“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.

“The Girl On The Train”


Rachel, Anna, and Megan are all emotionally unhealthy females, but ” The Girl On The Train”‘s  play to gender politics is heavily weighted against abusive males. Despite comparisons to last year’s  “Gone Girl”, the going motivation here is not money, but power and sex. Let there be no doubt about it, the devil is a he!

The woman are devilish. Rachel (Emily Blunt) is obsessed with her ex-husband and has turned to alcohol and stalking and hang-up phone calls. Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) is the new wife of Rachel’s ex.  Anna was Rachel and Tom’s ( Justin Theroux) Century  21 real eastate agent, who now has a baby and no job, but needs Megan (Haley Bennett) to fold the laundry and tend to the baby while she naps. Megan, the nanny, who is scarred by her own infant drowning in the bathtub as she was holding her, is pregnant with Tom’s baby. Megan lives with possessive Scott (Luke Evans). Megan turns up missing and we try to unravel the motivations. Add hunky shrink Kamel Abdicate ( Edgar Ramirez) and the viewers are ready to seek counsel for their own depression.

I am glad I did not read Paula Hawkins’ novel. The first person narratives are shallow: Rachel:” I am not the girl I used to be. She is what I lost. She is everything I want to be.” Really, married to a violent man who lost his job because of his inability to keep his pants zipped ?!  Megan: ” I can’t just be a wife. The boring routine. This town is a fucking baby factory. The only time I feel like myself is when I am running.” Anna spends much of her time trying to crack husband Tom’s computer password just in case his amorous past is presenting a pattern! Duh!!

Lisa Kudrow as Monica has the kindest, most genuine female role;and Laura Prepon of “Orange Is The New Black” fame, has the second. Although after two years of housing and supporting Rachel, the actual girl on the train, she asks her to leave. Neither are on screen long. Allison Janny plays a one-dimensional detective, who is cynical at best.

The psychiatrist is empathetic to Rachel’s addictions and her abuse. He is on to the mantra of “Forgive yourself”. Something he has no trouble doing in rationalizing having sex with a  damaged patient. None of these upper Hudson Valley inhabitants would you choose as friends or as psychiatrists.

Director Tate Taylor holds the film’s suspense well, and Emily Blunt produced facial expressions that I have never seen her display before. As an alcoholic with a penchant for angry displays and blackouts, she is both scary and vulnerable. The violence and sexual displays seemed B- movie grade all the way. The worldview is dour here. Motherhood is shown as daunting even in the first year, and the women hold fantasy lives dear. There doesn’t seem to be a man around that can control his libido.

Pure rage and violent revenge seem endemic. The jumbled chronological order from “six months ago” to “a year ago ” to flashbacks of years back are both lazy and jarring. The despicable Tom’s words of ” In a way, you killed her.” Got laughs from the audience, as did Anna’s final corkscrew twist. Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson may not have had much to work with, but riding back and forth daily from the Hudson River suburbs to New York City and back should produce more than a shaking lipstick application and a sippy cup of vodka-induced angst.