Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gadd, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald
In 1991, New York Times theatre critic Frank Rich declared that the best Broadway musical score of the year actually belonged to a movie. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was a sensation. It became the first animated feature film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, spawned a long-running Broadway show, and arguably represents the high watermark for Disney’s animated musicals. All of which means that the latest in Disney’s run of live-action remakes of their animation back catalogue probably has the highest stakes.
The opening prologue, which is here dramatised rather than simply narrated, transports us back to provincial France where an arrogant prince (Dan Stevens) is transformed into a hideous beast, and all his staff into crockery and furniture, as punishment for his cruelty, and doomed to stay that way unless he can learn to love and earn someone’s love in return. That someone is Belle (Emma Watson), a bookish but courageous girl from a nearby town who becomes prisoner in the beast’s palace before working her way into the hearts of the staff and, ultimately, their master (leading some to cynically refer to the film as ‘Stockholm Syndrome: The Musical’). Continue reading
Director: Will Gluck
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Cameron Diaz
It is the musical remake that nobody was asking for: a loose, modern retelling of Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin’s beloved stage musical Annie. Gone is the traditional red hair and chirpiness of Little Orphan Annie, which this film lampoons in its opening moments. This Annie, played by Quvenzhané Wallis (from Beasts of the Southern Wild), is no orphan, she’s a foster kid and a savvy one at that.
Annie’s life is changed when she is pulled from the path of a car by Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) – our substitute Daddy Warbucks – a telecommunications mogul running for Mayor of New York. The incident is captured on video and goes viral, giving Stacks a much needed bump in the polls. With Annie seemingly his election trump card, Stacks’ cynical campaign manager arranges for him to foster her for the period of the campaign.
In seeking to modernise the story the filmmakers appear to have forgotten just how important historical context is to Annie’s tale. Continue reading
Director: Ken Scott
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders
Not often does a filmmaker get the chance to have a second go, to make the same film twice, but that is exactly what has happened for Ken Scott. In 2011 Ken Scott released Starbuck, a French-Canadian film about a man, David Wozniak, who in his youth, under the pseudonym ‘Starbuck,’ donated frequently to a sperm bank and through a clerical error ends up becoming the biological father to 533 children. Two years later, Scott is in Hollywood making Delivery Man, where Vince Vaughn plays David Wozniak, who in his youth, under the pseudonym ‘Starbuck,’ donated frequently… you get the idea.
Hollywood has a history of remaking successful foreign comedies for an American audience that can’t be bothered reading subtitles, but this is a scene-for-scene, shot-for-shot, joke-for-joke remake. While Starbuck was a bit of a critical darling, doing quite well at a number of film festivals, the remake lacks some of the freshness of the original.
Given this is Scott’s second shot at making this film it is odd that Delivery Man feels like a movie made off a first draft script. The screenplay is incredibly uneven. There are some passages which are quite sharp and well executed, while others really drag. There are also jarring changes in tone throughout the film. One moment we are giggling at a montage of David going to great lengths to secretly get to know his children –taking and re-taking historical tours, drowning in a public pool to get rescued, helping a drunken young man get home safe from a big night out – and the next moment we watch him trying to process the fact that one of his sons, Ryan, has severe cerebral palsy. The scenes with Ryan are among the most touching in the film, but they don’t sit easily with the scenes around them.
This lack of assuredness in the storytelling also manifests itself in some annoying and unnecessary subplots. David trying to prove to his pregnant girlfriend he is father material at the same time as dealing with the discovery he already has 533 children is more than enough story to satisfy a 90 minute comedy. We don’t need the extra 20 mins that comes from David being in severe debt to angry loan sharks and growing pot to help pay them off. Rather than adding drama, it just distracts from it.
Delivery Man has some laughs, though not as many as you might expect. Chris Pratt is particularly funny, though I don’t know if anyone can really believe him as a lawyer. For Vince Vaughn this film is the latest example of his transition from the obnoxious motor-mouth of Swingers and Wedding Crashers to sentimental middle-aged guy.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Kimberly Peirce
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde, Judy Greer, Portia Doubleday, Ansel Elgort
There have been many movies about high school outsiders that teach us that once you get to know that slightly odd kid you might just find that they actually aren’t all that different to you. But you can depend on Stephen King to borrow that much used set up in order to give us a slightly different moral: If you know someone who is a little bit weird, they are probably even weirder than you thought. Twenty-seven years since Carrie first hit our screens she is back in a remake that unfortunately doesn’t do much more than repeat the previous film and offers precious little new insight.
This time around it is Chloë Grace Moretz who plays the downtrodden teenage girl, Carrie. Victim of an oppressive home environment under her extremist Christian mother and a source of ridicule at her school, Carrie also happens to have telekinetic powers. When she is finally pushed to breaking point the result is a prom night no one will ever forget.
MGM is promoting this film as a re-imagining of Stephen King’s novel, but it really feels like a direct remake of Brian DePalma’s 1976 film. There are a number of scenes and giant slabs of dialogue which are exactly the same. There doesn’t appear to be much re-imagining going on at all. Director Kimberly Peirce is best known for her 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry for which Hillary Swank won an Oscar playing a young gay girl pretending to be a man. Given the success with which that film explored the struggles of a young woman who felt like an outsider and a freak, there was hope that Peirce might bring some new insight to the thematically similar Carrie. So it is disappointing that those hopes were unfounded, with this new version of Carrie failing to venture anywhere new or explore anything different.
Many of the changes from the original version to this one are largely superficial – for example Carrie uses her telekinesis to break a water cooler in the principal’s office rather than an ash tray, she breaks a mirror at school rather than at home – one update which is notable is the acknowledgement of the role that technology and social media now play in schoolyard bullying. Carrie’s initial breakdown, the event which starts the films plot in motion, is captured on a camera phone and posted online.
While DePalma’s film was quite tonally uneven, seeming to swing between horror and John Hughes-esque high school drama, Peirce’s take on the story is a straight teen horror. Some of the characters are a bit overbearing in their lack of subtlety – see teen queen bee Chris Hargensen who is as two-dimensional an evil villain as you will find in any fairy tale – but Carrie’s lack of subtlety is most apparent in its use of special effects. Peirce is not a director who is well practiced at shooting effects heavy scenes and this film seems to indulge too heavily in them. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the film’s key set piece, Carrie’s explosion at the prom. In DePalma’s film, despite its impact it was a surprisingly short scene – only about five minutes. This time around it is stretched out to a substantially longer scene – a good 15-20 minutes – without really achieving anything additional in this extra time.
Chloë Grace Moretz is one of the very best young actresses going around at the moment, and she is quite good in this. However, she is a stunning young woman and dressing her down in daggy clothes, frizzing up her hair and getting her to hunch over doesn’t even half disguise that fact. Despite her incredible talent, she doesn’t have the awkward, other-wordly quality that Sissy Spacek brought to the original film which earned her an Oscar nomination.
Were this the first screen adaptation of Carrie it might not be treated so harshly. It is a perfectly acceptable piece of teen horror. But unfortunately this is not the first adaptation and as such it feels completely unnecessary.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Len Wiseman
Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bill Nighy
Total Recall is a remake of the Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger cult classic from 1990, which begs the question, why? Why did this film need to be remade? Director Len Wiseman, best known for the Underworld series, doesn’t take the story anywhere new, but he does lose the satire, the existential questions and sense of fun which made Verhoeven’s film work.
Total Recall takes us to a futuristic dystopia, where disenchanted factory worker Douglas Quaid decides to visit a Rekall centre, a company that implants clients with fake memories of the life they would like to have led. He chooses the life of a secret agent but as the procedure commences the technicians discover that he has had his memory erased and was previously, in fact, a secret agent. Quaid then finds himself on the run from those who had previously engineered his disappearance.
Colin Farrell takes on the role that Schwarzenegger made his own 22 years ago. Farrell is obviously a better actor than Schwarzenegger and does a passable job of getting you to empathise with his character’s confusion, but whether that is enough to make you accept him in Arnie’s place is uncertain. Arnie’s ownership of a role rarely has anything to do with his acting skill. What Farrell’s presence does do is demonstrate how, twenty years on, audiences demand a different style of action hero, with him being a far cry from the 1980s beefcakes like Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Van Damme.
Wiseman’s film is very visual effects heavy and while these effects are sound they are nothing we haven’t seen before. The look of the film is clearly based on Ridley Scott’s neo-noir masterpiece Blade Runner. If only it could have managed just a fraction of Blade Runner’s nuance.
Drawing on the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” (Dick also wrote “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” which was the basis for Blade Runner), the intrigue of Total Recall is supposed to come from an uncertainty as to whether what we are watching is real life or whether Doug is simply experiencing his Rekall fantasy. Unfortunately this existential element is almost completely lost in this remake, with the film never quite doing enough to genuinely make you wonder about the reality of what is being experienced. What you are left with is a largely unengaging film which feels like one extended, two-hour chase sequence.
Rating – ★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Justin Zackham
Starring: Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Katherine Heigl, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace, Ben Barnes, Robin Williams
There was a time when a film starring Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams would have raised a bit of interest. But with recent all-star comedies like Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve consistently underwhelming and proving to be considerably less than the sum of their parts, it is understandable that The Big Wedding is approached with a great deal of scepticism. While Justin Zackham’s remake of the 2006 French Film Mon frère se marie (My Brother is Getting Married) is more of a traditional farce than yet another multiple-plotline, Love Actually imitation, the scepticism is unfortunately warranted.
Long divorced couple Don and Ellie Griffin are forced to pretend to be happily married once again when their adopted son Alejandro announces that his ultra-conservative Catholic biological mother is unexpectedly flying in from Columbia for his wedding, and confesses that he never informed her of their separation for fear of offending her beliefs. Add in a step mother who is now forced to move out of her home to maintain the illusion, a sister who is experiencing relationship troubles of her own, a brother who finds himself rather attracted to Alejandro’s biological sister and a slightly racist soon-to-be mother-in-law who is unsure about the “beige babies” the union will result in and you have all the ingredients for an eventful wedding celebration.
If the combination of the scenario, the age of some of the principal cast, and the similarity in title to My Big Fat Greek Wedding lead you to expect a gentle comedy for the whole family you could be in for a bit of a shock. From the very first scene the filmmakers seem determined to try and tap into the recent success of more ‘adult’ comedies and as such The Big Wedding is surprisingly crude, having been slapped with an MA15+ rating for strong coarse language and sexual references. The result is part screwball comedy, part American Pie-style sex-romp except that rather than being sixteen our protagonists are in their sixties.
Crudeness aside, the screenplay is reasonably witty. There are some good comic moments and while none of the cast members really shine like we know they can, they each have their moments and no one is bad. Ultimately however, where you want a good farce to build to an absurd crescendo, this one seems to get overwhelmed as the layers of ridiculousness are piled on. A film like this needs a straight character in amongst all the chaos to act as the audience’s surrogate and point of view. In this case it is likely supposed to be the betrothed couple, played by Ben Barnes and Amanda Seyfried, but they aren’t featured prominently enough to perform the function, likely due to their incredible blandness.
Incredibly predictable but entertaining enough, this comedy about seniors behaving badly is the latest in a growing tradition of Hollywood remakes of French comedies that just seem to lose something once they’re Americanised.
Rating – ★★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Dan Bradley
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, Connor Cruise, Will Yun Lee
A remake of the 1984 Patrick Swayze movie, Red Dawn tells the story of a group of high schoolers who, under the guidance of a young marine recently returned from Iraq played by Chris Hemsworth, become guerrilla soldiers when their home town is overrun by a North Korean invading force. Taking on the mascot of their high school, the Wolverines become Spokane, Washington’s version of the Vietcong, terrorising the occupying forces with their superior knowledge of the local terrain, and giving hope to an imprisoned people.
If you want to enjoy Red Dawn it is important that you leave your brain at the door, because if you let yourself think about it even for a second the whole premise unravels. Whether it is little questions like how is it that the Wolverines seem to be able to move in and out of the town with such ease, or bigger ones like how can a well-drilled North Korean invading force be so easily and consistently out-skilled and out-strategised by a group of high schoolers after only a couple of weeks (the time periods are intentionally kept vague) of basic training from an early-career marine, the film just doesn’t stand up to logic. It’s pretty ludicrous stuff.
In the 1984 original, it was the Soviets who were invading, and despite the premise being the same, Cold War anxiety made the whole thing a bit more acceptable. This time around it is the North Koreans. I always find it a bit awkward when a non-historically based film speculates about a war between two actual countries. Most films of this kind will give the enemy a fictional name or leave them anonymous while subtly or unsubtly alluding to a real life country. But in this case the studio has obviously figured that they weren’t going to damage the film’s international box office potential by getting North Korea offside. Interestingly, the film had to be re-edited with certain scenes reshot, as the invading force was originally identified as Chinese. Obviously China was too big a potential market to alienate.
Directed by Dan Bradley, a stuntman, it heavily favours action over psychological insight. Only for the briefest of moments is attention given to the thought that a teenager might be psychologically conflicted by being required to take another person’s life. For Australian readers who will understand the reference, Red Dawn is Tomorrow When the War Began done American style. It’s the same concept but with a much higher ammunition and explosives budget.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean