Monday, March 20, 2017
The tale is truly as old as time. Belle (meaning beauty), played by Emma Watson, is a peculiar beauty in her French provincial town, the outsider looking for something more. Finding herself imprisoned in the castle of the seemingly wicked Beast, first impressions and appearances soon give way to deeper realizations of understanding, trust and even love. There’s a ticking rose clock, a dashing evil villain rousing up populist sentiments (life catching up to art anyone?) and an array of adorably supportive characters with tunes galore that make any Disney movie worthwhile.
Bill Condon (Director), most famously known for his work on Dreamgirls (2006) and Chicago (2002), doesn’t waste any time in carrying us away into the French fairytale world of the Beast’s Castle with a truly striking opening scene. From the onset we see the deviation from the original, but straying only to provide us a richer glimpse into a world we once peeped into in childhood. In flashes and swirls Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza), Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe) and of course Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens (Beast) waltz away at the center of twirling ball gowns, incandescent lights, and bursting opulence. In two minutes the Coke and somber black seats of the theatre are forgotten and we are in aristocratic fairytale French terrain.
But it’s not the A-list stars that dazzle at first, but the magnificence of the mise en scène itself. The detail of the burnished grand castle, the birds-eye take of the dance with tracking shots from ceiling to floor accompanied by the sweet melody of McDonald’s vocals is extravagance nourishing vanity, most likely the Prince’s. Seeing instead of hearing (as we did in the original) sets us for the ride. And then the story starts, the initial tale told, zipping us to Belle in her provincial Heidi/Sound of Music like hillside.
A musical indeed, and at times almost rushed from one ensemble to the next, we are forgiving because of its homely familiarity. The memories stir, and the heart expands with each note and rhythm as the words and sounds recall distant feelings we thought we’d forgotten. It wasn’t difficult to see the smiles in the theatre last throughout much of the screening. Disney tends to do that for most. It’s the result of a strong brand image and an even strong impression pressed into the mind’s eye, sealed in childhood. Adults seemed to shrink into children, and children seemed to own their childhood.
As with much of the content, character depictions were tasteful without too much of a surprise. Though Watson promised to deliver a strong female performance in the form of Belle, much of the work seemed to be mostly loyal to the original. At times more even tempered and resolutely determined than her animated counterpart, the Belle onscreen, while strong was not overpowering. She seemed to be navigating but not driving. A true breakaway was more evident in the more controversial homosexual exploration of Josh Gad’s (LeFou) character that has led to the movie’s ban in Russia (surprise) and Malaysia. Throwing in pinches of wit and being a passive voice of reason, LeFou’s controlled advances on the dashing Luke Evans (Gaston) were entertainingly bold, but ultimately timid. While we may remember the moments of such deviant displays of preference, one wouldn’t consider the exploration of the deviance a groundbreaking statement of any kind. Instead, more of a nod than a showcase. Stevens’ Beast on the other hand, as in the animated version, was thoroughly heartwarming. One thinks if we’d love the human version less relative to the Beast.
The other secret of Beauty and the Beast is the magic of the screen being able to bring to life the imagination of audiences, delicately blending in memories of the animation while folding in expectations of reality. Much of the sets seemed grand enough, and one could almost imagine when the actors might have been in front of curtains of green screen, but regardless the overall piece successfully delivered by taking the hand of the viewer and securing the trust in the visual. The CGI was rarely detectable, and for a movie like this we are forgiving given its animated baseline. Equally crafty, was the melding of A-list actors Ewan McGregor (Lumière), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth) and Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts) with the inanimate. The casting was like a lid to a teapot. Their real-life appearances were barely missed, and revealing them in the end only seemed to be an added treat. This is the result of successful computer animation synchronizing with skilled voice overs and acting.
And of course, the iconic scene of the ballroom dance was delivered with much perfection. The honey glow filter and lighting used for the scene, with masterful tracking shots again from chandelier to marble floor with 360 coverage was as much as one could ask for with the famous Beauty and the Beast song swimming in the background. Emma’s dress, in my opinion, didn’t seem to match up to Belle’s in the cartoon, but who am I to judge, especially when rumor has it that Ms. Watson said “no” to a corset. But the detail spent on the golden overtones from the washed lighting to the golden curvatures of her fabric, abetted by the smooth dancing of beast and lady were enough to satisfy most audiences. Overall, its loyalty and dedication to replicative detail earns it a solid 7.9 out of 10. Adieu.
Friday, March 17, 2017
It's been some time since I've written for the Literartist. But an X-Men movie has never failed to take me back to my pen.
Logan (2017) is a rich turbulent dive into one of the darker currents of the human experience. To summarize, we find ourselves stumbling in an almost mutant-less world in 2029 where we find a battered Logan living a life in hiding, struggling to care for a mentally unrecognizable Professor X. As Logan aims to earn freedom for them both with a plan awfully similar to a Florida elderly retirement ad, their roadmap takes a turn with the arrival of a new mutant and familiar but more watered-down evil threats.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: mega blockbuster franchises, including Marvel’s universe, need to go beyond holding a shot gun to the Earth and threatening to blow it up to make us care. “Logan” instead is just the opposite. The "so what" and "who cares" here are answered on a microscopic experiential level. For the whole movie we barely move beyond the rustic desserts of California and Mexico. It’s not a fantastic show of CGI but a serving of pure human drama accompanied by a little gore and action to remind us that this is still an X-Men movie in part. But it could have been an earthly real-world drama and we would have enjoyed it no less. Writing and acting here stole the show, while CGI chilled in the backseat and just watched.
Finally, we get a Hugh Jackman solo X-Men flick that has been truly worth the wait. The first two failed without doubt. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and The Wolverine (2013) both fell short with their low budget quality visuals and uncreative writing seeping into every corner, in addition to the fiasco of the first leaking an unfinished copy that the world watched before its release. “Logan” is a different beast. Yes we see fancy microbiology on steroids with genome modifications with all the bells and whistles and of course we have the group of bad guys dressed in black running around in droves but at its heart is another more familiar struggle: the struggle against the self in reconciling cynicism, and overcoming the loss of purpose in life. Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) and Patrick Stewart (Charles Xavier) put on a dazzling two-way drama of the intersections of character essences clashing with one another and yet knowing too well of their intertwined reliance. Helped wonderfully by the young presence of Dafne Keen (Laura), the movie isn’t too heavy on comedic relief to offset its serious tone but does spare us with some occasional smiles and flares of wit. But don’t plan on coming to laugh here.
Stewart is a master in action. Watching him play his now more crippled Charles Xavier, both psychologically and physically, is simultaneously painful but awesome. Jackman on the other hand is flawless with his interpretation of Logan. Unflinching to his core, and unyielding even in the most evocative moments of the film, he leaves the audience with a satisfied filling. So filling indeed, one knows the trouble Hollywood will encounter if they were to cast another to follow Jackman. Jackman’s work with the character since the early 2000s has attained a level of brand synergy that rivals Viagra or Chapstick. The first shot of Logan is troubling. He is weak and breaking. We never think of him as vulnerable and mortal, and from the get go the movie develops into something we never expect. The human connection over reconciling the bad hands dealt in life, the loss of hope, and the flooding of jadedness and pessimism swaddles most of the movie’s overarching themes. It’s refreshing to see the internal battles of human drama unfold so ferociously and taxingly on the heartstrings, so much so that no adamantium slashes match up to them.
The gore in the movie is plenty, and this is not shocking. It’s about time they did it after finally taking cues from Deadpool (2016) which showed that Rated R flicks can bring in the big bucks too. Long due and well received, it adds to the weight and realism of the piece – in life you get seriously hurt. It’s all about hyper realism in this one. Less glossy X-Men flash and more tainted battered world weariness. Also new is that we see some lovely meta-moments when X-Men comic books are referenced multiple times in the movie (three if I counted correctly). The technique again situates this drama in a more stripped out real world setting that’s more familiar, and as bleak. Another great move on the writing.
The score was good to accompany the heavy themes and the cinematography of James Mangold (Director) is tastefully done on most occasions. Charles’ seizures are presented in paralysis and echoing electro rhythms. The sounds will be familiar enough to recognize from previous flicks but what is new is the vibrating close-ups and medium-long shots onscreen of paralysis and trauma leaves the audience appropriately disoriented and out of sync.
On a lower note however, at times the explanatory dialogue of characters to explain time lapses and situate the story were a bit clumsily written and the handheld camera videos that we see from Laura’s mom seemed to be less convincing. That the nurses could take such footage in the form of an explanatory type documentary is a bit hard to believe – reminds you of Andrew Garfield’s Amazing Spiderman when he discovers his dad’s all-explanatory videos. That form of “let’s explain everything in a YouTube like clip” needs to be put aside.
Apart from that much of the movie is set in a dusty sand blown filter that is appropriate for the weary journey that much of this movie sets to take on. Rarely do we give this rating, but Logan receives a solid 9 out of 10 for its bold minimalistic dive into the trauma of our own current and possible future lived experiences. Adieu.
Saturday, June 4, 2016
Good enough; but nothing spectacular.
Watching X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) was pleasant, but left an X-Men viewing veteran nostalgic for
the past cast. Don’t misunderstand now, for James McAvoy as Professor Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto are perfect selections for injecting younger blood onscreen. And of course, none can deny the acting credentials of Jennifer Lawrence as Raven Darkhölme / Mystique. They are not the problem. Maybe it was everyone else? Seeing Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) from Game of Thrones (by the way what is it with the obsession of casting GoT characters – last time we saw Peter Dinklage) play Jean Grey felt a bit…odd and slow. Dearly missed the sultry, mesmerizing allure of Famke Janssen. Having Tye Sheridan (Scott Summers) play Cyclops felt mopey and weak – missed the more robust, dashing James Marsden. And then Halle Berry, oh, how thou were’t missed! Who can churn up a tempest like thee! Surely not the heavily accented Alexandra Shipp. A soft drizzle compared to a typhoon!
Selecting Egypt and the historical context the movie was situated in was different, and the sandy backgrounds and warm filters had their own allure which was great. It helped us forgive the convenient plot holes and convenient writing at times. Again we are faced with the obliteration of the world, but the fact that the first mutant, En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is at the helm of this onslaught is a nice twist. His powers truly are impressive and one cannot help but wonder how the X Men will get around this one, if at all. Heavily CGI-ridden, as are most of these flicks, the sets have variety and we see enough switch screens to know that the threat is global – reminds one of Man of Steel (2013). In terms of plot, and storyline's predecessor X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) undoubtedly gets the nod but this installment, once could argue, is entertaining enough to not deserve too harsh of a reprimand.
There were some nice cameos and nods that everyone will appreciate – which I won’t divulge because spoilers are from the devil! The movie is indeed grand in some senses, but could have beefed up its writing. The comic relief is there, especially provided for us in healthy doses by Quick Silver (Evan Peters) – the true crowd pleaser, and some really good one-liners that would do Deadpool (2016) proud. The backstory for Magneto is heart tugging, and his son’s (Quick Silver) Cirque du Soleil scene in which he saves the inhabitants of the X-Mansion was of course a treat, reminding us of the previous prison scene we got in the last installment. Did everything come together cohesively to be impressive enough as a single unit? That one can debate.
As you may have noticed, unlike previous reviews, I won’t be getting too technical with this one. That I will save for Civil War (2016) which I have heard very good things about, but, shameful to admit – I have yet to see. Definitely next in line. And good Lord, that Assassin's Creed trailer with Michael Fassbender as lead looked to die for! Back to the point; for its loyalty to the past, but better than average yet not superior performance, we give X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) a ‘meh’ 6.9/10. Adieu.
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Long time since I did a music video review; but when Queen Bey drops a nuclear musical bomb like this – errbody needs to be on high alert! This is not a drill; this is Code Black.
Critics are raving, law enforcement is cringing, Right white conservatives are shrinking, and the black rights movement is blinking. Beyoncé transcended her pop superstar legacy into what will now be known as the Bey Politic. The power of Bey a force to be reckoned with. Don’t you love how even autocorrect knows to correct beyonce to Beyoncé but goes dead on you for “ducking” everything else.
So what really happened?
The day before Super Bowl 50 Bey released her new video and song titled "Formation" exclusively through Jay-Z’s newly acquired Tidal – a high-quality music streaming service that boasts the ability to rival Apple iTunes, Spotify and Pandora. Her first new release since 2014, the main difference in this one is —everything.
We all know Beyoncé is black. But this time her blackness is deeper, louder, sharper and more rooted than anything we’ve seen before. Her last album with hits like “Flawless” and “Partition” was personal. This is publicly more sensitive and ripened for our time. There is nothing implicit about her agenda. It’s a clenched activist’s fist pumped into our racially turbulent air calling for our attention, and then organized formation. The politic radiates because it is situated in the real, and Bey wants everyone to know that she has been paying attention: Trayvon Martin, police brutality, Katrina, and also male chauvinism and the need for greater female empowerment.
The song, video and Super Bowl performance are so rich it’s hard to even pick a spot to unpack this cultural baggage.
The intro lines by Messy Mya “[w]hat happened at the Newwalins?” is not a question. The opening line of the song and the first take of the video situate this artwork right in the wounded political environment and national dialog arena it came to rip open. NPR is calling it a “visual anthem”. The widescreen shot of Bey atop a police car (significant allegory) in what looks like a post-apocalyptic New Orleans jolts our blotchy memories of Katrina. Then the irregular flashing sound takes us in and out of different images, all significantly black: bounce, police, hood and church to name a few.
But then the assault begins. Beyoncé’s actual first three words being “Y’all haters corny…” telling us that she ain’t happy and she’s here to address some issues. After stamping out the Illuminati conspiracy theories leveled against her she goes on to undoubtedly reaffirm her black heritage. She picks it apart with needle sharp references from the patched quilt of black culture which really, has no singular locus though this effort draws from the South. So many quotable lines in this song it’s a drive-by spraying lyrical and visual mastery at every turn.
Like any typical hip hop song there’s brand names and name dropping for product placement – Givenchy, Roc necklaces, and Adidas shoes and Red Lobster (whose sales, I might add, suddenly shot up by 33% after Beyoncé’s song – talk about power). But the difference here is everything is intentionally tied to represent perceived black identity, be it the “hot sauce” in the bag or her love for “negro noses” and them “Jackson 5 nostrils”. Razor sharp references are deliciously specific, and her raw honesty of her Southern lineage situates our previously “whiter” Beyoncé in a different light when she blurts that "My daddy Alabama, momma Louisiana/ You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bama". Bama, a typically derogatory word used in the South for misfit, is inverted by Bey and flipped on its head and then redefined as something desirable—I mean their union gave birth to and created her.
For a satirical take on White reaction to Bey’s song watch “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black” by the SNL crew.
In drawing from her past, even the at times seemingly low quality 90s MTV music video type quality of the video just takes you back. And that’s the intent – to take you back to black, letting you know it never went anywhere just like how she notes she "Earned all this money but they never take the country out me, I got a hot sauce in my bag, swag". We are transported back to her roots. But she situates it so devastatingly in the present. The last scenes of police lines and hands up in the air are an ode to the recent issues with Trayvon Martin and Ferguson. The little black boy with the black hoodie symbolizes a form of misunderstood innocence, and his MJ-like dance moves are a form of black magic that innocently disarms. The use of children in the shoot, especially Blue-Ivy her own daughter, alludes to the generational impact that's at stake with the issues she wants our attention on. As a mother her concerns are now beyond the personal.
In her Super Bowl performance, as in her video, her “X” formation is a nod to Malcom-X, alongside the homage to the Black Panther-esque wardrobe. Though Coldpay was supposedly the leading act – let’s be real who knew. We all know Chris Martin was obliterated onstage by the sheer force of Beyoncé; unfortunately even for Bruno Mars, it wasn’t just Queen Bey’s height that made her tower over him but her presence, and the message she had brought with her. On a national stadium with 112 000 000 people watching, Bey used the airtime strategically to send strong messages of black resistance to oppression and rallying cries for empowerment both systemically and financially – “You just might be a black Bill Gates in the making, cause I slay; I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making”. The NFL now is facing outrage (which I think is also a bit of exaggerated media hype) but everyone will survive. And then we got the commercial ($4 million price tag) that her world tour is nigh.
But really, where to from here? Can art like this really make a difference, or does it need to be honed into targeted activism to have tangible outcomes for our troubled world? If anything it’s a rise and a good first step from one of the stalwarts of our time. Others have heard and will now follow suit we presume. After all:
“You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation”. Adieu.
Saturday, February 13, 2016
20th Century Fox’s Deadpool (2016) is a refreshing splatter of blood, wit and meta-narrative.
From the moment the film strip spins to life you realize that you're being screened difference, and that what you've comfily seated yourself to watch looks like it'll be a treat. The nice thing about that expectation is that it holds throughout the movie. The meta nature of the writing bursts to life like the spray of bullets from the starting credits. The hyper-slow frames and detail reminds one of the X-Men Quick Silver take but here we are first disoriented and left to locate ourselves as we tumble into the movie mid-scene mid-song.
Not following a traditional narrative works when the rest of the movie pieces support that decision to cohesively deliver seemingly unorganized stories in a subliminally organized manner. In Deadpool our intriguing narrator Wade Wilson, played by the lovable Ryan Reynolds, takes us through time lapses and back story to effectively situate us in the present. He does this charmingly without any lack of entertainment. The logic is easy to follow and the story itself is interesting enough. The beauty of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s writing is that it is simple, and the arc of the story doesn't try to extend beyond the Heavens and wrestle macro apocalypses of Avenger-ial proportions (hint, cough*). At its center is a love story; regardless of the narrator telling us that it isn't. The irony of the love story is that it tries its level best to wash out its passionate red stained love but fails like Wilson’s pitiful attempts to scrub out his once white now stubbornly crimson shirts at the laundromat. Evil in this movie isn’t sinister, but more torturous. Nothing memorable, but utilitarian enough for us to get by.
You knew the studio was low budget on this, around $25 million, but I have a feeling they'll make their money's worth across two weekend box offices. Tim Miller (Director) doesn’t get too flashy. We don't get many set pieces and locations, and most of the action and shots are centered in contained sets. The CGI gives way to revealing itself that it’s CGI in some of the last scenes (look closely) but the fact of the matter is—these can be forgiven. You have a great story here led by an unusually candid renegade non-superhero accompanied by his slapstick wit and "he-said-what-I-was-thinking-did-he-really-just-say-that" factor. We learn to get roped into the movie without trying to admire the visuals and grandeur of mass destruction, of which there is very minimal - thank God.
Reynolds is the beating heart of this movie. Not because he is the lead, but because his character onscreen, and in reality really, fit perfectly into this film to give its own flavor. One could call it a satire on the now never-ending comic movie franchises, the eighth installment of the X-Men series, but it does more than that. It walks the audience through its own narrative, and heightens its self-awareness by vocalizing what the audience thinks but doesn’t utter. It get us every time – again the power of meta narrative done right.
Highly sexualized, gory, and not one lack of slicing power packed bullet-spraying bone-crushing entertainment. The recurrent theme of Deadpool’s self-satisfying self-stimulation is at moments comical but also intentional to support the larger sexual overtones of the film. What works to make the movie matter is the adorable chemistry Deadpool has with the gorgeous Vanessa Carlyle (Morena Baccarin). Another jab made at the audience for its Valentine’s Day weekend release. The humor is reminiscent of Guardians of the Galaxy, and like its fellow comic book cousin it succeeds. The homage paid to 80s and 90s music and classic movies doesn’t go unnoticed either. The soundtrack is well chosen, and evocatively nostalgic. I wouldn’t put it at the same level of the masterpiece musical choices of Guardians, but still very good. Overall, we give it a solid 8.6/10. A full-scale budget would have shot it well into the 9s without doubt. Adieu.
Saturday, November 14, 2015
On a spectrum, I’ve been tossed into happy.
Long awaited but not expected, I can feel myself recovering from what has been unveiled to be a once fractured mind. As I walk now, the billowing cold air that sliced at me last winter now feels silky, soothing cinders long burnt by fire. The condition from rehabilitation is brittle, but ready. Ready at last to be fortified.
However, the whitening fear of it being ephemeral still lingers. In either resistance or pure rejection, the thought is not given air to bloom, thereby suppressed only to occasional black gasps.
The perpetrator for the trauma is still at large. Unaware. In introspection, I am as much to blame. We all are. Us, the culprits for our own sufferings, for ultimately we are the ones that let “us” suffer. No one else.
How you may ask.
Saturday, September 19, 2015
Nothing! Well, not exactly, but for our consuming purposes, pretty much nothing.
Growing up, for some reason I always had this idea that brown eggs were healthier than their pearly white brethren. Their earthy tones, perhaps, symbolized that they were more natural, or less commercialized and bleached similar to white bread and white rice. These tanned hard shell ovals always cost more too; and if I know one thing it's that if it's more expensive it obviously must be higher quality and healthier (organic, anyone? Side note—heard that that might be a scam too but let's keep that for another article).
But the truth is: the reason brown eggs are brown has nothing to do with the nutritional content or the quality of the eggs in and of themselves. Instead, brown eggs are brown because they come from a different kind of chicken. "Terrackk"! That was the sound of your mind cracking! I know I heard it. This piece is similar to the "Unbuttoning the Mystery of Dry Cleaning" article, in that both aim to finally give an answer to a question you’ve always considered but never thought important enough to actually resolve.
So here’s the dirt:
White eggs are laid by white-feathered chickens that have white ear lobes, while brown-feathered chickens with red earlobes are the clucking culprits that lay those pricy brown eggs. So why is brown asking more from our wallets, you ask? Well, it turns out that the chicken that produces brown eggs, a similar species to the brown cow that gives us chocolate milk (okay fine, this one's actually a lie kids), is larger in size and thereby requires more feed. This higher cost of “production” is the main reason as to why brown eggs command a higher price at the grocery store. Farmers and distributors pass on the cost to the consumer in the form of a higher retail markup.
Nutritionally, there is no difference. Some say brown eggs may have more Omega content but this is near negligible. If you find that the yolks have a more vibrant yellow in some eggs than others, this is more due to the quality of the feed than the egg shell's hue. White eggs can have as much neon yellow in their Sunny Side Ups as any brown egg on the market.
And so it is, that another one of Life’s most confounding mysteries has now been solved at the Literartist. With all that hard work behind me, now all I really want is a good 3 egg-ed mushroom omelette. Protein come at me, brah! Adieu.
Erdos, Joseph. "What's The Difference Between White Eggs And Brown Eggs?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 14 Mar. 2012. Web. 19 Sept. 2015.