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Posts Tagged ‘Emma Thompson’

 

Dan Stevens (beneath the CGI) and Emma Watson

“BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” My rating: B (Opens wide on Nov. 17)

129 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Is Disney’s live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” as good as the old-style, hand-drawn 1991 original?

Nope. But it’ll do.

After a slow middle section, the film delivers the emotional goods. And along the way, it establishes Emma Watson, late of the Harry Potter franchise, as a name-above-the-title star.

This remake is the latest in Disney’s recycling of its classic animation library — see last year’s “The Jungle Book” and “Cinderella” the year before. The film, from director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls,” “Chicago”), hits favorite familiar notes while introducing some new (and mildly controversial) elements.

Its strongest component remains Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman’s score from the first film, a collection of hummers that immediately please the ear and quickly take up residence in the head. Small wonder a stage version became a Broadway smash. (I found the the three new tunes written for the film by Menken and the late Tim Rice to be forgettable.)

The story is by now familiar to all. Belle (Watson) is too smart to fit into traditional girly categories, setting off suspicions among her provincial fellow villagers in 18th-century France.

When her father (Kevin Kline) is imprisoned in the enchanted castle of the Beast (Dan Stevens) — a vain and cruel prince working off a curse — Belle trades places with the old man. Over time she wins over the Beast’s staff, domestics who have taken the form of household objects and eventually gains the love of her grumpy host.

Meanwhile the villagers are being stirred up by Gaston (Luke Evans), the preening he-man who wants Belle for himself.

Following the nifty production number “Belle,” which introduces us to our heroine and her circumstances, “Beauty and the Beast” slows to a crawl, only to pick up an hour later when the Belle/Beast relationship starts to assert its romantic pull.

The problem is one of size. The cartoon “Beauty,” nominated for a best picture Oscar, ran for 84 minutes. It was taut and wasted nothing. (more…)

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Bradley Cooper

Bradley Cooper

“BURNT” My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Oct. 30)

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There’s plenty of gastro porn on display in “Burnt”: fruits and veggies exploding in vibrant colors, lusciously marbled meats, clouds of steam and rings of blue flame, plates of edibles arranged with the precision/happy chaos of a modernist painting.

In most other regards director John Wells’ film about a megalomaniacal chef working his way toward redemption is standard-issue stuff. Yeah, it accurately captures the politics and pecking order of a high-end restaurant kitchen (as did the recent sleeper hit “Chef”).

But the big story, the big drama, never materializes.

The film has an invaluable asset in Bradley Cooper, who even when playing a dick oozes charisma. But this yarn (screenplay by Steven Knight, story by Michael Kalesniko) relies too much on stock characters and time-tested dramatic devices without ever digging deep.

Adam Jones (Cooper) is a once-acclaimed chef at a top Paris restaurant. But his career ran aground on drugs, drink and women (a common-enough narrative among this breed) and he retreated to New Orleans where he got sober, gave up sleeping around, and got a lowly job shucking oysters.  After working his way through exactly 1 million of the mollusks (he kept meticulous records of his shucking activities) Adam walked out the door and caught a flight to London.

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Emma Thompson, Dakota Fanning

Emma Thompson, Dakota Fanning

“EFFIE GRAY” My rating: C+

108 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The Effie Gray scandal rocked Victorian society.

Today it might generate a minor shrug and possibly a pop song. (I’m thinking Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold.”) Ah, well, times change.

The subject of Richard Laxton’s film is the unhappy marriage of Scottish lass Effie Gray to the brilliant British art critic John Ruskin, a man twice her age.

Produced and scripted by Emma Thompson (who won an Oscar for her screenplay for Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility”), it stars Dakota Fanning as Effie and Greg Wise as Ruskin, who often vacationed near her home while she was growing up and, apparently, convinced himself that he was in love with the girl.

Alas, Ruskin proves to be an intellectual giant and an emotional infant.  No sooner has he planted his new bride in his parents’ home than he begins ignoring her in favor of his writing.

His doting, success-driven Mama and Papa (Julie Walters, David Suchet)  micromanage John’s life to minimize interruptions to his literary pursuits. The result is an antisocial man incapable of appreciating that his young wife is bored silly and can find no purpose to her life.

Most distressing of all, John refuses to touch Effie. On their honeymoon she presents her naked body to him, but he’s so grossed out he flees the room.

And to make matters worse, it seems likely that the medicine Mama Ruskin keeps pouring down her daughter-in-law’s pretty throat may be poisoning the girl.

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Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers

“SAVING MR. BANKS” My rating: B+ (Opening wide on Dec. 20)

125 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Saving Mr. Banks” — a serio-comic look at Walt Disney’s tireless courtship of “Mary Poppins” author C. L. Travers — can be viewed either as a charming explanation of how one of the best family films of all time came to be made, or as an infuriating example of corporate self aggrandizement.

While cognizant of the latter, I’ll go with the former.

The latest  from director John Lee Hancock (“The Rookie,” “The Blind Side”) is set during Travers’ two-week visit to L.A.  in the early 1960s, arranged so that Disney — who more than two decades before had sworn to his wife and daughters that he would bring their favorite heroine of children’s literature to the screen — could coax, canjole and charm the dubious author into signing over the movie rights to her books.

Disney was nothing if not determined. Without authorization he had been working for years on the a screenplay and his in-house tunesmiths — brothers Robert and Richard Sherman —  already had written the songs for what would be one of the greatest movie soundtracks of all time.

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