Archives for September 2016

La Belle et la Bête (2014)

When I initially endeavored to cover La Belle et la Bête (2014) I thought it would be a great idea to watch the Jean Cocteau 1946 version as a companion piece. Alas, that never happened – because – life. I would say based on this viewing, I am determined to eventually give it a look. But for now, I’ll stick to reviewing this version.

First a little background. I definitely have a mixed history with the story of Beauty and the Beast as both a source material and an adaptation.  While I have not seen the Disney animated ‘masterpiece’ from 1991, I was more familiar with the late 1980s television version featuring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton. Sadly I am old and remember it well. All this to say, that, I generally thought I knew the basics of the story; in other words, I knew enough to get by and not be surprised by the lack of singing candelabras or tea cups.

Or rather, I THOUGHT I knew. As I tucked in and watched this French language version, directed by Christophe Gans and starring Léa Sedyoux and Vincent Cassel (they of the title respectively), I found myself post-screening having to do some additional research about the 1740 story as told by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (later abridged by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756).

bellebete

In fact, let me go ahead and share with you (who may also be similarly uninitiated) the film synopsis which will adequately set the stage for the story:

The year is 1810. After the wreck of his ships, a financially-ruined merchant (André Dussollier) exiles himself in the countryside with his six children. Among them is Belle (the “beauty”), his youngest daughter.

One day, during an arduous journey, the merchant stumbles across the magical domain of the Beast (Vincent Cassel), who sentences him to death for stealing a rose.

Feeling responsible for the terrible fate which has befallen her family, Belle decides to sacrifice herself and take her father’s place. At the Beast’s castle, it is not death that awaits Belle, but a strange life in which fantastical moments mingle with gaiety and melancholy.

They learn about each other, taming one another like two strangers who are total opposites.

As for the film itself, credit to the director, cinematographer and the set design/visual effects teams. They really created a stunning and mystical landscape that seemed to be lifted straight from the imagination of a person reading the fairytale. The visual style was so enthralling that I was engaged all the way through. The live action blended seamlessly with the CG. Sure I knew it was CG, but that is a concession I was willing to make in allowing the film to push the limits of projecting an otherworldly fairyland onto the screen.

That said, once I got past the reverie, I did feel like there were issues with the plotting of the story. In spite of the fact of my prior knowledge that Belle (“Beauty”) would eventually fall in love with the “Beast,” the film did the bare minimum (and possibly less than that) to convince me of the progression of Belle’s feelings.

I also get the sense that there was an effort to convey a sense of gritty realism in the tale at particular moments. In general, this felt a little incongruous to my sensibilities and the initial escapism and whimsy conveyed by the images I saw on screen. But then again, maybe I should remember my literary history and that the origins of fairytales often were not filled with an unending stream of sunshine, rainbows and magic.

Although the film was produced in 2014 and premiered at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival, La Belle et la Bête is finally getting an American release.

Starting today, check the official website for showtimes (http://beautyandthebeastfilm.com/) in select markets around the country.

Definitely Binge-Worthy: The Get Down (2016)

As I get my act together regarding building my television presence online (better late than never I guess), I will use this established space to wax poetic about my latest televisual, or ‘Netflix-ian’ obsession.

Actually, when I think about it, this post is not that far off from the theme of my blog.  The program that I will be discussing has a cinematic tie-in, courtesy of Baz Luhrmann, who is one of the creators of this awesome project. I am speaking about the 6-part limited series The Get Down.

The Get Down

At the start of Episode 1, it is a certainty that our chief protagonist, Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Figuero, (Justice Smith) has made a success of himself – we see this in the structure of the story – we have snippets of a contemporaneous, narrative performance by an adult Zeke (Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs) that immediately cut back to the South Bronx, 1977 – the primary setting for our story. Zeke and his crew – Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore), Marcus ’Dizzee’ Kipling (Jaden Smith), and his brothers RaRa Kipling (Skylan Brooks),  Boo-Boo Kipling (T.J. Brown, Jr.) traverse the urban landscape, propelled by the lyrically-gifted Zeke, who is using his penchant for composing a mighty fine verse as a vehicle to fly high and escape his present circumstances.

There is also the burgeoning love story between Zeke and Mylene Cruz (Herizen Guardiola), a young lady who is also trying to break free from her surroundings and the strict religious upbringing through the power of her voice. Her saving grace of sorts is her loving uncle Francisco “Papa Fuerte” Cruz (Jimmy Smits) who also happens to be a big cheese around these parts – he seems to have his hand in everything – from community development to music producing.

I think I should probably pause here because I really feel like I am giving a whole lotta plot away. But that is the thing. Over the nearly 6 hour run of the series a lot of stuff is happening, often simultaneously. But the storytellers do a really good job of structuring the story and the movements of the characters in such a way that you don’t feel overwhelmed. And sure Zeke, is the central figure in the machinations of the plot, but to be honest, this is an inspired, ensemble piece where no character is wasted.

Musically, the audience is treated to a blend of the nascent days of hip hop music (cheers to Nas, who I believe also is actually pitting the verses that adult Zeke performed), the glorious days of disco and club music which bellowed in the nightclubs and dance halls of New York City.

Nevertheless, I am not saying that it is a perfect or exacting recounting of the South Bronx of the late 1970s – one that is generally characterized as being mired in urban blight. As one would expect, especially in the first episode (directed by Luhrmann) it is given a ‘Luhrmannian’ luster, vibrancy, grandeur and escapism that were very not much markers of the era if you were living it.

But for all the glamor and glitz, there does lie a raw undercurrent that conveyed the times as they were – from wanton acts of violence and the sense that everything may not turn out the way the audience would want or expect, there is enough forbidding present to create a sense of unease.

Plainly stated, The Get Down is worth your eyeballs. It is Netflix’s costliest production to date and while the buzz around it (from what I have seen) is largely positive, it is not getting the streaming traffic that would probably make Netflix happy given the expense. Which is a shame.

In a world where we continue to bang on and on about representation of all manner of story being told and covering the multitude of the human experience, this is a story worth telling and worth being seen.