BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. The centralization of American popular cinema continues, with Disney squarely in the rich middle of it: Lucasfilm, Pixar and Marvel Studios all live within the shadow of the Magic Kingdom. This means seemingly every mainstream movie without an R rating is likely to have had the Mouse's big padded hands all over it. This also means that said mouse has access to enough capital (and certainly enough hubris) to continue the recycling of its own properties as live-action versions of the animated "classics" of the 1990s. I'm certainly dating myself here and maybe my indignation at being a relic is at the heart of my misgivings. After all, I skipped most of the canon in its heyday but still; these were movies from a formative period of my life. It is, if not impossible, at least unpleasant that they are old enough to be dredged up and remade. Realistically, though, the original audience for the Beauty and the Beast (1991) of my generation is old enough to drag their own children to a dark, stolid, overlong remake; which they are doing, and in record numbers.
Just because the walls of my childhood home were not lined with those big puffy VHS cases does not mean I did not or cannot appreciate the joys of Disney animation. From the 1940s to the 1990s, Disney cartoon features defined the movie-going experience for millions of kids. Bright, inventive, visually and narratively engaging, they strike a balance between challenging and pleasing the audience. And people seem to really adore the songs (see, the thing about musicals is that I don't like them). These are movies that please their intended audience and continue to resonate with them for years and decades afterward; things become classic for a reason.
Perhaps it reflects the gathering darkness of the day that the current round of live-action adaptations are drained of joy and bounce. (I would say that last year's The Jungle Book is a notable exception but even it skews fairly dark relative to the source material.) I'm certainly not one to decry emotionally or thematically difficult material but these movies, with Beauty and the Beast as a particularly pointed example, hardly seem targeted toward their ostensible audience. They play as faux-sophisticated, pretentious attempts to capitalize on the nostalgia of a generation desperate to recapture its long-departed youth (do I sound old and bitter?).
In an imagined, long ago French village, bookish Belle (Emma Watson) lives with her clock-maker father Maurice (Kevin Kline) and dreams of a wider world. The rest of the villagers find her strange, her more expansive viewpoint threatening. The brutish, egomaniacal Gaston (Luke Evans) is a notable exception: He thinks he is in love with Belle and that he can win her hand by force. Meanwhile, outside the village, a once vain and prideful prince has been condemned by an enchantress to live as a beast, his kingdom frozen in perpetual winter, his servants transmuted into household objects. One night, on his way back to the village, Maurice takes a path less travelled and is set upon by wolves. In his flight, he finds himself within the confines of the cursed castle. Alarmed by what he sees, he reconsiders, choosing instead to try his luck with the wolves. On his way out, though, he plucks a rose to bring back to Belle. The Beast (Dan Stevens) guards his plants jealously; he imprisons Maurice, Belle comes to rescue him and, well, you likely know the rest.
Despite my dire proclamations, Beauty and the Beast is not entirely without merit. Director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 and 2) shows decidedly old-fashioned restraint behind the camera, using a predominantly static camera interspersed with the occasional, physically impossible, digitally enhanced boom shot. Each frame brims with incredible detail: the set decoration, costuming and make-up are as rich and fine as we have come to expect from these Disney productions. The style and scale of the thing feel appropriate to a moody period piece, which is what this is, and that presents a problem. The pacing is slow, the lighting dark and the running time over two hours. I wonder if the youngest members of the audience will stay engaged in the story despite those impediments; it was a struggle for me. Watson, Kline and Evans make light work of the transition from spoken to sung parts, and handle the choreographed sections with aplomb. Josh Gad, as Gaston's smitten valet LeFou provides some welcome, too brief moments of levity. Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen appear as a candelabra and a clock, respectively. Stanley Tucci is a harpsichord.
More than anything, this version of Beauty and the Beast made me want to revisit Jean Cocteau's, from 1946. (I am not sure where the Ron Perlman/Linda Hamilton television series falls on the scale.) While Condon seems to be attempting some sort of stylistic throwback, Cocteau was inventing techniques that still look modern, even futuristic. His version of this story pulses with a delirious, feverish intensity that, if memory serves, makes this one seem even more somnambulant. PG13. 100m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
CASABLANCA (1942). Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the classic anti-Nazi romance. MINOR.
CHIPS. Michael Peña and Dax Shepard star as highway patrol cops in this buddy-comedy reboot of the TV show. BROADWAY, MCKINLEYVILLE.
GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995). The manga-to-anime classic set in the year 2029, where cyborg cop Motoko Kusanagi hunts down nefarious hackers. NR. 82m. MINOR.
LABYRINTH (1986). Peak David Bowie as the Goblin King, granting wishes and snatching babies. PG. 101m. BROADWAY.
LIFE. Astronauts on a space station discover life on Mars that may not be friendly. Starring Rebecca Fergusen, Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal. R. 110M. BROADWAY, MCKINLEYVILLE, FORTUNA.
POWER RANGERS. An alien ship bestows super powers on a group of high school kids who must then save the world from an emo villainess. PG. 106m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
GET OUT. Daniel Kaluuya stars as a young African American man visiting his white girlfriend's (Allison Williams) family in this atmospheric and original horror movie that is as artistically accomplished as it is dire in its allegory of American racism. R. 103m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO. Filmmaker Raoul Peck uses historical footage, interviews and author James Baldwin's unfinished book about Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. to tell the story of the Civil Rights movement. PG13. 99m. MINIPLEX.
KEDI. In Istanbul, a fascinating, varied city in the grip of totalitarianism, street cats and humans make room for each other with mutual respect and kindness. This hopeful and heartening documentary suggest there's much to be gained from inclusion. NR. 80m. MINIPLEX.
KONG: SKULL ISLAND. A stellar cast (Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston) and visual effects bring the action and the lush, tropical setting to life even when the story droops a bit. PG13. 120M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE. The plastic Dark Knight (voiced by a gravelly Will Arnett) takes on a partner in this brick-filled animated feature. With Micheal Cera. PG. 104m. BROADWAY.
LOGAN. Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold give Wolverine a send-off with exciting, visceral action and emotional depth. With Patrick Stewart as the ailing Professor X and a revelatory performance by Dafne Keen as a sharp-clawed little girl on the run. R. 135m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
THE SHACK. A grieving father (Sam Worthington) receives a mysterious invitation and goes on a magical sojourn. With Octavia Spencer. PG13. 132m. BROADWAY.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill