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Movie Review: “Beauty and the Beast”

Starring
Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Director
Bill Condon

As sweet and lovely as Disney’s 1991 animated film “Beauty and the Beast” is, the story has some, um, inconsistencies. Belle somehow manages to get an injured, beaten Beast up on a horse to bring back to the castle. There is a painting of an adult Prince that could not possibly have been painted. And how is it that the local village has no knowledge of an enchanted castle just a short ride away? All of these issues, thankfully, are addressed in the live-action remake of the film, and the emotional stakes are raised quite a bit in the finale (though not in the manner that you might think). The production design is gorgeous, Belle’s yellow dress is as stunning as Cinderella’s blue dress in the 2015 remake of that film, and Emma Watson is an inspired choice to play Belle, and is quite the singer as well.

The movie takes a while to find its rhythm, though. The three biggest musical numbers in the movie’s first half bite off more than they can chew, as if Disney had told director Bill Condon, “Just ask yourself: what would Baz Luhrmann do? And then ask us if we think Baz would do that, and we’ll tell you whether or not you’re right.” Condon captures the excessiveness of a Luhrmann number but not its energy, and that is a very important distinction. The movie’s second half, though, is much better. The relationship between Belle and the Beast comes into focus, and one small cameo makes a world of difference in the end.

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Movie Review: “The Girl on the Train”

Starring
Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez, Allison Janney
Director
Tate Taylor

Paula Hawkins’ “The Girl on the Train” instantly drew comparisons to Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” thanks to the use of multiple viewpoints, but let’s make something clear: as enjoyable as “Train” was to read, it doesn’t come close to plumbing the emotional depths that Flynn wrote into the truly psychotic Amy Dunne. At the same time, this works in the favor of the film version of “The Girl on the Train.” Erin Cressida Wilson’s script puts a higher percentage of the source material into the film (the one thing book fanatics complain about the most), and the story’s main obstacle (recovering a lost memory) is a tried and true film device. Ask anyone who saw “Jason Bourne” earlier this year.

Films, however, reveal things that books do not, and that is what prevents “The Girl on the Train” from hitting the next level. It is competently made, with some outstanding performances, but the book is capable of concealing things that the film cannot. And with that, we will say no more.

Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a sad, drunk divorcee, taking the train five days a week to a job she no longer has. The train takes her by the house she once lived in, the one her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) now shares with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their baby daughter. A couple of houses down, Rachel sees a younger couple that seems blissfully in love. Recognizing that they have what she’s lost, she becomes obsessed with them, giving them fake names and occupations while she spies on them for a few seconds each day. One day, Rachel sees what appears to be a betrayal on a member of the happy couple, and when one of them disappears shortly after, she offers what she thinks she knows to the police, only to discover that in doing so, she has made herself the prime suspect.

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Movie Review: “High-Rise”

Starring
Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Sienna Miller, Elisabeth Moss, Jeremy Irons, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes
Director
Ben Wheatley

Producer Jeremy Thomas has been trying to bring J.G. Ballard’s acclaimed novel, “High-Rise,” to the big screen for almost 40 years, despite many claiming that the book was unfilmable. He probably should have heeded those warnings, because while Thomas finally got his wish with the help of director Ben Wheatley, the resulting product is a stylish but empty adaptation that doesn’t resonate as much today as it would have in the late 1970s, the dystopian setting of Ballard’s Thatcher-era satire. In many respects, it feels like a movie lost in time. Though Wheatley has shown great potential with some of his earlier films, “High-Rise” is yet another disappointment following the tedious, psychedelic head trip of “A Field in England” that hooks you with its intriguing premise but slowly loses its grasp as the story spirals out of control.

Tom Hiddleston stars as Dr. Robert Laing, the newest resident of a luxury apartment building that has all the conveniences and commodities of modern life without ever having to go outside. But while the high-rise seems like paradise on the surface, Laing notices a simmering tension between the upper-class tenants who live on the top floors and the middle-class tenants confined to the lower levels. The building’s reclusive architect, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), chalks it up to “teething problems,” but when an increasing series of power outages and structural flaws begin to affect the standard of living – particularly among the poorer residents – that tension boils over, leading to a literal class war that devolves into a barbaric wasteland of debauchery and destruction. Oh, and the odd barbecued dog’s leg as well.

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Movie Review: “Dracula Untold”

Starring
Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Sarah Godon, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance
Director
Gary Shore

It seems like everyone is getting an origin story these days, so it was only a matter of time before Hollywood treated its original bad boy to one of his own. Unfortunately, the last thing that anyone needed was another film that tries to humanize a classic villain with a backstory explaining why they broke bad, especially one as iconic as Dracula. Whoever thought it was a good idea to turn the Prince of Darkness into a romantic hero clearly doesn’t understand the essence of the character, because it completely undermines everything that makes him so fascinating. There isn’t a whole lot of the Dracula we know and love in “Dracula Untold,” and although that means very little blood-sucking from the man himself, that hasn’t stopped director Gary Shore from sucking the fun out of cinema’s greatest villain.

Inspired by the real-life story of Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans), who was taken hostage as a teenager and forced to fight for the Ottoman Empire, the movie picks up decades later after the Transylvanian prince has put down his sword in order to rule his people. But when Turkish sultan Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) demands 1,000 Transylvanian youths for his army – including Vlad’s only son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson) – Vlad refuses to submit, resulting in a Turkish retaliation that reduces Castle Dracula to a pile of rubble. Grossly outnumbered and desperate to protect his people, Vlad makes a deal with an ancient vampire (Charles Dance) who lives in the nearby mountains by drinking his blood in exchange for ultimate power. If Vlad can resist the overwhelming thirst for blood for three days, he’ll revert back to his mortal self, but of course, we already know that isn’t going to happen.

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