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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

You know the drill on this one: Steve Rogers is a 90 pound asthmatic, but loves America. So he becomes Captain America in order to beat up Nazis. It’s great.

My one quibble (and this a quibble with the comics rather than the movie, really): you don’t need to have a weird occult freak villain. The SS is evil enough. X-Men handles this marginally better.

So does it rate a 5/5? I think so. It’s the most tonally consistent of any of the Marvel films, period. It’s clever without trying too hard, the humorous beats are pleasing but not overdone, and everything has a slightly stylized olive-drab vibe that is extremely successful. Plus, I’m sick of the eternally flawed superhero, because I really don’t watch comic book movies for angst. Sure, Superman’s one-note admirability is boring, but that’s because Superman is a stupid alien. Steve Rogers’s one-note admirability is adorably charming. Which you can tell because Peggy Carter, Number One Awesome Badass, falls in love with him. [Watch “Agent Carter” before it’s gone, idiots.]

And the kid that Richard Armitage throws in the harbor! He can swim and Cap doesn’t have to rescue him and that is terrific. Maybe my favorite moment.

Stray observations:

  • I love the end titles. I think they’re meant to be send-ups of wartime propaganda posters, but they’re great anyway.
  • I’ll watch JJ Feild in anything and I kind of love that they don’t even really spend any time on the Howling Commandos. It’s just all, “Oh, hey, Union Jack’s here and so is everyone else. Sweet.”
  • Tommy Lee Jones is completely phoning it in, and is still tremendous.
  • It is endlessly hilarious to me that Chris Evans is having a second career as a different Marvel superhero (yeah, I saw both of those Fantastic Four piles of garbage and own one of them). I guess it helps to be a definitional dreamboat.

Director: Joe Johnston
Rating: PG-13
Length: 124 minutes
Score: 5/5

I seem to recall, when reading minor Dumas novels, that there was a lot of intrigue circling around the building of various of Louis XIV’s stuff, but it was indescribably tedious and I was just waiting for the musketeers to reappear. Or a war, or something. There’s a lot of stuff going on in France under Louis XIV, so you might as well go for the political or military gusto.

This…does not. Nor does it have anything much to do with reality (which it engagingly admits in the pre-film text, which tells you that there was an outdoor ballroom at Versailles, and that, at least, is true). It is, nonetheless, charming.

André Le Nôtre (Matthias Schoenaerts), in defiance of probability, is young and hot in the early 1680s. He is designing some gardens at Versailles, and he needs some help. So he hires Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet), whose lack of artifice is jarring to Le Nôtre’s steadfastly gallic sensibilities, but may be just the touch of genius he needs! Sabine is inexpert at court, but sweetly shepherded around by Rupert Penry-Jones, a godawful mustache, and apparently no ulterior motives, and additionally accepted with suspicious alacrity by Jennifer Ehle as Mme de Montespan. She also manages to avoid inspiring professional jealousy in her various male competitors and to have heart-to-hearts with the King (Alan Rickman) that don’t offend him or get her fired.

She also, of course, falls for Le Nôtre. And this is okay, because his wife (Helen McCrory) is just awful, and her husband is dead and was a cad.

This sounds goofy, and it is. It’s a little inexpert–tries to do too much, makes everyone too humane, overuses artsy camera angles–and not at all subtle. Sabine is a weak link, not because Winslet does anything wrong, but because her character is freighted with vastly too much anachronistic nonsense. No seedy underbelly of 17th century France is visible, no bigotry of any kind, against Huguenots, women, homosexuals, anyone who isn’t French…

So why a 4 out of 5? Charm, chiefly. Stanley Tucci as the Duc d’Orléans and Paula Paul as his wife are gems, lovable caricatures. Rickman’s Louis is perhaps how we’d like to think he was: self-aware, oddly generous, tired of the cares of state but too dutiful to shirk them. Le Nôtre is like nothing on earth, but attractively given to deadpan one-liners.

My best friend said that this movie was rough around the edges but made you wish that Alan Rickman had gotten the chance to direct more films. And it’s true.

Director: Alan Rickman
Rating: R
Length: 117 minutes
Score: 4/5

Sorry, after the new Avengers I had movie ennui and also “Friends” on Netflix happened. Now I’m back!

And I have to say: this movie is under-rated. As I’m sure you know, it’s a Cinderella story. Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) is a hotel maid, Chris Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) is a Senate hopeful. In a hilarious mix-up Chris thinks Marisa is actually staying in the hotel, whereas in fact the woman staying in the suite in question is Caroline Lane (Natasha Richardson), who is only slightly cartoonishly hoity-toity. The cast is rounded out by Chris’s constantly jazzed campaign guy (Stanley Tucci) and Marisa’s adorably politically-aware son Ty (Tyler Posey).

Sure, a lot of the class stuff is a little too pat. Chris goes to benefit dinners that are supposed to raise awareness about the projects, and zooms up to the Bronx in a limo to give a speech about it. Marisa, for her part, grew up in the projects and has some views about his “big-hearted” policies and his evident personal disconnect from them. Meanwhile, she has management ambitions and a deadbeat ex who continuously bails on plans with their son. Her colleagues are supportive (including Bob Hoskins[!!!] as the hotel butler, Lionel); her mother has realistic doubts.

Chris, of course, is one of these career politicians who is only ever cynical because the people around him force him to be so, and has a big dog and pre-speech jitters. He’s good with kids (especially Ty), has a checkered (but, you can be sure, decent) romantic past, and looks good in a dinner suit. He has no patience with social-climbing blondes, which is appealing if improbable. His accent is a shade careful, and hearing Ralph Fiennes say “taking a leak,” however scrupulous the dialect coach, is ridiculous.

There are a few moments that strain credulity, naturally. Ty never points out, for instance, that Chris routinely refers to Marisa as “Caroline,” even though Ty is in general preternaturally observant. Marisa’s stand-ins for mice and birds rally ’round very quickly–and not just with bows and sewing, but with vintage Harry Winston necklaces, for which they use a grade-schooler as courier. It is not, however, improbable that Marisa would be the only woman at a benefit at the Met wearing a pink dress.

But all in all, it’s appealing. Ralph Fiennes, for once, is not tragic or evil or set on fire or otherwise destroyed, which I think is nice. The movie is not unaware of social and economic disparities, but neither does it beat you up about them. The kid is cute but not cloying; Marisa’s friends on the hotel staff are slight caricatures but warm-hearted. Next time it comes on TV, you should give this a chance.

Stray notes:

  • John Hughes was partly responsible for the story?
  • Chris Marshall is a sympathetic Republican! This brings the number in films to…two (Bill Pullman in Independence Day is the other).
  • Yeah, I miss Jennifer Lopez in silly but charming movies. She was really good at them (and, yes, The Wedding Planner is also secretly great).

Director: Wayne Wang
Rating: PG-13
Length: 105 min.
Score: 3/5.