Beauty And The Beast (2017)

Released: March 2017

Director: Bill Condon

Rated PG

Run Time: 129 Minutes

Genre: Family/Fantasy/Musical

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios

Emma Watson: Belle
Dan Stevens: The Beast
Luke Evans: Gaston
Josh Gad: Le Fou
Kevin Kline: Maurice
Ewan McGregor: Lumier
Ian McKellan: Cogsworth
Emma Thompson: Mrs. Potts
Stanley Tucci: Maestro Cadenza

Of all the Disney movies that have been released over the past century, there have been few films that have really had as much of an impact on animation the way Beauty and the Beast did.  It had everything in it: Amazing animation, great music, phenomenal voice-work, and a grand story to match.  It was also one of the first Disney movies to utilize Pixar for some of the animation.  I hold the original animated film in very high regard.  It’s also the closest to perfection as any movie could ever get.  With all the hubbub about Disney doing live-action remakes of some of their movies like The Jungle Book, I was very surprised that they would even go near Beauty and the Beast.  But, ahead they went it and made the film.  So, is it the disaster that a bunch of nay-sayers were saying?  Let’s have a look.

Anyone who has seen the animated film will know how this opens:  A young prince is visited by an old woman bearing a rose.  Rejecting her utterly, the prince is transformed into a monstrous beast and his castle cursed.  The only way to lift the curse is if the Beast learns to love another.  Several later years later, young Belle is on her way to return a book that she finished the night before.  After getting another book, she encounters the town hunter and chief masculine figure, Gaston.  Later, her father Maurice is on his way to the market when he gets lost.  Ending up at a mysterious castle, Maurice is imprisoned by the Beast.  When the horse returns without her father, Belle sets out in search of her father.  Exchanging her own freedom for her father’s, the Beast takes her captive.  Over time, the relationship between the two warms and there seems to be a real chance that the curse could be lifted.  The story is as classic as it gets.  Aside from a few changes here and there, regarding the pasts of both the Beast and Belle, it’s essentially the same as the animated film.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.  People were afraid that they were going to make the film different from the original, and thankfully, it’s extremely faithful.

There’s been a lot of controversy over the casting of Emma Watson as Belle.  I think she was just fine.  Emma’s a beautiful woman and she is good as Belle.  Kevin Kline as Maurice was very surprising choice.  I was very surprised at how compelling the character was.  Luke Evans just NAILED it as Gaston.  Honestly, he almost steals the show.  He’s got the look and the swagger to portray such an arrogant character.  He’s a bit more menacing in this film, though.  What he does to Maurice is somewhat shocking, but not entirely surprising.  This is a guy that wants Belle for himself, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win her.  I generally find Josh Gad to be irritating in most cases, but as Le Fou, he’s surprisingly good.  Ewan McGregor is Lumier with Ian McKellen as Cogsworth and those two just light up the screen.  But the real find of the movie is Dan Stevens as the Beast.  Initially, the character is terrifying, but over time we get to learn more about him and we get to see him thaw out, so to speak.  His performance is absolutely phenomenal.  The acting is really good across the board.  I’m impressed.

Visually, Beauty and the Beast is absolutely astounding.  From the castle to the village, it is a feast for the eyes.  The castle is suitably creepy at times and incredibly beautiful at others.  The set designs are astonishing and the costumes are fantastic.  The CGI animation is also top-notch.  From Lumier to the Beast, it’s clearly fantastic but it also really draws you into the film.  Everything is easy to see and the shots are fluid.  It’s one of the most well-shot movies I’ve seen in a long time.

The one thing that could have broken this movie entirely would have been the music.  Thankfully, it’s all really good.  A lot of the songs, including BelleGaston, and Beauty and the Beast are all pulled from the animated film, and they are mostly done beautifully.  Music has always been important in traditional Disney movies, and this is no different.  They often help tell the story and give us more insight to the characters.  Most of the actors in the film do their own singing, this much is clear.  We know it’s Emma Thompson singing, because she has a background in this sort of thing.  Luke Evans and Josh Gad really knock it out of the park with Gaston.  Emma Thompson’s version of the title song is just as beautiful as Angela Lansbury’s from the animated film.  Even Ariana Grande’s rendition of the song on the end credits is really good.  Ewan McGregor is also fantastic when he belts out Be Our Guest.  He’s no Jerry Orbach, but he’s still really good.  There are a couple of new songs added into the mix, and they’re mostly good and well-integrated into the story.  There’s a couple of issues though.  One is Evermore, which Dan Stevens sings after letting Belle leave.  It’s an absolutely beautiful song, but it’s completely unnecessary.  In the animated film, we saw the pained look on the Beast’s face when he let her leave and that’s all we needed.  Also, there appears to be some auto-tuning when it comes to Emma Watson.  Now, I understand there is ADR involved with movies like this, but it honestly doesn’t sound like Emma at all when she’s singing Belle.  It’s not bad, but it doesn’t really sound like her.

Overall, though, Beauty and the Beast is a great movie.  I really loved it.  Personally, I wouldn’t put it on the same pedestal as the animated feature, but it definitely holds its own.  With an astounding cast, solid direction by Bill Condon and extremely powerful music by Alan Menken, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast is easily the best live-action adaptation of a classic Disney film.  As I said when I reviewed the animated film, this truly is a tale as old as time, and for a new generation of film-goers, this is a fantastic film.  I highly recommend it.

Final Score: 9/10


Preview: Star Wars-The Last Jedi

For 40 years, the Star Wars saga has been one of the most influential and popular franchises the world has ever seen.  It’s had its ups and downs, particularly with the Prequel Trilogy, but even at its worst, Star Wars still means something to so many people.  It has captured the imagination of entire generations and influenced some of the greatest film directors of all time.  We can all thank George Lucas for creating something that changed the way we look at movies and how they were made.  5 years ago, Disney had purchased Lucasfilm and all the film rights owned by George Lucas for about 4 billion dollars.  When that happened, Disney informed the public that we would see not just a new Star Wars trilogy, but spin-off movies as well.  The first film in the new trilogy, The Force Awakens, opened to critical acclaim around the world.  This was the beginning of a new trilogy that we never thought we would ever get.  Well, this is now 2017 and the next episode in the epic saga, The Last Jedi will open December 15 of this year.  Today, we got our first glimpse into what the new film has to offer so far.

In The Force Awakens, we saw the galaxy in turmoil once more with the arrival of the villainous First Order, which rose from the ashes of the Empire.  Lead by the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke and his second-in-command, Kylo Ren, The First Order was on a quest to destroy the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker.  By the end of the film, we witnessed Han Solo murdered by the hands of his own son, Kylo Ren, only to be defeated by Rey, a young scavenger from the planet of Jakku.  The last we see of her is on an island on a mysterious planet searching for Luke Skywalker.  As she finds him, she holds out the lightsaber that used to be Luke’s.  From what I understand, this is where The Last Jedi begins.  So, obviously, they found Luke Skywalker, and Rey is beginning her training as a Jedi under Luke.  So, the question remains:  What was Luke doing on this planet?  It was inferred by Han Solo, that Luke had gone in search of the first Jedi temple.  Why?  It was speculated that Luke felt responsible for the destruction of his Jedi Academy by the hands of one of his own students, Ben Solo a.k.a Kylo Ren.  I think, however, Luke went to find the first Jedi temple to find answers about the nature of the Force and the enemy that he may have encountered at one point: Snoke.  So, who is Snoke?  What is he?  Why did he show up now?  We don’t know, and that’s one of the questions that we hope gets answered to a certain degree during this new movie.  The other question is:  Who is Rey?  Why does she have the abilities she does?  How was she able to defeat Kylo Ren in her first encounter with a Force-user?  While I don’t expect every answer in The Last Jedi, I do hope that we get some clue as to who some of these characters really are.

During the trailer, we get to see Rey training a little bit with a lightsaber, which is totally cool.  We also get to see a new planet.  There also appears to be an epic space battle that takes place, which I can’t wait to see.  At the end of the trailer, we hear this line: “I know one truth:  It’s time for the Jedi to end.”  It’s actually hard to make out whose voice that is:  Benicio Del Toro’s or Mark Hamill’s.  If it’s Luke Skywalker, the implications of that are staggering.  That means that Luke no longer considers the Jedi Order to be worth saving.  If that is true, that would mean this is the biggest game-changer since Empire Strikes Back, when Vader revealed his true identity to Luke.  Honestly, the idea that the Jedi Order is no longer useful enough to fight the Dark Side is very intriguing.  So, it is entirely possible that the Jedi Order will no longer exist by the end of Episode IX.  At this point, it’s all speculation until we see the final film, which is written and directed by Rian Johnson.  While Episode VII played it safe, it looks like The Last Jedi is going to be taking some major risks.  I like that.  If this is the case, then I see Luke Skywalker creating a new order of Force-users:  An order that is not bound by the rules or traditions of the ancient Jedi.  The Sith and the Jedi appear to be extremes in terms of the force, both sides very rigid in the way they operate.  What this new trilogy appears to be doing is shaking up that idea that the Light Side and the Dark Side are exclusive to one particular ideology, because they really aren’t.  It depends on the person wielding the Force.  The fact that this new movie is adding a bit of a gray area to the whole conflict.  I, for one, am excited to see how this all turns out.  So, I’m definitely looking forward to December.  Are you?

Wishmaster 2, 3 and 4

Released:  September 1999
Director: Jack Sholder
Rated R
Run Time: 96 Minutes
Genre: Horror
Andrew Divoff: Demorest/Djinn
Holly Fields: Morgana
Paul Johansson: Gregory

Released: October 2001
Director: Chris Angel
Rated R
Run Time: 89 Minutes
Genre: Horror
Jason Connery: Professor Joel Barash
A.J. Cook: Diana Collins
John Novak: The Djinn

Released: October 2002
Director: Chris Angel
Rated R
Run Time: 90 Minutes
Genre: Horror
Tara Spencer-Nairn: Lisa
Michael Trucco: Verdel
John Novak: The Djinn

I’m doing something different for this post.  For the three Wishmaster sequels, I’m lumping them all into one post/review.  Why?  Because, quite frankly, none of the sequels have enough material on their own to warrant their own post.  The original film with Andrew Divoff was something unique.  Not only did it have a memorable villain, but it also had a very interesting premise.  But what really made the original Wishmaster work was it’s cast.  It featured some of the biggest names in horror in small but supporting roles:  Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, Tony Todd and Ted Raimi.  They helped make the film feel like a legitimate horror experience.  It mostly worked.  The practical effects in the film were certainly grotesque, but very convincing.  The CGI left quite a bit to be desired, but the design of the villain was absolutely unique.  I count the original Wishmaster as one of my favorite movies in the genre.  So imagine my surprise when I first found out that there was a sequel.

Wishmaster 2 sees Andrew Divoff return as the devious trickster known as the Djinn.  This time, he’s awakened by Morgana, a woman that stumbled upon his gem stone during the robbery of a museum.  The forces of good and evil clash again as the Djinn tries to collect enough souls and force Morgana to make her 3 wishes, so he can unleash his race on the entire world.  Wishmaster 3 features A.J Cook as a student who unwittingly releases the Djinn.  This time, the Djinn takes the form of college professor Joel Barash.  Again, he seeks to force A.J. Cook’s character to make her three wishes while causing havoc throughout the college campus.  Wishmaster 4?  Fuck that movie.  Fuck it sideways.  Look, if there was ever going to be a follow-up to the original Wishmaster, it was going to have a hard time reaching the level that the original film had achieved.  Here’s the problem:  Not one of the sequels even comes close.  The further on you go, the worse they get.  There’s a reason the sequels went straight-to-video.  To be fair, Wishmaster 2 at least managed to get Andrew Divoff to return as both Demorest and the Djinn.  His performance despite it not being as good as the first movie, was still entertaining in a campy sort of way.  For the final two movies, they had two separate actors.  One for the person that the Djinn was impersonating, and another for the creature itself.  John Novak would play the Djinn itself in the last two movies.  For Wishmaster 3, Jason Connery would play Barash.  Yes, the son of Sean Connery starred in a direct-to-video movie, and it wouldn’t the first or last one.  For Wishmaster 4, Michael Trucco would play the impersonated victim.

I will give Wishmaster 2 credit where it definitely due.  Bringing Divoff back was probably one of the smartest moves the director had made for that movie.  Not only that, the costume design for the Djinn was surprisingly more elaborate than the original film.  It looked truly demonic.  It was also still a pretty gory movie.  Wishmasters 3 and 4 didn’t have so much luck.  The creature design for the Djinn is horrifying.  As in, horrifyingly cheap.  This character is no longer scary.  It certainly doesn’t help that John Novak’s performance as the Djinn was awful.  I will give Jason Connery credit.  He’s fun to watch.  Some of the effects in Wishmaster 3 actually aren’t horrible.  There’s just not enough of them.  Gore doesn’t necessarily make a horror movie, but when you have a movie that almost shies away from the red stuff, it’s very disappointing.  Wishmaster 4 was even worse.  A lot of the kills took place off-screen, which doesn’t make sense in a movie about an evil genie that warps your wishes into something horrific.

To be fair, there were elements in both the third and fourth movies that could have worked, had the movies been in the hands of a much better director.  See, at some point in the third movie, A.J. Cook’s character invokes the power of the archangel Michael.  Awesome, we should have gotten an awesome battle between angel and demon, right?  Wrong.  Michael just possess Diana’s boyfriend and he gets a weird-looking sword.  The fight sequences are….lame.  In Wishmaster 4, the main character actually makes all three wishes.  That should open the door for the apocalypse, right?  Well….the wish she made was to love the Djinn for who he really is, so in essence, that’s a wish only she could grant.  It’s an interesting twist that’s poorly handled.  I’m sorry, Wishmaster 4 should have been released on the Lifetime channel.  It was more about relationships than about demons and gore.  That’s not what I watch a Wishmaster movie for.

Wishmaster 4 is easily the worst of the bunch by a country mile.  The third film at least attempted to be entertaining in its own goofy way.  It even had some pretty decent stunt sequences and explosions.  I kinda liked it a bit.  Good movie?  Not a chance in hell, but not the worst I’ve ever seen.  Wishmaster 4 deserves to be thrown into the pits of Hell where it belongs.  This is kind of how I looked when I finished watching Wishmaster 4:

All kidding aside, if you’re a horror fanatic like me, stick with the original Wishmaster.  It’s far more memorable and it stands well enough on its own as a movie.  These other movies are completely forgettable and generally not worth watching.

Wishmaster 2 Final Score: 7/10

Wishmaster 3 Final Score: 6/10

Wishmaster 4 Final Score: Fuck this movie/10


Released: September 1997

Director: Robert Kurtzman

Rated R

Run Time: 90 Minutes

Genre: Horror

Distributor: Vestron Video(Currently)/Lionsgate Studios

Tammi Laurne: Alexandra Amberson
Andrew Divoff: Nathaniel Demorest/Djinn
Robert Englund: Raymond Beaumont
Wendy Benson-Landes: Shannon Amberson
Jenny O’Hara: Wendy Derleth
Kane Hodder: Merritt’s Guard
Tony Todd: Johnny Valentine
Rico Ross: Lt. Nathanson
Ted Raimi: Ed Finney

Throughout the entire history of the horror genre there have been many iconic villains.  Norman Bates from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was one.  Texas Chainsaw Massacre had Leatherface while A Nightmare on Elm Street had Freddy Krueger.  Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th was another, with Tony Todd’s Candyman bringing up the rear.  All these characters have one thing in common:  Their staying power.  These characters were and still are loved by many fans around the world.  They helped shape the entire genre into what it is today.  In the mid-90’s, legendary horror filmmaker Wes Craven began producing a new horror film about a genie that would twist wishes into something horrible.  The film was called Wishmaster.

Opening in ancient times, we see the king of Persia making a wish to a mysterious hooded figure.  Soon after, the entire palace is thrown into chaos as the king’s wish has been twisted into a blood-bath.  It turns out the hooded figure is an ancient creature known as a Djinn, one of a race of beings condemned to walk the space between worlds.  Fearing for the future of mankind, the king’s sorcerer constructs a gem stone and traps the Djinn inside it.  Fast-forward a thousand years or two and we see a crate holding a prized statue for an egocentric collector named Beaumont.  An accident that crushes Beaumont’s assistant reveals the gem stone.  After taking the gem stone to a friend to have it analyzed, Alexandra Amberson realizes too late that the gem contained the Djinn, who is now loose on the city streets, granting wishes and stealing souls.  The film’s story is actually one of the more interesting aspects of the movie, because the filmmakers had drawn on some actual Arabian mythology.  What the film fails to mention is that not all Djinn were evil.  But for the sake of the film, they made their Djinn evil.  It’s very interesting seeing the Djinn take somebody’s wish and twist it into something unspeakable.  In fact, the stone that imprisoned the Djinn has to be charged with the souls of people whose wish had been granted.  But for the Djinn to unleash Hell on Earth, he has to find the person that woke him and grant them 3 wishes.  Upon the granting of the third, the doorway to the realm of the Djinn would be thrown open and Earth would be overwhelmed by these unstoppable beings.

There are a lot of things that make this movie work as well as it does, but let’s talk about the cast first.  This is a horror ensemble.  Prior to Wishmaster, we had never seen a cast with major horror movie icons.  Wes Craven and director Robert Kurtzman managed to get not just one, but FOUR legendary actors for his movie: Kane Hodder, who played Jason, Robert Englund who played Freddy, Tony Todd who played the villain in Candyman, and Ted Raimi, whose film and television credits are among some of the most memorable.  While some of these are nothing more than glorified cameos/victims, it is awesome to see all these icons of the genre in one film together.  But the real star of the show has to be Andrew Divoff as the Djinn.  This guy has one of the most diverse filmographies of any actor out there.  He’s played everything and everyone.  You may not recognize his name, but I’m pretty damn sure you’ve seen him before.  Wishmaster is Divoff’s film, through and through.  He cuts through the material like a hot knife through butter.  His ability to change on a dime is amazing.  One minute, he’ll be the charming Nathaniel Demorest, and the next he’ll be terrifying you as the Djinn.  His performance is incredibly nuanced and he just nails the role.

The special effects in this film are especially interesting to see.  Now, some of the CGI that you see in the film doesn’t really hold up after 20 years, but the practical effects are still really freaking good.  You can thank the good folks at the KNB Effects Group for that.  In fact, the director of the film, Robert Kurtzman is the K in KNB.  KNB is one of the most famous special effects and make-up companies in the entire industry.  These guys are to horror what Industrial Light and Magic is to science fiction and fantasy.  It really gets gruesome at some points.  The opening scene in ancient Persia is surprisingly haunting.  It’s gory as fuck, but it’s incredibly impressive how they did it.  The closing scene at Beaumont’s mansion is equally impressive.  It’s not just the effects, but also the costume design that’s impressive.  The look of the Djinn is one of the most unique character designs I’ve ever seen, and Divoff’s performance under the make-up really make this character a terrifying being.

With all the great stuff that the movie has to offer, there are some issues here and there that need to be addressed.  One, it’s never explained how many souls are needed to charge the stone.  It’s answered in the sequel, but why not here?  Also, as I said before, the CGI in the film isn’t that great.  In fact, some of it is pretty awful.  After 20 years and on Blu-Ray, the CGI in Wishmaster sticks out like a sore thumb.  Some of the performances in the film are not necessarily what they could be.  Tami Lauren’s character is awfully one-note and fairly wooden throughout the entire film.  It also seemed like the movie was trying to deliberately craft a new kind of villain that would continue a franchise.  It did for about three more movies, and then it died.  Why?  The first film was a theatrical release, while the sequels were direct-to-video.  There’s nothing wrong with a DTV horror movie, not if it’s done well.  With the exception Wishmaster 2, the other films fell flat and missed the entire point of the original film.  Now, I got all four Wishmaster movies in a collection by Vestron Video, so I will be reviewing the other ones as well.

With all the negative aspects of the film in mind, it’s still a really solid and effective horror movie with a fairly iconic villain.  It’s certainly an iconic performance by Andrew Divoff in what is probably his best-known role.  The gore and most of the special effects are still top-notch and the musical score by Harry Manfredini is still creepy.  Despite the film’s problems, I would still recommend this movie to any fan of the genre, because it is memorable for mostly the right reasons.

Final Score: 8/10