Tag: 5 stars

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (1991)


I had a bad day last Saturday. It happens. I had initially planned to watch Crumb for the first time (that review’s forthcoming), but decided I really needed something familiar and lighthearted to relax. My favorite Disney movie, my first Broadway play, and one of my favorite fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast tells the age-old tale of Belle, a beautiful bookworm who in an effort to save her bumbling father offers herself as a prisoner to a gruff beast who lives in an isolated castle deep in the woods. As time passes she and the beast become friends, and he and his enchanted servants hope her love can break the spell they’ve been under for many years. Meanwhile, Gaston, the village’s resident conceited asshole, plots to have Belle for himself by committing her father to a mental institution and murdering the beast. What a dick.

When I was a kid, I was sort of a tomboy version of Belle- I read voraciously, didn’t really “get” most of my peers, wanted to be independent and do exciting things, and enjoyed spinning around in fields while singing to no one in particular. That last one may or may not be true, but I can say that I did have hazel eyes and brown hair like her, so we were basically the same person minus the dresses and rural France setting, and I really looked up to her. She continues to be my favorite “Disney princess,” and I believe she sets an excellent example for young girls, offering an intelligent, quick-thinking, capable young woman who above all respects herself. Yeah, she fell in love with the guy who imprisoned her, but it was pretty clear to me that she could have left the castle if she really wanted, and stayed out of curiosity.

The climax also promotes teamwork, with all the servants working together to save the castle, as opposed to one manly fellow rushing in to save the lowly plebians and helpless ladies from danger. In fact, the handsome macho guy is a sociopathic jerk in this movie, so it’s pretty progressive for a Disney fairy tale.

It’s funny to watch this as a sort-of-adult (not ready to go all the way quite yet). It still gives me infinite joy, partially out of nostalgia and comfort and partially because it’s just a great movie. I was contentedly smiling from ear to ear like a geek for most of the running time. However, now I pick up on certain things a lot more. Like, if the beast is approaching his 21st birthday, he was just a snotty pre-teen when the witch cursed him. It seems a little extreme. Also where are his parents? And what happened to the witch? And all that mental institution stuff used to go over my head, but seeing it now it’s pretty dark, Sweeney Todd-esque stuff!

And how the hell does that bookshop owner stay in business- and do well enough to give Belle free books- in a town so anti-reading it shuns the one person who seems to do it and makes up songs about it every morning? (I like to think the opening “Bonjour” scene happens every morning, but maybe with different lyrics or something.) Finally, I find myself appreciating the stuffy character of Cogsworth a lot more as I grow older, while as a kid I of course loved Lumiere the best and thought Cogsworth was boring.

This movie collects together various familiar tropes: arbitrary witch’s curse, true love needed to break the spell, pretty but put-upon girl, friendly talking things that usually don’t talk in real life, a lot of people bursting into song, royalty of questionable lineage who don’t seem to do any actual ruling, missing/dead parents, etc. But through clever scripting, excellent characterization, gorgeous animation and painterly backgrounds, and skillful songwriting, Beauty and the Beast is elevated beyond its deceptively simple components and transformed into a near-perfect film. The dialogue is often hilarious, and features one of my favorite art jokes along with one of my favorite song lyrics ever. The music is catchy as hell and wonderfully romantic, some of Menken’s best work thanks to the brilliant and tragically deceased Howard Ashman.

Most importantly it has this, my goal in life forever.


Pair This Movie With: Well Disney movies usually just put me in the mood for more Disney, like Aladdin or Mulan, but I’ll also suggest the absorbing documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty, which has a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff for Beauty and the Beast. I haven’t seen the 1946 Cocteau version but I’ve heard it’s really beautiful, and I imagine it’d be a nice pairing.

Further Reading:
I really loved Jake’s review, which also has a lot of the behind the scenes stuff found in the doc.

Aaaand finally, my original art for this film is available for purchase!

The 2011 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part II

When we left off yesterday, I had been recounting my incredible movie-viewing exploits at the 2011 Boston Sci-Fi Marathon. 24 hours of science-fiction films, shorts, and activities coupled with a lot of snacks and inside jokes. Alright. So with four films down I was feeling good, ready to eat dinner (Subway!) and sit back for the big-screen debut of one of my all-time favorite tv shows.

5 Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (1996)
It’s kind of weird to see a show that I’ve almost exclusively watched alone, now in a theater full of people. It’s also awesome. The not-too-distant future of Mike Nelson and his robot buddies, imprisoned on a bone-shaped spaceship and forced to watch crappy movies by a mad scientist, is a delightful one and it was great to share it with so many appreciative fans. This is basically just an episode of the show but with better production values, featuring the over-talkie 1955 classic This Island Earth. It is hilarious. There are many high foreheads and bug people and multi-national scientists, plus one of my favorite MST3K moments ever. The movie itself isn’t as bad as usual, so it’s all a bit more fun! And we get to see Tom’s bedroom and Mike’s macho attempt to steer the ship.

A few shorts were shown between these films, the most notable of which was the excellent parody “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury” music video, which actually spurred me on to finally read Fahrenheit 451 over my vacation. I liked it!

6 The Host (2006) (title links to my original review)
A movie brought to us by two of my main Korean crushes, writer/director Bong Joon-ho and actor extraordinaire Song Kang-ho, The Host is a fascinating combination of monster movie thrills, political satire, and dysfunctional family drama. I loved it the first time I saw it, and continue to feel strongly about it the second time around, especially fueled by the big-screen, big-soundsystem viewing and very enthusiastic audience! It’s funny and action-packed, while simultaneously nail-bitingly tense and intensely tragic. And of course America’s remaking it. Sigh.

7 The Quiet Earth (1985)
I knew nothing about this New Zealand indie going in, and was pleasantly surprised by how gripping and imaginative it is (although I must say the “shh” joke perpetuated by the audience lost its charm at least 10 minutes in). The basic premise isn’t new: A man wakes up one morning to discover he’s (apparently) the only person left on earth. He goes through several phases, including searching for life, doing science stuff (he was involved in a super-secret government project), proclaiming himself god, playing saxophone, and finally meeting up with two other survivors. A hesitant romantic triangle eventually forms as the two dudes and one adorable lady travel around trying to figure out just what the hell is happening. It’s a very smart, well-paced movie with good dialogue and excellent, emotional performances. I was truly touched by some moments- particularly when the characters saw one another for the first time and could do nothing but hug each other fiercely. It’s just a really good, understated film with a killer ending and impressive handling of a somewhat played-out concept.

8 Monsters (2010)
I missed this in theaters, somehow, so I was happy to finally catch it at the marathon. Writer/director Gareth Edwards (future Godzilla-helmer) takes a more subdued approach to the aliens-as-political-metaphor in films like District 9 in this tale of an assholey photographer coerced into escorting his boss’s daughter through Mexican territory occupied by a mysterious destructive race of aliens. They travel by train, truck, boat, and foot, encountering many locals affected regularly by the strange creatures who’ve been there for years. It’s more of a character study, with the focus on protagonists Andrew and Samantha, and little actual footage of the aliens. Edwards creates several moments of tension and curiosity with smart, limited amounts of insight into them, rarely relying on special effects. I thought the film got better as it progressed and the characters were more fleshed out, though the finale was sort of weird and ill-fitting.

Okay. I’ve been pretty darned awake for all of these movies, and I know that is most impressive. But now we’re coming to the home stretch and I’m not sure if I’ll make it through the next set of movies. It’s almost a good thing the seats at the Somerville aren’t very comfortable, since it helps me stay awake!

Movie Review: Les triplettes de Belleville (The Triplets of Belleville) (2003)


Coincidentally (or maybe not?), shortly after the release of The Illusionist in Boston, a local theatre had a showing of Sylvain Chomet’s first film The Triplets of Belleville for Valentine’s Day. It was so cool. The almost dialogue-free story follows a dedicated grandma and her put-upon dog on a wild adventure that takes them from France to an alternate-universe New York. While competing in a major bike race, her grandson is kidnapped by winemaker mobsters and taken to America to perform in a bizarre gambling scheme. His grandmother follows his trail, eventually teaming up with the eponymous triplets- 3 elderly eccentrics who were a famous singing group in the 20’s.

I hadn’t seen this film in about 5 years and had forgotten just why everything about it is extremely great. It’s set in this weird alternate universe that’s mostly familiar but laced with enough oddities to place it well outside the realm of real life. The characters take on Chomet’s wonderful mix of hyper-exaggerated design paired with extremely detailed, observed movements and affectations. The colors are gorgeous, steeped in yellow and sepia with bursts of warm reds and oranges. Though a mix of computer and hand-drawn animation, the film maintains a gorgeous sketchy style with noticeable pencil lines and painted backgrounds. I could stare at this movie forever.


The story is almost unbelievably zany, with a primarily dialogue-free script and unpredictable adventure. I love the mix of musical numbers, unexpected sight gags, small slice-of-life moments, thrilling chase scenes, and Americana parody (uh news flash, I guess Chomet hates America). The mobsters are hilarious, the triplets are kind of gross (what with all the frog-eating), but ultimately endearing, the grandson is tragically doe-eyed, the grandma is basically the second-best grandma ever (after my own, of course), and the dog is so stupid and fat.

I don’t think there’s anything I don’t like about this movie. It’s beautiful and weird and utterly imaginative. Great soundtrack, too.


Pair This Movie With: I’m going with A Town Called Panic, that completely awesome, utterly insane Belgian animated tale that everyone in the world should see and love.

Movie Review: Videodrome (1983)

Ah, finally a body horror film that I don’t have to shield my eyes from during certain scenes! And finally, I can declare a favorite Cronenberg film! Of course, I’m referring to Videodrome, in which James Woods stars as Max Renn, a sordid and outspoken cable-tv programmer who gets his hands on a revolutionary new S&M show. As he becomes transfixed by the program, he finds himself hallucinating uncontrollably and is soon caught up in a strange plot involving a masochistic DJ (Debbie Harry), a manipulative eyewear manufacturer (Leslie Carlson), and a cult leader’s daughter (Sonja Smits). So little of the plot makes sense on paper I really just can’t go into it any further.

But it’s all so AWESOME! Seriously, this had me hooked from beginning to end and I’m still thinking about it a week later. The premise is fantastic, with atmosphere and themes setting the stage for the likes of Brazil and Max Headroom and a gritty aesthetic all too fitting for early-80’s sci-fi. Cronenberg’s facility for gross-out body horror and imaginative imagery is in full-force here despite his limited means. I wasn’t too squeamish or anything, it’s all just really cool, impressive effects. The story is confusing and weird and surreal, and all the better for it. I loved trying to read between the lines and try to puzzle through just what anyone was ever talking about. It will make for many fun rewatches.

One of the main reasons I wanted to see this movie (besides its inclusion on the Sci-Fi List) was Debbie Harry, whom I adore without question. While her screentime is sadly limited, she is smoking hot and charismatic for those few scenes that it’s totally worth it. I dug James Woods in the lead role- he’s great as a sleazy programming exec in the beginning, and believably morphs into a confused, sympathetic test subject just trying to find out what the hell is going on. The rest of the cast is fun too, but he drives the entire film and the audience watches events unfold from his point of view.

I loved basically everything about this movie. It’s sexy, strange, surreal, inventive, funny, tragic, confusing, and just fucking awesome in every way.

4.5/5 (So close to giving it a 5/5. I probably will after a rewatch, since I usually don’t give 5’s for something I’ve only seen once) 5/5 DUH

Pair This Movie With: Watch a couple episodes of Max Headroom and you’re in for some awesome visions of our television-obsessed future from an 80’s perspective.

Movie Review: The Apartment (1960)

I’ve had the French version of the poster hanging in my room (a delightful gift from my guy) for about two years now, yet for some reason I haven’t taken in a viewing of The Apartment for ages. It’s one of my favorite films, but I find parts of it so sad that I have to be in the right mood to watch it. Affable insurance adjuster and bachelor CC Baxter (Jack Lemmon) finds himself suddenly on the rise within his firm after he starts lending out his apartment to high-placed coworkers with mistresses. When word gets out to his boss Mr Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), Baxter finds himself playing host to depressed elevator service operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), whom Sheldrak’s been dating on the sly. While Baxter tries to cheer her up and prevent her from killing herself, she begins to wonder if loving a married asshole is really the best way to use her affections.

This movie is the ultimate blending of drama and comedy, perfectly meshing the two styles to make for an utterly realistic, subtle, and sweet movie. The script is punchy and paced well, incorporating adorable narration from Baxter and introspective dialogue for Miss Kubelik as our heartstrings are tugged back and forth. The characters are smartly written and well-developed, giving a fairly straightforward story interest, depth, and relatability. I love the pop culture references (especially the Marilyn Monroe impersonator), cleverly simple sight gags (Baxter eating dinner in front of the tv, reacting to the announcer), and little digs at American business (anything at Baxter’s office).

Along with the pitch-perfect script, it’s the performances that make this movie, really. Jack Lemmon is the lovable everyman: a genuinely nice, unassuming guy who’s sadly a pushover (you know, the one none of the girls go for, apparently). He’s naturally very funny in his goofy facial expressions and enthusiastic delivery, while getting in some appreciated dramatic bits as he concerns himself with Miss Kubelik’s suicidal state. Shirley MacLaine gets to me every time with her big doe eyes, pouty mouth, and cute haircut- my heart just melts whenever she’s on screen. Fran is a light-hearted working girl with tragedy brimming below the surface because she can’t seem to help but fall in love with awful men (hmm reminds me of another Wilder lady protagonist), and MacLaine just nails every subtlety and affectation of her character. Oh and Fred MacMurray plays a great smooth-talking asshole.

This movie is so good, you guys. So, so, so good. I laughed, I cried. Literally. If you’ve never seen it than what the hell are you doing with your miserable life?


Pair This Movie With: I often mentally link this with Irma La Douce, the other Wilder/MacLaine/Lemmon team-up from the 60’s. It’s not as good, but it’s cute and features a rather fetching pair of green stockings.

My original poster design for this film is available for purchase.