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Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast


It's hard to believe that it's been more than 25 years since the original Beauty and the Beast. Before Pixar, Walt Disney was the animation giant responsible for box office success stories, Aladdin and The Lion King. While there's been some seesawing over the last three decades, they've reinvented themselves and have started adapting their most successful animated features into live-action films, most recently Cinderella and The Jungle Book.

Their latest adaptation is of the beloved Beauty and the Beast, a timeless tale that many parents will remember having seen as children. The nostalgic hooks will undoubtedly lead many families to the cinema in the hopes of capturing some of that former glory, but does Disney's latest effort match its animated predecessor or live-action contemporaries?

Unfortunately, the short answer is no. It's no secret that Disney is in the film business to drive profits. Their acquisition of Lucasfilm and the Star Wars, Marvel franchises echoes this sentiment with sequels scheduled from now into the forseeable forever. As much as they would want us to believe they are simply making family magic and childhood memories, these romantic gestures are a means to an end.

Getting Bill Condon to direct was a cold reality business decision. While he has an Oscar for his screenwriting and several notable directorial film credits, he directed two of the Twilight films. Vampires, beasts, a virgin... there were obviously some synergies driving this casting call over and above the franchise's staggering box office numbers.

Beauty and the Beast

"Would you like to prance?"

The casting of Emma Watson was equally transparent, bringing her history as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series into focus. An enchanted castle, a headstrong young woman and uneasy romance made the stars align, bringing Watson and her loyal fan base to the tale.

Unfortunately, while deemed bankable... this puzzle piece is in the wrong box. Emma Watson is an accomplished actress and has demonstrated she can command leading roles in Hollywood. However, the role of Belle would have been much better suited to a newcomer or the likes of Emma Roberts or Lily Collins. Watson is determined and her quality shines through, yet she just seems at odds with the character description and temperament, unable to exude the same warmth and joyous spirit as her animated counterpart.

Dan Stevens lends his considerable talents to the role of the Beast, however one can't help but feel that his performance was lost in translation. CGI has come a long way since 1991, which is why the rendition of the Beast is somewhat disappointing. It's realistic, tipping the hat to the animated version and using Stevens' eyes and expressions to personify the character, yet seems stuck in limbo between animation and live-action. Perhaps they shouldn't have used so many daring close-ups, introduced the Beast more gradually or have resorted to prosthetics and make-up like The Elephant Man in 1980 or the namesake TV series in 1990.

The rest of the ensemble seem much more suited to their roles... Luke Evans delivers one of his best performances in recent memory as the arrogant, pompous Gaston. Josh Gad is a delight as his hero worshipping sidekick and "tactician" LeFou. Kevin Kline is good as Maurice, Belle's quirky and tinkering father, while Ewan McGregor, Iain McKellen and Emma Thompson make a first class trio playing Lumière, Cogsworth and Mrs Potts respectively.

The character design and execution of these supporting CGI characters is extraordinary. From reflections in Cogsworth's glass window to the sheen on Mrs Potts and Chip, the technical wizardry is quite staggering. This extends to the lush production design, which while similar to Cinderella extends even further into the majesty of Versailles. Beauty and the Beast is spectacular to the point of being ostentatious and borderline kitsch... from lavish dance numbers to storming the castle, every frame is chock-full with exquisite detail.

The score is just as rich, supersizing the original animated film's sound and song, and harnessing the power of a big budget Broadway musical. From a pure sound and visual perspective, Beauty and the Beast is sensational, delivering a loud, proud and showy musical adaptation that almost justifies its existence on aesthetic and aural appeal alone.

Sadly, the live-action adaptation isn't quite as charming or innocent as the original. The charm and magic is manufactured rather than earned, giving it a colder edge, which is sharpened by the film's sexual awareness. While faithful to the story of the original film, the film-makers have made some smart little alterations to the tale and given the Gaston-LeFou comedy duo more weight as comic villains. Some of the modernisations don't quite work, but the cheeky bromance and comedic undertones are entertaining nevertheless.

All in all, the live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast is a mixed bag. The sound and visuals give it the impetus to coast on the sensory experience alone. Backed by the timeless fairy tale, waves of nostalgia, an amusing screenplay and a fine ensemble, it seems almost good enough against such a decadent backdrop. The miscast co-lead, tonal shift and odd distraction isn't annoying enough to derail the film, but will certainly undermine your overall enjoyment. Just don't expect to shed a tear or feel the need to watch it again.

The bottom line: Decadent


 
Movie Review: The Dark Tapes


The Dark Tapes is a found footage horror sci-fi thriller told in four parts as the paranormal invades the lives of ordinary people. This independent horror, which has been compared with V/H/S, was driven by Michael McQuown who served as co-director, writer and creator.

The first story 'To Catch a Demon' follows a physics professor and two assistants, who have been hired to oversee a sleep experiment to observe an inter-dimensional being, which has been disturbing the professor in his sleep. The second story, 'The Hunters and the Hunted', follows in the steps of found footage favourite, Paranormal Activity. We're then whisked into the webcam world of "Cam Girls" as an adult entertainer and her partner seduce a customer. Finally, 'Amanda's Revenge' rounds off The Dark Tapes as a girl rescued from a date rape scenario starts experiencing strange side effects.

The Dark Tapes has a female-led cast starring Cortney Palm, Emilia Ares Zoryan and Brittany Underwood. Palm and Zoryan have experience playing horror with Palm featuring in Zombiebeavers and Zoryan in V/H/S: Viral. Together they go to some dark places in the stripped down 'Cam Girls' webcam segment, while Underwood suffers a strange haunting in 'Amanda's Revenge'. It's a large ensemble, which features a number of up-and-coming talents including South African actress, Jo Galloway, as Susan.

"It wants the people responsible for the latest Ghostbusters movie..."

Being a low budget production, you've got to meter your expectations in terms of production value and choose to marvel at the achievement within its context. The eclectic mix of cinematography, guerilla horror effects and overall feeling is low budget. Luckily, being underproduced can actually enhance horrors and McQuown has done a good job with the resources at his disposal. He's tailored a horror film with merit, which works thanks to earnest performances from a large ensemble, creepy atmosphere and a compelling anthology of horror stories. While many of the formats are familiar, McQuown adds a fresh twist.

The biggest setback in The Dark Tapes is that there's no clear cohesive narrative thread. The stories are choppy and dissimilar in format, rules and theme making it difficult to connect the dots and establish a fixed universe for the "found footage" tales. There's no central character, narrator or device to guide us through the tunnel of dark tapes... making the whole experience alienating and distancing the audience from each of the happenings. This keeps us ever-curious yet detached from the characters, who we never have enough time to invest in or trust. Perhaps these could have worked better if they were presented as short films.

While housed under the umbrella of horror, each story seems like a kernel for a full feature film rather than complete within themselves. It's entertaining by virtue of its unpredictable nature, but frustrating that we're never immersed in any of the environments long enough to form any attachment with the characters. Watching from an arm's length makes the experience hollow and while there are one or two great scares and clever twists... The Dark Tapes simply teases us with some promising starts with what could have been.

McQuown demonstrates his ability and knows the genre well, concocting some juicy horror set ups in the process, but unfortunately there's just not enough follow-through with The Dark Tapes. Perhaps having a better "bed" for all of the tapes to nestle in would make all the difference, giving us the platform to be creeped out rather than bewildered. There's loads of great stuff going on in The Dark Tapes, making it a pity it didn't work out better.

The bottom line: Alienating


 
Movie Review: Alison


Alison is the powerful true story of a South African woman, who reclaimed her life after being raped, disemboweled, nearly decapitated and left for dead. Directed by Uga Carlini, this part documentary, part docudrama and has been treated like a fairy tale, getting the inside story from various interviewees, who helped Alison along her journey. Sitting on a throne and set against sketches of the moments they witnessed, each are ascribed a fantasy title like Knight, Sage or Bard for their heroic efforts.

These insights are interwoven into a gritty docudrama as the film gets straight into the incident as Alison describes her thoughts and feelings in the build-up and aftermath of the brutal and senseless attack. These inserts star Christia Visser as a young Alison in a well-cast, equally honest and generous performance. Her experience playing the abused title character, Tess, makes the two films interlinked and must have made it easier for her to slip into the appropriate mindset. While there's no dialogue and the sexual violence isn't as graphic as it could have been, these scenes are intense and grisly. Zak Hendrikz takes on a difficult role as the perpetrator, Frans du Toit, whose evil seems limitless and without conscience.

Delving back to the incident through this dramatisation with the survivor narrating her own tale, this amazing true story is peeled away layer by layer as we investigate the medical, police and judiciary procedure following her brutal attack. From the man who stopped to help, the anesthetist who facilitated her care, the on duty police officer, her legal representative, writing partner, a work colleague friend and the judge who presided over her case, we get a well-rounded picture of the highly publicised crime and the process of healing and restoration.

Alison Movie

"..."

While the fairy tale and butterfly theme connect the dots and soften the harsh reality, the film functions like a comprehensive scrapbook filled with sketches, footage, photos, reports and newspaper clippings. The creative and eclectic frame for the story makes it more sentimental, intimate and gives it a homemade feeling as if Alison was bestowing her story as a gift to us. Her role as curator of the docudrama gives us a first-hand account of her journey through deeply honest and vulnerable storytelling as she shares her painful yet miraculous path.

Alison's inconsistent, yet the miraculous true story, artful design, intimate storytelling and emotional currency make this inspirational docudrama worth seeing. There are moments where Alison seems to be leaning towards self-promotion in echoing her motivational talks and bestselling book, 'I Have Life'. However, her "choose life" philosophy and heartfelt sincerity in helping others by sharing her tragedy and victory smooths things over, made all the more timely based on the judicial system's mishandling of the case. While it has a deckled edge, it's from the heart and makes a moving, honest, inspiring, self-empowering and detailed account of her story up until now.

The bottom line: Heartfelt


 
Movie Review: It's Complicated


It's Complicated is a short film directed by Grant De Sousa, starring Paul Snodgrass, Johann Vermaak and Lise Slabber. We follow two buddies as we discover that the someone (or something) that "swiped right" for Andy is now on their doorstep. Lovestruck, it seems that Nigel's desperate attempts to warn his friend of his girlfriend's obvious flaws are ignored. Poking fun at the Tinder and Facebook generation of scary hookups and relationship statuses, De Sousa explores these themes with tongue-through-cheek horror comedy romance. Employing a similar balance of horror comedy that you'd expect from Sam Raimi, he posits us in a similar conceptual and genre space to Warm Bodies.

Borrowing the comedy set up from The Odd Couple and infusing it with a similar tone to Men Behaving Badly helps us establish the character dynamic as Andy's nerdy, straitlaced vibe counterbalances Nigel's more relaxed, easy-going attitude. Paul Snodgrass shines as the "you can't be serious" Nigel, undertaking the perspective of the audience with an animated and entertaining performance. Johann Vermaak plays perfectly into his wardrobe selection as the blinded and inept "glass half full" lovefool. Together they have a good mix of equal-opposite chemistry, which is jeopardised by the arrival of the demure yet sinister Lise Slabber.

It's Complicated short film

"She's more like a ghoulfriend... friend."

Injecting the Samara meets Regan "girlfriend" into their apartment creates a number of scary funny moments. The apartment takes on a whole new light moving from two guys sharing an old place to a creepy old woman's home, making Andy and Nigel seem like the visitors. The sets have great detail, using retro props to bring out the ick factor. The visual effects are used sparingly and are so beautifully laced into the film that you hardly notice them, while simple camera tricks keep it modest yet effective.

It's no secret that It's Complicated has been influenced by horrors like The Ring and The Exorcist in determining the nature of their female lead. The make-up department took their time in getting her look and the "hicky" just right, playing up some horror clichés to great comic effect in the process. The short film has a polished feel about it, delivering entertaining horror comedy and drawing us in with the doomed romance. It's a fine ensemble, further bolstered by the talents of Sean Cameron Michael in a fun cameo.

De Sousa has a good grip on this Halloween story, which was undoubtedly a passion project. While it works as a wraparound short film, you could easily see this horror romance comedy concept being extrapolated into a broader feature film length production or a sitcom even.

The bottom line: Entertaining

 
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