Beauty and the Beast

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Swanner: I remember seeing Beauty and the Beast 1991 on opening night of it’s wide release. After The Little Mermaid, my hopes were high that Beauty and the Beast was going to be something very special. As the film started and the camera began moving slowly through the forrest towards the castle, I started to cry. Half because I’m a big girl when it comes to anything sentimental, but more so because something amazing was happening on screen. I did the same thing when I saw the live action remake this week. 

They have made a few changes to the story, answering questions, filling in areas like character development, and adding songs from lyricist Tim Rice to Alan Menken’s score. Not to fear, Howard Ashman’s songs are all still included, and better than ever. What is really obvious here is that technology has changed, and has made it possible to make live action versions of Jungle Book, Sleeping Beauty, and now, Beauty and the Beast. All the enchanted characters are animated, yet it never feels anything more than real.

Director Bill Condon (DreamGirls) creates a complete musical, with expanded musical sequences, and a full commitment to creating a legitimate theatrical musical film. The screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos pulled extras from the original story and from Linda Woolverton’s 1991 script, giving us a more complete story. The casting of Emma Watson was one of genius, for both Watson and the film. Audiences already know Watson as the well-read Hermione Granger, who would have been repulsed by Gaston and would have loved the Beast, so Belle becomes very believable to audiences right away. As for Watson’s career, she waited for the right “Big” project to make a play at a blockbuster. The result is now Jennifer Lawrence won’t be the only female making the “Big” money anymore. 

The rest of the cast is terrific including Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Emma Thompson, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci and Audra McDonald. They are all so good. Steven’s Beast is angsty and sincere, while Evan’s Gaston is perfect… Just ask him! Angela Lansbury questioned why they needed to remake the film. Well, it’s been over 25 years since the original film came out, children have grown up, and now those children get to take their children to see what will be their Beauty and the Beast. It’s the circle of life… Wait, that’s a different story. So, do we need a new Beauty and the Beast? When it’s this good, yes.

Swanner: 4 stars

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Saban’s Power Rangers


Swanner: Five high school student find some sort of crystals that give them superpowers, but they need to become a team before they can gain all of the power they need to save the world. Based on a children’s program from the 90’s, this big budget remake hopes to capture the same lightning from 25 years ago. I, personally, have never seen the original program, and after seeing this film, I’m glad. Still, the cheering audience of thirty-somethings last night has me confused.

Judd: I remember watching some episodes as a teenager and enjoying it for it’s campy cheesiness. Like everything that’s remade these days, this reboot, written by John Gantis (Real Steel, Flight) has to suck all the joy out of the original material and replace it with brooding angst. Running at 2 hours, the first 90 minutes is devoted to our heroes struggling to get along, and finding the power within. It’s only in the last 30 minutes where we are actually treated to what made the original show so popular – karate, zords and monsters.

Swanner: I’ve never been a fan of origin stories, but a little background was helpful. Listening to the people around us and the people we came with, everyone was definitely excited for the screening. It was starting to get me excited until the film actually started. The cast looked like Benetton ad. I hear that the goofy reaction shoots and bad dialog were part of the “joy” of the original. Elizabeth Banks tries to add more joy to the film with her hamming it up playing Rita Repulsa. Her and Brian Cranston are the two I felt really bad for. Am I too concerned for their careers? 

Judd: Elizabeth Banks’ scene chewing was the only thing even remotely similar to the original. She was obviously having fun — unfortunately, she was the only one. When we finally get to the action, that too, was lacking. I wasn’t expecting miniature cities and actors in costumes like the original, but I was expecting better staging. Anyone who makes a movie like this needs to watch Pacific Rim, or even the recent Kong movie, and learn how to film these oversized action sequences.

Swanner: So all that awfulness could have been done better? I only ask because not knowing the “joy” of the original just had questioning the sanity of the audience and then, of course, myself. If someone was a fan of the original, I’d tell them to go and enjoy the film like our audience did last night. If you’ve never seen the original, don’t go. Brian’s right, this could have been made better and still capture that nostalgia. If the film does well and many think it will, maybe the creative team and take this franchise from “It’s Morphin Time” to using today’s technology to make something better.

Swanner: 1 star

Judd: 1 star

Kong: Skull Island

Swanner: The first thing that went through my mind was, “Not another King Kong movie!” then I saw the preview. I’m weak for popcorn movies, and this one doesn’t disappoint. After the discovery of an uncharted island, a group of scientists with a military escort get the funding to find out what is on the island. This is definitely no trip to some exotic tropical island.

Judd: Kong: Skull Island stars John Goodman, Samuel L Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John C Reilly and Corey Hawkins. It was directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts whom directed a personal fave of mine, Kings of Summer, and written by Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler, The Bourne Legacy); Max Borenstein (Godzilla (2014)), and Derek Connolly (Jurassic World). Kong: Skull Island is another feather in these fine writers’ caps, as both a fantastic Creature Feature and a not-so-subtle allegory for Vietnam and the horror of war. The movie feels like King Kong meets Apocalypse Now.

Swanner: I’m right with you on Apocalypse Now but I thought it also had an Avatar feel to it. I felt like Samuel L Jackson was channeling Stephan Lang’s Colonel Quaritch character who was obsessed with killing what he perceives as the bad guy, even though we know who the real bad guy acutally was. The plus here is that Kong was nowhere near as long as either of those films. I agree it’s a fantastic script that knew what kind of movie it was trying to be. 

Judd: If the awful Avatar was worth remembering, I might agree with you, but I’ll just take your word for it. The screening we saw was in 2D and at a regular theater, and I regret not being able to see it in 3D at the IMAX. This is the biggest Kong audiences have seen, and I’m sure it has something to do with his scale in the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong (2020). Vogt-Roberts and the screenwriters knew what the attraction of the movie would be, with plenty of nods to the 1933 original. While we were given a worthwhile story, and a female lead that wasn’t completely useless, the monster battles are the reason for seeing the movie, and they do not disappoint. 

Swanner: I totally agree with how refreshing it was that the female roles not being damsels in distress. Especially with the history of Kong movies. I think the biggest mistake they made here was releasing it in March. This is a summer popcorn movie done right, and its audience will be in school on weekdays, and not packing theaters to see this film. See this movie somewhere big. Not seeing it at an IMAX, or one of the more upscale theatres is a crime. I really want to see it again with a bucket of popcorn on a huge screen. Hail the King!!!

Judd: Agreed. I was a little skeptical of the PG-13 rating, but the gore was done right – especially the way a scene start comedically, then takes a shocking violent turn. While it wasn’t explicitly bloody, the contrast made what would normally be considered fairly tame seem absolutely savage. No one does this better than John C Reilly who displays his considerable chops deftly going from funny-man to deadly serious in an instant. Kong: Skull Island is a definite must see.

Swanner: 4 stars

Judd: 4 stars

Before I Fall

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Swanner: Before I Fall’s Samantha (Zoey Deutch) is your average teenage girl living in an upscale neighborhood. She’s very popular with her three “Mean Girls” friends. She has a boyfriend, and tonight at the party, she’s going to lose her virginity. Her day doesn’t finish the way she hoped it would, because on their way home, Sam and her friends are killed in a car accident. But Like Groundhog’s Day, Samantha wakes every day to relive her death no matter how she tries to change the outcome.

Based on a novel by Lauren Oliver, this Twilight Zone story has you not really liking the Mean Girls as they breathe terror on the nerds and freaks, and avoid boys who aren’t as popular as they are. Eventually Samantha (and the audience) realizes that there is a common denominator in their relived day  — and that’s Samantha. She the only one aware of the repeating day. She has to be the one that makes this all end. Writer Maria Maggenti pulls us in and makes us care for Samantha, hoping she can solve this loop she’s caught in without dying. Director Ry Russo-Young leads us through this nightmare, feeling as helpless as our ingénue.

As she relives her day she starts to question what’s going on in the different elements of her life and the lives of those around her. What is tying this all together? How can she be a better person if this day can’t be changed? How will she be remembered? I liked the movie a lot. I think Maggenti’s script told Oliver’s story well, and never made it play too repetitious . Yes, it’s a bit angsty, but Samantha knowing what her ultimate doom could be makes her life more precious, and her journey through this day more important.

The film sets itself apart from other teen angst films, even though it has many of the same elements, but boys and grades don’t mean very much when your Land Rover rolls over every night at 1:39 am. I’m pretty sure the film won’t appeal to men, but if they get dragged in, they’ll like it in the long run. I’m pretty sure Brian would have hated it for those of you still on the fence.

Swanner: 3 stars