Thursday, September 14, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching!  I was going to write "Be my guest to read this review" but I guarantee that thousands of other critics have started their reviews that way.




Beauty and the Beast (2017) – 4 out of 5


So, Disney is remaking all of their animated features into live-action films.  To some, this is a sign that they have lost all creativity and are just dipping their hands back into the well that made their name but to others (like me), this is an opportunity to see those classic animated features come to life in a new way…like in a living/life kinda way—you know, because it’s live-action (I really over explained that one).  The last live-action remake I watched (The Jungle Book) proved to be absolutely amazing and I was completely enthralled and blown away with the final product.  So, does this tale as old as time that features the songs that are old as rhyme compare?  Is Beauty and the Beast just as awesome with flesh and blood humans and a computer generated beast as it was when it was animated?  Yes, yes it is!

Trust me, it's great despite the fact that Beast has a "meh, it's okay" face here.


"Gaze upon me and weep for I am all-powerful!"
In a remote village in France, a young bookworm woman named Belle (Emma Watson) finds her common life to be a bit boring and is looking for more than just the local jacked up buffoon; Gaston (Luke Evans), trying to get her hand in marriage.  One night, her father Maurice (Kevin Kline) stumbles upon a great castle outside the village in the forest and is taken prisoner by a hideous beast inside.  Belle finds him and learns the beast (Dan Stevens) was once a selfish, arrogant prince who was cursed by an enchantress.  Because he had no love in his heart, he would remain a beast until he could love another and be loved in return.  However, like all great curses, there’s a time limited and a magical rose lies in the castle and when the final pedal falls and he hasn’t opened his heart to someone, he shall remain a beast forever and all his servants in the castle will become trapped as household items (did I mention that part?  Yeah, all his servants are talking house goods).  Can the beast overcome his anger and isolation to find love?  Can Belle overcome her fear of the beast?  Will the village and Gaston find out about the castle in the woods that holds the monster?

The villagers hated her because she could read and liked to learn.
Nowadays Belle would just have been mansplained until she quit social
media by a bunch of neckbeards saying "Well actually..."


First things first (because I can’t very well do the second thing first, that’s crazy), there was a bit of a shock to the system seeing Beauty and the Beast go live-action.  Unlike The Jungle Book, B and the B has had a strong foothold in my life and, alongside The Lion King, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid, was watched a lot in my younger days and, even now as a man in his mid-30s, I find myself singing the songs it contained.  So, seeing the familiar faces slightly differently, hearing the same songs done in a way that they’re changed just enough and seeing the visuals done in a way that honors what came before but in a live, grandiose way was a bit jarring and I was in real danger of having nostalgia take over and take me out of this movie (nostalgia can be so toxic).  While I will admit that it is really weird not having Angela Lansbury singing that signature theme but any potential toxicity from nostalgia was quickly washed away in that wonderful Disney magic.

How cold of a heart could a person have to not love the waltz scene?


I'm going to hazard a guess that Gaston is a hero to
Men's Rights Activists everywhere.
There are not a lot of surprises with this new version, aside from a few new songs, but knowing Belle and Beast’s story doesn’t diminish the returns with this one.  This new cast is fantastic and are all giving their own unique spin on these characters but not changing them to the point they are unrecognizable.  I thought Emma Watson was fantastic as Belle and Dan Stevens is definitely a lot of fun as Beast.  I will admit I was hesitant to Luke Evans as Gaston because, on a physical level, he’s so much more different than the animated version (that toxic nostalgia was creeping up) but he started to work for me and I really started to notice how he definitely captured the character from the previous adaptation.  Finally, the supporting cast members like Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor as Lumière, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts were all very entertaining and helped bring this majestic tale to life and made the story as vibrant and fun as what came before.

While still pretty cool, there's no denying the nightmare fuel that is live-action
Lumi
ère and Cogsworth.


I didn’t really find any drawbacks to the film beyond the replay value.  Now that I’m in my 30s, this film probably won’t be seen as often as I watched the animated one when I was 10 but that doesn’t erase the beautiful visuals, great performances, and how it captured the magic of the 1991 classic.  I will also add that Josh Gad kinda was a little irritating at points because he has a habit of being too hammy with his performances and sorta feels like he’s trying too hard but the level of annoying he brought was very minuscule and it was easy to overlook.  Plus, Disney decided to make his character of Lefou gay and that’s pretty damn groundbreaking…even though it made people lose their minds because it meant they had to once again face the reality that the sexual spectrum exists beyond heterosexuality.

I wish my dishes did a show for me...instead they recite poetry.  It's disappointing.


Overall, Beauty and the Beast is another for the win column in Disney’s pursuit of making live-action adaptations of their animated features.  It’s just another example how retelling a story in a different format may not entirely change the emotional response or experience but provide a new dimension to the familiar.

Train to Busan

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching!  Take this train after you take the last train to Clarksville.




Train to Busan – 5 out of 5


Zombie fiction is huge right now and has been riding a high for quite a while now.  Not to sound hipster-y but I’ve been a zombie fan since I was about 10 years old when my father showed me the original Night of the Living Dead.  Since then, I’ve watched every zombie movie I could find—good or bad (and believe me, there’s a lot more bad than good)—I play zombie-based video games and have been a loyal reader and watcher of The Walking Dead since it debuted.  Even being a fan, I am capable of recognizing that the market is oversaturated and that every person with access to an iPhone and off-the-shelf editing software can make a low budget and extremely low quality zombie feature.  Finding ones that are genuinely good is very rare and like finding a needle in a haystack.  The South Korean thriller, Train to Busan, is that needle and it came out of nowhere in that haystack and poked you in the tush with its awesomeness.  And yes, that metaphor was strange.

I live in Wisconsin, zombie deer wouldn't be a problem.  We kill those things
for fun.  Hell, they jump in front of our cars on a daily basis.


Next year, ask for a pony for your birthday, kid.
Workaholic father; Seok-woo (Yoo Gong), spends more time in the office than he does with his daughter Soo-an (Su-an Kim).  For her birthday, she asks that she visits her mother in Busan and he reluctantly agrees.  At first, all seems normal until a sickly looking woman makes her way onto the train they boarded in Seoul.  The woman starts acting strangely and suddenly viciously attacks one of attendants.  Rapidly, the sickness that was in the woman passes to the attendant and soon attacks are happening to all the passengers and a horde of zombies is formed.  The remaining passengers—that include a group of young baseball players, a frightened homeless man, a working class man named Sang-hwa (Dong-seok Ma) and his pregnant wife (Yu-mi Jung), two elderly sisters, and a rich and entitled COO (Eui-sung Kim)—are now all trapped on a speeding train with ferocious zombies and no word if anywhere up ahead on the track is safe.

I've seen enough zombie movies that I wouldn't sit idly by for a single second
if I saw this.  I'd be gone before it even shuffled an inch forward.


With as many zombie properties out there in existence, it’s really hard to create something that is unique and stands out.  Having a majority of the story take place on a train and keeping the action localized and completely cut off from the rest of the world really works in this one’s favor.  Nearly all zombie films focus on small groups but we usually see them traveling through the decay wastelands of what was once society or living through the current state of madness as the world breaks down and crumbles from the outbreak.  Train to Busan shows us glimpses of how the country has fallen but focuses mostly on this small group of survivors trying to figure out the scope of what happened while being entirely isolated on a train.  This dynamic caused the story to focus on what makes a zombie movie great and that is the human survivors.  

Oh, I get it.  The dad was the train the whole time--no, wait, I'm being told
I'm wrong and there was a literal train and this is them just running away
from the murderous horde.


This man is one of those dudes you love to hate.
You always need them in a zombie movie.
Yes, gore and decomposing zombies is fun and provides the sweet dessert in these movies but for a meaningful and memorable zombie movie, you need human drama and heart.  Train to Busan doesn’t disappoint with this as the script and performances do a tremendous job of making you care for the characters and have you actively want them to survive…except the A-hole COO character—man, you really wanted that dude to get feasted upon by the zombies.  The way the story develops Seok-woo and we see him go from a distant father who is more concerned with work than his daughter to a father who will stop at nothing to protect his child is very engaging.  Another character I really enjoyed and was rooting for their survival was Sang-hwa along with his pregnant wife.  Having an expecting mother in a zombie movie is a cheap and easy way to garner sympathy for a character and wish for them to survive but the chemistry between her and her husband made it less of a plot device and more of some genuinely interesting characters that are deserving of a tomorrow.  Plus, Sang-hwa is a pure badass and it was almost impossible to not cheer for him when he was cracking zombie skulls in order to protect those around him.

He was just awesome!


Hmmm...yep, that is terrifying.  I think I would be repeating
the phrase "Oh shit" over and over again if I saw that
behind my train.
Any drawbacks I found to Train to Busan were very limited and extremely minor.  There is one antagonistic character that I felt took way to long to get his comeuppance and, when it arrived, it was pretty unsatisfying.  Additionally, there were some weird “water-like” elements to the zombies that I found distracting.  I’m not saying that they had a fluid consistency but rather there were some times that when they were charging at the non-infected, they seem to mimic water.  There were two scenes specifically where I found this very odd to look at as a group of them rolled over the seats in the train like waves approaching the shore and during another sequence where they were massing in a group and when they began to collide it was like waves crashing against some jagged rocks on a beach.  This wasn’t wholly a terrible thing but it was very weird to look at and it sorta downplayed the more grounded and tension-filled approach they were taking with these zombies.  These moments wouldn’t make me bat a single eye if I saw it in one of the very strange Japanese zombie films I’ve watch but here in Train to Busan they stood out and were very strange.

I get that they are essentially a "wave of zombies" but did they have to be
a literal wave?
Although, zombies that seem to have the same property of liquids is kinda
terrifying.
Shit, how fast are they moving that colliding creates such an explosive force that
they are sent shooting in the air?



Despite being a fan of zombies, I’m a little cynical when it comes to their films and horror/thrillers in general because it’s a genre that, here in the states, has been overflowed with a lot of low budget nonsense and properties that are about the sizzle and not the steak.  However, I’ve come to learn that horror films and thriller features made anywhere but in the United States tends to take its stories and subject material seriously and isn’t about just farting out some jump scares and gore.  Foreign thrillers seem to consistently show a level of quality that I just don’t see here and Train to Busan is just another example of that standard.  Even more amazing is how the film did this without ever having to rely on a heavy use of gore.  It’s pretty tame by most standards.  It's the story and characters that drive this film and it drives exceptionally well.  I’m very interested to see where the sequel will take this story.

Life

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching!  Boy, this is a weird adaptation of the nature documentary series.




Life – 2 out of 5

Man, wouldn’t it be cool to discover alien life?  Science fiction sure thinks so and that’s why we see books, shows, and movies about it all the time.  We’re pretty much at the point where it’s hard to have this trope be told originally and not inevitably compared to other properties that have come along in the past.  Life tries to do something original but placing it in today’s era and having it revolve around real scientific discoveries that we are currently unearthing (like with all we are learning currently about Mars).  It’s a neat idea but one that, sadly, didn’t really work.

Look at that space being all last frontier-y.

After a space probe returns from a Mars mission to the International Space Station, the crew is shocked to discover that one of the samples that were collected contains dormant, simplistic life.  With this news of this new discovery, the scientists on board start to revive the creature in order to watch it grow into a multi-cellular organism after it was nicknamed “Calvin.”  After an incident causes Calvin to return to its previous, dormant state, one of the researches tries to wake it up with a mild electrical shock.  His attempt is successful but he’s also awoken other, more primal urges within the alien creature…mostly its need to survive.  Now the crew must stop Calvin as it rampages and attacks them.  More importantly, however, they must stop it from getting to Earth.

"Hey look, I just had a baby.  Nothing bad will happen to me now!"

Life has a concept that feels like it has been done before (because it has) but having it take place in the more modern era—especially one where we are actually discovering unknown realities about Mars—kinda gives it a leg up.  When you add in the cast, which includes the likes of Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal, this film feels like, at the very least, it should provide some sort of base level entertainment but, instead, I found a film that believes it is way more brilliant than it is and somehow manages to make what should naturally be thrilling and even a little terrifying feel mundane and even routine.  To put it bluntly:  Life is kinda boring.  And to put it with a hacky one-liner review way:  Life has no life to it.

Well, this clearly is fiction because no astronaut is that good looking...
not that astronauts aren't capable of being good looking.  I mean, come on,
Reynolds is stupidly adorable by all mortal standards.

The performances by Reynolds, Gyllenhaal and the rest of the cast are the strongest aspects to the whole film.  The reason this feature just didn’t resonate with me came entirely from the script and the tone.  Additionally, this movie has a lot of plot holes that added too many “WTF” statements from me as I was watching it.  Some of them were the obvious ones like the fact that Calvin is said to be a carbon-based, oxygen breathing organism but is surviving in arenas that carbon-based, oxygen breathing organisms don’t do so well in and other moments were more subtle and only come to light when you sit down and think about them.  For example, without delivering the dreaded Spoilers, this film has an ended that is one giant plot hole as you would think the enter sequence would have been rendered inert if the government and NASA had any sort of actual protocols in action—but this ending postulates that it doesn’t.  And speaking of endings, boy does this one have a lame one.

"Hey alien, if you don't kill me I'll be your best friend."

A great twist ending can really make a movie.  Sometimes, it can take a weak film or just a serviceable one and make it more memorable.  However, a really bad weak ending or even one that is extremely predictable can completely undo a film.  Life wasn’t doing so hot for most of the movie and its attempt at a twist, supposedly shocking ending didn’t help matters and it turned this otherwise kinda average movie into a much weaker one.  The problem with this feature’s ending isn’t that it is just predictable and the way the last ten minutes is edited makes its “twist” viewable before its even foreshadowed, it’s that the film presents this ending like it is momentous and that the viewers never could have seen it coming.   With its grand shot and epic music accompanying it, you would think the director thought he was presenting the greatest ending to ever be showcased in the world of cinema but, instead, what you get is a faux-twist ending that isn’t shocking or even mildly surprising.  It would have been just a disappointment if presented by itself but the ego at which it is shown made it all that much worse.  It was hard not to roll my eyes at seeing exactly what I predicted I was going to see at the beginning of the film.

The alien looks like something that you would find in our ocean and would probably
be poisonous...because our oceans are truly the most terrifying thing in existence.

Life was kinda doomed from the get-go because it is attempting to be another first contact/horrific alien encounter and we’ve see a whole hell of a lot of those (although, I did watch a really great one recently).  Even boasting its star power (which is really the only thing this film has going for it) isn’t enough to make this film work.  Hell, the movie couldn’t even make the moments that should be hair-raising and even terrifying work thanks to a lethargic score, underdeveloped characters, a pretty uninteresting monster, and pacing that never made anything feel like it was dire or immediate.  These facts alone are bad enough but when you deliver an ending that is weak and predictable but presented like it was a grand surprise, you have a film that is, for lack of a better word, lame.