“Beauty and the Beast”

The VHS tape of  “Beauty and the Beast” ( 1991) is still on my cellar shelf even though we no longer have a recorder.  I love this animated film, and  I don’t wish to let it go. It was the first animated movie to be  Oscar nominated for “Best Picture”. Disney’s up-dated ” Beauty and the Beast” (2017) will have its next generation of fans, too; but, it is hard for me to get used to its mixed animation. The new musical numbers by Alan Mekin and ,this time, Tim Rice add only length without enhancing the tale. And, it is  Angela Lansbury’s voice as Mrs. Potts, that I hear when I start humming  ” story old as time…”.  Given these disclaimers, I came home from my latest movie-theater viewing as happy as a seven-year-old.

The current re-do is lovely, so worth seeing, and a smash hit for Disney. Who wouldn’t love a romantic, Parisian legend where provincial life is expanded through books and love is taught as something to hold on to? Throw in lessons about beauty being inside, too; and we have a magical banquet and a few sensuous scares. Turrets, garrets, and cages all confine, but spell breaking and freedom are won.

There are few changes in the dialogue, and  the script stays almost identical to the award winning 1991 version.  Scriptwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos  add  “Never going to happen, ladies” and having a “fearless mother”, and ” hero-time” as linguistic twists for the times. The line getting the most press is Josh Gad’s . As Le Fou, his “You can ask any Tom, Dick, or Stanley, and they will tell you which team they prefer to be on.” caused one intolerant country to squeal, and one section of the populace of Alabama to recoil. For my part, inclusiveness makes all the merrier.

Added vignettes like the bibliophile Belle ( Emma Watson) praising a young girl beginning to decode words is praiseworthy. Reading teachers need every boost they can get. The fact that books truly allow one to escape is further underscored when the Beast tells Belle that his library is hers. Belle asks her captor, ” Can anyone be happy if they aren’t free?” The Beast understands that the wiser he becomes the more unsure he finds himself. Could he be Shakespeare’s ” winged Cupid painted blind” ?

Gaston ( Luke Evans ) has a meaner spirit in this version. Yes, he is narcissistic, but not quite the buffoon. He steps heedlessly on cabbages and throws mud-splatters on pink-frocked hopefuls, yet his line, ” A great hunter doesn’t waste his time with rabbits.” points to a more strategic planner of the ” me first” variety.

After a rather “spoon-fed” beginning where Audra McDonald’s operatic voice gives way to the prince’s transformation, we see our beast slashing out at his princely portrait in symbolism like Dorian Gray.  Saws like ” You can’t judge people by who their father is” and ” People say a lot of things in anger. It is our choice to decide to listen” are adages for our times. Mrs. Potts ( Emma Thompson) and her son Chip ( Nathan Mack )  serve up lots of these aphorisms. “Learn to control your temper” is another didactic lesson.

The irony in the script is more fun. When the question of love is broached, we are given, ” You will feel slightly nauseous.” When Gaston is overwrought, his side kick Le Fou says, “Breathe breaths, Gaston”, “Breathe happy thoughts; Go back to war”. Many will recall “show me the meat”, as Gaston yells ” show me the Beast” in the same incantation. These writers are having fun!

Director Bill Condon gives Belle’s father, Maurice, ( Kevin Kline) lots of play. Kline looks the part, but his singing is weak. Still a caring father, who adores his daughter, Kline is always welcome on the screen. The backstory grounds us with a touch of sadness and sacrifice. The other man in Belle’s life can belt it out. Dan Stevens’ Beast’s voice is deep and sonorous. I loved both the bathing Beast and the slurping soup animal. His song ” Come wake me up” seemed rather lusty.

Fear and fighting play a larger part in the newer version. The wolves are terrifying and the Beast’s leaps from rampart to rampart are heart-stopping. I can see young children on their parent’s laps. The use of psychological fear is well mapped by the tally-ho of villagers’ torches. The Gaston and the Beast face-off is more action-packed than the original, and Gaston is meaner. He shoots the Beast twice. Gaston is more than vain; he is a liar exemplar, who tries to kill his competitor.

On the more joyful side, the culinary cabaret with all its accoutrements delight. Luminere ( Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth ( Ian McKellan ) as candlestick and mantle clock are engaging. Their ormolu glistening, both are dusted by the cleaning cockatoo ( Gigi Mbatha-Raw), with the wonderful name, Plummet. Silver trays transform into spotlights and all proudly present quite an animated showcase dinner. Furniture dances and chifforobes and barking footstools help welcome and celebrate. “Be our guest” becomes the loveliest of words. And, ” Here ‘s a thought: There may be something there that wasn’t there before.”

Little girls will be twirling lovingly for another two decades! And everyone will remember that the sun rises in the east. Enjoy.

“Ricki And The Flash”

The disapproving and judgmental looks falling off the wedding guests as Meryl Streep returns to Indianapolis for her son’s formal wedding are a huge part of the climatic scene in “Ricki And The Flash”. Streep,as Linda, with the stage name of “Ricki Rendazzo”, has made some unconventional choices in the pursuit of a steel-guitar and vocal career. Her ex-husband and three children have adjusted and matured, and moved on; but,their feelings of abandonment linger. Never making it out of the San Fernando Valley and financially broke,Ricki is still secure in her decision to follow her dream even as she files for bankruptcy. Yes, Ricki is a bit of a narcissist, a fame seeker;but she has a sweet soul. She makes instant friends with the family’s white, standard poodle,Sigma,who gives such a perfect, poodle-true performance that I thought I was watching my own family dog.

When Pete Brummel, Ricki’s worried ex(Kevin Kline) calls asking for Linda’s help with their only daughter’s catatonic reaction to being abandoned by her husband Max, Ricki feels a surge of remorse. Their daughter,Julie,played beautifully by Steep’s real daughter, Maime Gummer, sees herself abandoned again. Modern family dynamics are set in edgy dialogue which is entertaining while being real. Gummer’s first appearance is unhinged! She goes on to show a remarkable amount of varied emotions,just like her real life mother.

Landing at Weir Cook International,Streep adopts her persona in gleeful 1978 abandon,floral luggage and all. If as she says “she has given up a lot to become a rock star”, she has added blue henna-dyed skin bracelets,braided one side locks,and rings on every finger. Lug soled boots keep the beat and blue nails and shadow gloss her further out of the mainstream. We have a clash of cultures, here. Linda is a tad jealous of Pete and his wife Maureen’s privileged life. She comments on their home’s massive rooms and huge ceilings,and Pete admits he feels often like he is living in Monticello. Mo,Maureen, Pete’s wife and de facto mother to Linda’s children,is visiting her ailing father,so Pete readjusts his boundaries and allows Linda to save motel money and board with them. She snoops in the fridge,does some mischief with the “clean” “dirty” dishwasher sign, and shows disdain for all the wooden platitudes decorating the counters,but the family photos emotionally jar.

When Mo returns, she is in control as the traditional mom making lovely brioche breakfasts and overseeing therapy sessions. Again, acted beautifully by Audra McDonald, we have another strong woman who doesn’t fall into stereotype. Mo oozes confidence, warmth and common sense assurance. While wearing Mo’s robe, Linda tries to gain a hierarchical stance,” You know Pete still loves me”, Mo disarms Linda with a smile and, “I’ll give you that.” It is a telling scene, and McDonald makes the most of it. These women are making this family work.

I wish the few Indianapolis scenes were actually filmed in Indy. It would have been fun to recognize streets and locales,but our state’s taxing of the arts does not make this financially feasible.The Gummers are often in Indianapolis,so the wedding invitation made with flower seeds rooted in the paper fiber was donned as “Hoosier shit” by Linda in explanation. Southern-Mid-Westerners plant lots of seedlings,and they are self-deprecating to a fault. Likewise, I wish the editing in the film were better. Streep sings and strums a little too much. But,this may have been a showcase to underline how Streep can do about anything! Her relationship with her lead guitarist,Greg ( Rick Springfield) adds depth, and some astute moralizing. Greg is no pushover. His loving sacrifice comes with the admonishment that,”it doesn’t matter if our kids love us. It is not our kids’ job to love us ;it is our job to love them”.

Enjoy how well Streep’s character is developed. Linda’s cashier job at a California “Total Foods” store leaves her forever attaching numbered codes to produce~an added Ricki foible. And being reminded to exude gratitude by her youngster manager adds a flash of recognition and pathos. Ricki’s every check-out guest gets that special smile, and we get ring codes like “arugula #984”! Her parenting forays are not bad, and her final gift is no “flash in the pan”. Listen to those lyrics.

Everyone looks like they had fun on this set, and I did not feel that I wasted my time.Screenwriter Diablo Cody (“Juno” 2007) provides ample material. I particularly enjoyed Streep’s asides. After being admonished for airing “personal business” in a restaurant, she openly criticizes a father for trying to shield his young daughter, yet instantly piping in that she loves the child’s name- Journey.

Linda’s sons Josh and Adam add to the family’s stinging banter. As Adam corrects his mother by stating that he was born gay,Linda chirps back that she was born Ricki. Husband Pete seems to be keeping the familiar score,and he seems to delight in giving that one to Linda. Digs like Julie’s ,”OMG,get a camera, she is parenting” are cringingly funny. Pete’s “Rubbermaid memorabilia” and marijuana stash generate some loving sequences. And Riki is funny. While seated separately from the family at her son’s wedding,Ricki is asked by a guest how she met the groom. Her response is “Caesarian section”.

Song lyrics continue to be used to layer thematic meaning in many recent films. Here Director Jonathan Demme uses a perfect “gonna get lost in Rock and Roll and drift away”to give us a paean to music more than to the quest for fame. When Adam slings,”Historically, you don’t really give a damn” in his mother’s direction,Ricki Rendazzo’s craggy “my love,love,love will not let you down” seems to be directed at her children. “Mama Mia” infectious, pleasant and real,with the exception of the use of the word “crullers”, Hoosiers just say “pastries” or “donuts”. A fun summer flick that has the audience thinking about the choices we make and why.