Some Kind of Wonderful: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

As Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne says in Ant-Man, staring at her own super suit: “It’s about time.”

Wonder Woman has been around for 75 years. There are multiple reasons a movie hasn’t been made about one of the most famous superheroes of all time, including:

  1. Wonder Woman’s origins have changed over the years, making a definitive version of the character hard to find.
  2. Her brand of pantless feminism has been controversial and ever-changing.
  3. Good old-fashioned movie sexism. The reasoning being, if two female-led superhero films from 2005 (Elektra and Catwoman) don’t do well, than no one can succeed. (Never mind that if we used that logic, Batman would never have a film after Batman and Robin, and Batman V. Superman would be where the DCEU stopped.)

Luckily, this Wonder Woman ends all of those debates once and for all. First, Diana Prince now has a definitive origin and personality. We have seen her start, we’ve seen her years later in Batman V. Superman, and hopefully we’ll keep seeing her grow.

Second, Wonder Woman feminism is just that- feminism. Men and women are equal, and should be partners. If you’re a superheroine god who can throw a tank over your head and have a sword that can literally end wars, then you should probably go into battle in front of all the other soldiers. It’s just common sense. And if she doesn’t want to wear pants because she’s been living on an island where everyone wears Victoria Secret Greco-Roman armor, then you let her do that. You don’t want that tank thrown at you.

And third, that double standard for female-led movies versus male-led movies shouldn’t exist, period. But if the critics and box office say anything, it’s that execs can’t use those old movies as excuses anymore.

Wonder Woman begins with young Diana (Gal Gadot), the only child to ever be born on an island of all Amazonian women, called the Themyscira. These warrior women were given the paradise after fighting against their creators, the Greek gods. They were created to protect humanity, but instead decide to spend their days training to fight, should anyone ever find them.

When an American spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), wrecks on their shore and tells them about World War I, Diana decides she must go as her people’s champion to end the war. To end the war, she must defeat Ares, god of War. Steve, eager to return to his commanding officers to deliver important intel and continue fighting, isn’t one to dissuade Diana. Any help is good help. But little does he know the full extent of Diana’s powers. In fact, she doesn’t know them either.

So now that we have the plot and the externals out of the way, let’s get into what makes this a great superhero movie. First, is its pacing. At two hours and nineteen minutes, it’s a little long, and a little slow. However, that slower pace, with only three action sequences to its name, is different. There is a distinct focus on quieter, emotional moments in the film, which is a breath of fresh air from other films of its kind. While there may be a few too many turns the movies takes that add to its run time, the plot and the mission of the movie’s characters are clear and precise, which is a relief for a genre known for its plot holes and muddled motivations.

But what steals the show more than an exciting story, the WWI setting, an overabundance of slo-mo, fish out of water humor, and naked Chris Pine? It’s clothed Chris Pine and Gal Gadot! Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. She owns the character arc. She takes Diana from a place of idealistic naivete, to a more grounded, still optimistic and persistent heroine. Little details in her portrayal add to the groundedness of the character. She embraces Wonder Woman’s femininity, from shyly accepting a compliment on her clothes to excitedly seeing a baby, but also embraces in the same hug Wonder Woman’s boldness and courage, her righteous anger and her romantic passion, and her empathy towards all of the people around her. Because, who knew, you can be all of those things! She is one of the most sincere heroes I’ve ever seen in an age of angsty brooding, and it is fantastic.

The moment I best understood what Wonder Woman stood for was in the middle of the film. Diana is in the trenches, following Steve to their next location, when a woman with her baby cries out to her. Diana sits down and listens to the woman tell her about a village overtaken by German soldiers across the enemy lines. Diana then shrugs off her coat, revealing her armor. Steve tells her it’s too dangerous. But Diana, surging with passion, climbs up onto the field, and starts running across. Steve and his fellow soldiers watch. Then, they follow too.

Wonder Woman is not a Batman-esque hero that fights her own fights. As she says, she fights for those who cannot fight for themselves. And more importantly, she inspires others to find the courage within themselves to do the same. That is what a real hero does, and that is why the character has been around for so long.

And, as much as Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins nail Diana, they also nail Steve Trevor equally. Chris Pine oozes charisma and charm, but in a much more genuine way than would be expected for his kind of character. And what is ultimately most impressive about his role, besides sharing equal heroism with Wonder Woman, is that it redeems the romantic interest character as it is known to film.

How so? See, the role of romantic interest has been under attack. It has always been classically filled by women. So recently, moviegoers and critics, working to become more conscious about gender portrayal in film, have begun crucifying it. Some of that criticism and anger is necessary. There are a lot of cliches, tropes, and toxic examples of romantic interests in films.

But romance in a film is not necessarily a bad thing on its own. What we really want when we criticize romantic interests is for them to be their own character. Not just a crutch for the main hero. Not just there, waiting to be kissed in the corner. We want them to have their own storylines, or be involved with the action. And Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is just that. He has his own motivations, missions, friends, background, and desires. He teaches and encourages Diana, but he also accepts teaching and grows and changes himself. He is what a romantic interest character should be- a partner. Just like in real life.

The greatest thing about Wonder Woman is that it is a good movie. It defies tropes of the genre, it tells a compelling origin story about a hero that everyone should aspire to, and leaves a departing viewer with some things to consider. Are people inherently good or bad? What would we sacrifice our lives for? How can we protect the people around us? Where is the line between fighting for protection and bloodlust?

These are things all good movies do. And that is all Wonder Woman had to be. It didn’t need to be a feminist Citizen Kane that had the complexities of The Dark Knight and the genre upheaval of Logan. It just needed to be a movie everyone could get behind. And just like its heroine, it is. I left the theater content, and wanting to be like Diana Prince and Steve Trevor. Compassionate, bold, thoughtful, idealistic, brave, sacrificial, principled, wise, and full of wonder

-Madeleine D

Repetition is Catchy: Everything, Everything

*Big Spoilers!

Everything-Everything-movie

This Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to go to the movies, and I had several options.

  1. Go see Pirates of the Caribbean.
  2. Convince my parents of the merits of R-rated Baywatch or Alien: Covenant.
  3. Stay home and watch Netflix’s War Machine, and be sad about current events.
  4. Pay 8 dollars to take a nap (I’m sorry if you liked King Arthur: Legend of the Sword).
  5. Go see teen romance Everything, Everything, because sometimes it’s finals week, and why not?

Everything, Everything follows in the path of recent romances where one (or both) of the members have a terrible sickness. Fault in Our Stars in 2014 dealt with cancer. 2015’s Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl also dealt with cancer. And last year’s Me Before You was about love being nice but not as nice as physician-assisted suicide. The appeal of these movies? Apparently terminal illness romances are the ultimate fling. You love and sexily take care of someone for a few weeks, then, instead of having to commit to them, they die, and you learn an Important Life Lesson.

Everything, Everything stars Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) as Madeline (same here!) a.k.a “Maddy” Whittier. She’s 18 years old, and she’s never left her house due to her Severe Combined Immune Deficiency (SCID), a rare immunodeficiency disorder that requires her to stay in her sterilized glass smart-house, under the care of her mother (Anika Noni Rose) and nurse (Ana de la Reguera). Maddy is an aspiring engineer who also writes book reviews for a blog. But she wants more.

She finds that “more,” her new everything, in Olly (Nick Robinson) the new boy next door. With all black clothes, a shaggy haircut, a tragic backstory, and the ability to satisfy her every need, he’s like the subject of a Taylor Swift song. As she and Olly get closer, Maddy decides that she can’t live in her glass tower any longer. Olly is her way out.

Everything, Everything gets a lot of leeway because of the chemistry between the two leads. Stenberg and Robinson not only seem into each other, but are also able to sell the far-fetched premise. They also are champs when delivering some pretty terrible dialogue. Just as a sample:

Olly: You’re like a princess up in this glass tower

Maddie: I’m not a princess.

Olly: Good, ‘cause I’m not a prince.

Ah, the nuance of young love. Everything, Everything also gets a headstart because of its direction. Director Stella Meghie makes some creative choices that turn standard texting back and forth scenes into the realm of fantasy. It conveys the information and works. These little strokes of genius push the film through some not-so creative territory.

But, the rest of Everything, Everything is not strong enough to be saved by those positives. The script is lackluster at best, with no scenes having any bite or depth to them, including one with a supposedly gut-punching twist. The movie is highly enjoyable to watch, but only if you were already willing to pay the ticket price and were interested in seeing it anyways. While it is much more life-affirming than Me Before You, it does fall into the trap that that movie and The Fault in Our Stars falls into- expensive vacations totally make sicknesses better and love stronger.

There is something else, though. While watching Everything, Everything, I couldn’t help but think about the recent Manchester tragedy. There are two interesting CNN articles I read that made me think about this movie in light of the tragedy (article links below).

The first article is about how the idea of raising fearless kids is threatened by attacks like this. In Everything, Everything, when Maddie’s brother and father die in an accident, Maddie’s mom goes above and beyond protecting Maddie, to the point of convincing herself that Maddie has SCID. It is her psychotic way of keeping Maddie to herself, never letting her leave their house, and thus never letting Maddie leave her.

The second article discussed how this attack was on a symbol of teen girl culture, a culture that has been repeatedly mocked. This attack was on a concert, featuring a star on a tour called “Dangerous Woman.”  It was marketing towards the tween/teen audience. It features songs about sexual freedom and empowerment (not the same thing, but marketed as such). This concert was a first for many girls, looking for a place to come together and celebrate what they love.

Everything, Everything is a teen-girl culture movie. It features a young, black, female lead, a new occurrence in entertainment. That lead became known through The Hunger Games, a cultural phenomenon that was aimed at teen girls.  It has characters texting and using social media. It features new hits by new young pop stars. It is marketed to teen girls like me.

So what does Everything Everything say about teen-girl culture? It seems to say this:

  1. We (the target demographic) desire deeper connections, and are willing to risk anything to explore life.
  2. There comes a point where we cannot trust authority any longer.
  3. We think sex is the best way to tell someone we love them.
  4. Our lives are ours alone, and it is our right to put ourselves in harm’s way or damage ourselves if we believe it is right.

Those aren’t all good. Those aren’t all bad. They are varied and complex. I can admire Maddie’s search for the truth, no matter the pain it causes her. I can admire Olly’s faithfulness and care for Maddie, and how he has that same faithfulness and care for his mom and sister. I can admire how even though she is misled, Maddie’s mom sacrifices a great deal to protect her daughter from illness. These are truths, according to the Christian faith, and the doctrine of common grace shows me that I can find truth in all places, even movies that I can’t fully agree with.

So to all the girls who were going to that Ariana Grande concert, maybe with plans to see Everything, Everything over the weekend: It’s a decent movie. We are lucky to be living in a time where movies that talk about problems we’re facing are more common than ever. We should make them better, though.

Our prayers are with you.

-Madeleine D

http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/23/opinions/manchester-bombing-ariana-grande-kayyem/index.htm

http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/23/opinions/manchester-attack-terrorism-hellyer-opinion/index.html

http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/23/opinions/teen-girl-culture-rocks-filipovic-opinion/index.html

Bright Colors and Nostalgic Music: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians 2

Spoiler-free review

I didn’t like the first Guardians of the Galaxy.

Sorry! Almost everyone loved it. People who hate Marvel loved it. People who hate studio films loved it. People who hate puppies loved it. It was loved.

Now I don’t say that to be a special snowflake. Just to say that this movie had to earn my trust back. It had to convince me that these characters were different, worth watching, not total heathens (that’s right, I didn’t find any of the characters likeable, even Chris Pratt) and this franchise wasn’t, in the words of Drax, a giant turd (with good tunes).

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 picks up where the 2014 one left off, with the team being heroes of the galaxy, now mercenaries for hire. You’ve got Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a deadly assassin who, previously, only had two emotions- screaming and annoyed. You’ve got Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), who is lashing out against his team because he is afraid of caring too much. There’s Drax (Dave Bautista), who is either really sweet or really mean or making a poop joke, so don’t expect much nuance there. There’s Baby Groot, the miniature version of the one-phrase talking tree voiced by Vin Diesel (yeah you work those acting muscles bud). And then you have Star-Lord aka Peter Quill aka Chris Pratt, who takes a bit of a charisma backseat in this film despite it being all about him.

You see, Peter’s mom is human, but Peter is half… something. You’ve gotta be half something awesome to be able to win a dance battle with an alien and then hold an infinity stone in your hand.

Turns out, Peter’s dad is Ego (Kurt Russell) the living planet. A god. And dear old dad has a few tricks up his sleeve to show his prodigal son.

There is a trend happening in movies these days that I have mixed feelings about. These days, corporate America is trying to be your friend. Not just your friend, but your community. Not just your community, but your family. You’re family if you are a rewards customer. You’re family if you come into our store. Come on into our Family Sale. We are flesh and blood, the automated coupon email that spells my name wrong says.

The same thing is happening in movies. You start hearing more and more in trailers and promos and actor interviews the words, “we’re family.” The characters are family. The team is a family. The Fast and The Furious is best known for this, and after eight movies, I’m going to give them a pass. I can imagine sixteen years would result in strong ties.

I’m a big sucker for the family dynamic in films, too. If, by the end of a film, the characters seem to be family-like I’ll be into it (see Now You See Me 2 review). I’m really relaxed about this cliche. However, there are movies that I just cannot get behind. No, Transformers, you can’t be family with some pieces of scrap metal. No, Justice League, you’re not a family. “Martha” is not a strong enough foundation. Avengers, I get you, and I sympathize, but you’ve got some stuff to figure out. Pitch Perfect, stop it.

Guardians of the Galaxy tries to go this family route. The characters call themselves a family. They use the word. They bicker and fight and hug and date each other. Peter goes through his daddy issues and comes back, saying he already found his real family.

Hmmmmm.

There were a lot of good parts in the film, where the script, directing, and acting came together to create something a little magical. The chemistry between the cast is good. They look like they’re having a blast, which makes me want to have a blast, too. So sometimes I could buy that they were a family. Maybe not the likeable family next door. Maybe the one in the sketchy house at the end of the street. But nonetheless.

However, the biggest problem with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is its inconsistency. In one scene magic is being created, and in the next scene my entire row and I are cringing. And there are some really, really bad scenes in here. Some of it has to do with director James Gunn’s cocky script. Nothing wrong with being secure in your work, but sometimes Gunn writes something that you wonder, how did the suits let him get away with something so bad and  distasteful? Then you realize, he probably did get notes. He just tore them up and did what he wanted, then stopped the suits from retaliating by throwing all the cash the first Galaxy movie made at them.

Then some of it is the acting. Now, I don’t think it is too much to expect that my Marvel movies be well acted. This is the same studio that has Robert Downey Jr, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, and Mark Ruffalo in leading roles. This is the same studio that has had Robert Redford, Michael Douglas, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and numerous other celebrated actors join their ranks.

But boy, there are some weak performances here. Maybe the worst offender is Gamora. As I said before, Zoe Saldana does nothing but scream or be a frustrated party-pooper. While the script doesn’t do her any favors, her “emotional” scenes are hard to get through. And most of those scenes are shared with the other worst performer of the group, Karen Gillan as Gamora’s sister Nebula. Her entire performance is basically the following lines, and I encourage you to read them as she does, in a huffy, grunting, teeth-gritted fashion, “I (grrrr) already told you (spit) GAMORA, SISTER OF MINE (pulls out gun) I HATE YOU (does a sexy pose with gun) and I am evil! FEAR ME!” (does not shoot gun. Walks away, but like, in a super cool leather-bound fashion.) (While watching these scenes of sisterly bonding, I had the sobering realization that this is the first Marvel movie, out of 15, where two women have had any lengthy screen time together that passes the Bechdel test. This is why we can’t have nice things)

On a positive note though, this film feels different, at least in structure, from other Marvel movies. In the second act, the characters split off into three mini-missions, and by the end, reunite for a truly unique battle. This is the fourth in a series of Marvel movies that have had unique endings, starting, I think, with 2015’s Ant Man. That is a positive trend. While this film did have the galaxy at stake, it showed the battle more small scale size-wise, and more large scale emotion-wise.

Overall,  the film is uneven. It succeeded in some parts, not in others. It makes up for the first movie for me, but isn’t able to springboard me into a pile of superfans. By the end, I was satisfied. But not hungry for more, thanks. I have my fill. It’s been a meal full of meat seared in I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and microwaved potatoes and something I can’t quite identify, covered in Sweet’n Low, but for the most part, it works.

Oh, and it’s family-style, of course.

-Madeleine D

Ambiguity Does Not Equal Compelling : The Circle

the circle

The Circle, with its constant surveillance, data storage, and knowledge of your every move and secret, is not about the technology of the future. It’s about the technology of now.

Oversharing, the need to tell everyone of your every action, the ability to find anyone if you have the right resources, a camera with you at all times- that’s how technology works for many people now. If not now, maybe in a few years.

Mae Holland (Emma Watson) plunges into the world of that technology when she lands a job at The Circle, a Google-meets-Facebook mega company led by Steve Jobs-y Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks). When a series of events makes Mae decide to go “transparent” (wearing a camera on her at all times) she learns firsthand the consequences of being watched and analyzed with every move.

60% of The Circle is either Tom Hanks or Emma Watson giving Ted Talks about the future of technology. They stand on stage and talk about what The Circle will be doing next. If that sounds like fun to you, this may be your movie. If this sounds a little less like the exciting, thought-provoking drama you were hoping for, then you’re right. While both of these actors have the charisma to pull it off, getting long-winded explanations of exposition can be tedious, and sometimes they can’t even overcome the thesis-like script.

Now speaking of the actors, Emma Watson is the foundation of this film. She leads and keeps it, and for the most part, does an excellent job. She is very natural and is able to hold our attention. If you’re here for any other actor, though, you’ll be disappointed. John Boyega, Tom Hanks, Patton Oswalt, and Karen Gillian are all very, very supporting. Which is a shame, because they all do a great job. One small thing though- let John Boyega speak in his natural British accent. Please. He’s been forced to do an American one, and it sounds like Benedict Cumberbatch’s accent in Doctor Strange. And I don’t mean it in a good way. He sounds like he has a cold. Give him a tissue. And more lines.

On the technical side, we are used to studio movies being competently filmed and edited. It’s just a given that the cinematography, score, technical aspects of the film will be good. And for the most part, The Circle is a slick film. But the editing here is really odd in parts. The camera breaks the 180 degree camera rule. There is a scene where two characters, side by side in separate bathroom stalls, are filmed at the exact same angle, so when it switches back and forth, it just looks like the actresses are teleporting and/or the editor is making extreme jump cuts. It takes you out of the film, and makes it look amateurish.

Emma Watson’s Mae seems to represent the biggest failing of the script. She is a very reactive protagonist, one that simply reacts to the incidents around her, and then goes back to her natural disposition. That makes her turn to “the dark side,” not a surprising one, and not one that seems earned. If at the beginning of the film, she had been presented the opportunity to turn, considering her lack of development, I would assume she would have. Therefore, there is no conflict. There is no real antagonist, or resistance by anyone or anything. This film just presents the spiral into complacency as a natural one. While it shows the horrors of a future like the one presented here, if our likeable protagonist can get behind it, and nobody else seems to have a problem with it, then is it really bad? The film doesn’t have a stance on it.

So are we, the audience members, supposed to be the protagonist? Are we supposed to see this cautionary tale and the characters within it and decide whether it is right or wrong? Maybe. The pros and cons of each side are listed out, in essay fashion. But with no strong emotions in play here, the story, despite its relevance, feels unimportant. Lackluster. Not something to worry about dwelling on. It is almost like director and co-screenwriter James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) thought, hmm, maybe if I make the end ambiguous and all the characters flat, and I don’t make a compelling case for or against either side, they’ll assume I’m really smart!

So, there is where it ultimately fails. I can forgive it for its odd editing, poor use of Tom Hanks and John Boyega, and sloppy character development and exposition. But I cannot forgive it for being dull about its interesting premise. How did you mess this up? Everything was in your favor!

-Madeleine D

Let’s Not Make This Complicated: Gifted

Gifted

First-grader Mary is gifted. Now, aren’t we all gifted in something? Some of us are great athletes. Some of us win every spelling bee. Some of us are natural artists. And some of us are really good at getting participation awards.

But Mary (Mckenna Grace) is a different kind of gifted. She’s Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, Katherine Johnson level genius. She’s far beyond what any elementary school could teach her, and who would want such a gifted child to be stuck with kids still learning basic addition?

Her Uncle Frank (Chris Evans), that’s who. He wants to raise his niece right, after her mother took her own life. And right means normal and happy and not-weird. Too bad Frank’s mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) doesn’t see it that way.

Director Marc Webb is back from directing the two totally not controversial or hated Amazing Spider-Man films, and is ready to go back to telling small, stand alone stories. He made a name for himself with 500 Days of Summer, and now, armed with a script from the Blacklist and star power, he’s ready to go.

Speaking of star power, the real tragedy of this film, beside suicide, neglect, abandonment, and disabled cats, is Octavia Spencer getting another underused role. She gets maybe fifteen minutes of screen time. Give her the deep acting role! I know she was busy getting Oscar nominations and literally playing God, but come on! You had Octavia Spencer!

Meanwhile, Chris Evans gives this movie his all. He’s going for gold. When he’s in the courtroom, you can see Jack Nicholson from A Few Good Men playing behind his eyes. When he’s staring off into the sunset, you can tell he watched at least two Daniel Day-Lewis movies. He portrays Frank’s insecurities about his abilities, and his devoted love, with sincerity, charm, and ease. He does his darndest, and for the most part, it works.

It’s screenwriter Tom Flynn (Watch It (1993)) that is the biggest problem. Just like Frank in this movie, I think Flynn has some self-doubt to work through. His script is good. There are quite a few moments, particularly in the familial drama department, that got me. As things were revealed throughout the film, I was excited about how it would impact the rest of the story.

Then, Flynn loses his nerve. He seems to get worried the nuances of his script and the threads he had laid won’t be enough. So he adds things. Sure, a child being ripped away from her guardian is tough, but you know what is tougher? A one-eyed cat about to be put down. Sure, Frank is shown to be a good guardian throughout all the scenes, but you know what will really make him a hero? If he storms into a shelter, rescues/steals three cats, then trespasses to take back his niece with some questionable legal skills. Sure, the teacher and Frank have a connection, and Frank wants a life and fellow adult connections, but you know what will really show that? Besides a drinking scene where they literally tell each other their greatest fears? An unnecessary bedroom scene, then a basic disregard of the teacher later.

Stories about gifted kids aren’t particularly new. There have been numerous other films that have explored the idea of adults trying to make the right decisions for children, especially gifted ones. The ethical problems presented in the film are interesting though. It’s not that this sort of story shouldn’t be told again. It’s that this kind of story has more depth to explore, and I don’t think Gifted quite takes the leap from by-the-books family drama to a more thoughtful exploration of its topic.

For example, it could take a chance and make the audience feel more uncomfortable with both options. What if Frank wasn’t a lovable guy, but just a solid guardian? What if Evelyn was more likeable? What if Mary was more troubled than just being precocious? Instead, Gifted, for all of its twists, still puts people in boxes.

At one point in the film, Frank reveals to Evelyn something along the lines of somebody wanted her to die. People in my audience cheered. Yeah! Take that Evelyn! You deserve it, you monster!

Really? What if the audience couldn’t react with a cheer when the “Bad Guy” is beaten? What if it was more difficult to see who was right? What if it was more like real life, where there are no clear heroes and villains in cases like these?

So, Gifted doesn’t take the plunge. It plays it safe. While Gifted is a film with promise and talent, and is disappointing when it doesn’t go the extra mile to be better, all that doesn’t make the film bad. If you don’t go in with high expectations, it will be very enjoyable. I was engaged the entire time, and so was the rest of the audience.

Maybe, if anything, it’ll remind you of how important good role models are. Go thank your teachers and parents and anyone else in your life who has made a big impact on you. Even the people who were in a grey zone, most of them tried their best. That is one message of Gifted that is okay with exploring complexity.

-Madeleine D

Something There That Wasn’t There Before: Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

Come on. You know the story of Beauty and the Beast.

The story of Belle, a beautiful young maiden, ahead of her time and anxious to have more than just a provincial life, who, in exchange for saving her father, is held prisoner by a beast. The beast used to be a prince, but after he was cursed by an enchantress who saw the beastliness in his heart, became the beast and his servants became household objects. Belle and the beast fall in love, and the spell is broken.

Why this story has endured as a classic for so many years, despite criticisms about bestiality and Stockholm Syndrome, is probably because of this: we love stories about nerdy guys and hot chicks. Look to Back to the Future, Spider-Man, most of Woody Allen, Adam Sandler, and Seth Rogen’s entire film careers. Not that it hasn’t happened the other way around, but it’s a common trope that works. When you add that and a beloved 1991 Disney animated film with one of the best soundtracks of all time, that went on to be a musical, it makes it a pop-culture staple.

Fast forward to 2017, when Disney, down on its luck after only making seven billion dollars at the box office last year, decided to release a new live-action Beauty and the Beast, a film that nobody knew they wanted, but now enough people are pumped for to give it a $170 million domestic opening. That’s superhero movie level numbers we’re talking about! Turns out if you stall making a female superhero movie long enough, girls will turn the next available role model into one.

So does this new Beauty and the Beast do the original justice? Is it even necessary? And is Emma Watson (Harry Potter franchise), as Belle, a super-character?

This Beauty and the Beast follows all the same beats of the original. You’ve got everything from Belle’s singing on the mountain, to Maurice being locked up, to the Beast and Belle having dinner, to the iconic ball, to Gaston taking the mob to the castle. There are even shots that are direct replicas of the animated film. The primary appeal of this remake (besides the cast) are the details added. We get to learn about Belle’s mother and why Belle and Maurice moved to the village. Gaston and LeFou get more scheming time. The Prince’s curse is reenacted.

If that isn’t intriguing enough, then there’s the cast. Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as the Beast, Luke Evans (The Hobbit Trilogy) as Gaston, Josh Gad (Frozen) as LeFou, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Ian McKellan as Cogsworth, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts. Those are some pretty stellar actors, and most of them bring their A-game.

However, the real heart of the film is Emma Watson. Her version of Belle wouldn’t be here without Paige O’Hara’s animated Belle, but Watson makes the role her own. The character isn’t reinvented at all, but instead, small details build upon the character’s foundation. For example, Belle loves to read. But reading is a bit of a passive activity. Does she do anything besides read? This script builds upon that, giving Belle another hobby- inventing. She invents a washing machine that allows her to teach a girl of the village to read. It makes perfect sense within the story, and it pays the utmost respect to the original.

Besides Belle, another staple of the original is the music numbers, and they don’t disappoint here. Almost every song had me wanting to get up from my seat. While leaving the theater and coming home, I attempted to dance with every friend I was with. They were not as enthusiastic about dancing in front of the theater as I was, so I sang to them instead, which I’m sure they appreciated.

An infectious feeling of joy flooded through the movie. It was an immersive experience. During a tense moment, I looked back at the rest of my crowded theater. The stranger beside me was tearing up, behind me a couple were gripping hands and sitting on the edge of their seats, and in front of me a little kid was slapping his father’s knee whispering, “I told you so, I told you it would happen!” Simply put- I felt the story. Any logical fallacies from the original (wait, why is Gaston so beloved in this town?) are solved (ahh, war hero!) so I can enjoy the themes a little more. The film explores how Gaston is able to manipulate the fears of the villagers. Maurice points out to Belle, “Small town can mean small minds, but it also means safe.” The love between Belle and the Beast has more ground than, “you saved my life, I saved yours, so we’re even-steven.” They have things in common, similar worldviews and backgrounds and outlook. The original makes it clear the characters get together in the end because it’s a fairy tale. This movie makes it clear it’s a fairy tale because the characters get together in the end. The story feels less predestined, a little less certain, and therefore, takes you on a journey.

But let’s get to the real questions, shall we? Because it is one thing for a teenager to like this film. Will you, hypothetical adult reader of this review who probably has memories of seeing this film as a kid or at least is really cynical, like this film?

Is Beauty and the Beast a cash grab?

Yes. To be fair though, everything made by major studios is.

Is Beauty and the Beast an unnecessary remake?

Depends. It’s unnecessary in that we have a fantastic animated film already, plus a French 1946 version for the brave of heart (I watched it in preparation for this film. It is stunning aesthetically, and ahead of its time, but is unintentionally hilarious if you watch it in the right, or maybe wrong, mood).

Here is how I see it: This new Beauty and the Beast is a companion piece to the original animated film. It’s the extended director’s cut. It fills in any holes from the original, gives it some updates, and offers some more nuanced performances that only live-action can really do. I don’t think it is here to smash your childhood between its fingers and light Howard Ashman’s legacy on fire. It’s here to expand and deepen the messages the story provides. It allows you to embrace this tale as old as time in a new way.

-Madeleine D

Superhero Suffering: Logan


Logan is the second R-rated comic book film from Fox, studio of the X-Men, following up on the success of Deadpool last year. Logan is also said to be Hugh Jackman’s last outing as Wolverine after doing eight films as the character, to which Robert Downey Jr flexes his muscles and says, You gotta be kidding! Whimp. I’m just getting started.

Full disclaimer, I have not seen any of the other X-men movies (I know, crazy!). However, I knew enough solid facts about Wolverine going into Logan to not be lost. I would suggest anyone who wants to see the film and hasn’t seen the others, do at least a quick scroll through Wikipedia before diving in. 

Logan starts in the year 2029. The mutants are almost extinct. Logan is working as a chauffeur and is caring for an elderly Charles Xavier, who is suffering from a brain disease. After a deal goes wrong, he learns about an underground human experimentation group called Transigen that has created a group of child mutants, including a young girl named Laura with the same powers as him. He, Laura, and Charles Xavier go on the run to take Laura to a place called “Eden,” where she swears she and the other mutant children will be safe. Logan is reluctant, but right now he’s only living for Charles, who insists Laura and the other mutants are the future. 

This was my first rated R film in theatres, and I saw it with my dad. Near the very end, as a character’s chest gets driven into a wooden spike for the second time, my dad turned to me and asked,

    “Are you okay?”

    “Yeah,” I said, as I adjusted my hands over my eyes. “I can handle it.”

    “I don’t know if I can.”

So it’s not a kid’s movie. If you’re the parent who took their kid to see Sausage Party because it was animated and Deadpool because it had a guy in a red costume, please take my warning and at least look at why something is rated as it is. Unless you’re training your child to be a doctor and want to expose them early to brain matter and gaping wounds, in which case I have some questions, please wait, no matter how great this film is.

And why is Logan great? Because it introduces new elements to the superhero genre that haven’t been done before.

Logan has some uncanny similarities to last month’s release, The Lego Batman Movie. While I won’t be reviewing it because its window has passed, I really enjoyed it. Both films are about tough, individualistic, rugged macho men learning to care about other people and let them in. They both find themselves in a parental role, and become great mentors and teachers in their own rights. While one has a climax that ends with a problem being solved by the power of abs and friendships, and the other is a more depressing look at age, alcoholism, immigration, and inner demons, both represent a new turn in franchise filmmaking. 

In both Logan and 2015’s Mad Mad: Fury Road, the hero who has been the center of a film series for years gives their mantle to someone who represents the future. In Fury Road, it’s Furiosa and the Wives. In Logan, it’s Laura and the other mutants. This idea of passing the mantle to the future generation, which in both of these films are represented by female/minority/immigrants, is a striking commentary. Logan and Fury Road have also been critical hits, which might mean that more highbrow blockbuster films will follow the same path. 

Logan is able to balance action and character, all within its Western feel. The film revels in being able to use Wolverine’s claws to their full effect. It doesn’t just stop with slashes, though. It innovatively incorporates the settings and locations to make unique action sequences. 

But it is the quiet moments in the film that pull it into great territory. Watching Logan have to carry Charles Xavier to bed, hearing Charles rage at him in his senile moments about how much of a disappointment he is, bonded me to the characters, even though this is the only film I’ve seen them in. This film is a gift to Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, giving them an opportunity to strip down their characters, build them up, and then set them in stone. 

Now, most of us know that Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman can act. It’s Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23 that stuns and amazes. She not only performs her action sequences to a professional degree, but she is able to build up her own character’s legacy in a short amount of time. I can’t wait to see more from her.

Ultimately, what Logan does that is revolutionary is this: It has consequences, stakes, and follows through with them. That is something no major franchise is doing right now. Maybe it’s because of Logan’s finality, or the creative forces of director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman, but Logan’s greatest accomplishment is that it is okay with ending.

Except I enjoyed the film so much, I didn’t want it to. 

-Madeleine D