CINEMATIC GRAB-BAG: Beauty And The Beast (2017) & Get Out

Beauty And The Beast

Beauty And The Beast (2017)

3 Stars (3 / 5)
Obligatory “tale as old as time” reference.

Disney’s original Beauty And The Beast holds a special place in my heart: it was, according to my parents, the first film I ever saw in the cinema; aged just eighteen months. I like to imagine I was exquisitely well-behaved.

In any case, it was, you could say, a pretty formative moment in my upbringing. It’s a shame that, twenty-five years on, I can’t imagine Bill Condon’s big-budget, live-action “reimagining” having quite the same impact.

The new film’s flaws are encapsulated in its opening number, as the bookish Belle (Emma Watson) wanders through a bustling marketplace in 19th Century France, dreaming of “more than this provincial life.” While the townsfolk, selling wares or gossiping, all hit their marks with a certain panache (or is that brioche?), it can’t recapture the precociousness of the 1991 version.

Watson is pitch-perfect vocally — you can see why she was almost cast in almost Best Picture winner La La Land — but what seemed aspirational in animated form carries with it an air of condescension when applied to flesh and blood; even if the aforementioned townspeople are, admittedly, rather over-quick to grab their pitchforks.

Dan Stevens’ computer-rendered, strangely Krampus-like Beast is, meanwhile, too spritely. His bassy gravitas and public-schoolboy petulance are undermined by an apparent lack of physical presence; though Stevens was, by all accounts, not only on-set but on-stilts in order to embody the eponymous non-Beauty.

The supporting cast give it their all — gauche candelabra Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), fusty carriage clock Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Emma-Thompson’s-as-Angela-Lansbury Cockney housekeeper Mrs. Potts — but, again, there’s a certain disconnect when your heroine is drinking out of a practical teacup imbued with the consciousness of a child.

In cartoon form, there’s no real need for suspension of disbelief; here, even at 130 minutes, there’s a sense things are being rushed. Stephen Chbosky & Evan Spiliotopoulos’ script feels the need to develop, to explain, to justify: the absence of Belle’s mother, the prince’s initial cruelty. Even the all-singing, all-dancing cabaret act of “Be Our Guest”, all sparkling crystal and powdery explosions, feels like hollow spectacle.

As such, it’s up to Luke Evans and Josh Gad to save the day as beloved braggart Gaston and the simpering Le Fou respectively. Their rousing, hilarious “Gaston” is called upon merely to be broadly fun — “I’m especially good at expectorating!” *ding* – and succeeds marvellously in that regard.

Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book had its now Oscar-winning effects to fall back on; David Lowery gave his Pete’s Dragon remake an almost mythic feel; but Condon’s film has nothing to fall back on. For a fairytale — and a love story — this Beauty And The Beast struggles with a lack of enchantment.

 

Get Out

4 Stars (4 / 5)
Jordan Peele is far from the first filmmaker to draw to the surface the more unsettling aspects of suburbia, but he may be the first to use this particular demographic as the monster.

The directorial debut of one half of Emmy Award-winning comedy duo Key & Peele, Get Out is Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner astutely re-envisioned as horror comedy.

Fifty years on from Sidney Poitier’s unimpeachable exemplar – a caring, passionate, “articulate” doctor – we have Chris (Daniel Kaluuya); a quiet, regular guy going on a weekend trip to meet his girlfriend Rose’s parents. Rose (Allison Williams), a leather-jacket-sporting cool chick, warns him of her family’s “lameness”.

However well-meaning, they might find her bringing home an unexpectedly black boyfriend awkward; as indeed they do.

Her dad Dean (West Wing‘s Bradley Whitford; shorn, bearded, and bespectacled) keep saying “my man” and makes a point of showing off his multicultural knick-knacks – and of saying how he’d have voted for Obama for a third term, if given the chance. Her mother Missy (a cold-fish Catherine Keener) clearly disapproves of his smoking.

Even the black staff – housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and gardener Walter (Marcus Henderson), both strangely passive-aggressive – seem uncertain of how to act in Chris’ presence. It’s only Rose’s brother, the sport-obsessed Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones; basically playing to type after War On Everyone), is an out-and-out creep.

His TSA-worker buddy Rod (Lil Rel Howery) is adamant it all has something to do with sex slaves – Missy even proves to be something of a tea-swirling Svengali – but the truth, though, may be a whole lot weirder. There’s one out-of-body visual here that seems borrowed straight from the opening of The Twilight Zone.

More unsettling than scary, less funny than simply subversive, Get Out is instead a cine-literate analysis of what happens when we (and by we, on this occasion, I mean “white people”), despite whatever intentions, fetishise another race  as “cool”.

Toby Oliver’s autumnal cinematography combined with Michael Abels’ dissonant, Swahili-inflected score suggest, as with the affluent middle-class setting, recall influences ranging from The Stepford Wives to most of John Carpenter’s oeuvre.

When the rest of the white folks turn up for Dean’s annual party, all-middle-aged and eager to demonstrate their open-mindedness, things take a turn into Invasion Of The Body Snatchers territory. Immediately closest, though might be Cabin In The Woods – which also featured Whitford – if its commentary had been social rather than pop-cultural.

Given Peele’s background, this could easily have been the basis of a skit, with him as an older, recalcitrant Chris-type character and his partner Keegan-Michael Key as one of the intensely friendly hosts – that would likely have made for a very funny three minutes

By putting that concept on a slow boil for an hour and forty minutes, he might just have given us a minor horror classic.

Author: robertmwallis

Graduate of Royal Holloway and the London Film School. Founder of Of All The Film Sites; formerly Of All The Film Blogs (www.ofallthefilmblogs.blogspot.co.uk). Formerly Film & TV Editor of The Metropolist (www.themetropolist.com) and Official Sidekick at A Place to Hang Your Cape (www.ap2hyc.com). Co-host of the Electric Shadows podcast (http://bit.ly/29Pd7RS) and member of the Online Film Critics Society (http://www.ofcs.org).

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