Friday, March 24, 2017

"Beauty and the Beast" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new live-action version of "Beauty and the Beast" as well as DVDs "Elle" and "Priceless."  The Book of the Week is singer Judy Collins' take on conquering food, "Cravings."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die" with Luchino Visconti's "Ossessione."]

Beauty and the Beast

The tale of what us girls have to do to get out of our provincial towns: move in with a beast!

Who doesn't know the story of "Beauty and the Beast?"

A spoiled young prince lives in splendor in a castle.  When an old crone offers him a single rose for shelter for the night, he cruelly rejects her, not realizing that she is an enchantress who will retaliate by turning him into a beast, his servants into household objects and erasing the memory of the castle from the nearby villagers. Which she does. The Enchantress then gives the Beast a rose before warning him that he will remain cursed unless he learns to love another and earn her love in return before the last petal falls.

Then there is Belle (Emma Watson), a beautiful young girl who lives with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline).  Belle is believed to be odd by the townsfolk because she is bookish. Librarians get that every day. But Belle realizes that books can transport her out of her provincial life and expand her world.  Again, librarians have been trying to tell you all that for years and years.  Belle is courted by the handsome Gaston (Luke Evans), who is not only NOT bookish, he is boorish. 

One day, when Maurice heads off to market with his horse Philippe, he is attacked by wolves and seeks help at a nearby castle.  Well, it just so happens this is the same castle where The Beast lives and he imprisons Maurice after Maurice tries to take a single rose from The Beast's garden. The Beast doesn't look kindly on thieves.

When Belle comes looking for her Dad, The Beast says he will free Maurice but she will have to take his place, which Belle does. Belle is that kind of daughter.  A good one.  She takes Maurice's place and over time, the two bond a bit, especially when The Beast shares his library with Belle.  Remember?  She is bookish. But even though she and The Beast have settled into an uneasy relationship, when she gets the opportunity to escape she does but on her way to freedom she is attacked by wolves. The Beast saves her but not before he is injured. Belle could run away, but once again, Belle shows her goodness and returns to the castle to take care of The Beast and their relationship deepens.  Everything comes to an end when Gaston and the villagers storm the castle to save Belle and the true identity of The Beast is revealed.

And wouldn't you know?  Sigh...  The Beast is that hunky Dan Stevens who played Matthew Crowley on "Downton Abbey."

Moral:  Stick with your beast of a guy long enough, and he will start looking better and better to you.

Most of us grew up with this story and saw the 1991 Disney animated classic, so remaking this film was risky.  And you know how I feel about remakes. 

But this film is utterly beautiful and charming and benefits from the live action.

I love musicals and am so glad this year we have had two wonderful musicals: "La La Land" and now "Beauty and the Beast."

Though "La La Land" paid homage to musicals of the past, it also pushed the movie musical to a new level.  However, that doesn't mean we don't still enjoy the old classical musicals like "The Sound of Music," "Oklahoma" and "West Side Story."

And with this new live action rendition of "Beauty and the Beast," we are back to those days of the old style musical with lush orchestration, lavish costumes and gorgeous set decoration.  And in case we didn't notice that it's an old style musical, we are reminded in a scene where Belle sings while doing a 360 degree turn on the top of a beautiful hill a la Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music," and there is also a full-blown Busby Berkeley dance number as the dishes, candelabra and the rest of the household furniture sing "Be My Guest" to Belle. 

But while it takes us back to the musicals of the past, it's also a new take on the old style musical with today's special effects and the actors singing in their own voices.  Like "La La Land," we don't have the operatic voice of the animated Belle but rather Emma Watson's real voice, reminiscent of Emma Stone in "La La Land," who sang all of her own songs, and Emma Thompson sings the iconic "Beauty and the Beast" song, though Angela Lansbury's rendition will always be in my head. 

So this new version of "Beauty and the Beast" feels like the wonderful, lush musicals of old that some of us may miss but updated by modern special effects and advancements.

Emma Watson is not a classic beauty, but she has a warmth and loveliness that comes off the screen and is just right for Belle.  Luke Evans as Gaston is appropriately narcissistic and evil, and Kevin Kline as Maurice is appropriately good and kind as Belle's father. I have already gushed over Dan Stevens.  I love him in anything even when he is covered with hair.  Emma Thompson is fine as Mrs. Potts, though one can't help but remember Angela Lansbury's version of the part and the song, and she is joined by the rest of the all-star cast: Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Stanley Tucci as Cadenza, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe and Josh Gad as LeFeu, Gaston's sidekick, all of whom do not disappoint.

Speaking of Josh Gad, his characterization of LeFeu caused a controversy as it was judged to be a gay character. Russia gave it a stricter rating at its theatres and it was banned in Kuwait, Malaysia and a drive-in in Alabama.  Alabama doesn't surprise me but entire countries?  The funny thing is that if he was supposed to be gay, I didn't notice...and trust me, your kids won't either.  I think it's all much ado about nothing.

I would say that this movie is not for the very little children as there are some scary scenes involving some wolves.  However, these days, who knows?  Maybe three year olds are a lot more sophisticated than they used to be.  But let's just say I have a six-year-old grandson who leaves the room whenever something scary happens or seems to be imminent, and I know he wouldn't like some of the scenes in this movie.

But you don't need to take a little kid to this movie to enjoy it.  It stands alone as a great film for young and old.

The direction by Bill Condon, the script by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Stephen Chbosky (which actually ties up some loose ends from the original story), the set decoration, the special effects, the costumes, all wonderful.

"Tale as old as time,
True as it can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends

Now I can't get that tune out of my head.  

And now you won't be able to either!

Rosy the Reviewer says...The film is enchanting!  You won't want to miss it.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


Elle (2016)

A tough businesswoman is raped in her home by a masked man...and then raped again by the same guy.  As she tries to track the man down, she finds out some unsettling things about herself.

Have you ever watched a movie and really liked it but realized after it was over that you didn't have the slightest idea what just happened?  This movie is a bit like that.

Isabelle Huppert, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for this role, plays Michelle LeBlanc, a successful owner of a video gaming company.  She is so successful in fact that she can afford a sprawling house and grounds in Paris, one of the most expensive cities in the world.  If you have ever seen "House Hunters International," you know that you can't buy an apartment in Paris big enough to swing a cat for less than a million.  This is the kind of thing I think about when I am watching movies.  I miss nothing. Anyway, let's just say she is very, very successful.  And from what I've seen in this film, kind of kinky.

The film begins with a rape.  A man all in black wearing a black ski mask breaks into Michelle's house and violently rapes her.  However, she doesn't report it to the police but rather matter-of-factly cleans up the mess, take a bath, and tells her friends about it over dinner.  We later learn that Michelle doesn't have a very good relationship with the police because of a heinous crime her father committed and for which suspicion also surrounded her.

Then Michelle starts getting texts from the rapist and she becomes suspicious of everyone.  She decides to find out who the rapist is on her own.  But what starts out looking like a "rape/revenge" movie, turns into something very different.

Michelle has a difficult job running a video gaming company where the men seem to resent working for a woman. In fact the men in this film are all rather difficult or ineffectual. But everyone is this film has their issues, including Michelle herself, who doesn't always come off as a very nice person.

Let's just say "C'est complique!"

Michelle is having an affair with her best friend's husband, Robert (Christian Berkel); she doesn't approve of her son's girlfriend (Alice Isaaz) or her son,  Vincent (Jonas Bloquet), for that matter; her mother (Judith Magre) is romancing a young gigelot of which Michelle also doesn't approve; and Michelle has a thing for Patrick (Laurent Lafitte), her neighbor across the street who, along with his wife, seems to be very religious. Michelle is one strong cookie, but her life is difficult. She has a difficult job, a difficult son, a difficult mother, a difficult ex-husband, and a cat. (Not sure if the cat is also difficult).  And Michelle also appears to be subsidizing everyone, including the cat. Is she a feminist or a victim or both?

Director Paul Verhoeven directed some straight forward blockbuster films with "Robocop," "Total Recall" and "Basic Instinct," but here he has taken on a very strange story (screenplay by David Birke based on the novel by Phillippe Djian) that is anything but straight forward, though it does fall into the Hitchcockian psychological thriller category along with "Basic Instinct" and other films like "The Jagged Edge" and "The Secret in Their Eyes," which is probably why I liked the film even though I didn't really get it.  But perhaps that is the point.  We don't always understand our own lives, let alone those of others.

Like I said, I really liked this film. This was a tour de force for Huppert, who is very believable in the role and, despite the fact that the story was strange and difficult to understand, it inexplicably held my interest. It was also dark and sexually edgy which are some Verhoeven trademarks, especially if you remember "that scene" with Sharon Stone in "Basic Instinct." One thing I didn't get at all, though, was the black cat, who always seemed to be a witness to the rapes and other dramatic moments.  He played some kind of symbolic role, I think, but not sure what.  Bad luck?

Rosy the Reviewer says...a gripping story with a wonderful performance by Huppert, and if you figure out what it was really about, let me know.
(In French with English subtitles)

Priceless (2016)

A man whose life has fallen apart takes a sketchy job driving a truck across the country, no questions asked but when he finds out what his cargo is, his life takes a different turn.

James (Joel Smallbone) has had a rough time.  His wife has died and he didn't handle that well.  He drank, lost his job and eventually lost custody of his young daughter who now lives with his mother. So he makes his living driving a truck and hauling mysterious cargo.  He is paid well and doesn't ask any questions.  However, one night when he is having trouble staying awake, he drives the truck into a ditch.  When surveying the damage he hears sounds coming from inside the truck, and after hacking off the lock, discovers two young Mexican girls huddled in the back of the truck.

He takes pity on the girls (James is really a good guy at heart), and lets them ride up front with him, and when they stop for gas, he buys them a couple of dresses and tells them to go clean themselves up.  As they continue their journey, the girls, Antonia (Bianca Santos) and Maria (Amber Midthunder), tell James that he is taking them to a place where they will be working as waitresses to pay off some mysterious debt they owe.  And at that point, I'm thinking, "C'mon, James, two girls locked in the back of a truck and you weren't supposed to know that? the words sex trafficking mean anything to you?"  It isn't until he delivers the girls to a guy all pimped up in classic pimp fashion driving a truck filled with girls that James gets the picture. Unfortunately our young girls suddenly get the picture too.

During the trip, James notices the cross that Antonia is wearing around her neck and a discussion about God ensues.  James tells Antonia that God doesn't hear him - remember, James has had a rough life.  Antonia replies that James is never alone.  She tells him she will pray for him because he has clearly lost his faith.  What do you want to bet that James is going to find both God and redemption?

At this point as I am watching, I am now cocking my head and, like James, getting the picture.  This is a faith-based film.

When I realized this was a Christian film or one of those faith-based films, I wondered how it got in my Netflix queue.  Those kinds of films are not usually my cup of tea, but then I realized it was about sex trafficking, and I do have a fondness for movies about the seedy underbelly of life - those are more my cup of tea - so I must have seen a preview for this and put it in my queue, not realizing I was going to get a sermon with my cup of sex trafficking.

Anyway, now James is on a mission to rescue the girls. He joins forces with Dale (David Koechner), the owner of the motel where he is staying. Dale seems to know an awful lot about the sex trafficking going on in his town, and you can probably figure out why.  At one point, James gets a heart-tugging call from his little girl who misses him, and James tells Dale he has to go home to which Dale replies,

"Being a father is the most important job in the world.  All of these girls have a father who loves them. If you hear a voice that tells you to stay, there is a larger voice at play here."

James tells Dale that he doesn't hear the voice and Dale says,

"Then you're just not listening."

Later, as the film progresses and James makes the decision to save the girls, Dale says to James: 

"Sounds like that little voice just got louder.  Welcome to the other side."


Though I am not a fan of this kind of beating me over the head with religion type of filmmaking, I know that I need to get out of my movie watching comfort zone from time to time, and I find it interesting to see other genres aimed at a specific audience. And actually, other than the very black and white stereotypes that abound in these kinds of films - the bad guys are very bad and the good guys (and women) are very good - this film actually wasn't too preachy and held my interest.  It was also fairly "G' rated considering the subject matter. However, despite the fact that I know these kinds of films are supposed to be inspiring and promote Christian values, why does Dale, the guy who is trying to get James to listen to God, have to be so smug? 

Dale says things like:

"We were put here to learn on this journey. The pages of our story are still being written. Here's the good news. We're not the author. HE has bigger plans."

And when James says to Dale about Antonia,

"With everything she's been through, do you think she still believes?"

Dale replies,

"I know she does.  That's faith." 

And with that, Dale pats James on the back and they walk off to save those two girls -- and James' faith.  It's a done deal.

I think that's why some people are turned off by a film that is obviously a Christian faith-based film. Too easy with the answers. Too pat. Too smug.

And then...James ends up marrying one of the young girls he saves from sex traffickers?  Don't you find that kind of creepy? I know I do.

However, I want my fans to know that I am an equal opportunity reviewer.  I go into all movies with an open mind because, hey, that's what I do.  I watch movies - all of 'em!  I have nothing against faith-based films, but I just wish they weren't so damn righteous about it all.  Excuse my French.

Here's a funny aside that says something about me: When Dale told James to get rid of the truck he had transported the girls in, he told him he had some bikes and he could use a bike to get around.  That's how much I know.  I thought Dale meant BIKE bikes, as in the kind you pedal.  I didn't realize he meant motorcycles.  Before I figured that out, I had this mental image of James and Dale pedaling bicycles to go save the girls. I was wondering how that would work.  Sometimes I am not very smart.

I have to say, though, that I learned some things from this film: First, I learned what a "God shot" was.  It's that last bit of strength you need to carry on when everything looks bleak. Second, if you really want the police to come fast, wave a gun around in a playground full of mothers and children.

Joel Smallbone is one half of the Grammy-winning Christian pop duo For King and Country, who often use their celebrity to crusade against sex trafficking, so this film is a natural progression and, I have to say that for a singer with few acting roles to his credit, he does a credible job here. 

Directed by Ben Smallbone (Joel's brother) with a screenplay by Chris Dowling and Tyler Poelle, the film ends with a plea for everyone to continue to fight against sex trafficking and points the audience to their website - with the reminder that every life is priceless.

Well, who wouldn't agree with that?

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like faith-based films or Lifetime movies, you will probably like this one.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

209 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Ossessione (1943)

A drifter starts an affair with the wife of the owner of an inn and the two plot to get rid of her husband.

Gino (Massimo Girotti) is a handsome drifter who arrives in town on the back of a truck.  He heads to the local trattoria where he encounters Giovanna (Clara Calamai), the wife of the innkeeper who immediately gives him googly eyes and seems hot to trot.  Giovanna's husband, Giuseppe (Juan De Landa), is an older, fat man who Giovanna admits she married to get off the streets and to feel safe, but now all she does is cook and clean and her life has been reduced to that of a scullery maid, so she is resentful and sees Gino as a way to escape.

When Giuseppe leaves to go into town, Gino and Giovanna have sex and Giovanna is clearly enraptured and already asking Gino to never leave her. He hasn't been with a woman for awhile so he is enraptured too and what do you do when you are in love with a married woman and she is in love with you?  She gets a divorce?  Hell, no.  Way too easy. If you have seen enough film noir or episodes of "Dateline," then you know that you plot the murder of the husband, of course.

But even after getting what you want, there is guilt, drinking, jealousy, fighting.  Film noir never ends well and this film is no exception.

Though at times, there is some over-acting at work here, Calamai has an expressive face that reminds me of Marion Cotillard and Girotti looks like a young William Holden .

This was the first feature film directed by Italian auteur Luchino Visconti, who went on to direct such classics as "The Leopard" and "Death in Venice." It stands as a classic example of Italian Neorealism and also film noir as here you will recognize the movie "The Postman Always Rings Twice," originally a novel and one of the great film noirs.

Why it's a Must See: "...Visconti's screenplay was clearly lifted from James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice. Cain and his publishers kept it off American screens until 1976, when it had its much belated premiere at the New York Film Festival.  Cain had jut died and probably never saw it -- a pity, because he would have discovered the best cinematic adaption of his work."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you loved "The Postman Always Rings Twice" or you just appreciate great film noir, you will love this.
(In Italian with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

Cravings: How I Conquered Food by Judy Collins (2017)

Singer Judy Collins shares the story of her unhealthy relationship with food and how she conquered it.  But will it work for the rest of us who wouldn't mind shedding a few pounds or 20?

Not to be confused with Chrissy Teigen's cookbook "Cravings" which I loved and reviewed last year and which is all about surrendering to food, this one is about conquering food by basically denying yourself practically everything.

Judy has written about her life before - "Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music" (2011) and "Sanity and Grace: A Journey of Suicide, Survival and Strength (2003) - but this volume, though it also touches on her life story, focuses on her struggles with alcohol and food.

Judy is a recovering alcoholic and according to her, also a recovering food addict.  Admitting an almost irrational fear of becoming fat, she tried every famous diet under the sun. She alternates chapters between talking about her life and all of the various famous diets most of us have tried: Weight Watchers, Atkins, Gayelord Hauser's Celebrity Diet, The Stillman Diet, Andrew Weil, The Scarsdale Diet while also giving credit to the various "Anonymous" step programs.

This is what she has discovered:

"For me exercise along with a diet free from sugar, grains, flour and junk is the secret and my fountain of youth. I am told that I look at least twenty years younger than my actual age. You can too.. . I also drink a ton of water, probably sixty ounces or more a day..."

"I bought digital scales and use them to eat three weighed and measured meals  a day...I eat only three meals a day, and I do not snack -- not on holidays, not at night, not between meals, not when it is Saturday..."

"I do not take chances when I go out to eat but ask for an extra plate to weigh my food when I need it...I always try to bring my digital scale when I go out to dinner.  I have one scale for my kitchen, one for my purse, one for the car, two for long trips."

"I think my food plan is as close to the organic life of my ancient ancestors as I am likely to have.  A clarity has come over me since I have started eating what is basically the cuisine of the wild hunter-gatherers.  It works for me. And perhaps it will work for you."

Really?  I guess the question for me is whether I want it to work for me or not.

I love you Judy.  I have been to many of your concerts and think you do look wonderful, so whatever is working for you is fantastic.  But if this is a book for the rest of us, I don't think so.  I can't see myself carrying a scale in my purse and weighing my food at a restaurant, though I will say with all of that water you recommend we drink, we would certainly get exercise running to the toilet.

I don't in any way mean to make fun of something that has changed someone's life and that is what this book is about.  And I don't in any way mean to minimize addiction either - to alcohol or food or anything else.  And I know that Judy has had some terrible things happen to her, the suicide of her son being the most horrific, so I am happy she has found her health and her Fountain of Youth, that this plan works for her, and that she has been sober for over 30 years. 

And this book just might be the inspiration you need to solve some of your addiction issues, food or otherwise.

However, I also feel that someone who had the fortitude and discipline necessary to become a concert level pianist, and then one of the most famous singers in the world, giving up wheat, grains and sugar and weighing all of her meals was probably not the hardest thing in her life, though eschewing any kind of snacking at all, period... Wow.  I am impressed.  But for the rest of us who have toiled in our little lives and don't have the discipline she has shown in her life to get where she is today nor the perks of celebrity and fame, some mac and cheese and a piece of chocolate can be life changing.

Rosy the Reviewer inspiring and candid look into the insecurities and struggles of a superstar, and no matter what you think of her diet advice, she DOES look really good at 77 years old.!

Thanks for reading!


Hey, can you believe it?

I am back once again on Tuesday, but this time it's

"Make-up 101 For the Woman of a Certain Age."

Hope to see you Tuesday!

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  1. I saw Beauty yesterday and absolutely loved it. As the mother of a boy who had no interest in "princess movies", I have to admit I have NEVER seen the animated cartoon. And shocker...I was only minimally familiar with the story. As a result I was instantly transformed into an 11-year old girl while watching this film - with wide eyes and a big grin. The whole "Be Our Guest" Busby Berkeley/Esther Williams themed production had my mouth agape in a huge smile! I found the singing to be endearing and real. (Except for Audra McDonald whose operatic voice was perfection!) The only slighly jarring aspect was the transformation of Dan Stevens at the end...was he supposed to look like a 16-year old boy? That was some soft focus! I loved this movie and may never get that ear worm out of my head..."Tale as old as time...."

    1. I felt the same way as you about Dan Stevens. I think they could have made him look a bit more suave. But all in all, just loved the film!

  2. Great review of Priceless! we watched it last night and had the same sinking feeling followed by "how did that get on our Netflix queue?!". I totally agree with you. I thought the faith based aspect was overdone and the story overly simplistic and lacking nuance. But as you also commented, that's what this genre is all about - and Lifetime, and Hallmark. Nevertheless it's an important story and held my interest to the end, in spite of the emotional manipulation and corny dialog. I kept thinking, this could have been done so much better. Eg if the opening shot had been him running off the road and opening the truck, then gradually fill in the backstory. But then you'd have to fix the mustache twirling villain and the preachy buddy - who I noted was really quick to lend this stranger his perfectly restored classic car. Yeah, right!