Beauty and the Beast

Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson

Director: Bill Condon

Writers: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos


Another year, another Disney remake. For the most part I’m not against the idea of updating and modernising Disney films in principle, but in practice I think the result has been mixed at best. Cinderella for example did a lot that worked better than in the original animation, but did just as much that did not. Meanwhile I felt that The Jungle Book did a lot that was different to the 1967 film, but little that I felt was better or worse. In both cases however I was open to the idea of the remake because I felt that both of the animations, while classics in their own rights, left something to be desired. In this, Beauty and the Beast is different. Beauty and the Beast, as far as I’m concerned, is as perfect as Disney gets. Not only is it a marvellous fairy tale with wonderful characters, fantastic music and beautiful animation, it’s also one of the few Disney films that actually gets better as I get older. It may be bias on my part, but I just couldn’t see what Disney hoped to accomplish by remaking this film.

In an 18th-century French provincial town lives Belle (Emma Watson), a solitary bookworm who dreams of excitement and adventure. She lives with her father Maurice (Kevin Kline) and spends her days reading, thinking and rejecting the advances of the oafish Gaston (Luke Evans). When Maurice gets lost venturing through the forest, he seeks refuge in a castle where he is taken prisoner by the Beast (Dan Stevens). Belle comes to the castle in search of her father and offers herself as a prisoner in his place. The Beast, cursed by an enchantress to live as a horrific monster unless he should learn to love another and be loved in return, agrees. Also living in the castle are the Beast’s servants who, thanks to the curse, have taken the form of animate objects. These included Lumiere the candelabra (Ewan MacGregor), Cogsworth the clock (Ian McKellen), and Mrs. Potts the teapot (Emma Thompson). With their help the Beast hopes to win Belle’s heart and break the curse.

Now, while I haven’t been a terribly big fan of the Disney remakes overall, I do appreciate how many of them have at least tried to do something different with the stories that we all know so well. This is why I found this new Beauty and the Beast to be so aggravating. This film, rather than trying something different, is almost as much of a shot-for-shot remake as Gus Van Sant’s Psycho. It’s actually a bit of a paradox really. This film is exactly like the 1991 film, and yet somehow nothing like it. It copies everything the original did but it lacks all of the magic and humanity that made the film work as well as it did. None of the movie’s events occur because they are motivated by the story or its characters, they occur because they’re following what happened in the original. The ballroom dance for example, by far the animation’s most iconic scene, is not built up to in any way. There’s no romantic dinner, no exchange of nervous glances, no playful sense of spontaneity; the film just cuts straight from the couple meeting at the staircase to them dancing in the ballroom. Why are they dancing? Because that’s what they did in the original movie.

I know that I shouldn’t be dwelling so much on how much better the 1991 classic is and comparing it with the remake, but this movie has brought it on itself. It spends so much time trying to recreate the original that I couldn’t help but be reminded of how wonderful and magical these moments felt when they took place in the animation as opposed to how empty and lifeless they felt here. When the film does vary, it’s to the story’s detriment. There are some additional scenes, such as when Gaston and Le Fou (Josh Gad) venture into the woods with Maurice to search for Belle, which only serve to pad the runtime. Occasionally there are some interesting ideas, one being the idea of Belle and the Beast bonding when they learn that both of their mothers died when they were young, but the film never goes anywhere with them. Then there are some elements like the magical teleporting book and the inclusion of a character called Agathe (Hattie Morahan) that are just plain stupid. The film’s greatest accomplishment is that it looks like Beauty and the Beast, which I think is the secret to the movie’s success. The sets, costumes and visual effects in this movie are so evocative of the original that it can sometimes be quite easy to fall for the illusion and think that you actually are watching Beauty and the Beast.

That illusion however is just as easily broken by the missteps the film takes in its direction. The casting of Emma Watson as Belle for example was a great idea on paper but not in practice. Not only is Watson a subpar singer whose voice lacks both power and expression, she’s also quite a limited actress. Her performance as Hermione worked because she was able to build that character very much in line with her own personality, but as Belle the limits of her acting ability became all too apparent. Her facial expressions rarely varied, her line deliveries lacked range and her body language felt forced. The rest of the cast meanwhile varies from bland to passable (with the exception of McGregor’s indefinable accent). Some of the CGI characters do pretty well and Gad gets an occasional laugh (despite his role as Disney’s first openly gay character being grossly overblown. I’m all for inclusivity but I’ve seen gayer characters in The Lord of the Rings!). Watson was the only one who struck me as out of her depth here.

I’d be lying if I said that I went into this movie with a completely open mind. Even putting aside my mixed on feelings on the Disney remakes I had already seen, this was a movie I already felt sceptical towards. After the trailer made it clear to me that this was very much going to be the same movie as the animation rather than a different take, I couldn’t understand why Disney would want to recreate what was already perfect (creatively I mean. The real rea$on Di$ney made thi$ film wa$ obviou$). I would have liked to be wrong. Nothing would have pleased me more than to be moved and enchanted by this film the same way I was by the original Beauty and the Beast. I wouldn’t exactly categorise this movie along with the worse of the Disney remakes. In fact, all things considered, it’s not even that bad a film. It was never as inane as Maleficent or as dire as Alice in Wonderland. On the other hand though, those two movies at least tried to take their stories into new directions. Thus, while Beauty and the Beast may not be the worst of these films, it is, for me, the most pointless.

The Girl on the Train

Cast: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Édgar Ramírez, Lisa Kudrow

Director: Tate Taylor

Writer: Erin Cressida Wilson


This is a film that has garnered a lot of comparisons with Gone Girl, leading many to dismiss The Girl on the Train as the lesser of the two. Both of these movies are suburban thrillers detailing the dark or even sinister secrets that lurk beneath the everyday facades these characters wear. Both mysteries are focused on the sudden disappearance of a beautiful, blonde suburban housewife. Both films play around with time and perspective. Both films share a similar tone and visual style. Both stories are based on bestsellers written by women. Maybe this film is intentionally trying to replicate what Fincher and Flynn did with their film to attain that same level of acclaim, or maybe it’s just an unfortunate coincidence that Gone Girl happened to be made two years earlier. Although I do think this film possesses positive qualities that make for a good movie, they were sadly not enough to make me forget that it’s been done before and it’s been done better.

Every day Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) commutes to the city on a route that takes her directly past the neighbourhood where she used to live. There she can see her old house where her ex-husband Tom Watson (Justin Theroux) lives with his mistress-turned-wife Anna Boyd (Rebecca Ferguson) and their new-born daughter. During her trips Rachel becomes increasingly fascinated with the house three doors up where the alluring Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) lives with her husband Scott (Luke Evans). Seeing them together in the briefest of glimpses, Rachel fantasies about what a perfect marriage they must have while she drowns her own sorrows in the bottle. This fantasy is then shattered when Rachel spots Megan kissing another man on her balcony. Enraged and inebriated, she resolves to confront Megan before blacking out and awakening in her bedroom with an injured head. When it is revealed that Megan has since gone missing and has been presumed dead, Rachel’s erratic behaviour makes her the top suspect in Detective Riley’s (Allison Janney) investigation.

In comparing these two films I found myself recalling a forgettable sci-fi movie I once saw called The Thirteenth Floor, a film about a virtual reality. It had a fascinating concept and impressive (for the time) visuals but was ultimately a victim of its clumsy writing and inexpert direction. Its biggest weakness though was that it happened to come out just a couple of months after The Matrix. In a nutshell, that’s kind of how I feel about this film. The Girl on the Train could be intriguing at times and has a strong leading lady in Blunt, but the issues it suffers from keep it far from attaining greatness. When compared to Gone Girl, this film is dead in the water. The film’s underlying mystery is a whodunit (in contrast to Gone Girl which is more of a howdunit or whydunit) with a ‘who’ that is pretty easy to guess. The real story is of three women and the fears and flaws they suffer that drive the action that occurs, but these women aren’t as complex or as compelling as the film clearly wants them to be. The direction Taylor brings is pretty standard and never surprises, not even in the surprise twist when we learn that things are not the way we’ve been led to believe. Thus the suspense, the captivation and the artistry that made Gone Girl such a great watch is either lacking or absent as far as this film is concerned.

Blunt puts everything she has into her performance and it definitely counts for a lot. She plays a wretched, severely alcoholic woman punishing herself day after day for the shambles that was her marriage. She is a miserably lonely creature, staring longingly through the window towards this seemingly perfect life that has been lost and denied to her. She recalls memories of how her marriage to Tom was wrecked by her excessive drinking and his infidelity and jumps back and forth between inconsolable despair and antagonistic rage. Blunt is able to be both subtle and outrageous when the script calls for it and single-handedly makes this film. If only the other two women were half as compelling. One is a bored housewife looking for an escape. The other is a bored housewife looking for passion. The two women, along with their husbands, are so nondescript as characters that I could only remember who was who through face recognition alone.

Still, when it comes right down to it, I can’t say that The Girl on the Train was a bad film. It has a complicated and engaging character at its helm played superbly by a marvellous actress. While I wasn’t particularly interested in the story or its mystery, I was invested to the extent that I wanted to see Rachel pick herself up, get her act together, and turn out all right. If the film had the gripping sense of pace, the captivatingly ambiguous tone or the wonderfully astute camerawork of Gone Girl, then we might have had the suspenseful suburban thriller that the writer and director were clearly going for. In a universe where Gone Girl didn’t exist perhaps the issues I had with The Girl on the Train would not have been so glaring. The reality though is that no movie exists in a vacuum. The comparison between these two films is as appropriate as it is inevitable and the difference in quality is clear. Everything this film does badly, the other does well. Everything this film does well, the other does better.

★★★

High-Rise

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes

Director: Ben Wheatley

Writer: Amy Jump


While watching High-Rise I was very much reminded of Lord of the Flies. Like Golding’s celebrated novel, High-Rise depicts the collapse of civilisation and the ascendancy of disorder, savagery and anarchy. However, while Lord of the Flies was in essence a portrait of the darkness and evil that exists in all men’s hearts, High-Rise is a social commentary that raises themes of class, technology and power. The apartment complex where all these characters live is one where flat assignments and relationships between neighbours are determined by social status. The inequitable distribution of such necessaries as water and electricity speaks of the economic situation of the 70s, the decade Ballard wrote the novel, which remains very much relevant today. The residents of this building are isolated from the rest of the world and suffer from severe detachment and alienation. It is a film that speaks of a bad situation getting continually worse with no hope of restoration in sight.

Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), a young doctor, moves into the 25th floor of a lavish tower block where he finds himself both seduced and bewildered by the way of life. Governing this building is its architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) who rules from above in his penthouse apartment, unreachable to those who are not invited or summoned. Amongst Laing’s neighbours are Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller), a loyal advocate for Royal, and Richard Wilder (Luke Evans), a documentary filmmaker determined to expose the injustices exercised within the building. Through them Laing discovers the belligerent tension between the occupants of the upper and lower flats and bears witness to the complex loyalties and acts of provocation that result. As the situation grows more volatile it is only a matter of time until chaos erupts and the state of affairs is destroyed through violence and bloodshed.

High-Rise is set in a dystopic future of the 2000 A.D. kind that the writers and filmmakers of the 1970s might have imagined. Nearly the entirety of its story is set in the imposing tower with its dark interiors, oppressive architecture and intricate layout. Wheatley makes marvellous use of his setting and conveys an acute sense of being trapped and confined. The tower block was specially designed to be self-sustaining, complete with its own gym, swimming pool and shopping market, and so there is seldom a reason to step outside into the empty landscape. At one point two characters step into the parking lot only to discover that they’ve long since forgotten where they’ve left their cars. Through the use of montage Wheatley is also able to convey a sense of disorientation as the situation in the tower grows more explosive. We know that this chaotic breakdown takes place over the course of three months but our sense of time becomes distorted as the days meld into one another. Wheatley’s depiction of the horror that unfolds as chaos and disorder become rampant is unrelenting in its brutality and stunning in execution, particularly one sequence involving a kaleidoscope.

Hiddleston delivers a top-notch performance as an outsider slowly conforming himself to the way of life in the tower block. On the surface he is calm and immaculate but there is a hint of melancholy and madness that is gradually brought out by the increasingly unstable environment he has inhabited. Initially he seeks to achieve some form of balance between the two opposing classes, forming friendships with those below and arranging trysts with those above and is very much the observer to the catastrophe that is inevitably to follow. The rest of the ensemble is a collection of peculiar characters following a conformist way of life that is doomed to collapse. Evans shines as the deplorable, misogynistic Wilder whose quest to challenge the higher ups and expose their tyranny somehow makes him as close to a moral voice as a twisted world such as this can produce. Sienna Miller and Elisabeth Moss both provide highlights as single mothers of different social classes who become exasperated by this way of life and its subsequent downfall.

My main problem with High-Rise is that by the time the third act started I was ready for it to be over. So exhausting was the film’s constant violence, wild characters and disturbing subject matter that I, along with other members of the audience, was utterly drained as the film approached its climax. Perhaps this was intentional on the film’s part, to weary me with its relentless nature in order to drive its point home. This film has a clear point to make about society and is unmistakable in its approach. The film ends on a similar note to John Carpenter’s The Thing where, just when you think it’s all over, it leaves you with a hint that the worst is yet to come. Even though I felt that the film did lose momentum towards the end and thought that the narrative struggled at certain points, High-Rise is overall a well-crafted film with challenging themes that packs a real wallop.

★★★★