Movie review: ‘Beauty and the Beast’ beautiful update of Disney classic

“Beauty and the Beast” (PG)

The tale as old as time gets a fresh, new interpretation with “Beauty and the Beast,” Disney’s hotly anticipated live-action remake of their 1991 animated version. It’s a beautiful film from start to finish as long as you try to leave behind any comparisons to the groundbreaking original – the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar – and enjoy it for what it is; a classic romantic tale that’s bolstered by an expanded storyline with new characters, more new songs and dazzling visuals and vistas.

Emma Watson takes on the monumental task of playing Belle, a young maiden whose main concern is taking care of her widowed father (Kevin Kline), a kindly clock- and gadget-maker who is taken prisoner at a castle housing a cursed prince (Dan Stevens). An arrogant ruler who cares little for the downtrodden, the prince is damned to an eternity as a beast unless someone can find it in their hearts to truly love him. He leads a sad and lonely existence, with his only company being his servants, who are turned into a variety of objects like clocks, teacups and candelabras when the spell is cast upon the prince.

Tim reviews “Beauty and the Beast” with Tom Barnard on “The KQ Morning Show,” starting 10 minutes in. Also, Tim talks about the film and more with Bob Sansevere on “The BS Show” here, starting 24 minutes in.

In an effort to rescue her father, Belle takes her father’s place as prisoner, and after a certain amount of time, takes kindly to the beast as he begins to show humility. But the clock is ticking fast on the beast, and if a rose that measures the passage of time loses all its petals, he will remain a beast forever.  complicating matters is the arrogant aristocrat Gaston (Luke Evans), whose behavior becomes more and more vile as he seeks a reluctant Belle’s hand in marriage.

LINK: See Tim Lammers’ archived video and audio interviews, including Denzel Washington, Casey Affleck, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Hugh Jackman, Francis Ford Coppola and more on his new YouTube channel.

Expertly directed by “Dreamgirls” helmer Bill Condon, “Beauty and the Beast” delivers on all that’s promised, especially with music – Alan Menken penned new tunes for the film with lyricist Tim Rice to go along with the existing songs he wrote with the late Howard Ashman – and the visual effects.

The great thing is, as spectacular as the visuals are (the showstopper “Be Our Guest” is one of most dazzling scenes put on film in years), the technical side of “Beauty and the Beast” never dampens the performances by the stunning ensemble cast, which also includes Ian McKellen as the clock Cogsworth, Ewan McGregor as the candelabra Lumiere and Emma Thompson as the teapot Mrs. Potts. Stanley Tucci and Audra McDonald are also welcome additions to the cast, as the castle pianist and singer take the form of a piano and operatic-themed clothing dresser, respectively.

On the live-action side, the always-great Kline, Evans and Josh Gad (as Gaston’s bootlicking sidekick, LeFou), command the most attention, while Watson, while a good, if not great actress, becomes the film’s weak link. Granted, Watson has the weight of the world on her shoulders, but the role really demands a Broadway-caliber singer to fit the bill.

That’s not to say Watson can’t handle the tunes well – she does — but doesn’t come near to the performance of the songs by Paige O’Hara in the animated version. And that’s the quandary that Disney is going to have to face as they adapted more of their animated films into live-action: Do you cast a star like Watson, who is recognized worldwide because of the “Harry Potter” films? Or do you go with a Broadway vocalist who can take the songs to a whole new level? A large part of the reason the animated “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Mulan” became hits was because most people didn’t realize that such Broadway singers as Paige O’Hara, Jodi Benson and Lea Salonga were the voices behind the iconic lead characters.

No matter its flaws, “Beauty and the Beast” is a wonderful film throughout, and a welcome addition to Disney’s stable of live-action remakes or updates, including “Alice in Wonderland,” “Maleficent” and “Cinderella.” There’s no doubt you’ll emerge from the tale as old as time wanting more from Disney’s creative minds, and the those newly-imagined tales can’t come soon enough.

Lammometer: 8 (out of 10)

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Movie review: ‘Kong: Skull Island’ chest-thumping great time

“Kong: Skull Island” (PG-13)

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts brings out the best in the beast in “Kong: Skull Island,” an insanely entertaining update featuring the legendary movie monster.

While the film has its share of flaws, it doesn’t matter: “Kong” is summer popcorn movie that happens to have a March release date. With lots of bone-crushing action, explosions, mayhem, a great cast and an incredibly realistic rendering of King Kong, the movie franchise suddenly has a vibrant new life.

Set in 1973 after the end of the Vietnam War, the great thing about “Kong: Skull Island” is that it’s not a remake of “King Kong.” The action takes place almost entirely on Skull Island, and there’s no transporting Kong back to New York City to be put on display.

Here, Kong remains in his natural habitat in a virtually inaccessible island in the South Pacific, and he doesn’t like it when a secret government exploration team with a military escort invades his space. The problem, as the humans come to discover, is that Kong isn’t the only creature on the island, giving the movie an intense “King Kong” meets “Jurassic World” feel.

LINK: See Tim Lammers’ archived video and audio interviews, including Denzel Washington, Casey Affleck, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Hugh Jackman, Francis Ford Coppola and more on his new YouTube channel.

While the star of “Kong ” is the title character, the film’s cast doesn’t entirely get lots in the island madness. While Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, Toby Kebbell and Samuel L. Jackson all fit the bill, the actor who steals the show is John C. Reilly as a pilot stranded on island for almost 30 years. From the very first time Reilly pops on the big screen with long, frizzy beard and looking like a madman, Reilly is a hoot.

Make sure to stick around for an after-credits scene, which sets up more “Kong” adventures. All told, “Kong: Skull Island” is a roarin’ good time.

Lammometer: 7.5 (out of 10)

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Review: ‘Logan’ brilliant end to Wolverine saga

“Logan” (R)

It seems that Hugh Jackman has saved his best performance as Wolverine for last.

Jackman, of course, defined the role of the adamantium-clawed mutant in 2000’s “X-Men” — and reprised the role eight more times (including the new film) in the ensuing years — is brilliant in “Logan,” which the actor previously announced would be his last turn in the movie saga.

Expertly directed by “The Wolverine” helmer James Mangold, “Logan” strips the “X-Men” mythos to the bare essentials, and in the process, results in a raw and compelling superhero adventure. Concentrating mainly on three mutants, the film easily sets itself apart from the previous “X-Men” films in story, character development and action.


Audio slideshow: James Mangold talks “Logan”

Based on the “Old Man Logan” storyline from the Marvel Comics, “Logan” is set in 2029, in a society where mutants have all but been eradicated, and Logan/Wolverine, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Caliban (Stephen Merchant) take shelter in a run-down hideout on the Mexican border.

Old, cranky and sick, Logan and Charles are living a shadow of an existence, until a desperate woman tracks down Logan and pleads with him to transport a 10-year-old girl named Laura (a spectacular Dafne Keen) to a safe haven in northern part of the United States. Logan’s reluctant to do it, until a militaristic government organization shows up, seeking her capture. It turns out that the girl is a mutant as well, and her ties to Logan may be closer than he thinks.

Twentieth Century Fox definitely made the right move by allowing Jackman and Mangold to make “Logan” a R-rated film, the same sort of strategy that propelled “Deadpool” to worldwide blockbuster status last year. “Logan,” however, doesn’t have a wiseass tone like “Deadpool,” and is much more serious. It’s ultra-violent and bloody (what else would you expect from a guy with steely claws?), and without question earns the distinction of being the “John Wick” of superhero movies.

LINK:  See Tim Lammers’ archived video and audio interviews, including Denzel Washington, Casey Affleck, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis, Francis Ford Coppola and more on  his new YouTube channel.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its share of comedic moments, particularly between Logan and Charles, who bicker at each other like a pair of grumpy old men (or is it grumpy old mutants?). It’s a real hoot to hear Charles – the majestic professor in the previous films – drop the F-

bombs like there’s no tomorrow.

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The sad part of “Logan” is, it appears to be the end of the road for Stewart as Charles, too. You can’t help but feel a sense of sadness as “Logan” wraps up, knowing that Jackman and the always-great Stewart are hanging it up.

But as we’ve learned in “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” there’s nothing ever final in the “X-Men” universe.

Lammometer: 9 (out of 10)

Copyright 2017 DirectConversations.com.

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Interview: Director James Mangold talks ‘Logan’

Don’t kid yourself: Even though the newest entry into the “X-Men” movie saga, “Logan,” draws its inspiration from the “Old Man Logan” storyline in the Marvel Comics series, this isn’t your grandpa’s Wolverine.

Starring the man who defined the role of Logan/Wolverine — Hugh Jackman — for the ninth and perhaps final time in the “X-Men” movie saga, it’s clear from the beginning of “Logan” that Jackman and director James Mangold, his collaborator on 2013’s “The Wolverine,” were going to make a decidedly different mutant film. Rated R and presented in gritty and brutally realistic fashion, Mangold and Jackman were intent on making sure Logan — as well as Patrick Stewart’s Professor Charles Xavier — had a deliberately harder edge to them.

Most importantly, however, unlike anything the saga’s fans have seen with the characters before, “Logan” finds the aging duo tired, ill and sadly, facing mortality. To do the film, Mangold said in a recent phone conversation from New York City, that sort of narrative was a must.

“I very much enjoy these movies as a whole, but I do think that they’ve gotten into a bit of a rut, in the sense that you could almost make a Mad Magazine version of these movies, where they always seem to be about some dark force arriving and is going to destroy the world,” Mangold said. “You can almost cut the trailer in your mind where some character is saying, ‘This is the worst we’ve ever faced,’ and if they don’t level a city, they level a continent, and if they don’t level a continent, they blow up the Earth, and the threats, the stakes are always so high and global.”


Audio slideshow: James Mangold talks “Logan”

Quite simply, Mangold said, a movie like that simply has to dial things back not just a bit, but a lot.

“When you’re making a movie where there are 10 protagonists, a supervillain and five, giant set pieces of action, the principal characters end up with about four minutes of trying to sketch out their character problem and eradicate it later,” Mangold said. “It’s no wonder that sometimes we feel like these movies are emotionally flat or thin in characterization. The characters have devoted all their time to other tasks and become people making cameos in these giant spectacles.”

And spreading the characters too thin is only one of Mangold’s concerns.

“At some point, I think for me, that the old adage of ‘Less is more’ comes in,” said Mangold. “It’s where I’ve started experiencing an overload, where I’m sitting in a theater with the sound blasting and spectacular, amazing, insane visual effects, and I start to feel like Malcolm McDowell in ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ and I want my eyes to just roll up in my head and pass out because I’ve had enough. We really wanted to make a different film in tone in that sense. Yes, we wanted to deal with the mortality of the characters and their fragility, but we also wanted the space to explore those ideas without the sensory overload.”

Opening in theaters and on IMAX screens Friday, “Logan” finds Wolverine and Charles in the year 2029, where mutants are virtually extinct. Along with Charles and another mutant, Caliban (Stephan Merchant), Logan is forced out of his hiding on the border of Mexico when he is suddenly tasked to protect a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), who appears to have the same mutant abilities as he does. On the run from a militaristic government organization seeking her capture, Logan must find a way to transport Laura to a safe haven in the northern part of the U.S.

LINK:  See Tim Lammers’ archived video and audio interviews, including Denzel Washington, Casey Affleck, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis, Francis Ford Coppola and more on  his new YouTube channel.

With far fewer mutants and subplots to concentrate on, Mangold had the benefit of not only making an “X-Men”-themed movie, but the opportunity to combine the mythology with the sensibilities of the previous character dramas he’s directed.

“Our real goal was to try to create enough space for ourselves, as if I were making ‘Copland,’ ‘Girl, Interrupted,’ ‘Walk the Line’ or ‘3:10 to Yuma’ or another one of my movies, and ask, ‘How can I take these really interesting characters that we have mainly only seen through the prism of these ‘Save the world’ storylines, and view them through a much more intimate storyline?’ Mangold recalled. “My initial proposal to Fox was that I wanted to make very bloody, existential version of ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ with Logan and Charles Xavier.”

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Apart from the graphic violence (Logan has adamantium claws, after all, so they’re going to cause some damage), the purposefully R-rated film has its share of F-bombs, and the explosive use of the language doesn’t come from the idea of using the word simply because they can, but because there is meaning behind it. When you see and hear, perhaps shockingly so, that the aging Charles suddenly has a penchant for dropping the F-bomb, you’ll understand why.

“Many people have gone through it — even with very graceful parents — where that moment sets in and your systems are failing you, it’s incredible sometimes to hear ‘The Exorcist’-level of obscenity to come out of an old person’s mouth where their world is losing its moorings a little bit,” Mangold said. “But the use of the language also, honestly, fits in the whole tone of the film from the beginning to the end. It’s just a little bit more raw than what we’ve seen in the other pictures. That was quite intentional.”

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

While Jackman and Stewart are naturally the names on the marquee that people will instantly recognize, there are many times where Keen, whose storyline is quite significant in “Logan,” steals the show from both of them. What’s amazing is that she commands your attention at times even in a non-verbal way, and that was only one of the many requirements Mangold had for the integral character.

“She’s incredible. We searched high and low, and it wasn’t exactly easy. I said I needed someone between 10 and 12 years of age, physically capable, brilliant actress, Hispanic descent and bilingual. Now you try that on,” Mangold mused. “Worldwide, that adds up to producing about five or six kids. When the tape arrived in an email from London of this wonderful 10-year-old at that time who was reading for this part — it was this little iPhone tape that he dad had made of her, climbing around on bookcases and doing a couple of scenes — I knew the second I saw it without even meeting her that she was the young woman for the part.”

Copyright 2017 DirectConversations.com.

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Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers