Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Everyone knows, or should know, the classic tale of Belle and the Beast. The original Disney animation of Beauty and the Beast was released in 1991, and it soon became one of the most popular princess films ever created. I was excited to see this live action adaptation because of the stellar cast attached to it.

The live action Beauty and the Beast was released this past weekend on March 17 (USA). It scored a huge opening and is bound to set box office records for Disney. It was directed by Bill Codon and written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Most people know the fairy tale of the prince who was turned into a beast. He can only be saved by true love, which he finds in Belle. Belle, a village girl, shows the Beast what he has missed in his years of captivity. When I was younger and first saw the animated Beauty and the Beast, I failed to realize the significant messages hidden within the storyline. Now that I am older, I am able to appreciate the many themes of the tale. The power of love is shown as well as the importance of looking at someone internally rather than just at his or her appearance. The film is something that both children and adults can learn from or relate to.

The casting for this film could not have been better. Emma Watson was radiant as Belle, a role she seemed born to play. One can tell that Watson loved playing the role and she did not half-heart her efforts. In interviews, she has commented that it has been her dream to play Belle since she was six years old. She actually turned down Emma Stone’s role in La La Land to play Belle. Ryan Gosling turned down the part of the Beast in order to star in La La Land. It is funny how things work out. Watson was joined by Dan Stevens, who did a magnificent job as the Beast. Stevens, who is primarily known for his role as the beloved Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey, was able to bring an amusing personality to the Beast. Both he and Watson had to take dance classes and singing lessons to perfect their roles.

The mischievous duo of Gaston (Luke Evans) and LeFou (Josh Gad) was remarkably entertaining. The scene where Gaston, LeFou, and several of the villagers sing “Gaston” was one of my favorite scenes in the film. Luke Evans is very convincing as the arrogant and vain Gaston. Even though he is not a likable character, I loved watching his scenes. Josh Gad is fantastic as LeFou, but I did not expect anything less after seeing him as Olaf in Disney’s Frozen. The allegations of LeFou being gay are overblown. Although he does show admiration for Gaston, it is nothing out of the ordinary or shocking. There is no need to boycott the film or protest what Disney has done.

The production design of Beauty and the Beast was breathtaking. It is no surprise that the film cost $160 million to create, making it the most expensive musical ever released. The production designer, Sarah Greenwood, worked on the Sherlock Holmes films previously. It is no surprise that the sets for Beauty and the Beast were extravagant. Most of the filming was completed in England, which is apparent by the beautiful landscapes. I felt as if I was transported to a magical place. The music was done by Alan Menken, who wrote the original score for the animation. Although the classic tunes are present in the film, there is a new one. Dan Stevens performs “Evermore,” written by Josh Groban, as the Beast. I like the fact that the Beast was given a song, because he did not have one in the original.

This film carries a lot of expectations from those who are big fans of the original Beauty and the Beast animation. I was pleasantly surprised by it, because remakes have a reputation of falling short. The all star cast of Beauty and the Beast, along with the impressive sets, make it entertaining and engaging. I would recommend people of all ages to see it, because there is something for everyone. Please comment your opinions or questions below!

Rated PG for some frightening situations and action.

Image credit to Rolling Stone magazine. 

 

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La La Land (2016)

It would be an understatement to say that I was merely excited for La La Land. I have been waiting for this film for a little over a year. Luckily, I had the chance to see it a month earlier than its release date at a local film festival. I love musicals and grew up watching them, so the idea behind La La Land – along with its incredible cast and crew – was a dream come true.

*There are very light spoilers in this review. Read at your own risk.*

La La Land makes its nation-wide debut (USA) on Christmas Day. It is being released in several cities today, December 16. Directed and written by Damien Chazelle, it follows the journey of two aspiring artists in Los Angeles. One is a jazz pianist, Sebastian, who is played by Ryan Gosling. The other is an actress, Mia, who is played by Emma Stone. The story takes place in modern times, but there are inklings of classic Hollywood, which I appreciated. Both Sebastian and Mia start off struggling to achieve their dreams. Eventually, the two fall in love, and their dreams begin to grow realistic. Bittersweet sacrifices must be made in order for Sebastian and Mia to accomplish what each person wants in life. I walked out of the theater with all different kinds of feelings. I was amazed and overjoyed, but I was also reflective and emotional. I absolutely loved the film, and might even put it up on my list of favorites.

“Here’s to the fools who dream.”

La La Land was one of those films that was on my mind for days after I saw it. I have so much to say about it, but bare with me and I will try to condense most of it for this review.

First of all, I think that Damien Chazelle (who is only 31 years old) is one of the most talented directors in Hollywood right now. La La Land is his third feature film, his second being the critically acclaimed Whiplash from 2014. Chazelle actually came up with the idea for La La Land when he was a student at Harvard University, which was long before he started on Whiplash. However, studios were not willing to fund his idea because they did not believe that this type of musical could be successful. Not to be defeated, Chazelle put La La Land aside and began to write Whiplash. After the huge praise and success Whiplash received, studios were willing to give Chazelle the money he needed for La La Land. 

Chazelle was inspired by the musicals he grew up watching, and it is evident in the finished film. Some of those musicals included Singin’ In the Rain, Top Hat, and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Chazelle was so passionate about those films that he would actually screen them for the cast and crew during production to show them what he envisioned for La La Land. He teamed up with his close friend and composer Justin Hurwitz, whom he attended Harvard and worked on Whiplash with. Hurwitz wrote six original songs and the score for the musical, making sure each one matched the tone and mood needed for the specific scenes that they would be featured in. The song that is played in one of the film’s trailers, “City of Stars,” took Hurwitz thirty-one rewrites to satisfy both Chazelle and himself. The music in the film was fantastic, and I had several of the songs stuck in my head for days. All of the songs fit their scenes perfectly.

Although I loved everything about La La Land, if I had to pinpoint my favorite aspect, it would be the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. This is their third film together, including Gangster Squad and Crazy, Stupid, Love. Both have said in interviews that it makes the experience a lot smoother and more fun when acting alongside a good friend or “buddy” as Emma Stone puts it. The two talented actors make the romance between Mia and Sebastian seem so authentic, that it is hard to believe they are not a couple in real life. I found myself so attached to both characters, and I wanted to see both be successful. Both Gosling and Stone give such great performances that fit their personalities so well, so I was shocked to learn that they were not the first choices Chazelle had. Originally, Chazelle reached out to Emma Watson and Miles Teller (who was the star of Whiplash). Watson was busy with another project, and Teller did not have the right chemistry with Stone. Thank goodness for this, because I truly think that Gosling and Stone are the closest modern-day comparison to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Obviously, Rogers and Astaire had more dancing talent and experience, but Gosling and Stone do match the chemistry of the legendary pair. There is one scene, which is probably my favorite, where Sebastian and Mia walk to their cars after a party. They are still acquaintances at the time, but that soon changes. The two begin singing and dancing with the Los Angeles skyline in the background, which creates a great cinematic moment.

It is fascinating to read about how much effort and practice went into nailing the song and dance scenes (choreographed by Mandy Moore) in La La Land. Damien Chazelle had the cast rehearse in warehouses for three months prior to when they began shooting. Ryan Gosling claimed in a recent interview that he spent four hours a day for three months practicing the piano pieces his character plays in the film. Yes, that is Gosling playing the piano himself without a hand double. My favorite story from the set is how the cast and crew managed to pull off the opening number (“Another Day of Sun”). Chazelle got a 48-hour permit to film on the 105-110 interchange in Los Angeles. Keep in mind that this interchange is 100 feet high; one of the production designers even questioned that someone might fall off. Somehow, Chazelle managed to pull it off in scorching 100 degree weather. The final result is stunning, and it brings the audience right into the film.

I could go on and on about this film, but I will stop here. La La Land is a must-see for 2016. It says a lot that I saw the film for the first time over a month ago, and I am still thinking about it. It will affect everyone in a different way, so I am curious to see what the final consensus will be. The film is already getting stellar reviews and awards buzz, but time will tell. The musical numbers and dialogue scenes are so well blended; there is no awkward jump from song to reality. It has something for everyone, whether that be a great love story, entertaining music, or witty dialogue. La La Land will speak to idealists and those who have big aspirations. All dreams have little snags here and there, but that does not mean the next step should be to give up. It is happy and it is sad, but without that, there would not be much of a story to tell. 🙂

P.S. There are appearances by J.K. Simmons and John Legend that make the film even better.

Fun Fact: The score composed by Justin Hurwitz was recorded with a 90-piece orchestra on a scoring stage. The stage was the same stage that many classic musicals, such as Singin’ In the Rain, had their scores recorded on.

La La Land is rated PG-13 only because of the very infrequent use of curse words. Other than that, it is a family film that everyone can attend. 

Please leave your comments below! I am very interested to see everyone’s opinions about this film.

Image credit to : http://www.theplaylist.net. and http://www.imdb.com

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Do you ever ask the question, “What in the world?” when you are sitting in a movie audience? Is there ever so much laughter that you cannot hear the dialogue? This was the feeling and atmosphere when I went to see Hail, Caesar! The film was released nationwide (USA) on February 5. It is star-studded, with actors like George Clooney and Ralph Fiennes. Directed and written by Joel and Ethan Coen, Hail, Caesar! is a very entertaining and different film.

For Old Hollywood fans, this film is a dream come true. Hail, Caesar! is set in the 1950s at Capitol Pictures. Everything has a vintage look and feel. Every type of Old Hollywood film, like aquatic films and musicals, are displayed. The story follows a day in the life of studio executive Eddie Mannix, played by Josh Brolin. Mannix is the one who sorts out all of the studios’ and actors’ problems, from unplanned pregnancies to thick Texan accents. The job is no walk in the park because the people Mannix has to interact with can be downright bizarre. Of course, hilarity ensues, creating great laughs and surprises.

The film is loaded with big name actors and actresses. Alongside Josh Brolin, George Clooney stars as Baird Whitlock, who is the top actor at Capitol Pictures. Alden Ehrenreich plays Hobie Doyle, a sweet but unintelligent western actor who cannot seem to lose his very strong Texan accent. This character is hilarious and causes most of the laughs. Scarlett Johansson portrays DeeAnna Moran, an Esther Williams-like aquatic actress. Ralph Fiennes has the role of Laurence Laurentz, the classic Old Hollywood director with a calm demeanor. Channing Tatum is Burt Gurney, a character with elements of Gene Kelly. He performs one musical number that is very fun and amusing to watch. There are small roles played by Jonah Hill and Frances McDormand as well. This cast is excellent.

The Coen Brothers are known for their unique style of filmmaking. Hail, Caesar! does not fall short of this expectation as far as unusual goes. This film does not have a very deep plot at all. It merely shows studio life in the 1950s and everything that came with it. It has a satirical feel. Being a big fan of movies from the Golden Age of Cinema, I loved the setting and style of this film. The photography was terrific. There are many subtle references to films from the 1950s. Hail, Caesar! explores the old ways of editing, acting, and using sound stages.

This film is more entertaining than anything else. There are tons of laughs and strange plot twists. To be honest, I really was not sure what to make of it while walking out of the theater. It ends abruptly without a real finish to the plot. But I guess this just says that Eddie Mannix deals with these events daily, so they really never end. I liked this film, but I think it really depends on the person. If you are a fan of Old Hollywood, you will find it enjoyable to watch.

This film is rated PG-13.

(Image credit to http://www.hailcaesarmovie.com)