"MOVIE MAD" by Michael van den Bos

(c) 2014 by Michael van den Bos

IN THEATRES

Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer in BEASTLY

Rating: 2 out of 5 Chaplins

 

 

 

BEASTLY directed by Daniel Barnz

{Opens in Vancouver theatres on Friday 04 March 2011}

The French fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, originally written by eighteenth-century author, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and later adapted by another French novelist from the same era, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, has seen a variety of interpretations in popular media over the decades, notably the 1980s television series starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman, the hit Disney animated film and the Broadway musical it spawned in the 1990s, and its most beautifully realized production, the 1946 live-action film directed by French poet, artist and filmmaker, Jean Cocteau. This oft-filmed tale of a handsome and vainglorious prince who is magically turned into beast and can only be transformed back to his human likeness by the unconditional love of a common woman, is now transformed into a modern movie aimed at the Twilight demographic in Beastly, written and directed by Daniel Barnz and based on the teen novel by Alex Flinn.  Though sincere and warmly photographed, this version of Beauty and the Beast severely lacks charm and teeth.

Seventeen-year-old Kyle Kingson (Alex Pettyfer) is the popular, handsome “prince” of a tony New York high-school.  He is also full of his own wonderfulness, nauseatingly vain, arrogant, shallow and vocally proud of his sex appeal; in other words, Kyle is a rich, spoiled beast of a teenager.  Though he has eyes for Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens), and Lindy finds Kyle physically attractive, she sees right through his good looks to his ugly, appalling inner-self.   Kyle has a cruel streak and his latest victim is Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen), the school’s eccentric Goth girl, who he targets for humiliation.  This backfires on Kyle because Kendra is a witch who casts a spell over him, transforming Kyle’s physical appearance into a beastly visage.  Kendra tells Kyle that the only way for his ghastly looks to be reversed is to find someone who will look beyond his face and love him for being a humble and caring man.  If he cannot accomplish this task within a short time period, Kyle will forever remain the monster he has propagated.  Kyle’s equally pretentious TV news anchor father sequesters Kyle away in a private residence, hidden away from the world until a cure can be found for his deformity.  Kyle cannot get Lindy out of his mind, so he leaves his home at night to seek her out.  One night he witnesses Lindy and her drug-addicted father caught in a hostile situation and he saves them both from harm.  Kyle pressures the father into allowing him to safely secure and look after Lindy in his townhouse.  Out of fear and desperation, her father agrees to Kyle’s demands.  While under his protective watch, Kyle attempts to make Lindy fall in love with him in order to lift his disfiguring curse.

Beauty and the Beast is ripe for a modern retelling and all the basic story points and overall theme from the original story are found in Beastly, but what unfolds on the screen is feeble and clunky.  The script is all plot points; incidents happen to just move the plot along and much of the dialogue is written in obvious declarations.  The themes found in the original fairy tale, and retained or modified in subsequent film, theatre and TV versions, are all watered down: soulful redemption is treated sophomorically and the sexual awakening of the young, innocent girl is treated indifferently.  The romance is limp and passion takes a holiday.  Although the Disney animated version is a family film, it boasted a sweeping adventure and heartfelt romance with appealing and sympathetic characterizations of Belle and the Beast – and it was immensely entertaining!  Jean Cocteau’s brilliant 1946 black-and-white version is stunning in its dreamy sensuality and it has a sexual edge that Beastly cannot arouse. 

Alex Pettyfer as the imperious Kyle, who must find humility and unconditional love deep within himself for his redemption, generates zero sparks.  He has the good looks the role requires, but he possesses no danger and no pathos that are at the contradictory heart of the Beast.  And the beastly make-up for Mr. Pettyfer looks more like designer disfigurement: a combination of rose thorn facial tattoos intertwined with the scars you would get from shaving with a Bowie knife.  Vanessa Hudgens as Lindy is an attractive personality on screen, but the anemic script does not allow her to explore a passionate blossoming of adult sexuality and the discovery of her deep love for someone who is attractively challenged. 

Three supporting roles are worth mentioning.  LisaGay Hamilton as Kyle’s housekeeper brings the only touch of humanity to the film, while Neil Patrick Harris is the refreshing, albeit minor, comic relief as Kyle’s blind in-house tutor.  Mary Kate-Olsen (of the famous Olsen twin sisters) as Kendra the witch is surprisingly effective, bringing the only hint of danger to the film while exuding an appropriate air of Goth smoulder and creepiness.  As mildly diverting as these actors are, they never feel organic to the narrative – just tacked into script to help move the plot. 

I only hope that the Twi-Hards who go to Beastly for their  fix of teenage supernatural romance before the final Twilight installment is released, will pick up on Beastly's paucity of imagination and seek out the erotically charged and haunting version by Jean Cocteau, starring the luminescent and alluring Josette Day as Belle and, under his gorgeous animal mask, the magnetic and manly Jean Marais as the movie's definitive Beast.


Trailer for Beastly (2011), directed by Daniel Barnz

 

Trailer for Beauty and the Beast (1946), directed by Jean Cocteau

"MOVIE MAD" MAN ABOUT TOWN

WALT DISNEY'S PINOCCHIO SPECIAL SCREENING at Vancouver's Pacific Cinematheque, hosted by Michael van den Bos with a live performance of classic Disney songs performed by vocalist Laura Crema

 If you live in the Greater Vancouver area, I hope you can attend a very special screening of Walt Disney's 1940 animated feature film masterpiece, PINOCCHIO, at the Pacific Cinematheque on Sunday 20 February 2011, 1:00 PM.  I will be introducing PINOCCHIO with the fascinating backstory on the making of this ground-breaking animated feature.  This screening is part of the Pacific Cinematheque's Cinema Sunday series, which features classic and contemporary films the whole family can enjoy.  The 2011 Cinema Sunday series will be all animation titles and I am helping this venerable Vancouver film society in the programming of this series.

As a special treat for the audience attending the PINOCCHIO screening, I have arranged for a trio of talented Vancouver jazz musicians to perform a mini-set (or should I say a "Minnie Mouse-set") of classic Disney songs just before we run the movie.  I will give a brief introduction to each Disney song, which are all performed by vocalist LAURA CREMA, keyboardist BOB YORK and bass player MARK WARDROP.

 

 

Here is a Pacific Cinematheque video of me talking about PINOCCHIO:

Here is the the original 1940 theatrical trailer for PINOCCHIO:

EVENT DETAILS

SCREENING:  Walt Disney's PINOCCHIO (1940), preceded by a live musical performance of classic Disney songs by Vancouver jazz vocalist LAURA CREMA.

DATE: SUNDAY 20 February 2011

WHERE:  Pacific Cinematheque / 1131 Howe Street / downtown Vancouver, B.C.

TIME:  1:00 P.M. - 3:00 P.M.

TICKET PRICES:  $8.00 - adults / $5.00 - children & youths under 18

WEBSITES:

Pacific Cinematheque -  http://www.cinematheque.bc.ca

PINOCCHIO screening  - http://www.cinematheque.bc.ca/cinema-sunday/pinocchio 

Laura Crema - http://www.lauracrema.com

IN THEATRES

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 Chaplins

 


 

THE EAGLE – directed by Kevin Macdonald

{Opens in Vancouver theatres on 11 February 2011}

The “sword 'n' sandal” movie genre hasn’t seen a decent entry since Ridley Scott’s hugely popular and Academy Award-winning epic, Gladiator, from 2000.  Suffice it to say, this genre – one of the oldest in movie history – tends to produce cheese more than it does a sumptuous Roman feast.  There are, of course, exceptions like Cabiria (1914), The Last Days of Pompeii (1913 & 1935), Samson and Delilah (1949), Ben-Hur (1925 & 1959), The Ten Commandants (1923 & 1956), and Spartacus (1960).  The grandness and audaciousness of those spectacles can make any variety of cheese they may serve up quite palatable.  Now, into this coliseum of ancient Romans, gladiators, centurions and slaves, enters The Eagle, directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) and written by Jeremy Brook, who adapted the screenplay from the 1954 novel, The Eagle of the Ninth, written by Rosemary Sutcliff.  The Eagle isn't exactly cheesy (except for its final minute), but more like a solid curd.

In 2nd-Century A.D. Britain, young Roman centurion officer Marcus Flavius (Channing Tatum) has led a bloody battle in which he and his soldiers are the victors, but leaving Marcus critically wounded.  Though given accolades and honours by his Roman superior officers for his bravery and command, Marcus is discharged from further duties because of his wounds.  During his convalescence with his Uncle Aquila (Donald Sutherland), Marcus ruminates about his father who years earlier lead the Ninth Roman Legion into Northern Britain, but mysteriously vanished, never to be heard from again.  Marcus becomes obsessed with learning what had happened to his father and to locate the symbol of Roman honour, a golden eagle emblem, which was lost in his father’s last battle.  With a British slave named Esca (Jamie Bell), whom Marcus spontaneously saved from a grisly death in a gladiator ring, Marcus journeys north, past the great Hadrian Wall, to learn the truth of  the Ninth Legion’s disappearance and to find the golden eagle in order to restore the lost honour of Rome and the integrity of his family.

The Eagle has all the ingredients for an exciting yarn about loyalty, betrayal, adventure and glory.  The film doesn’t skimp on scenic attractions and violent actions.  Beautifully shot in Scotland and Hungary by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire), The Eagle is appropriately grungy and moody, featuring first-rate location photography and an evocative music score in the style of ancient Scottish melodies and songs by composer Atli Örvarsson.  However, the film held my attention only by its craftsmanship and through its workmanlike plot, never coming vividly alive and dangerously flirting with tedium.  Surprisingly, the scenes of violence are very subdued, never graphic, and only suggestive.  Though I’m not a fan of graphic violence, The Eagle could have used a few brief doses of justifiable carnage to kick the movie out of the doldrums.

Marcus Flavius’s desire to learn of his father’s fate and find the golden eagle ring hollow because the character feels sketched out.  We see Marcus’s memory flashbacks to his life with his father when he was a boy, but these scenes are fleeting and empty.  The movie is missing genuinely poignant scenes to establish and engage the audience’s sympathies for Marcus’s past relationship with his father and thus with his loyalty to Rome.  It doesn’t help that actor Channing Tatum, though resolute and stalwart, is a dud.  Tatum lacks the robust charisma and vulnerability that Russell Crowe brought to his role of Maximus in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, which featured a brawny cinematic style and emotional heft that makes The Eagle feel like a basic cable TV movie.

Veteran actor Donald Sutherland is always a pleasure to watch, but he only appears in a few scenes during the first-third of the film and you sense he had no other project on the go, so why not throw on a bed sheet, deliver some banal lines of dialogue and earn a quick pay cheque while visiting Europe.  Jamie Bell, as the British slave Esca, elicits our sympathies and he exhibits more life than Tatum, but the two actors share no chemistry, so the suspense of whether they can trust one another wears thin.  The only vitality emerging from the film comes late in the drama with the appearance of Tahar Rahim as the slate skinned Seal Prince who becomes the main adversary to Marcus.  Rahim gives the film much needed spark, but as The Eagle reaches its predictable conclusion, even he can’t sustain your interest in the story’s outcome.  And the finale is just plain silly as Marcus and Esca share an exchange of the most incongruous and corniest dialogue in recent memory.  I expected the two characters to breakout laughing and then the film to freeze frame on that image.  The audience can supply the unintentional laughter at this ridiculous last moment in an otherwise earnest, but dull sword 'n' worn-out sandal epic adventure.

Trailer for The Eagle

IN THEATRES

Tommy Lee Jones and Ben Affleck are The Company Men

Rating: 3 out of 5 Chaplins

 

 

 

 THE COMPANY MEN - written and directed by John Wells

{Opens in Vancouver theatres on Friday 28 January 2011} 

The collateral damage of the recent economic implosion is measured in the lives of everyday people and their families who were irreparably damaged due to financial loss or ruin; in turn, these events rocked individual sense of security, dignity and self-esteem.  There are thousands of stories, all the personal dramas, of how the economic shock-wave impacted the population, but one thing they all have in common is that the financial ballast of the people affected – whether they were just staying afloat or comfortably cruising through life – was, in one way or another, torpedoed.  This recent economic catastrophe is the basis for writer and director John Wells quietly moving film, The Company Men, which examines how three executives of a ship building company deal with the fallout of being fired due to corporate downsizing. 

Ben Affleck plays Bobby Walker, the sales executive for GTX, a Massachusetts ship building firm.  He earns a low six-figure salary, living the American dream life in a beautiful home with his beautiful family, driving a spiffy Porsche, and hitting the links at his exclusive golf club.  Tommy Lee Jones plays Gene McClary, one of the top corporate executives of GTX, who helped to build the company with his friend and partner, CEO James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson).  Chris Cooper plays Phil Woodard, a man who started his GTX career working in the company’s ship yards, which eventually led him to a mid-level executive position.  The disastrous downturn in the U.S. economy forces CEO James Salinger to downsize the company by “letting go” of hundreds of employees, which includes Bobby Walker.  The unenviable job of deciding who is to be fired is reluctantly determined by GTX’s Human Resources manager, Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello), who is having an affair with the married Gene McClary.  The layoffs are so troubling to Gene that he confronts James about this radical decision; reasoning and pleading his case in order for James to find alternative directions for financial cutbacks, which only falls on deaf ears.  Eventually more layoffs are required, resulting in unstable Phil to be fired and co-company founder Gene getting the pink slip, mostly to silence his caring voice of dissent.

What follows is a thoughtful character study of how each man copes with the loss of their jobs, their incomes and their personal equilibrium.  Bobby and Phil struggle with finding work worthy of their experience and societal class and suffering through the Kübler-Ross theory of grief, which is a process of five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression; but only one of the two men will make the transition to the final stage    acceptance.

As a film, The Company Men is well-crafted but not extraordinary, in fact the material is somewhat familiar and predictable to a certain degree, with a conclusion that you may sense coming, but one that is not neatly wrapped up, suggesting a cautious sense of hope.  What elevates The Company Men from being an average film is its company of actors who give subtly powerful and emotive performances, each one hitting truthful and graceful notes that made me care very much for their characters and their outcomes.  Ben Affleck, as the family man who deludes himself that he can easily find another high-paying job, is surprisingly affecting, playing fear close to his chest.  I have never had much affinity for Ben Affleck in the past, but in The Company Men he is extremely well modulated and sympathetic – this is one of his very best roles.  As the empathetic executive disturbed by the mass company layoffs, Tommy Lee Jones (who has always been a versatile and likable actor with that wonderful hangdog face and sober voice) gives the film its soul as he futilely attempts to deflect anymore firings while questioning his part in the dark side of capitalism.

Kevin Costner has a terrific, funny and touching supporting role as Jack, Bobby’s brother-in-law, a general contractor who sarcastically teases Bobby about his role in corporate America outsourcing jobs to foreign countries.  When Bobby’s severance income runs out and he still can’t find a job, it’s Jack who comes to the rescue with a job offer of manual work for Bobby that disturbs the former executive to his class core. Other strong supporting roles are played by Maria Bellow as the HR manager and Rosemarie DeWitt as Maggie, Bobby’s wife.  These two actresses offer smart and compassionate counterpoint to the issues facing the men in their lives. 

The absolute stand-out performance in the film comes from Chris Cooper, whose character is the least secure of the company men and the most realistic about his prospects for finding a new job with good pay at his age.  In scene after scene with Cooper, you see and feel the gradual collapse of his character’s well-being.  Although it is obvious his outcome has the potential of being bad, his meltdown is as riveting as it is heartbreaking.  This is Chris Cooper at his most vulnerable in a brilliant, humanistic performance that makes The Company Men far more engaging than its script would suggest.

 Trailer for John Wells's The Company Men

MUST SEE DVD

THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA (1964), Directed by Don Chaffey / Produced by Walt Disney

 Producer Walt Disney revolutionized the animated feature film, but he also specialized in live-action family movies from a variety of genres: fantasies, westerns, musicals, adventure tales, historical dramas and slapstick comedies.  A popular story staple for Disney centred on children and their relationship with animals, notably with dog-centric movies like Old Yeller (1957), The Shaggy Dog (1959) and Savage Sam (1963).  Not to ignore the cat contingent, Disney also featured felines in Jungle Cat (1960), The Incredible Journey (1963) and That Darn Cat (1965). The best of Disney’s feline fables, though, is a lovely, quiet, almost-forgotten little gem from 1964, The Three Lives of Thomasina, based on the Paul Gallico book; a story about a girl, her cat and the healing powers that come from the unconditional love shared by human and pet.  The director of The Three Lives of Thomasina was  Don Chaffey, who directed three other Disney films during his career: Greyfriar's Bobby (1961), Ride A Wild Pony (1975) and the live-action/animation musical fantasy, Pete's Dragon (1977).

This intimate movie is set in 1912 Scotland, where a tabby cat named Thomasina narrates her story — through voice-over — about how she was “murdered” by Andrew MacDhui, a widower and small-town veterinarian whose coldly scientific approach is met with suspicion from the naïve community.  Andrew’s young daughter Mary is utterly devoted to Thomasina, but when the cat is hurt in an accident Mary’s father mistakenly diagnoses tetanus and orders Thomasina killed, to the shock and anger of Mary.  Mary and her friends bury her cat, while in an astonishing and  surreal sequence Thomasina briefly goes to Cat Heaven but is miraculously brought back to life by a person the children fear: Lori MacGregor, a young woman who lives alone in the forest with her animals and whom the town believes to be a witch.  Not knowing Thomasina is alive, Mary “kills” her father in her heart, and eventually becomes gravely ill, leaving Andrew’s only hope for saving Mary to connect with the beautiful and mysterious Lori who has adopted the now amnesiac cat.

Don Chaffey’s direction is lean and understated, with much of the movie shot from the low-angle perspective of Thomasina’s vantage point. Chaffey occasionally employs dynamic ground-level tracking shots when Thomasina is on the prowl or fleeing danger that compellingly place the viewer in a cat’s world.

Patrick McGoohan as the father is a typical Disney parent who has lost his heart and must rediscover his humanity.  But McGoohan tempers his cold character with a fine pathos that indicates he knows he’s emotionally repressed but doesn’t know how to break through that wall, while British actress Karen Dotrice, who was eight years old when she made Thomasina, gives an unaffected, raw performance as Mary.  A few months later Dotrice would reappear with her equally young Thomasina co-star, Matthew Garber, in Walt Disney’s mega-hit musical Mary Poppins.  Susan Hampshire displays intelligence and strength with a persuasive and ethereal quality as the sexy “witch” Lori — she’s actually more of an “Earth Mother” type who is not to be messed with.  Elspeth March is the voice of Thomasina and her performance is as cool and confident as a cat, devoid of incongruous slang or hip dialogue, which is likely how the dialogue would be written if this movie were made in today's Hollywood. 

With its bright flashes of feline fantasy and strong performances by a beguiling and attractive cast, The Three Lives of Thomasina is a charmer with an ephemeral quality that deserves a place with the finest of family films.

 

Vintage TV promo for the broadcast of The Three Lives of Thomasina on The Wonderful World of Disney (NBC)

WHERE TO RENT THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA ON DVD IN VANCOUVER:

If you live in the Greater Vancouver area, you can rent the DVD of THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA from the greatest video store in Canada, Videomatica - located at 1855 West 4th Avenue (phone: 604-734- 0411) in fabulous Kitsilano.  Website: www.videomatica.ca