Home

Review of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017) (Blu-ray combo)

Leave a comment

Grade: A/A-
Entire family: Yes
2017, 129 min., Color
Family musical fantasy
Disney
Rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

We seem to have entered a new era of live-action Disney remakes of animated classics.

After a 2014 revisionist Sleeping Beauty story of Maleficent that divided critics, a trio of remakes—Cinderella (2015), The Jungle Book (2016), and Pete’s Dragon (2016)—fared nearly as well with reviewers as they did at the box office. More live-action remakes are in the works: The Sword and the Stone, Dumbo, Pinocchio, Alice and Maleficent sequels, Cruella (an attempt to improve on the 1996 101 Dalmatians flop), Winnie the Pooh, Mulan, Tink (a Peter Pan spinoff), Prince Charming (a Cinderella spinoff), Genies (an Aladdin prequel), and Night on Bald Mountain (a Fantasia adaptation). It other words, it’s getting real.

Predictably, not everyone is a fan. More audience members (83 percent) liked 2017’s Beauty and the Beast than critics (71 percent), but if you read between the lines you’ll see that the naysayers are mostly purists who think that nothing can compare to the 1991 film many consider to be the high point of Disney animation—one that, like The Lion King, inspired a Broadway version. Additional objections came from closet homophobes who took exception with the slightly flamboyant performance that Josh Gad (Olaf, in Frozen) gave of La Fou, sidekick to the film’s egotistical, intimidating villain. But hey, he’s a musical theater guy, this is musical theater, and children will see in his performance the same kind of second-fiddle comedy as his cartoon counterpart provided.

Our family watched Beauty and the Beast separately—my son, on his college campus; my wife and daughter, at a local theater; and me, when it finally came out on Blu-ray this week—but we all had the same reaction: We loved it.

Disney excels in creating movie worlds, and to create this one they decided against straight live-action and incorporated 1700 visual effects using both old and new technology. Watch a bonus feature and you’ll see Dan Stevens, who plays the beast, decked out in a full-body motion-capture suit, and you’ll see Emma Watson as Belle sitting at a table full of objects—the only actor in the room, because all of the other characters were CGI. But you’ll also see green screen work and matte backgrounds, and the combination of old and new techniques fashion a world that’s live-action but still altered reality—timeless, fantastic.

More

Advertisements

Review of LA LA LAND (Blu-ray combo)

Leave a comment

Grade: A-
Entire family: No
2016, 128 min., Color
Musical
Rated PG-13 for some language
Summit
Aspect ratio: 2.55:1
Featured audio: English Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

I’m glad that Summit decided to wait a few months before making La La Land available on home video. It’s good to take a step back and approach a film like this fresh, especially after all the hype-turned-hate that swirled around it. I frankly can’t think of another film that had so many Oscar nominations (14) and was so praised initially as the surefire Best Picture winner, then derided in a backlash as the biggest overrated film of the year:

—It’s a slick film . . . maybe too slick.
—Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are amazing . . . or maybe just Stone.
—It was pure Hollywood! (they gushed) . . . It was pure Hollywood (they dismissed).
—First Whiplash and now this? Damien Chazelle is a genius . . . or not.

In retrospect, La La Land lands closer to the bulls-eye of praise, though it’s not a perfect film, as Peter Travers of Rolling Stone insists. That’s clear already from an opening freeway number that’s visually a big musical showstopper but has a sound that’s not so big. Kind of like the singing we get from the two stars, which is soft and slightly raspy and muted—a throaty rather than full-bodied sound that comes from the diaphragm. There are times when the musical accompaniment even threatens to overpower Gosling’s voice. But it’s easy to ignore that when Gosling and Stone are so cute and so charming together. Plus, they handle the flirtatious choreography and dance numbers like a couple of pros, and seem to actually enjoy it.

More

Review of SING (Blu-ray combo)

Leave a comment

Grade: B+
Entire family: Yes
2016, 108 min., Color
Animated musical-comedy
Rated PG for some rude humor and mild peril
Universal
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: ATMOS Dolby True HD
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

When I saw the trailer for Sing I thought, Could there possibly be a less imaginative premise than to build a film around a concert? Whether it’s original oldies like the Broadway Melody films and White Christmas or more recent variations, the concept has been done so many times you pretty much have to watch for the performances. Any plot will be just enough to string those tunes together.

That’s what viewers get in Sing, a film from Illumination Entertainment (The Secret Life of Pets). But here’s the crazy thing: somehow the film holds your attention and works as family viewing. The difference, I think, is in the animation. The art form allows filmmakers to be more playful in the build-up and in the details as they bridge those musical numbers. Though Sing is still no Pitch Perfect, it also helps to have a cartoon koala as the lead “actor.” Cute, right?

More

BOB HOPE: HOPE FOR THE HOLIDAYS (DVD)

Leave a comment

bobhopexmascoverGrade: B+/A-
Entire family: Yes
1993 & 1950, 110 min., Color & B&W
Time Life
Not rated (would be G)
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Bonus features: B-/C+
Clip: “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Forever”
Amazon link

There’s an episode of Friends where an out-of-work Chandler takes an internship and, surrounded by twentysomethings, confesses that he feels old . . . though, he quips, he’s not exactly Bob Hope. “Who?” they say. “You know. Bob Hope. USO . . . ” to which one of them responds, “Uh, USA.” A year before Friends launched, an already old Bob Hope hosted a Christmas special that would turn out to be one of his very best. But if young people had no idea who Bob Hope was back in the nineties, they certainly won’t now.

They should, though. Hope, who lived to be 100, was one of America’s iconic entertainers—an ironic fact, considering he was born in England. Although he appeared in 70+ films, he’s most known for teaming up with crooner Bing Crosby and singer-dancer Dorothy Lamour in a series of “Road” pictures that cracked up audiences during the forties. And he’s known for entertaining America’s men and women in the Armed Forces, making 57 tours abroad for the USO (United Service Organizations) over a course of 50 years. He also did four decades of television specials, always beginning and ending with the theme song “Thanks for the Memory.”

More

HONEY 3: DARE TO DANCE (Blu-ray combo)

Leave a comment

Honey3coverGrade: C
Entire family: No
2016, 97 min., Color
Universal
Rated PG-13 for some sensuality
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

It’s almost a given that dance movies exist to feature dance moves, with usually just enough plotting to get you from performance to performance. And if those performances are exceptional, the target audience—dance lovers, would-be dancers, and teens still looking to find their passion or their identity—will be happy to overlook the bad acting and scenic construction that strings those dance numbers together.

The problem with Honey 3: Dare to Dance is that the dancing isn’t exceptional. It’s uneven, with decent hip-hop routines mixed in with some very mundane ones that inexplicably have the other dancers on the set “oooing and “ahhhing,” even though the moves and level of excitement aren’t as good as what viewers saw on Glee. For me, the saving grace was that the film was both shot and set in Cape Town, South Africa, and the backgrounds and locations were fascinating. There’s some gorgeous time-lapse photography as well, which looks terrific in HD. Then again, this is a dance movie, not a documentary.

Our 14-year-old daughter is part of the target audience. She’s a serious dancer who also watches every PG and PG-13 dance movie that comes out. But she was bored mid-way through Honey 3—a film she said she’d grade a C. After it was over she needed to watch a good dance movie to set her world right again.

Honey3screen1I would give it a similar grade, though I’m not a dancer. Neither, unfortunately, is the female lead. Cassie Ventura is a hip-hop singer who has the look of a leading lady but not the dance chops to be the focus of a film like this. Both supporting actresses are better dancers and have more stage presence. Dena Kaplan (whom viewers may recognize as Abigail from the popular Australian television series Dance Academy) is a joy to watch, and she was actually born in South Africa. Why not cast her as the lead? Or Sibongile Mlambo, who was a contestant on America’s Got Talent and appeared as a dancer in the 2013 family dramedy Felix? It seems like a waste to relegate Kaplan to the role of “best friend,” while Mlambo, who has more raw stage presence, is cast as Ishani, the street-tough hard case Melea has to win over. Another problem is that Ventura doesn’t have any chemistry with the lead male dancer (Kenny Wormald, Footloose). We don’t buy them as Romeo and Juliet, and we don’t buy them as a couple off-stage.

The first Honey (2003) starred Jessica Alba and was set in New York but shot in Toronto. The plot? Find a place to put on a show to raise money to build a community center. In the tradition of unimaginative dance movies, that’s what happens here too—although there’s also some nonsense about Melea being kicked out of college for not paying tuition and we think the show is going to be all Honey3screen2about her getting back into school again. Instead, that “plot” line just withers away, forgotten by all, while her focus shifts to honoring her dead mother by seeing her thesis project through and producing a modern version of Mom’s favorite play, Romeo and Juliet. And that focus expands to trying to establish a dance center in honor of Ishani’s slain brother.

When they finally get around to producing this hip-hop R&J, we’re not supposed to think too hard about how Melea was able to “borrow” costumes from the college she was kicked out of, or why there isn’t more violence when South Africa is rampant with violent crime. Or how, for that matter, Melea is able to rent an old theater with no money. But of course this is a dance movie, which means none of those questions are supposed to be asked. Viewers are expected to get caught up in the music (which sounds great on a DTS-HDMA 5.1 soundtrack, by the way), watch the moves on this direct-to-video movie . . . and “ooo” and “ahhh” like the extras on set.

Language: Surprising, very clean
Sex: Nothing here to offend either
Violence: Some pushing and posturing and that’s it
Adult situations: We’re told that Ishanti’s brother was killed over a necklace
Takeaway: In a way it’s too bad bad director Bille Woodruff spent his budget on a trip to South Africa; he could have used more money to pay for a little better choreography and dancers

THE COMMITMENTS (25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray)

Leave a comment

CommitmentscoverGrade: B+
Entire family: No
1991, 118 min., Color
RLJ Entertainment
Rated R for language throughout
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B+
Trailer
Amazon link

Like Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins), who auditions people in his home for a band he fantasizes will be the next big musical act to come out of Dublin, director Alan Parker listened to a non-stop parade of raw home-grown talent: 64 bands, 1500 individuals at an open casting call, and another 1500 audition tapes. Not coincidentally, they both came up with the same people to form The Commitments—one of the great movies about rock ‘n’ roll . . . or, more precisely, soul, of the Wilson Pickett, Mary Wells, James Brown, Otis Redding variety.

Parker was famous for directing Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982), and The Commitments is his light side of the moon tribute to rock ‘n’ roll—a love letter to American soul music and the gritty side of urban Ireland.

Commitmentsscreen1Like Almost Famous and This Is Spinal Tap, The Commitments is one of the classic behind-the-scenes movies about the life of a band. It’s funny, it’s raw, it’s energetic, it’s authentic, and it’s filled with wall-to-wall music and images of Dublin that tourists never see. But don’t expect much in the way of plot. We see a little where-they-are-now before Jimmy does his auditioning, and after that the band rehearses, performs, rehearses, performs, and gradually gets on each others nerves so you can see why, by movie’s end, they will eventually break up—though they sound so good you want them to stay together.

In a six-page booklet that comes with the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray, Parker writes, “It was pointed out to me that there were as many as 1200 bands playing in Dublin, which is extraordinary in a city of just over a million people. . . . I think the film captures a little of the spirit and spunk of the working-class kids in Dublin’s Northside.” It looks great on Blu-ray and Parker’s commentary track and additional bonus features are well worth watching.

Though rated R, The Commitments has just pair of minor incidents of violence and one bedroom instance of implied coupling innocent enough to be included on the trailer. There’s really nothing that would make it inappropriate for young teens except the language, which is non-stop. And hey, all the characters are Irish, so it’s tough to understand half of those swear words anyway—so much so that RLJ Entertainment felt the need to provide a glossary on the inside cover.

Commitmentsscreen2The Commitments practice and perform a lot during the film, and at least three songs are complete. They’re so entertaining that you’re glad of that, and glad that Parker made the decision to go with near-constant music. By the end, you’ve absorbed so much that you really feel as if you’ve experienced the band and not just witnessed it. Along with a later cover by Buddy Guy, their rendition of “Mustang Sally” could be one of the best I’ve heard. And the shots of Dublin’s “mean streets” and alleyways are mesmerizing, almost lyrical, given the musical backdrop.

For many viewers, Colm Meaney will be the only recognizable cast member. Meaney plays Mr. Rabbitte, whose reverent obsession with Elvis is illustrated by the fact that a painting of Presley hangs just above a portrait of the Pope. But you’ll also see two people whose names were not familiar then but are well-known now: Glen Hansard (“Once”) as one of the band members, and Andrea Corr (The Corrs) in a non-singing role as Jimmy’s sister. And that’s okay. Not knowing any of the actors adds to the realism to where it almost feels like a guerilla-shot documentary—especially with Jimmy doing imaginary press interviews about the band throughout the film.

Both of our teens liked it a lot, and The Commitments remains a gem of a movie even a quarter century after it was filmed. Crank up the volume and enjoy!

Language: F-bombs dropped by characters of all ages, plus lesser swearwords and Irish variations; it’s pretty much nonstop
Sex: It’s implied that one “player” has been intimate with three women, but nothing is shown
Violence: One band member is beaten up and bloodied, and another bar fight emerges
Adult situations: Lots of smoking and drinking, plus a bar brawl
Takeaway: The Commitments still feels fresh because it has always felt honest and a word that’s often used today:  immersive

THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN (Blu-ray)

Leave a comment

UnsinkableMollyBrowncoverGrade: C+/B-
Entire family: Yes, but . . . .
1964, 135 min., Color
Warner Archive Collection
Not rated (would be PG for some adult situations)
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B-/C+
Trailer
Amazon link

You know the movie that you remember liking enough as a child to want to share it with your family, but then you fire up the popcorn popper and after 15 minutes none of them wants to watch it with you?

The Unsinkable Molly Brown is that kind of movie. As you view it again, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, you can feel their pain. Maybe years ago you overlooked the flaws because of a few catchy songs and a warm-hearted story that offered a happy tear-jerking payoff. But watching it again through their eyes, you can certainly understand why the family left the TV room one-by-one.

Despite her energy and a Best Actress Oscar nomination, Debbie Reynolds is frankly annoying as Molly Brown, the real historical character that inspired a 1960 Broadway musical and this 1964 film adaptation. She has a beautiful voice, but in The Unsinkable Molly Brown she doesn’t sing as much as she shouts or growls like an angry animal, and her portrayal of a poor uneducated Colorado tomboy will remind some families of Shelly Winters’ performance as the hillbilly mother in Disney’s animated live-action Pete’s Dragon. She’s brassy and she’s grating, so blustery that Winnie the Pooh would never even peek his head out of his hollow-log home if she were out there storming about.

In this film, Molly is the vinegar to Jonny Brown’s oil, but while singer Harv Presnell is so gosh-darned nice as the miner who would do anything for his Molly that it’s impossible for audiences not to like him, his singing is another story. Presnell, the lone holdover from the Broadway cast, is terrific, but the actor’s stand-and-belt operatic style can seem overwrought to contemporary viewers—something that’s not helped at all by two underwhelming songs he’s given, one of which (“Colorado, My Home”) is remarkably weak considering it came from Meredith Wilson (The Music Man).

The real Margaret Brown was raised dirt-poor in Leadville in a two-room log cabin. In actuality she met and married J.J. Brown, an equally poor man who became rich after his engineering led to a rich strike for his employer and he was given 12,500 shares of stock and also made a director on the mining company board. In reality, they bought a mansion in Denver and Margaret became socially active in the Denver Woman’s Club. The “unsinkable” tag came after she was already separated from J.J. and Mrs. Brown was returning from France aboard a new luxury ship—the Titanic. She gained notoriety after passengers told the press how she helped others into lifeboats and tried to convince the crew in her own to return to the site to look for more survivors.

UnsinkableMollyBrownscreenThat’s a great story in itself, isn’t it? But for the Broadway version Richard Morris made a few key changes. In the play and in this film, JJ is a poor miner who strikes it rich not once but twice, and Molly is the unrefined new-money ladder-climber desperate to be accepted into Denver society. Responsible for her rejection is neighbor Gladys McGraw (Audrey Christie), who is so concerned about social acceptance that she keeps her unrefined mother, Buttercup (Hermoine Baddeley), away from her circle of friends and the charity galas she throws.

The first 30 minutes of The Unsinkable Molly Brown can be rough, because it’s all Molly and her adoptive Pa (Ed Begley) drinking and singing and her “wrassling” with brothers and getting a job in a saloon. It’s like watching the hillbilly channel. The next 20 minutes are all about her spurning JJ’s advances until he finally wears her down. It’s when the two move to Denver and Molly becomes slightly less grating that interest picks up, and things get even more interesting when JJ and Molly go to Europe and meet all manner of royalty.

Molly yearns to be something she’s not, and she places such a premium on social acceptance that she would jeopardize her marriage to the one man who really loves her. And she’s not above using people. So really, her character isn’t exactly lovable. But while you do feel for her, it’s JJ who earns your sympathy. The film reaches its moral plateau at a ball where JJ welcomes their old unrefined friends from Leadville with a song (“He’s My Friend”) that Molly eventually embraces. It’s one of three songs that you’ll have in your head for days afterwards.

Is there anything here that families can’t see? Not really. It’s all pretty wholesome, and those who like musicals will still appreciate The Unsinkable Molly Brown. But Reynolds’ performance might be a bit too much for the younger generation to take.

Language: Euphemistic cussing, mostly
Sex: Women dressed like prostitutes do a “dance off” with Molly, JJ watches Molly dress, and there’s talk of Molly’s wedding night
Adult situations: Drinking and brawling, including the catchy song “Belly Up, Belly Up to the Bar Boys”
Takeaway: Critics called The Unsinkable Molly Brown big and bold and brassy when it was first released, and it’s still all that . . . though now those adjectives have a more negative connotation

Older Entries Newer Entries