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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: “La La Land”

Starring
Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt
Director
Damien Chazelle

Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” wasn’t just my favorite film of 2014 – in my estimation, it’s one of the best movies of the past decade. So it goes without saying that the bar was set pretty high for his latest project, a loving homage to the big, bold and colorful musicals of Hollywood’s Golden Age featuring two of today’s brightest stars. Making a musical these days is already a huge risk, but the fact that “La La Land” is a completely original piece of work rather than an adaptation of preexisting material is what makes it truly daring. The film’s ambition is evident from the very first frame, launching into an elaborate song-and-dance number set during a gridlock on the Los Angeles freeway that announces itself in grand fashion. Though it falls just short of matching that ambition (perhaps due to a tiny bit of overhype), “La La Land” is still one of the most dazzling, effervescent moviegoing experiences of the year.

The film tells the love story of aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and struggling jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) over the course of four seasons. When the two artists first meet, it’s not cute like in the movies but rather a curt interaction during the opening traffic jam that begins with a loud honk and ends with a middle finger. The pair crosses paths later that night when Mia wanders into a Hollywood restaurant where Sebastian has just been fired by his boss (J.K. Simmons in a fun cameo) for failing to play the agreed-upon setlist of holiday jingles, and again, their encounter is less than friendly. As fate would have it, Mia and Sebastian run into each other at a house party several months later, and this time around, the sparks finally fly. But as their romance blossoms through the summer, they’re forced to reassess their careers, leading both of them to wonder whether being together means that they must give up on their dreams.

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