. The big finish of the Beast (Dan Stevens) will, I think, age badly. But for now the capture technology and the humanity of his admittedly striking eyes works excellently well, and they took care with the eye-lines, so he and Belle speak and interact plausibly.

I wanted not to enjoy this movie, just so I could be dismissively smug, but it was delightful. The new songs are nice, the slightly elevated jokes are a joy, and the people have somewhere between one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half dimensions.

Stray observations:

  • The lyric “I can feel a change in me” while modulating begs to be heard “I can feel a change in key.”
  • The owner of the bookshop is turned into a priest, Père Robert (Ray Fearon), and he is handsome and humane and disappears pointlessly. I was certain he would be helpful in escaping, but he just…wasn’t there.
  • Some of them are in Greek!
  • Super glad everything is fixed just in time for, I assume, everyone to be beheaded in about a decade.
  • Dan Stevens should only ever wear blues between sky and Prussian.

Director: Bill Condon
Rating: PG
Length: 129 minutes
Score: 4/5

Ugh. I hate that I love this movie. Maybe even more than I hate that I sort of love the stage show. There are just so many layers of awfulness. Movies of stage musicals are often pretty bad; Andrew Lloyd Webber is always desperately terrible; the Gaston Léroux source material could be a whole lot better; Emmy Rossum can’t really sing…

And yet.

MV5BNDczNzg4OTM3MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTQzMTEzMw@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Sure, Phantom is dumb. Sure, the plot requires everyone to be a really staggering moron. Sure, Gerard Butler is weird casting and what even are the logistics of that spectacular subterranean flat? How is his suit so well cut? How is the piano kept in tune in that humidity? Would you trust the sewers of Paris that much? Why does Raoul have that haircut, which no one has ever had? Why can’t Christine pronounce “Raoul”? Why does she insist on a secret engagement but make out in public? Since when are Hannibal and Imilce one of history’s great romances? How can Christine possibly think this guy is her dad?

On a more formal level, why not have actual musical actors instead of film actors who can sort of sing? Everyone’s fine, sure, but, again, kind of resoundingly…fine. Why not scrub up the inconsistencies that are acceptable on the stage but do not meet the movie threshold for suspension of disbelief?

But even with all that, with Raoul’s horrible hair and the unbelievably terrible lyrics and the insane Freudian nonsense, I watch it at least once a year. The romance should make me barf, but it doesn’t. The production should just annoy me, but it doesn’t. I should never watch it again, but I do.

Director: Joel Schumacher
Rating: PG-13
Length: 143 minutes

There are at least three movies called Sparkle, and this is almost certainly the least well known. And justifiably so. For one thing, there’s absolutely no reason to call it “Sparkle.” For another, it is tripe.

Well, that’s not entirely fair. It’s actually often rather sweet, and it’s quiet enough that you’re not too fussed about the improbabilities. But it is also essentially a light take on The Graduate, and that’s hard to do for a range of excellent reasons.

Sam (Shaun Evans) is a waiter somewhere in the north of England. He has a terrible haircut and prominent ribs. His mother, Jill (Lesley Manville), is a slightly delusional singer of the never-was variety. She’s close enough to real that it’s touchingly sad. Sam does not have a father. One night, Vince (Bob Hoskins) comes into the restaurant where Sam works, and MV5BMTQ5NDg2MDI2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzQ0NzkwMzE@._V1_UY268_CR9,0,182,268_AL_perhaps because Jill notices his father having a stroke before anyone else does, Jill and Sam end up moving to London and putting up in a flat Vince owns.

So Sam gets to be a waiter in London! And that’s the end.

Haha, no, obviously not. He’s passing out cocktails at some party run by Sheila (Stockard Channing), and sleeps his way into being her personal assistant. Her hair is glorious; her accent is execrable. She has no edibles in her flat besides Cheerios and Moët. Her parties are apparently good, though, and at the next one, Sam meets a politically active young woman whose name is Kate (Amanda Ryan, who slots into this part just as well as she did as Holly Dartie in The Forsyte Saga, which is impressive).

Now, because you’ve seen a movie, you know that Kate is Sheila’s daughter, but Sam doesn’t know he’s in a movie, so he doesn’t realize this. There will be bumps on this road, but on the way you meet Kate’s uncle Tony (Anthony Head) and his boyfriend, Jill finds love, and Sam steals a stuffed dolphin.

Could be worse, and you get to see Anthony Head do dolphin impressions, so.

Director: Tom Hunsinger, Neil Hunter
Rating: M? ish?
Length: 100 minutes
Score: 2/5