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Posts Tagged ‘” Ewan McGregor’

 

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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Don Cheadle as Miles Davis

Don Cheadle as Miles Davis

“MILES AHEAD”  My rating: B 

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

You’ve got to give props to Don Cheadle.

As  the director, producer, co-writer and star of “Miles Ahead,” he shrugs off the trappings of your traditional musician biopic and attempts the cinematic version of  a jazz composition: repeated motifs, variations, codas, wild riffs, crazy improv.

It’s an approach guaranteed to scare off most audiences, but for those willing to stick around there are plenty of rewards.

The life of Miles Davis — as filled with personal upheaval as it was with musical genius — could be approached in a dozen different ways. Screenwriters Cheadle and Steven Baigelman have chosen a tack guaranteed to piss off many Davis fans by concentrating on perhaps the least productive and most demeaning period of the trumpeter’s career.

Set mostly  in late 1970s — almost three decades after his breakthrough as a “cool” jazz man and years since his last recording — the film does offer flashbacks of Miles’ wonder years, as well as his doomed romance with dancer Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi), presented here as the lost love of his life.

But in the here and now  Miles is holed up in Howard Hughes-ish isolation in his New York townhouse, where he lounges about in expensive yet ridiculous disco fashions, snorting coke and slugging back expensive liquor. Sometimes he fools around with recorded sounds, but creativity has little room in a life awash with paranoia and self-pity.

As one observer comments, at this point Miles Davis is probably worth more dead than alive.

The plot kicks in with the arrival of David Brill (Ewan McGregor), who claims to be on an assignment from Rolling Stone.  As it turns out, the journalist becomes Miles’ wingman on a series of odd adventures, foremost among them the theft from Miles’ home of a tape recording an unscrupulous music producer thinks could be worth a fortune.

Armed to the teeth and fueled by drugs, Miles and the bewildered/fascinated David go off to seek justice.

(more…)

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Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts

Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts

“AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY”  My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Jan. 10)

121 minutes | MPAA rating R

Some stories were meant to be performed on a stage.

For instance, the plays of Sam Shepard, which deliver moments of violence and affrontery you almost never see in live theater. A Shepard character might be required to beat a typewriter to death with a golf club, smash dozens of glass bottles just feet from the folks in the front row, or urinate on his little sister’s science project in full view of the paying customers.

If those things happened in a movie, you’d shrug. No big deal.  In a movie you can do anything.

But seeing those moments play out live, in the flesh, while you brace yourself to dodge flying glass shards or broken typewriter keys…well, that has a way of focusing your mind most wonderfully.

I thought of Shepard’s plays while watching John Wells’ screen version of “August: Osage County,” Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer-winning black comedy about an Oklahoma clan assembled to bury its patriarch (played, ironically enough, by  Sam Shepard).  In the same way that Shepard’s  plays almost never make satisfying movies, “August: Osage County” makes an uncomfortable transition to the screen.

First, don’t buy into the TV ads that make it look like a rollicking comedy.  There are laughs here, yeah, but they’re the sort of laughs you can choke on. Dourness is the order of the day.

In adapting his play Letts has boiled a 3 1/2 hour production down to 2 hours. Stuff’s been left out — character development, carefully calibrated pauses — and while the essence of the play remains, it feels curiously underwhelming.

(more…)

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Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurant and friend

“BEGINNERS” My rating: B  (Opens July 8 at the Glenwood Arts and Tivoli)

105 minutes | MPAA rating:  R

We inherit more from our parents than DNA. Without realizing exactly how or why, we inherit a way of looking at life.

“Beginners” is about a man looking back on his parents’ marriage and finally coming to terms with the often uncomfortable emotional baggage they bequeathed him.

That may sound like a heavy slog. Happily, much of “Beginners” is a hoot — bizarrely funny, sweet, sexy and quite moving.

If with his second feature the film’s writer/director — modern-day Renaissance man Mike Mills — can’t always keep all those balls perfectly suspended in the air, he comes close enough to make this film a must-see event.

(more…)

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Get your tickets and gird your loins.

GayFest is upon us.

That’s the Gay & Lesbian Film Festival of Kansas City, for the uninitiated, and it gets underway Friday, June 24 at the Tivoli Theatre in Westport.

I’ve been able to pre-screen several of this year’s titles; what follows is one guy’s picks of the best of the fest: (more…)

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