Beauty and the Beast

Based on the beloved Disney animated feature released in 1991, Beauty and the Beast is a visually spectacular film that faithfully retains many of the same elements of the original, including being filled with recognizable songs and an enjoyable family friendly experience. As Disney has done for many of its famous animated classics, the movie is a live-action reinterpretation of a fairy tale about an unorthodox romance between a terrifyingly ugly beast, portrayed by Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame, and a beautiful young French country girl, played by Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame. Having not seeing the original in many years and not remembering it being a musical, the resulting adaptation remains very much a musical, which leads to an overall joyous and fun atmosphere, despite containing several dark and dramatic moments. Watson’s character Belle who is very attached to her father, played by Kevin Kline, finds herself a prisoner in the large and decrepit castle of the Beast who has been cursed for his prior life as a selfish and cruel prince and will remain a monster until he finds true love. To her surprise and eventual delight, Belle discovers that the entire castle is also enchanted and that many of the servants have been turned into previously inanimate objects, such as a sweet and motherly teapot voiced by Emma Thompson, an officious clock voiced by Ian McKellen, and a talkative candelabra voiced by Ewan McGregor. Assisted by CGI, the filmmakers did a terrific job of realistically bringing many of the characters to life and creating a visually arresting magical world, components essential to the animated version. The costumes and sets also really capture the setting of the French countryside in the late 1700s, albeit a glossed over and probably unrealistic depiction of real life at the time. Overall, I found it to be a rather good live-action remake of a now classic story that will surely delight fans of the original and other Disney animated movies, in addition to those simply looking for a light-hearted family flick.

La La Land

From Damien Chazelle who received a Academy Award nomination for best director for 2014’s Whiplash, La La Land is a vibrantly energetic film that revives the musical genre to its former glory. At its heart, it is an ode to old Hollywood and the thriving contemporary metropolis of Los Angeles. The movie follows a young woman named Mia, terrifically portrayed by the fresh-faced Emma Stone, who has moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. Like many other young actors and actresses, she has dreams of hitting it big time, but she has the typical experience of being rejected and stuck in a dead-end job to make ends meet. Through a series of chance encounters, she meets an equally aspiring young artist named Sebastian, played by the brilliant and handsome Ryan Gosling, and they began a whirlwind romance told through exuberant musical numbers. Sebastian himself is an old school jazz pianist who has difficulty breaking through the highly commercialized music industry, and he has dreams of opening an old fashioned jazz club. Like the film’s style and genre, both characters feel like they are from a bygone era and remain idealistic despite the challenges they face in their respective rapidly changing and business-oriented entertainment industries. This new paradigm is reflected by John Legend who plays a musician catering to contemporary taste simply to make a buck and forces Sebastian to face the harsh realities of the music business. What makes the movie so special is its interspersal of wildly energetic and magically shot sequences in which the characters sing and dance in highly choreographed fashion, reminiscent of Fred Astaire musicals. The film employed the rather clever technique of dimming the lights around the characters as they began a musical sequence. Not particularly a fan of musicals, I was pleasantly surprised that the filmmaker only used musical numbers when it was necessary and not too over-the-top to be distracting from the storyline. Overall, I found it to be one of the more joyful and exciting experiences I have had at the movies: the musical elements were effusively entertaining and the plot was well-crafted nostalgia. I would recommend it to those looking for a light-hearted time that harks back to the heyday of old Hollywood romance and musicals.