Skip to content

Recent Movies: Beauty and the Beast; Citizen Jane; I, Daniel Blake; Opera: Medea

May 27, 2017

Recent Movies

Beauty and the Beast

A live-action/CGI remake of the 1991 animated musical: Belle (Emma Watson) is an intelligent outcast in her provincial town, pursued by the egomaniacal Gaston (Luke Evans). Across the dangerous woods is a beast (Dan Stevens) who lives in a castle in which he used to be a prince.

Speaking of outcasts, I feel like one myself in my assessments of this modern film and its predecessor. I believe the current film is superior to the earlier one. I found the animated version admirable but over-rated. This goes against the consensus on two counts.

One of the improvements in the current version is in the characterization of LeFou (Josh Gad), Gaston’s sidekick. Much is made of the fact that the modern LeFou is gay and infatuated with Gaston. While this bold move is admirable enough, the better move is erasing the plight of the older version of LeFou who was sadistically used as a punching bag for the bullying (and much bigger) Gaston. The previous use of schadenfreude doesn’t quite appeal to an audience’s better instincts.

Director Bill Condon clearly knows how to make musicals great. (The superb “Dreamgirls” (2006) is evidence of this.) Even while being fully aware of the storyline, there is still an excitement and energy for the viewer in this film. Condon has been blessed with a great team particularly those involved with the set design, make-up, visual effects, cinematography, and costumes. In addition, a few new songs have been added to the great ones of the original.

Condon is also blessed with a great cast. Stevens does a fine job conveying the beast’s rage as well as the inner-torment hiding behind it. Watson is good too though she could have shown more expression during the film’s climax. Even in a small role, Emma Thompson still manages to raise the bar – this time as a talking teapot.

The exciting finale is so joyous, it can lift anyone to the clouds. No wonder this movie is such a box-office blockbuster.

RATING (out of four stars): * * * 1/2


Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

Writer/Journalist/Urban Activist: Jane Jacobs is the main subject of this documentary as it focuses on her battles against rapid redevelopment headed by urban planner Robert Moses in her home city of New York during the 1950s and 1960s.

This film ably conveys Jacobs’ intelligence in various ways: her unusual yet fascinating observations on how cities truly work (there is order within the ‘chaos’); and her abilities to organize activist responses to proposals that negate city living. Her views and philosophies are expressed in various ways. They include audio and televised footage as well as the narration (by Marisa Tomei) from Jacobs’ book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (1961).

The viewer could end up feeling a mixture of optimism as well as pessimism from the history exposed in this film. On the one hand, Jacobs’ victories (with much help) give hope. But there is despair after viewing the chronicling of “slum” neighbourhoods with vibrant communities being destroyed and replaced with housing projects that caused more problems than they solved. One feels grief not only for the loss of vibrant communities but also for the historical buildings that were destroyed – and replaced with bland ones.

Jacobs moved to Toronto (where I’ve lived for over twenty years) in 1968 and was involved in a successful campaign to stop an expressway being built in the downtown area in the early 1970s. One can only wonder (and shudder) what she would think of the current state of this city since her passing in 2006 at the age of eighty-nine.

She believed in progress as long as it mixed the old with the new and kept street life active. Downtown Toronto is losing many small shops, restaurants, and bars as they are being torn down for more and more massive glass condos. (It’s strange to think that such blandness will be considered ‘historical architecture’ in the future.) During this process, sidewalks adjacent to the future condo sites have been reduced. So much for encouraging the street life so well lauded in this documentary. Also, in regard to condo buildings that have shops at ground level, they seem to have very little activity within them. (A similar point is made in “Citizen Jane” about parks near housing projects that were frequently empty.)

Director Matt Tyrnauer has used the right mix of interviews, old footage, and music to make a fine film even for those of us who have minimal knowledge of urban issues. The footage of street life goes back to earlier decades – even as far back as the 1930s. The music by Jane Antonia Cornish has an edge that is usually used in thrillers. Perhaps, this is to imply that the monstrous mindset of the 50s and 60s has an equally evil grandchild (condo-ization aka vulgarization) in our current times that is taking over our lives today…..and we’re all in that scary movie!

In any case, this movie is encouraging me to read “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”. From the quotes in this movie, the book still sounds relevant today – more than half a century since it was published.

RATING: * * *


I, Daniel Blake

In Newcastle, England, the title character (played by Dave Johns) is a widowed carpenter in his late fifties who is on the mend from a heart attack. In trying to get benefits for time off work (as recommended by his doctor), he gets stuck in a quagmire of bureaucracy. During one bad visit at a government office, he befriends Katie (Hayley Squires), an unemployed, single mother of two young children who has also been mistreated by government workers.

“I, Daniel Blake” is another courageous film by the team of director Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty that focuses, in a realistic way, on the downtrodden who are too often ignored. While this is praiseworthy, the downturn is that the overall effect can be depressing and frustrating. While the last half hour was moving in a different direction, a final plot twist thwarted this – therefore preventing the story from adding more richness to its depth.

Johns and Squires are terrific in their performances as two society-rejects trying to get by and helping each other out when they can. Despite their hardships, they continue to maintain as much of their humanity as they can. Johns’ appeal goes further in scenes when Daniel pokes fun at humourless nincompoops on power trips.

The film has some telling (and harsh) statements of modern society and bureaucracy. There is a very noticeable contrast in how kindly the poor are treated at a food bank (run by volunteers) vs. the despicable way they are treated by government departments (run by taxpayer-funded employees). The movie has been criticized for its depiction of government employees. Among this group, there is one such character who seems to stand out as she has more soul and humanity than her peers. The film might have achieved greater depth if it had delved more into her personal story.

In any case, this movie is likely to be understood by anyone has ever experienced hard times; anyone who has ever felt empathy for anyone who has experienced hard times; or anyone has ever experienced an overwhelming desire to throttle someone who is an insensitive, incompetent, arrogant, ignorant, overpaid, bureaucratic miscreant.

RATING: * * *


Opera

“Medea” by Marc-Antoine Charpentier at the Opera Atelier, Toronto

The title character (played by Peggy Kriha Dye) is in danger of losing her lover Jason (Colin Ainsworth) in a marriage of convenience to Princess Créuse (Mireille Asselin). Unlike most spurned lovers, Medea has supernatural powers to match her desire for revenge.

For many opera productions, the stories can be minimal while the main draws are the music and the singing. “Medea”s story is actually above par (hell hath no fury like a sorceress scorned) while the music and the singing are well above par. All performers are great but Dye stands out ably expressing the rage and fury of someone with dangerous powers. The final scene between Ainsworth and Asselin is also deeply moving.

Director Marshall Pynkoski has collaborated with many great artists to create a superb production with a feast for all senses. One of the unique assets of Opera Atelier productions is their choice of producing older operas which give the audience not only beautiful singing and orchestrations but also ballet sequences that are part of the story as well. The dance sequences in “Medea”, choreographed by Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, are superb.

As if this wasn’t enough, the sets, costumes and lighting take this grand production even further especially during the scenes that take place in Hell.

If only one word could summarize this production, it would be one that was likely used more often during the time of this opera’s creation than today: splendid.

RATING: * * * 1/2

Advertisements

From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: