Beauty and the Beast: Old and new it stands out of time…

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Beauty and the Beast – 2017, 1991

Directors: Bill Condon (2017) and Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise (1991)
Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos (2017) and Linda Woolverton (1991) based on the story by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
Starring:  Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson (2017) and Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Rex Everhart, Jesse Corti (1991)

Disney has been remaking their animated classics for so long now, I can’t remember a time when they weren’t. I think it may have started with 101 Dalmatians but in all honesty most of them are not good enough for me to go back and research. Over the last few years, the most notable have been their attempts to put women on the screen as real life princesses or (in Angelina Jolie’s case) should have beens. The one that everyone will talk about and remember has just arrived.

Everyone’s real hero of the Harry Potter series, Hermione Granger (no one wants to imagine she really married the doof who shall not be named) is now as likely and deservedly remembered as Belle. Although not being considered a singer before being cast in this musical, Emma Watson creates her own version of the role that Paige O’Hara mastered a generation ago.

The question of whether the movie update is necessary is immaterial at this point. A more pointed question would involve a contemplation on whether or not live action should include as much if not more animation than the original animated film. I am not going to discuss that either, though. I am really just here to celebrate both films, since, miracle of miracles, they both turned out to be pretty great.

To do this, I am just going to discuss the elements of each film that stand out more for me than the other. At this point, can we really review a film that everyone will see and love…except for those who insist on pointing out flaws. Well, I will try, but it will all feel like quibbling when I throw criticism to the side and just say it is a classic despite them.

First thing is first. What parts of the new film are not as good?

  1. The first time we see Belle’s village: For a second, I got a sickening feeling. Everything seems so close and claustrophobic, it felt like I was watching the recent redo of The Smurfs. There is no feeling of span in the town and it feels like Belle is walking in a really tight circle. The empty bookstore feels bigger than the whole confines of the village.
  2. Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury as Lumiere and Mrs. Potts can’t be beat: It is a personal preference, as McGregor and Thompson do well in the same roles. To McGregor’s credit, he just moved forward with his much less distinctive voice and personality. While it isn’t as memorable, it works. Orbach completely mastered the role, though, making Lumiere seem older and more virile at once. Thompson is a blander version of a character one would normally consider to be quite bland. No one ever made us sit down, make ourselves comfortable and have some tea like Lansbury.
  3. The ballroom scene. Especially true after the remastered version of the original pumped it up about 200%, there is just no beating the myriad colors and sweeping grandeur of the original. It’s one of the great animated scenes in cinematic history.
  4. I just wish they would not have cast Stanley Tucci. It’s so tiring to see him in every movie, even when they give him bad teeth to inhabit.

So what was made better in the new film? Surprisingly, quite a lot.

  1. LeFou: Gad is an inspired casting choice. His nuanced performance works in every way possible. The original was barely a placeholder for Gaston, to the point where I wondered why he was even included in such a large musical number. This time around, the character is fully fleshed out, an improvement in every way. The only time it doesn’t fit is when the residual lines from the original make it necessary to have him be somewhat illiterate and ill-informed. It is quite likely the LeFou has read most of the same books as Belle.
  2. Maurice: Good Lord I hated Belle’s dad in the original. I would have thrown him in the loony bin or old folks home right off the bat if I had to listen to his babbling. Totally moronic and typical Disney Dad, with his head in the clouds while missing every possible thing on the ground. He even thinks she should hook up with Gaston. Kline presents a slightly preoccupied, but deeply saddened man. He is completely aware of his daughter and he wants to protect her from the horrors he’s experienced, while showing her the beauty he sees in life. It’s completely understandable how they could be related in this version of the tale. She enjoys the same things he does, with her own spin. Incredible that Disney finally gets a Dad right, for once.
  3. The night-time trip to Paris: This adds a completely new dimension to Belle, her father and heretofore absent mother. This scene has a great song (How Does a Moment Last Forever) and in its inclusion, we allow a moment of true bonding between Belle and the Beast. This is the kind of scene upon which romances are built and it makes what follows all the more meaningful.
  4. Letting Belle get plastered by the snowball: It was always a little weak to have Beast hoisted by his own petard in the original.

To delve any deeper, you really have to just accept the differences between these two as just trades for each medium. Human Again (from the restored version) is traded for Evermore. The wardrobe is now an opera singer instead of a maid. My eldest noticed that Philippe was a different sort of horse. The library is remarkable either way. Gaston is as delightfully deplorable now as he was in animated form. Alan Menken is a treasure. I don’t know how he keeps drawing classics from this well.

It would be unfair to not recognize Watson’s achievement. Paige O’Hara has created, in all truth, the best Disney Princess. Instantly memorable for her pluck and her voice, all other Princesses have yet to reach the bar she set. Watson wisely avoids the pitfall of trying to match O’Hara’s voice and instead applies her own spin on the character. The songs and her performance are equally good and entirely different. I found myself hearing her voice in my head for songs that I have heard for a quarter century with O’Hara’s. She’s elevated the live action princess role that Amy Adams created so effortlessly and placed her own stamp on cinematic history, between this and Potter.

Dan Stevens is a little old, even for a 27-year-old Watson, but the role works, especially if one considers the time passing under a spell. It’s close enough and not yet creepy. His voice in Evermore is remarkable and nearly worth the price of admission on its own.

Celebrate these films. They are gifts to humanity. There have always been beauties who were drawn to beasts that they had to learn to understand. There have always been beasts who are society’s winners that smart girls know to avoid, too. This film has brought hope to many a bookworm girl and boy that they will someday meet and learn to accept one another. And grow. Everyone wants to feel like they can do that.

Both films (***** out of *****)

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Cool Papa E Reviews Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Episode I-VI)

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Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Episodes I-VI) 1977-2011

Nobody really needs to review this series. It is, for better or worse, part of the world lexicon of enduring stories. How this evolved from the story of Luke and his friends to eventually just the downfall and reacquired mojo of Anakin has filled many books, often more effectively than the movies themselves did. In truth, there are really only two superior films in the George Lucas era of Star Wars. The rest, while great to look at, is a measure of the tragedy of story-boarding over storytelling.

Thing about it is, those first two films are so good, a thousand ships of dreams have been launched by those in pursuit of the magic that they promise. Unfortunately, in the cinematic world we are boxed in a harbor. The Force Awakens is a prime example of another ship that ends up in familiar waters. It feels great, but there is nothing new aside from 3 humans and a delightful robot. Who’s counting more than me, though, that the next ship, Rogue One, will be far enough into this wonderful world for us to anchor for a while and dream about our next move into dreamland.

What I will do here will amount to more a list than anything. There will be a basic review and a best of and worst of for several facets of each film. I am kind of making it up as I go along, but I am sure this will be no worse than the script for Attack of the Clones.

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Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Written and Directed by George Lucas
Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson, Ahmed Best

Best Line

Daultay Dofine: This scheme of yours has failed, Lord Sidious. The blockades is finished. We dare not go against the Jedi.
Darth Sidious: Viceroy, I don’t want this stunted slime in my sight again!

Worst Line

Jar-Jar Binks: Count me outa this one. Better dead here than dead at the core. Ye Gods! What is mesa sayin’?

Best Scene

Any of the fight scenes between Maul, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon.  Too bad they are split up with crap like “My give up.”

Worst Scene

I feel so bad for Ahmed Best. He is given a thankless, poorly conceived and even worse written role. His character gets in the way of so many scenes, he seems even to be a source of irritation for the ever calm Jedi. I would say his queries to Amidala when they are at Coruscant are a perfect example of this.She’s busy pondering their planet’s very existence while being manipulated by Palpatine and all he’s allowed to say is “Yousa thinking yousa people ganna die?” No wonder she never looks at him.

Best Effects

The film is pristine. Everything except for eye contact with the digital characters is worthy of praise. Naboo and Coruscant have joined Tatooine as places we all feel we have been. Nothing matches the sheen on the Naboo cruisers sleeking through space or the vibrant sheen of a lightsaber in the the rest of the cinematic universe.

Worst Effects

The afore-mentioned eye placement for digital characters is severely off-putting. Seeing the Jedi stare absently at Jar Jar is a touchtone to every bad effects decision that follows in the prequels.

Biggest Win

The one on two matchup of Sith vs. Jedi was a daunting decision that made everyone realize these Sith are for real and they are dangerous as hell.

Biggest Mistake

Too bad they ended that duel making Maul look stupidly on as a defenseless Obi-Wan jumps over him and then slices him open. Killing off good bad guys early and making them look like doofs is a Star Wars tradition, though.

Review in 50 words or less

This film is the beginning of a lengthy series of misadventures that have Lucas continually following his whims (Jar Jar, Pod Racing, green screen) without giving a strong story to back it up. The fault lies with hiring a bunch of talented digital artists, but no real story tellers.

Rating / Rank (*** out of *****) / 4 of 6

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Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Directed by George Lucas
Written by Lucas and Jonathan Hales
Starring Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Temeura Morrison, Jimmy Smits

Best Line 

Obi-Wan: I was beginning to wonder if you’d got my message.
Anakin: I retransmitted it to Coruscant, just as you’d requested, Master. Then we decided to come and rescue you.
Obi-Wan: [looks at his handcuffed hands] Good job.

Worst Line

Padme: Please don’t look at me like that.
Anakin: Why not?
Padme: Because it makes me feel uncomfortable.
Anakin: Sorry milady.

Best Scene

Gotta go with two here, because the pickings are so slim. #1 is Windu’s dispatching of Jango Fett. Even if it is yet another early exit for a bad guy, it makes Sam Jackson look as cool as we all know he is. #2 is the space fight between the Fetts and Obi-Wan in the planet ring. It’s the best space battle in the prequels.

Worst Scene

Everything else. Everything.

Best Effects

There are so few decent aspects to this film, it’s not hard to define. The spaceship that Dooku / Tyranus flies from Geonosis to Coruscant is not only wonderfully conceived, but it is very cool to look at.

Worst Effects

Could be just the clones.  They all look painted onto the screen. It never looks like they are actual humans, or breathing beings at all. The gladiator stadium is ill conceived and even more poorly executed. Dexter is horrible too. Sure, they make the table move when he sits, but his there is no sound when he makes contact with the table afterword. Kamino looks like a latter day Elizabeth Taylor perfume commercial; beautiful and unreal.

Biggest Win

We all win when Mace is allowed to kick ass.

Biggest Mistake

Digital filming was the concentration for this movie, and there was increasingly little thought given to the story. Lucas pieced it together in a few weeks and then gave Hale about a half-week to clean it up.

Review in 50 words or less

Not only the worst Star Wars film, but one of the worst movies I have ever seen. The script is deplorable and the poor acting encouraged by Lucas’ inability to communicate makes it worse. Saddest of all is the movie looks more like a cartoon than anything.

Rating / Rank (1/2* out of *****) / 6 of 6

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Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Written and Directed by George Lucas
Starring Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Temeura Morrison, Jimmy Smits

Best Line

Supreme Chancellor: I know what’s been troubling you. Listen to me. Don’t continue to a be a pawn of the Jedi Council! Ever since I’ve known you, you have been seeking a life of great significance, far more than any Jedi.
[turns his back on Anakin]
Supreme Chancellor: Are you going to kill me?
Anakin Skywalker: I would certainly like to!
Supreme Chancellor: I know you would. I can feel your anger. It give you focus… makes you stronger.

Worst Line

Padmé: Hold me, like you did by the lake on Naboo; so long ago when there was nothing but our love. No politics, no plotting, no war.

Best Scene

I’m going to go with Obi-Wan dropping in on Grievous and his army. The winsome smile is a reminder of why this guy was picked to play a young Alec Guinness.

Worst Scene

Jedi Youngling: [a group of younglings are discovered by Anakin] Master Skywalker. There are too many of them. What are we going to do?
[with a cold, emotionless face, Anakin draws his lightsaber]

Best Effects

Everything looks pretty good this time around. A much better color palette and much clearer look to everything. The most cohesive mix of effects and scene go to the seduction of Skywalker by Palpatine at the Opera. That is the lasting image in my mind for this film. 2nd would be Windu vs. Sidious.

Worst Effects

The clones still look pretty damn bad, but the continual scenes of characters walking together in front of a blue screen will be remembered as a goofy descendant of the Scooby Doo scrolling background. The fight on Mustafar fails whenever the two Jedi start hovering on a variety of objects.

Biggest Win

The best thing about this film is easy: McDiarmid’s Palpatine. His performance is a standout in the series. Really, if one can remove him from the rest of the prequel trilogy, his performance is nearly award worthy. His look of actual lust for power is made all the more rewarding when one considers the fact that it takes him so long in movie years to get that for which his is plotting. His lines all roll off the tongue and none of them have the stench of Lucas’ middle school playtime prose.

Biggest Mistake

Having Padme die of heartbreak is lame as hell. George had years to think of something with which to kill her, and we get that?

Review in 50 words or less

It’s the film that is the most concise, if for no other reason than Lucas is backed into a corner and can only move forward. It is still a tremendously flawed film, but at least with the over-reliance on Palpatine we get to see some real Machiavellian shit go down.

Rating / Rank (*** out of *****) / 3 0f 6

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Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977 originally – 2011 version)

Written and Directed by George Lucas
Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, James Earl Jones, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker

Best Line

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

STAR
WARS

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…

These words changed a lot of lives for the better.

Worst Line

Han Solo: Jabba, you’re a wonderful human being.

Only if you leave all of the dialogue in from that redundant conversation and wholly unnecessary added scene. Jabba was a fat guy in the original deleted scene.

Best Scene

Obi-Wan vs. Darth Vader. My friends and I have replayed this scene a hundred times or more in our back yards growing up. That it was decided during a later draft shows the power that collective writing had back in the early days for Lucas.

Worst Scene

In any post 1997 version, its the addition of Jabba. It slows the film down with repeated and confusing dialogue, and makes Han look like he repeats himself like a daft man.”Han shot first” and the flying robot teasing thebigger one and getting hit also rate quite high.

Best Effects

It has to be the opening 10 minutes. Vader’s entrance onto the hapless ship filled with old guys who couldn’t shoot straight. This is one of the few firefights the Stormtroopers win, even if they all miss the droids.

Worst Effects

Why George ever thought to mess with the classic “Han shot first” scene will be subject to debate until shortly after Lucas is dead, and then will be restored by Disney.  Any version but the 1977 cut makes no sense, no matter how the director tries to explain it away. Do you want Greedo to be an inept bounty hunter?  Do you want Han to lose his ambiguity? Do you want to suck the charm out of the movie? If so, then any version post 1997 is for you.

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Han stepping over Jabba is a very close second, even if they worked on that 1000 hours and made it better than 1997, it still sucks.
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Biggest Win

Everyone who ever liked movies wins with this film. The crappy alterations cannot change the history that was made when Star Wars was first released. Everything good and some bad about movies stems from May 25, 1977 in Mann’s Chinese Theatre.

Biggest Mistake

The post 1997 edits take this film down a notch. It’s still a classic, but it’s got a few dings since then.

Review in 50 words or less

It’s hard to quantify how important this movie is to people. The original release is the most important movie I have ever witnessed. Without this film, I would not be obsessed with movies now. They could replace the edits with stills of Dom Deluise and I would still happily watch.

Rating / Rank (***** for original and ****1/2 out of ***** for post 1997) / Both are 2/6 

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Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Directed by Irvin Kirshner
Written by George Lucas, Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan
Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz

Best Line

I sincerely think this whole script qualifies for best line. There are too many great lines and as far as I can see, only one bad one. The two best though, have to be as follows:

Princess Leia: I love you.
Han Solo: I know.

And

Darth Vader: There is no escape. Don’t make me destroy you.
[pauses]
Luke, you do not yet realize your importance. You have only begun to discover your power. Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.
Luke: I’ll never join you!
Darth Vader: If you only knew the power of the Dark Side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
Darth Vader: No. I am your father.
Luke: No. No. That’s not true. That’s impossible!
Darth Vader: Search your feelings, you know it to be true!
Luke: [anguished] No! No!

Worst Line

General Reiken [to Han Solo]: A death mark’s not an easy thing to live with.

Best Scene

Again, there are so many iconic moments in this film. I have to narrow it down to Luke learning the truth and Han, Leia and Chewie’s surprise betrayal.

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Worst Scene

I have to nitpick here, because I really think there no obviously bad scenes. Seeing Luke blindly swatting at large things obviously lumbering towards him in his Cloud City battle with Vader makes him look like he would need training to beat a fat guy blue belt Jiu Jitsu who got his stripes fighting small kids.

Best Effects

Everything bursts off of the screen beautifully. The space flight of the Millennium Falcon takes the prize though. Inventive, crisp and smooth at once.

Worst Effects

Again, this is quibbling, but it has always felt like the Wampa was just one big giant arm on a stick swung by a stage hand.

Biggest Win

George Lucas owes his entire empire to the images and character possessed within this film. Everything started with A New Hope, but this is the film that cements Star Wars into the world’s psyche.

Biggest Mistake

Letting go of Kirshner and Kurtz. There has not been as good a Star Wars film by a long shot since these two were shown the door.

Review in less than 50 words

This is one of the greatest films of all time. It is the fount of imagination that springs forth for so many. Lucas deciding to make Vader Luke’s father and Leia falling for Han is storytelling at it’s peak. This is the lynch pin for all that follows.

Rating / Rank (***** out of *****) / 1 of 6

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Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Directed by Richard Marquand
Written by George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan
Starring  Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz, James Earl Jones

Best Line 

Admiral Ackbar: It’s a trap!

Worst Line

Good God they turn Solo into an absolute moron in Return of the Jedi. Everything he does is beyond annoying. If it weren’t for the Ewoks, he’d take the prize for worst thing about the film. I don’t know if it was a misread of the character they’d created or if George was mad that Ford wanted to be killed off. Or if it is an indication that Lucas’ creative vision was clouded by personal problems. Whatever happened, they get a head start at ruining the franchise before they even land on Endor.

Han Solo: Chewie and I’ll take care of this, you stay here.
Luke: Quietly. There may be more of them out there.
Han Solo: Hey, it’s me.

Best Scene

This film has not aged well. Scenes that are good are often tied to scenes that are just absurd. The fight on Jabba’s sail barge is the best example of this. While Leia is kicking some ass and killing the big slug, Han is blindly knocking Boba Fett into the Sarlacc pit, in what is the first of a long line of stupid bad guy demises. Still, this is the best moment for women in the entire series prior to Rey’s arrival in Episode VII.

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Worst Scene

Many to choose from here. The afore mentioned end of Boba Fett ranks high, but it’s nowhere near the assault to the senses that are the Ewoks. They have many a horrible scene, but nothing quite so bad as their attack on the heavily armored Storm Troopers with sticks and trees.

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Best Effects

The speeder bike race was cool at the time, and it still has some resonance. Not as much as the space battle over Endor though. Many good moments and exceptional editing win the day here.

Worst Effects

There are a few grainy scenes, like the Rebel planning room for the attack on the second Death Star, that have not improved even in the reissues. There are some updates that work, like the new song at Jabba’s palace, even if you can tell the cartoon figures from the real. I hate seeing Hayden Christensen standing next to Yoda and Ben in the end.

However, everything the Ewoks do look like little people in a loose fitting suit. They should have stuck to the original plan and just made a few more Wookie outfits.

Biggest Win

Initial Marketing and box office win the day. This movie was a tremendous hit at the time. It made a ton of money in its initial release.

Biggest Mistake

Long term. Return of the Jedi has no shelf life. The toys from the film stopped selling, especially when Lucas said he wasn’t going to be making any more. No one I have ever met owned an Ewok play figure of any kind.

Review in 50 words or less

Sorry folks, this one is a turd. The good is even with the bad here. The good on one side being most of the first act, the showdown with the Emporer and the space battle. The bad is most everything else. It completes the trilogy with a thud.

Rating / Rank 

(**1/2 out of *****) / 5 of 6

Jane Got A Gun (***1/2): Hell’s coming with me

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Jane Got A Gun – 2016

Director Gavin O’Connor
Screenplay Brian Duffield, Anthony Tambakis, Joel Edgerton
Starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor, Boyd Holbrook, Rodrigo Santoro, Noah Emmerich

Sometimes things don’t turn out like you planned. At one point you can have a hot script as yet unproduced. Then you snag an Oscar winning actress and a renowned female director. Then you get Michael Fassbender and Jude Law. Then Jude Law is replaced by Bradley Cooper. Somehow out of that you get Joel Edgerton and Ewan McGregor and a new director in Gavin O’Connor. Adding to this we get Tambakis and Edgerton of O’Connor’s beautiful Warrior to rewrite parts of the script. Then they say this means the film is in trouble. I don’t understand how one comes to this conclusion in these trades. It seems like the film wins in every trade except possibly Cooper for McGregor. I will call that one a draw. Overall, at this point, the only drawback is that they get the name from an Aerosmith song that has nothing to do with old west justice.

Prior to Jane Got A Gun, there has not been a lot that this reviewer has been excited about in Portman’s career. She started out like gangbusters with Leon: The Professional. Since then it’s been a middling collection of estimations on what a beautiful young actress should do. It’s like she and Keira Knightley took the same class on career advancement. She won an Oscar for Black Swan in a performance for which she really had no business being nominated. She has two modes: severe and affected. Her range has to expand before her looks recede. This is a good start.

The story starts out with Jane Hammond (Portman) and her daughter waiting for the arrival of her husband (Emmerich). When he arrives, he is near dead and Jane fixes him up as good as she can. They are on their way, he tells her between gasps and screams of pain. She should take their daughter and leave.

She does take her daughter to a safer place, but then she seeks out assistance in the form of her ex-fiance Dan Frost (Edgerton), who initially refuses her after reminding her of the obvious. In her effort to secure more supplies at the general store in town, she is assaulted by one of the gang of John Bishop (McGregor) who is in pursuit of Jane and her husband. She escapes and makes her way back to her home with some help.

From here it is a series of preparations and flashbacks. Each one is placed in an effort to answer each question as it arises. To move the story along, essentially. It does it’s job, even if it doesn’t leave any room for nuance or questions. If you wonder what happened at any particular moment, just hang on a few beats and the answer comes.

What the script does not answer adequately are any of the questions surrounding the pursuit of Jane and her husband. He’s been a wanted man for years, yet he lives outside of town. How far away they both are from the Bishop gang is never adequately addressed. When they decided to settle down and raise a family, what kept Bishop and his numerous men from stumbling across them unless they were states away.

Better handled is the progression of events that conspire against women in the old west. As she admonishes her husband for cursing as she dresses his wounds, one thinks, my what an environment she makes in her home. Later, we discover a whole host of atrocities that have been performed on her in the recent past, it occurs to us the strength and resilience one woman must have had among all of those grotesque and evil men in the dust.

Portman does a great job putting us in her shoes but in no way overselling it. This is the actress I have been waiting for since Leon. It has to be no coincidence that she produced this film. Let’s hope she acts in more of her own productions in the future.

Edgerton is excellent in the meaty role of a man betrayed. He releases his aggression in interesting ways and does not let it interfere with his compassion. There are a lot of ways one could play this role between the lines, but Edgerton finds the margins are much more memorable.

Emmerich has little to do in the present, but his flashbacks are neat. He shows us a character who finds right and wrong have a clear delineation and when he decides to act for righteousness, it’s one of the best moments of the film. Leave it to O’Connor to give the fourth lead this kind of gravity and it’s nice to see an actor of Emmerich’s experience seize upon it.

McGregor, called in late to replace two actors, does the most with a role that demands nothing so much as twirling his mustache and dying last. How he goes is very entertaining, though. Hang in for it.

O’Connor has not done nearly as much as a director of his caliber since his incredible last effort, Warrior, mentioned earlier. If nothing else, Jane Got A Gun shows that he can take other people’s material and make something that we can feel. It’s a good, memorable western that allows us to know we come from a stark reality. It is a film that college students of today should watch before they make another demand for safe space. People can survive a lot tougher battles than words.

(***1/2 out of *****)

The Rules of August: Osage County

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August: Osage County – 2013

Director John Wells
Starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Sam Shepard, Misty Upham
Written by Tracy Letts

Rule #12: Meryl Streep will be nominated for an Oscar for 1 film per year at least

Rule #154: Old folks quoting people with tears running down their cheek  usually aren’t happy and won’t make it through the film.

Rule #492: It is unacceptable to use the term “Injun” unless you are looking bad from all the pills / booze you took.  It’s un-American, even in a movie taking place in  the heartland.

Rule #493: It’s not acting if you are only a little off-balance when high.

Rule #573: If Meryl dresses down, it’s an automatic nomination.

Rule #626: Only in dramas would a couple that is separated make a trip to appease an overbearing mother.  In real life, even if the couple was together, only the kid of the mother would bother making the trip, plus whichever of their kids that would need a sitter.

Rule #637: “In my day”  is usually spoken by someone who bugs the crap out of everybody, Cinema style.

Rule # 638: The sister that stays behind is usually unquestioning until the big scene at the end.

Rule #639: Usually the one who’s gone has an interesting past that will be revealed as people keep talking about him,

Rule #740: Everyone must make everything obvious when hinting about a separation.

Rule #777: The kid who is most dedicated never is the favorite.

Rule #778: The kid who is the favorite is the one that takes off and has a grudge.

Rule #823: “I think he’s gonna walk through that door anytime” means we’re not expecting him back anytime soon, if ever.  Oh, look, here comes the Sheriff, with light’s blaring.

Rule #825: If the mother has issues with everyone, the kid’s usually pretty reasonable.

Rule #882: It’s necessary to have at least one scene with loud music and incoherent rambling while dancing in a movie involving addiction.

Rule #14: Showing the body being prepped for a funeral with dramatic music playing in the background is known as filler.

Rule #887: The sports car with the annoying sibling usually get the parking spot closest to the camera.

Rule #892: Live for now translates into “I am the asshole of the family.”

Rule #893: Every story about going back home has posters from your childhood on the wall in your room.  no one ever uses the room that the kid left.

Rule #915: If you like a girl who is ten years younger, you’d definitely like one that is 14.

Rule #917: The A-hole in the sports car has to play obnoxious loud music in every driving scene, even if they were in the midst of a conversation.

Rule #928: “I’ll hook you up (with pot) later” translates into “I want to remove your inhibitions.”

Rule #943: There should only be one guy from England faking an American accent in a film about people who never leave the mid-west.

Rule #956: “Porking Pippi Longstocking” should not ever be used to describe anything.  Ever.

Rule #957: Full volume argument in the middle of the yard is not a way to keep the family from knowing you’ve separated, unless you are in a drama.

Rule #989: The kid that everyone discounts is of course the one that the smartest among them would be drawn to.

Rule #993: It’s unacceptable to eat without a dress coat on, but smoking…that’s just fine.

Rule #1042: The youngest one at the table is often the one that would not eat meat.  The floosie sister getting married in Miami is a possible second.

Rule #1044: Every drama based on a play has a big scene at the dinner table.  Tension: It’s what’s for dinner.

Rule #1052: “The crux of the biscuit” needs to be used more often.

Rule #1087: An attack in the living room must be balanced by compassion in the hayfield.

Rule #1117: There are body parts of your mother that should never be discussed.

Rule #1181: Dating your cousin is okay if you can’t breed.  Unless he’s more than your cousin.

Rule #1182: The more A-listers you have in a film, the more average the movie.

Rule #1189: Every family has a person that gives gifts as horrible as Violet’s mom.

Rule #1273: There seems to be an endless amount of time for mourning for all the characters in a drama…even if most jobs only give you 3 days.

Rule #1401: Everyone in the world wants to identify with Charlie and Ivy.

Rule #1404: Everyone in the world should identify with Chris Cooper.

Rule #1508: Everyone should have an employee like Johnna, willing to “Tune up” a perv.

Rule #1557: Julia Roberts should act unhinged more often.

Rule #1558: Meryl Streep can act any way she wants, and she always will.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Jack the Giant Slayer another fairy tale with automatic weapons

jack-the-giant-slayer

Jack The Giant Slayer – 2013

Directed by Bryan Singer
Starring Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Eleanor Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, John Kassir, Ewan Bremner, Ralph Brown
Written by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, Dan Studney

Why is Bryan Singer directing a movie about a fairy tale?  Really.  The Usual Suspects. X-Men.  Valkyrie.  Now, a fairy tale.  Of course, it’s easy to forget Superman Returns.  Everyone else seems to have forgotten it.  Supposedly, this movie’s idea was proposed before the recent spate of  effects laden fairy tale films including Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel, Alice in Wonderland, and Mirror Mirror.  All of these films, except for Snow White were bad.  This one has certain things going for it: Hoult, McShane, McGregor.  There’s one thing definitely not in its favor: Stanley Tucci as Stanley Tucci.  Another problem, quite obviously, is the fact that the giants look goofier than Harryhausen special effects.

Yes, there aree giants.  Plural.  There are a bunch of them.  Named, among other things, Fe, Fi, Fo and Fum.  This is not the only departure from the original tale, but as usual, most of them are in the spirit of expanding the tale.  Not for the sake of story.  Just the chance for extensive special effects.  The good news, however is that some of the giants interact like genuine characters.  I give credit to Bill Nighy, who, along with John Kassir plays the two-headed King Fallon.  One wishes that we had, perhaps, a Helen Mirren giant to go along with him.

What we get this time is a fairy tale within the fairy tale about the ancient King Eric, who saved the kingdom from giants before.  His bloodline survives, along with the tale, which eventually becomes so old it is no longer considered real.  This is an important lesson for the viewer, allowing the story tellers to preset the possibility of a reality to the tale known as Jack and the Beanstalk.  Whatever.  We really just know we can expect explosions, arrows, fire and death.

There always has to be some sort of automatic crossbow in these faux tales, and here is no exception.  At least this time we have the pleasure of seeing it stopped by a sling shot that shoots more than peas.  There are many inventive and somewhat unexpected deaths in the films.  Some folks you thought would stick around until the annoying end are offed in the first hour.  This makes the film more daring than most of its kind, and the benefit almost overcomes the lack of a real conclusive battle.

Hoult is excellent as the unexpected hero.  He has a real humble and honest charm that makes him a common day hero.  McGregor has an electric smile, and he puts it to good use here, along with the requisite blue screen skills he acquired in the 3 bad Star Wars films.  Ian McShane can be my king anytime.  Or my saloon owner.  It’s a joy to see him think things through.  It’s good to see Ralph Brown, of “85” fame from Alien3.  He is also in Stoker.   He’s a presence that adds a quiet, wonderful dimension to most films he is in.

Of the rest of cast, there is not much to say.  Just a bunch of (human) faces and (giant) voices.  It would have been nice to know the motives of the giants, or to find out some of their history.  Alas, it was not to be.  Oh, well.  They haven’t done 3 Little Pigs yet.  One wonders how they will fit the machine gun crossbow in there.

(*** out of *****)

The Impossible: Harrowing, simple and beautiful

the-impossibleThe Impossible – 2012

Director J.A. Bayona
Starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pedergast, Sönke Möhring, Geraline Chaplin
Screenplay Sergio G. Sánchez

The Impossible is a simple story covering the most incredibly horrific event one could ever imagine happening to a person, a family or community.  In this story, we see the Bennett family, on a vacation to Thailand during the time to 2004 Christmas tsunami struck.  The family, who are all in the vicinity of a swimming pool at a resort, is split into two groups.  This story is about not only their journey, but a demonstration of the spirit of humanity that can rise to the occasion afterwards.

The details are devastating on an interpersonal level, and the visage is bereft with carnage.  The interactions between survivors, however, bring warmth and hope to the viewer.  As with any tragedy, there are those affected, those who run from it, and those who run to it, looking to help.  The latter, we understand, is the hight of human potential.

Seeing the journey through the eyes of the children give an even greater effect on the watcher.  Lucas (Holland) is the oldest boy, finds himself pushing forward as he is inundated with challenges and events that force him to make huge decisions.  Holland’s acting is impressive and compassionate right in tune with his years.  Watts, herself nominated for Best Actress, takes a back seat to the boy playing her son, as she spends much of the film incapacitated.

McGregor makes a choice early on that he spends much of the rest of the film debating.  His decision was debated in our house too, giving a prime example of how hard it is for anyone to be certain of their choices in the chaos and aftermath of disaster.

The storytelling and direction is worthy of the story and it is respectful to all of those involved.  People are treated as equals and with much decency, which gives each character an amount of depth that is often hard to attain in drama’s based on true events.

If you have a hard time watching tense disaster films that lean heavy towards the real, this may be a tough one, even with it’s PG-13 rating.  If you do stick it out, you will be rewarded.

(***** out of *****)

 

P.S. – After watching the deleted scenes this morning, it is more understandable why some of the decisions that were made.  I think it would have made the movie better to add a couple of the scenes, but it worked as it was just fine.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is an calm, beautiful success

 

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen – 2012

Director Lasse Hallström
Starring Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Kristin Scott Thomas, Amr Waked
Written by Simon Beaufoy based on the novel by Paul Torday

I do not like the taste of Salmon, but I have always enjoyed the activity of fishing in its many  forms.  There is an almost spiritual experience, in its quiet way.  Salmon Fishing in the Yemen shows another man who enjoys fishing and is inspired by faith to do so.  Sheikh Mohammed, as portrayed by Egyptian actor Amr Waked, finds solace in knowing that the fish, below the surface don’t know the color, religion, or the politics of the fisher.  The fish are there for all people.  In the faith brought on by his meditation, he has his financial advisor, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt) engage the British fisheries expert, Dr. Alfred Jones (McGregor) in the task of bringing Salmon to the Yemen river.

This scenario is set up to bring Harriet and Alford together, of course, and in the beginning, we get every sign that this is a goofy romantic comedy.  It spends much of the first half hour making it clear that Dr. Jones is a British stiff who, while not enjoying his pedestrian life, is desperate to keep it just as is.  The same goes for his marriage.  Harriet is a young woman in a search for love, and she thinks she may have found it.  Then they are thrown together for this project.

The movie hovers in British office territory until the introduction of the Sheikh, from which time it takes on a bit more significant tone.  In movie form, this is pretty much cereal box wisdom, but one can see it as meaning more in the novel.  The performances are up for the task as far as romantic portrayals go.  McGregor is exceptionally subtle  and Blunt has more than enough substance to pick up Hallström’s cue.  Waked’s performance, however,  pushes through most of the Sheikh clichés and moves into a more human territory.  To see his joy in the prospects of his faith being rewarded feels genuine.

Hallström spends much of the time with subtly beautiful imagery.  He is a master at tone and has no problem linking the story’s plot elements, giving them a sense of gravity and making both story lines more appealing. The movie finds him taking his time letting the actors ponder and express themselves calmly and honestly.  He is so effective, the 107 running time feels only half as long. There is not much here to linger in the memory, but it is a pleasant experience.

(***1/2 out of ******)

Haywire: Soderburgh gets the comfort of knowing that he tried action

Haywire -2012

Directed by Stephen Soderbergh
Starring Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas
Screenplay by Lem Dobbs

Gina Carano looks like she’s taken out more than a few people in her life.  Watching her march through an assemblage of bad guys in Haywire, the only thing I could think about is how much it would hurt to be beat up by her.  This is good in assessing her ability to do her own stunts, but it is quite distracting when she puts on a dress and heads for a night out.  Don’t get me wrong, she is beautiful.  It’s just more athletically inclined, and not a high heels, out on the town sort of beauty.  She is as good a fighter as I have seen on film since Hilary Swank’s last boxing opponent in Million Dollar Baby, but everything about her just screams cross fit, rather than character development.  Still, she is not the problem with this film.

To discuss the film in terms of problems is a little unfair.  It is a slightly above average film with more benefits than detractions.  There are as many stars in this film as was in the last, say, Ocean’s film.  They all are used sparingly, but still effectively, for the most part.  This goes especially for Tatum.  In somewhat the same vein as his meat head performance as Zip in the otherwise miserable, The Dilemma, he plays a person vacant of much except for the job at hand.  His interactions with Carano’s Mallory Kane, as well as McGregor’s Kenneth ring true.

McGregor’s performance, as the main bad guy, is perhaps the weakest performance.  He plays it in such a minimalist way, he seems more like the nerd in Jr. High who has decided, for the first time, to pick on someone he thinks is weaker than he, only to find that even smaller people can fight better than he.

The most taxing part of Haywire is the style employed by Soderburgh.  Never the most linear director, this usually works as a strength in his films, such as The Limey and Out of Sight.  The narrative style of the film, where Kane takes a young man “hostage,” after a particularly brutal encounter and proceeds to spill the beans in the subsequent car ride, is clunky, especially in the transitions.  As she goes into such detail, one can only question why someone of her profession would ever be so open with a citizen she barely knows.  The saddest and truest answer to this query is because the script told her to.  The kid seems even less of an actor than does Carano.  I think it’s more indicative of the choppy editing style of Soderburgh than anything else.

The feeling for the viewer of Haywire is not so much wall to wall action mixed with intrigue, as an awkward series of cuts and angles that deflate the intensity of the people on screen.  The reader should know that I am a huge fan of Soderburgh, and was very much looking forward to this film, featuring a woman who could truly kick some ass, not 98 lb Angelina Jolie with 2 lbs of lipstick.  Something is missing here, though.  There is a statement that the director is trying to make that one ready to see some serious action is not going to be prepared to absorb.  It may well be that it is so true to viewing action for action’s sake, this viewer did not make the transition between this and, say, MI: Ghost Protocol.

There may be some who like this better than me.  The film got an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes.  It was as much a labor for me to view as it was a joy.

(*** out of *****)