Reviews – New movies opening March 17th 2017

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (USA/PG/129 min)

Directed by Bill Condon. Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Luke Evans.

THE PLOT: After he takes a rose from The Beast’s (Dan Stevens) garden for his daughter Belle (Emma Watson), Maurice (Kevin Kline) finds himself imprisoned in Thee Beast’s castle. Belle comes to her father’s rescue and takes his place, and it is not long before Belle realises the castle and all those who dwell within it are under a curse, and time is running out for them. The more Belle gets to know The Beast, the more she sees the kind heart underneath the gruff exterior.

THE VERDICT: It is hard to think of this new live action version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ without thinking of the iconic 1991 animated film, and this new version is definitely inspired by and takes cues from the original Disney film, but manages to stand on its own two feet.

Emma Watson leads the cast as Belle, and while she has never managed to exude sex appeal, there is a charm to her interpretation of Belle that makes it easy for the audience to love her. As well as this, Watson makes Belle a more independent woman than we have seen before – albeit not by much – and she certainly hits the mark when it comes to singing. Dan Stevens – currently starring in TV’s Legion – makes The Beast gruff but charming, and he truly gets a chance to show off the character’s vulnerability in a way that we have never truly seen before. Luke Evans almost steals the show as Gaston; he camps the character up and has fun with this over the top and egotistical character, Josh Gad happily plays the smarmy sidekick and works well with Evans when they are together. Ewan McGregor makes Lumiére bubbly and effervescent, and works well with the more straightlaced Cogsworth, played by Ian McKellen. The rest of the cast features Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald and Kevin Kline.

The screenplay, adapted by from Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s tale, via the 1991 movie by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos stays very close to what Disney have done before, but makes sure that Maurice takes a back seat, while allowing Belle to move to the fore. There are a lot of lines of dialogue lifted from the 1991 film – which will keep fans of the original happy – and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There are times when attempts to fill out the back story – like just what happened to Belle’s mother – are oddly clunky and detract from the story as a whole. As well as this, some of the new songs added to the film add to the romance, but some manage to make the pacing of the story grind to a halt.

As director, Bill Condon brings his ‘Dreamgirls’ experience to Beauty and the Beast, and there is a touch of magic to the film that comes from the performances, and the over the top musical numbers that not only delight, but manage to move the story along. There are times when the pacing drops, but this is only when the film moves away from the romantic tale at its heart. The production design is beautiful, with the small French town feeling like real places that still exist in the world, and the castle feeling like a true touch of Disney magic. The CGI stumbles in places, but overall, the illusion is complete in ‘Beauty and the Beast’.

In all, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a beautiful and faithful adaptation of the beloved 1991 animated film, with the cast rising to the occasion admirably. The songs are a delight, the design beautiful, and the film only stumbles when it forgets that it is a romance at its heart. Oh, and the furore about a gay love story in the film is completely blown out of proportion, just in case you were wondering. Overall, however, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a film of wonder and romance, and is a worthy remake of a beloved classic.

RATING: 4/5

Review by Brogen Hayes

GET OUT (USA/15A/104mins)

Directed by Jordan Peele. Starring Daniel Kayuula, Allison Williams, Catherine Kenner, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones.

THE PLOT: Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) travel to Rose’s family home for Chris to meet her parents and younger brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones). A party springs up around them in honour of Rose’s grandfather, and it is not long before Chris realises that there is not only something terribly wrong with the African-American housekeeper and groundsman at the family home, but also the way these new party guests react to him.

THE VERDICT: ‘Get Out’ is the feature debut from Jordan Peele, and is a marked change of pace for the filmmaker, who is known for his comedic partnerships with Keegan-Michael Key. Not only has Peele made an engrossing thriller in ‘Get Out’, but he has also made a fascinating film that comments on the still unequal relationship between white and black people in the US.

Daniel Kaluuya leads the cast as the African-American Chris, who not only feels like a fish out of water in a house where the only other black people are “the help”, but also feels that something is very wrong on a deeper level. Kaluuya is incredibly strong as Chris, making him a character with understandable reservations, but easily managing to convey his bewilderment and fears at the changes to the atmosphere in the house. Allison Williams, in her feature debut, makes Rose a character that seems like the relaxed liberal daughter of a family struggling with white guilt, but also manages to convey a darker undertone to the character that she has a lot of fun with in the final act. Catherine Keener obviously has fun with the twisted Missy, Bradley Whitford makes Dean a man who outwardly tries too hard to befriend Chris, but is hiding a terrible secret. Lil Rel Howery is wonderfull as Chris’ TSA agent best friend, and Stephen Root brings the gravitas and the creep factor as blind art dealer Jim Hudson.

Jordan Peele’s script for ‘Get Out’ is one that makes social commentary on the Western world we are living in today; Chris is a curiosity, a commodity and is considered to be cool because of his racial background, but none of the characters seem to want to get to know him any deeper than the surface. Elsewhere, with the dark twist to the movie, Peele makes a comment on the divide between black and white that still exists, the gap between rich and poor, as well as making a statement on slavery that is subtle yet glaring at the same time. As well as this, the creepy feel to the film is incredibly well realised, as well as the final act that turns from dread to violence.

As director Jordan Peele allows the unsettling feel of the film to build slowly, with the audience in on much more of the terrifying goings-on than Chris. There are deeply unsettling and curious moments throughout the film, before everything comes crashing to explanation and violence in the final act. Get Out is more of a thriller than a horror, but its comments on divides and control in our society are truly horrifying.

In all, ‘Get Out’ is a smart, dread-filled and beautifully shot horror film, whose horror comes from the way people are treated when they are alive, more than the way they may or may not die. The cast are outstanding in the film, and the only complaint, if there were to be one, is that although the opening sequence sets the tone for the film, in hindsight it feels absurdly out of place with the rest of the story.

RATING: 4.5/5

Review by Brogen Hayes

PERSONAL SHOPPER (France/15A/105mins)

Directed by Olivier Assayas. Starring Kristen Stewart, Nora von Waldstätten, Anders Danielsen Lie, Lars Eidinger, Ty Olwin

THE PLOT: Living in Paris, Maureen (Kristen Stewart) is a personal shopper for the diva-ish actress Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). Although she shops for a living by day, she has a stronger reason to remain in Paris; her twin brother Lewis died only months earlier and she is waiting for him to fulfil their pact; whomever dies first will contact the other from beyond the grave, being that they are both mediums. When Maureen returns to a house where she believes Lewis’ spirit to be, she unwittingly contacts a spirit unknown to her, and sets of a startling and violent chain of events.

THE VERDICT: ‘Personal Shopper’ is a film that attempts to examine life on an existential level, but where ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ soared, ‘Personal Shopper’ descends into silliness and mediocrity.

Kristen Stewart leads the cast as Maureen, and never quite manages to get a handle on the character. It is incredibly obvious that the personal details of this character belong to Stewart herself, so it is difficult to believe the journey that this character goes on. Since Stewart is the actress left to carry the film, this is a major problem. The rest of the cast features Nora von Waldstätten, Anders Danielsen Lie, Lars Eidinger and Ty Olwin, who have small supporting roles.

Olivier Assayas’ screenplay places Maureen at the heart of a ghost story that tries its best to be complicated and misdirect the audience, but the entire plot is obvious as soon as things get going. Maureen is egged on to do ridiculous things such as try on her boss’ clothes by someone texting her from an unknown number, which either may or may not be the ghost that her presence disturbed. The rest of the time, Maureen drifts around beautiful boutiques in Paris and London, trying to find clothes for Kyra to wear, or engaging in existential discussions via text or with complete strangers. There are times when it seems the film is going down a predictable but coherent route, but instead it shies away for something familiar that is left unresolved.

As director, Assayas never quite manages to get the great performances from his cast that he is looking for, meaning the characters never quite feel real. As well as this, a lot of the film is conveyed through text message, and looking at someone else’s texts is not only lazy storytelling, but dull. There are moments of action and curiosity throughout the film, but these quickly lead back to mundanity, as Assayas tries to make ‘Personal Shopper’ an existential ghostly thriller, but only succeeds in making something that is not one thing nor another.

In all ‘Personal Shopper’ is a mess. Kristen Stewart never quite makes the character believable and the entire cast is let down by a muddled screenplay that seems unsure about what it is trying to do. The costumes are great, but the ghost story never quite gets off the ground and the entire film asks more questions than it seems to have the answers for.

RATING: 1/5

Review by Brogen Hayes

THE SALESMAN (France | Iran/12A/123mins)

Directed by Asghar Farhadi. Starring Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini

THE PLOT: In present day Iran, Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini) awake to find their apartment building crumbing. With nowhere to live, they jump at the chance to take an apartment owned by their friend and co-star in an amateur production of Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’. When Rana unwittingly opens the door to a stranger and is violently attacked, Emad sets out to find justice for his wife, even if he struggles to understand her suffering.

THE VERDICT: Rather similar in theme to Cristian Mungiu’s ‘Graduation’, ‘The Salesman’ is also screening in competition at Cannes this year, and like the Mungiu drama, ‘The Salesman’ could make a strong statement about culture and silence in Iran but decides instead to hammer home obvious metaphors.

The cast do well in the film, with Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini leading the film as married couple Rana and Enad. The performances feel based in reality and are engaging, but the audience often struggles with what seems like cultural differences, as Rana keeps her trauma to herself in an apparent attempt to protect her pride and her reputation, even though neighbours and friends already know what happened to her.

Asghar Fahardi’s screenplay pits the family drama against Miller’s play in an attempt to draw parallels between the two, which only really works in the closing moments of the film, and even then, this is heavy handed and obvious. The relationship and energy between the two main characters of the film is continually shifting, but it is not always understandable, as secrecy and mixed messages seem to be the order of the day. As well as this, there are entire sections of the film that feel surplus to requirements, meaning this back and forth story becomes drawn out due to abandoned cars and a reluctance to involve the police.

As director, Farhadi makes the characters feel rounded and believable, even as their motivations are unclear. The pacing of the film struggles through unnecessarily drawn out situations, and metaphors that lack subtlety and grace. There is a worthwhile story to be told here, but clarity is needed to make the film work and is sincerely lacking in ‘The Salesman’.

In all, ‘The Salesman’ could well have been an examination of culture and secrets in Iran, but it shies away from really examining the issues that motivate the characters. Taraneh Alidoosti and Shabab Hosseini are strong, but they are continually fighting against a screenplay that wants to give as little away as possible.

RATING: 2/5

Review by Brogen Hayes