Dan Stevens

Still magical. Yet, there’s something there that wasn’t there before, and that something is meh.

Belle and Beast dance the night away.

If you’ve seen the 1991 Disney animated classic Beauty and the Beast as much as I have, you’re probably just as nervously excited for the live-action version as I was. The 1991 film was the first animated feature to ever be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar Award, and for good reason: it was smart, magical, romantic, and broke down animation barriers. The new live action version had to stay true to these things, while simultaneously amping up the drama, the romance, and the magic, and still embracing its classic songs (“Bonjour”, “Be Our Guest”, “Beauty and the Beast”, etc.). For a while, it was scarily unclear if the new version would be a musical at all. Once announced it would be, however, the producers needed to cast actors who could sing, and employ special effects that didn’t ruin the fun-loving side characters like Lumiere, Cogsworth, and, of course, the central character of the Beast. While the new songs and expanded character backstories are jarring and uninspired, the majority of the new Beauty and the Beast is still full of magic and romance, and does the original and Disney source material proud. The film also marks a pivotal point in Disney’s aspiration to have one of the industry’s most inclusive, and ethnically and racially diverse, modern film portfolios.

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(see Liam Neeson threaten more people!)

A clue, dear Neeson!

A clue, dear Neeson!

A Walk Among the Tombstones isn’t the first time I’ve had the chance to observe, critique, and celebrate Liam Neeson’s second life in cinema as an action star (see Non-Stop).  It won’t be the last, either (see Taken 3).  It doesn’t matter which film the imposing Irish actor stars in these days, it will undoubtedly be compared to, and its box office receipts still depending on, the popularity of 2009’s Taken.  Neeson as a bad ass, to any degree, will spark endless amounts of “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want” and “certain set of skills” quotes around the workplace and dinner tables (maybe a few “Now’s not the time for dick measuring, Stuart!”).  But in the new drama thriller, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Neeson is able to add layers to his usual badassery — the character Matthew Scudder is more like Sam Spade than Bryan Mills (from Taken).  The film is based on the 1992 novel of the same name by Lawrence Block, and its a callback to the movie detectives of the 1940s and 1950s.  It’s a dark film that plods along the crime thriller genre path, invoking many crime thriller cliches and plot turns, but produces just enough menace, style, and disturbing characters to keep our attention.

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