Beauty and the Beast (2017 Movie)

movie_poster_beautybeast2017_95e8117fBe Our Guest.

I saw it last night, guys.  You ready for this?

(I’m not even going to give you a synopsis of this movie because I truly hope that no one needs an explanation of what this movie is about.  That would just be so sad.)

Let’s start by talking about the story itself.  Obviously, probably about 85-90% of this movie is the same as the original.  (Some of the dialogue is word for word the same as well, a fact that I know because I have the original animated movie completely memorized.)  Your basics are all there: Belle goes to the castle, Gaston is the bad guy, “Be Our Guest” is a huge production, etc.  The plot is essentially the same.

However, there are some differences to the story, and I won’t go too far into specifics because the discover of it was just so much fun as I was watching it.  Some of the differences have been well-publicized, like Belle being the inventor rather than her father, or Le Fou’s gay scene.  (We’ll talk about that later.)  Belle definitely feels like more of a stronger heroine than the original does, and that’s thanks in large part of Emma Watson’s insistence that Belle not be a damsel in distress.  I liked that she was more willing to be part of the fight rather than just watching it happen.

I was happy with other differences as well.  Disney did a nice job trying to fix some of those plot holes from the original (like the much talked about age of the Beast, since the rose would bloom until his 21st year, etc.).  But we also get backstories on Gaston, Belle, the Beast.  It was great.  And more interactions with the enchanted people in the castle!  You’re going to enjoy Stanley Tucci’s new character.

Oh!  And I almost forgot.  For those of you very familiar with the original tales of Beauty and the Beast from about 200 years ago (or the Robin McKinley retellings), you’ll be pleased with a few changes to the story.

I was also very happy with the music.  Obviously, most of the songs you know well are in this movie again.  (I noticed one or two were cut, but they were reprises or additions to the anniversary edition of the movie.)  The singing voices for the main characters were a little bit different than I was expecting, like how Emma’s voice is a bit airy, but I liked the way it sounded.  And I’m a huge fan of Josh Gad, so his singing is always phenomenal.

There are a few new songs added to the movie, but you’ll be pleased to know Alan Menken returns for this and the additional lyrics were written by Tim Rice, who is a longtime lyricist for Disney.  (Howard Ashman, who wrote the original lyrics, died from AIDS before the 1991 movie was released.)  Some of Ashman’s original lyrics, which were cut from the 1991 film, were added back in for this movie.  So even the new songs and verses feel like classic Disney songs.

Now for the acting.  I thought that Emma Watson did a wonderful job as Belle (partly because Emma is Belle in so many way).  Dan Stevens plays the Beast in a way that makes him seem tough but also soft at times.  As I already mentioned, I love Josh Gad for his humor and vocals, and this did not disappoint.  Gad is hilarious as Le Fou.

But you know who the surprises were?  Luke Evans as Gaston and Kevin Kline as Maurice.  I had heard that Evans wanted to play Gaston in more of a way that made him seem like a human before doing a bait-and-switch style shift in his character.  Of course, Gaston is still a complete narcissist, but he’s not as conceited as he is in the original.  And his shift into a monster is more unsettling for that reason.  And Kline gives Maurice more of a backbone (and more intelligence).  One of my issues with the original Maurice is how flighty and helpless he seems, but Kline did a nice job of still keeping Maurice a bit absent-minded but still respectable.  I understood him more.

Of course, I can’t leave out the enchanted cast either.  Audra McDonald is always a favorite of mine, so insert glowing praise here.  Ewan McGregor is fun as Lumiere, Ian McKellen is great as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson does fantastic justice to Mrs. Potts, and the ensemble of Plumette and Chip are scene-stealers.

I was well-impressed with this movie.  Sure, when you know what’s going to happen next, it takes out a little of the excitement and suspense, but it was still a lot of fun to see it all on the big screen.

I enjoyed myself while watching this movie.  And my boyfriend (who not only came to see this with little complaining AND bought me a replica of Belle’s necklace in the ballroom scene) enjoyed himself too, even if he denies it.  From a male perspective, he enjoyed Gaston’s character a lot and the inclusion of “X-Men and Hobbits” in this movie.  (He caught McKellen’s voice immediately and recognized Luke Evans, but it took him until the credits to identify McGregor.)  He was rooting for Gaston nearly the entire time.

Have fun going to see this yourself, friends!  Let me know what you thought!

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The DUFF (Movie)

the-duff-poster06Every duff has their day.

Alright, disclaimer: I have never read the original novel this is based on.  But I saw this trailer and thought it would be fun to watch anyway.  And I thought it would be a strange experience, considering I almost always read the book before I see the movie.

Bianca is a happy senior, content to binge-watch cult classics and hang out with her two best friends…until someone points out that she’s the DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) of her group.  Determined to change that label and land a date with her crush Toby, Bianca recruits her neighbor and jock Wesley to help her look prettier and land the guy.  But what happens when things don’t turn out the way she expects?

I found this to be incredibly enjoyable.  Like, I was giggling and riveted the whole time.  It’s just a feel-good kind of movie.  (And, from what I hear, also very very different from the source material.  Apparently they have very little in common besides the name??)

Bianca, our DUFF (played by Mae Whitman), is what I affectionately call a weirdo.  She has her own sense of self, of style, of what she likes.  She makes references to things others don’t get.  She’s brash and smart.  I adored her attitude and the way she’s actually really shy underneath all of that.  It was cute.

robbie-amell-tomorrow-peopleI was also a big fan of Wesley (and I felt a little weird crushing on him until I found out he’s actually 3 years older than I am, making him something like 27 when it was released).  Wes (played by Robbie Amell) has a softer side that I found endearing.  He may have been popular, but he was just as much of a weirdo as Bianca in his own way.  I thought it was cute.  He’s cute.  Mmmm.

The plot was interesting.  Until she found out she was a DUFF, Bianca was happy to be a weirdo.  Once she finds out what everyone thinks of her, she makes a deal with Wes: she’ll tutor him in chemistry (because he’s failing and can’t play football) if he’ll teach her how to talk to boys and land dates.  On the side, they’re dealing with Wes’s ex-girlfriend Madison, the school Queen B and mean girl who is a master at manipulating everyone and everything her way.

This movie does take a semi-serious look at cyber-bullying while still retaining its humor.  There’s a huge fall-out from a video to the point where the school steps in.  As a teacher (and a decent human being) I truly hate cyber-bullying and I was kind of pleased with how this movie dealt with it.  Did it truly solve the problem?  Of course not.  But Bianca found a way to come out ahead.

But what I loved most about this is its sense of humor.  Bianca constantly has moments of word vomit, where something does not sound right in the least once it’s out.  The whipped cream and cherry on top are the combined talents of Allison Janney (playing Bianca’s divorced motivational speaker mother) and Ken Jeong (playing Bianca’s journalism teacher).  Oh my gosh, those two stole nearly every scene they were in.  So funny, so weird.  I love them.

Overall, I found this to be super entertaining.  And it had a great theme at the end: be happy being the weirdo that  you are.

Vampire Academy (The Movie)

vampireacademy-posterfinalThey Suck at School.

Wow.  Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve done a movie review?  …Neither do I.  Forever, at least.  But I couldn’t pass up reviewing this, when it’s one of my favorite book series.

Basic plot: Rose Hathaway and Lissa Dragomir are BFFs, but it’s more than that.  Rose and Lissa have a bond that allows Rose to actually be inside Lissa’s head and feel her emotions.  It’s definitely helpful, since Rose is one day going to be Lissa’s guardian (or bodyguard, in human terms).  But after having gotten into serious trouble for running away from school, it’s tough to reintegrate into high school without everyone spreading rumors about you.  And Rose has a lot of catching up to do to get back into tip-top physical shape, which means loads of extra hours with her new mentor, Dimitri, a guardian god.  When someone begins to target Lissa, Rose is going to do everything she can to neutralize the threat.

I don’t totally feel like I did that justice, but like I said, this is one of my favorite stories.  So I’m seeing like, 20 plot points in my head and wanting to point out who Christian is, etc. etc.

Look, I know this movie got panned.  It flunked the box office like it was a middle schooler taking college calc.  But honestly, I thought it was actually kind of adorable.

Were the actors and actresses exactly like I pictured?  God no.  But they rocked it anyway.  They fit the role, if not all of the physical characteristics I thought they should have had.  Zoey Deutch does a great job bringing sarcasm, wit, and attitude to Rose, which was all I truly asked for.  Lucy Fry slowly grew on me, partly because she was the furthest from what I pictured of the main characters.  It took some time, but we got there.  But seriously, Danila Kozlovsky.  My God.  Who would have thought Russians could be so hot?  (Then again, I was already crazy in love with Dimitri, so…)

The movie does stay fairly true to the book.  There are a few deviations, but I usually attribute those to the time constraints of the movie.  It happens every time.  But everything else was pretty close, a fact that I appreciated.

But I will say that this is one of those books that may be hard for someone unfamiliar with the book to fully understand.  I can’t be objective enough to really judge that, though.  There were just some places where I knew that I knew more than the movie was telling.

So then why did it do so badly at the box office?  Here’s my theory: I think it wasn’t marketed right.  Even looking at the movie poster, it’s using all these neon colors and talks about how awful high school is, etc.  The trailer also seems a bit…off to me, and I know the story backwards and forwards.  Even though I love this story, I never went to see it in theatres.  It just didn’t look like it was going to be like the story I knew.  And that is what I think went wrong.  Fans of the book may have avoided it thinking it wasn’t going to be faithful and the normal moviegoer probably didn’t quite know if it was a romance, an action movie, or just all about vampires.

In the end?  I liked it a lot.  It was really awesome to see the story come to life.  I’m a little disappointed that there won’t be more movies (Shadow Kissed would be a killer movie), but I’m also ok with keeping this series with me the way it currently is.

Insurgent (Movie)

One choice can destroy you

I saw this over Spring Break with my mom (who read the book ages ago and didn’t remember much about it) and one of my brothers (who had never read it).  I’m hoping I can use this review to reflect their feelings about this movie as well as my own.

Every choice has consequences, and no one knows that better than Tris.  She constantly fights to protect her family and friends, regardless of the costs…and those costs are quickly adding up.  Jeanine isn’t going to let Tris go without a fight.  In times of war, everyone must pick a side.  But with war also comes deadly consequences…

My reactions:

Even though it’s been a few years, I remembered a fair bit about the plot of the book.  So I knew pretty quickly that the movie changed/cut out a lot.  But it really didn’t bother me much because I thought it still told an entertaining story.  It just wasn’t quite the original, though it stayed true to Tris, the others, and the city.

There was a bit too much violence for my taste, particularly with the loud gun blasts from the amped up theater speakers.  (The sounds of guns that loud makes me anxious.)  But I still thought it was true to the story.  Oh, side note, the action-to-romance ratio is something like 10:1.  For every 10 scenes of guns and fights, there is one cutesy scene.

I was glad to see some of the minor characters either play a larger role or show up for the first time. For as much as I hated him in the book, I freaking love Miles Teller’s portrayal of Peter.  He’s a complete enigma.  And this also brought in characters like Uriah and Naomi, who were both super compelling given their limited screen time.

But ever since Shailene Woodley shot to fame, I feel like I’m playing “One Degree of Shailene” in this movie.  Like “Oh, there’s Ansel Elgort, who played Augustus to her Hazel Grace in TFIOS.  Oh, there’s Miles Teller who played Sutter to her Aimee in The Spectacular Now.”  Seriously, I had a hard time getting pictures of her kissing those boys out of my head to remember she was with Four.

Still, I rather enjoyed the movie.  Though looking back, it’s probably not going to be one I decide to pop in while I’m alone on the weekends.

My mom and brother’s reaction:

They were bored.  The storyline was repetitive to them and it never really got exciting.  I think one of them nearly fell asleep in the movie.  I guess maybe I spent the whole time replaying the book in my head and just anticipating what would come next?  And they didn’t/couldn’t.  It got old fast.

So there you have it.  Two people who didn’t know/remember Insurgent as a book were bored with the movie, but I enjoyed it at the time.  It wasn’t the best YA adaptation ever, and Divergent was better, but I didn’t think it was awful.

Romeo & Juliet (2013)

The most dangerous love story ever told.

I’m just going to start this by admitting that I’ve read this play roughly 4 times (and nearly all of that because of schoolwork) and that, while the story does seem romantic at times, Romeo and Juliet are kind of idiots.  I love the story, but you can tell they’re just kids making dumb decisions.  Ok?  On with it.

Do I really need to break down the plot for this?  Please tell me I don’t.

Ok.  We’ll start with the good.  First of all, the settings/set design for this movie is fabulous.  This is something I generally don’t pay attention to, but my God, it was all stunning.  I think it’s partly because it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the 60s version of this movie and more historically accurate than the Baz Luhrmann version.  It was striking.  It was beautiful.

Also, this was adapted/written by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame and it shows.  This is the only version I can think of where characters like the Nurse and Friar Lawrence (called “Father” Lawrence in this movie) have a real chance to shine.  Most movies cut them out to give our main kiddos more love scenes.  But it was just fantastic to see the more minor characters (even Lord and Lady Capulet!) step a little further into the light.

I thought that the casting was also excellent.  I really liked Hailee Steinfeld’s performance as Juliet (though I have seen other reviews that said she wasn’t pretty enough?  I though she was pretty.  And besides, Juliet’s only supposed to be like 13 and trust me, 13-year-olds have not grown into their looks).  And Douglas Booth was great as Romeo, though I admittedly spent more time looking at his cheek/jaw bones rather than actually paying attention to his acting.  That boy has a very pretty face.

But the most surprising casting choices that soared were those of Lord Capulet, Father Lawrence, and Nurse.  Damian Lewis brings a light-hearted attitude to Lord Capulet that does occasionally turn dangerous.  But it’s perhaps the first portrayal of Lord Capulet where I really felt like he loved his daughter.  Nurse (played by Lesley Manville) was funny and charming and caring.  I loved that she had a bigger role than usual.  And Paul Giamatti as Father Lawrence…who would’ve thought that would work?  Giamatti brought to the role this quick wit, hope, and just enough shifty-eyed attitude to make him seem like he’s always scheming up something.

Even through all of this, there were some things that were…well, not what I expected.

For example, there is very little Shakespearean dialogue in this movie.  A lot of it that is here comes from the most famous lines.  The balcony scene.  The chorus introduction.  The death scene.  And a few random lines between here and there that are famous.

And some of the scenes were changed.  Like how the whole movie starts off out a jousting match between Tybalt and Mercutio.  Here I was quoting along with the chorus in the first two minutes of the movie before I had to stop and figure out exactly what was happening.  A joust?  Really?  Admittedly, the movie is usually quite close to the play, but there are definitely striking differences at crop up.

So to sum up: great casting and set design, little of Shakespeare’s actual words.  But hey, there are also some pretty kicking sword fights.  I guess that makes up for something?

Now Is Good

Live every moment, love every moment

Spring Break is a great time to catch up on all those movies I’ve been meaning to watch.  And this was definitely on my list.  I figured it couldn’t go wrong, being based on a YA book and starring Dakota Fanning.  (And Jeremy Irvine, who is quite hot, if I do say so.)

Based on the book Before I Die by Jenny Downham, this is the story of the end of Tessa Scott.  Diagnosed with aggressive leukemia, Tessa knows the end is coming.  And if she’s going to go out, then she’s going to cross a few things off her bucket list along the way.  Shoplifting.  Trying drugs.  Sex.  But the funny thing is that even when life is ending, it still changes on you.  Enter Adam, the cute next door neighbor who takes a liking to Tessa.  Together, they’ll discover what it means to love…and lose.

I just want to acknowledge right off that bat that this movie (and it’s book) are pretty similar to The Fault in Our Stars, even though the book this is based on came out 4 years before TFIOS did.  But they are very similar.  If you like TFIOS, you’ll probably like this.

Ok.  I guess I’ll start with the characters/acting.  Tessa is a very cynical, angry character.  She’s more or less accepted that she’s going to die, but she’s not going to just roll over and let it.  And to some extent, I liked her take-no-prisoners attitude.  But she also made a lot of mistakes in how she went about completing her bucket list.  She hurts a lot of people.  It was sometimes hard to like her.

And Dakota Fanning does an excellent job of making Tessa physically weak but strong in other ways.  (She does have a British accent in this, which sounded really strange.)  But she also came off as unemotional and stoic a lot of the time and I can’t tell how much of that was intentional and how much wasn’t.  But at odd times, she’d seem emotionless.

Adam is a total sweetheart.  Totally swooned.  And Jeremy Irvine was fabulous at creating Adam’s insecurity, his nerves, and his sadness.  Whenever he was in a scene, I was pretty glued to the movie.  (Seriously, have you seen that face? SWOON.)

This is kind of an indie British movie, so it um…well, it was actually quite disturbing at times.  There is a reason I’m not a nurse/doctor.  This movie has lots of blood, vomit, and a catheter being pulled out from Tessa’s shoulder.  I nearly puked and I am not making that up.  So just be forewarned that there may be some parts where you’ll need to look away if you have a weak stomach.  I don’t normally have that weak of a stomach but that catheter scene…that was just unnatural.  Do catheters really come out of there?!

I liked that there were points of the movie that seemed to…almost make fun of death or moving on after death.  And it almost always came out of the mouth of Tessa’s little brother, who was trying to understand what was happening to his big sister.  But it was a nice unintentional joke to lighten the mood from time to time.

It’s a really sad but touching movie.  While it wasn’t always the greatest, I will say that the casting department did a great job picking actors.

The Maze Runner (Movie)

Brief description: Thomas is deposited in a community of boys after his memory is erased, soon learning they’re all trapped in a maze that will require him to join forces with fellow “runners” for a shot at escape.

Would you believe I’m actually posting a movie review?  When was the last time I did this?  Well, I watched this movie last night and I thought some of you might like to know what I thought of it!  I was very on-the-fence about watching this because it has been like 4-5 years since I read the book.  I didn’t remember much about the book, but I knew some things.  And my students are always talking about it or reading the books, so I thought I really needed to see it before someone spoiled something.

And really, it was pretty good.  This is one of those rare YA adaptations that  anyone could quickly understand, whether they had read the book or not.  I felt that my long hiatus on the series didn’t hinder me, and my mom, who hasn’t read the book, seemed to be following along easily as well.  Thumbs up for that!

The acting in this was pretty good as well.  The boys are all varied in age, attitude, and physicality, but they all seemed to be similar from their shared experience in the Glade.  That sounds weird.  Here’s what I’m trying to say: there did seem to be a sense of camaraderie between the actors as well as the characters.  There.  That was much better.  Anywho, there were definitely certain characters that seemed to be close.  Like Thomas and Chuck.  And I’ll throw Newt into it as well.  They just seemed to radiate…something.  Their relationship translated well.

Let’s talk about these actors.  There are a few that will totally steal your heart.  Chuck was fabulous, for starters.  I unfortunately cannot remember his character from the book, so I’m not sure how much of the character comes from the actor and how much is the character.  But he was great.  And Alby and Gally have this presence about them that just exudes strength.  One thing that Thomas was really good at was showing how curious he was about everything.  He was always questioning something and you could just see the wheels turning in his head.

(Also, it was just really funny to try to match up where I knew some of these actors from movies I had seen them in before.  So many familiar faces!)

There’s definitely a lot of action in this, as readers of the book are aware.  Danger is constantly lurking.  And some gore.  Nothing super gross (like vast amounts of blood), but let’s just say special effects had some fun with a few scenes.

Let me just say those grievers were better than I could have imagined.  Intimidating, slightly horrifying, a little gross, and just all around something the Gladers should definitely have been afraid of.  I was impressed by the special effects on that.

Overall, it’s definitely an action/sci-fi film.  (My mom didn’t like it much for that reason.)  But it has great characters, awesome acting, and it’s easy to jump into the movie whether you’re read the book or not.