Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast, rated PG
***

Despite some well-publicized content concerns, Disney’s new Beauty and the Beast is a treat overall.
Following the success of their recent animation to live action remakes of some of their classic films – Alice in Wonderland (2010), Cinderella (2015) and The Jungle Book (2016), Disney returns with a new version of Beauty and the Beast. The 1991 animated version received five Oscar nominations, winning two. The new film is directed by Oscar winner Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters), and written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos. It had an estimated budget of $160 million, but is expected to earn that back and more, with a projected worldwide opening this weekend of $215-245 million. The film features an outstanding cast and is visually stunning.
The film is set in the town of Villeneuve in France. Belle, played by Emma Watson (Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films) is a happy, independent, book-loving inventor who loves her father Maurice, played by Oscar winner Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda). Throughout the film Belle is pursued constantly by Gaston (Luke Evans, The Girl on the Train), who wants to marry her, but Belle has no interest in him. The one who does have interest in Gaston is the homosexual character LeFou, played by Josh Gad, who voiced Olaf in Disney’s Frozen.  The song “Gaston” has new lyrics that were written by the late Howard Ashman, but did not make it into the 1991 film as they were not considered appropriate for a children’s film.
As Maurice leaves on a trip, he promises to bring Belle back a rose. The rose he tries to bring her is growing on the land of the Beast, played by Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey). Maurice is then captured and put in a jail cell in the castle of the Beast. If you are familiar with the story, the Beast must find someone to love him before the final petal of a red rose kept under glass falls off. If he doesn’t, he is doomed to remain a beast forever, and the members of his household will remain clocks, cups, etc. forever.
As I mentioned, the film features a strong cast. In addition to Watson and Kline, Ewan McGregor portrays the candlestick Lumiere, two-time Oscar nominee Ian McKellen plays the mantle clock Cogsworth, two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility and Howard’s End) plays the teapot Mrs. Potts, and Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci plays Maestro Cadenza.
Alan Menken, who wrote the music for the 1991 film, returns to do the music for this film, which includes new recordings of his original songs such as “Be Our Guest”, along with new songs written by Menken and three-time Oscar winner Tim Rice (The Lion King, Aladdin, and Evita).  I loved the music and the costumes in the film. The computer generated imagery (CGI) – the castle, wolves, the face of the Beast, etc. were all well done.    My wife thought that the “Be Our Guest” scene was almost over done – maybe they were trying to have it be like a scene from Fantasia?
We attended the film on opening night; the theatre was filled with very small children. However, unlike the animated version, this is not a children’s film. It is dark and the scenes with wolves may well be too frightening for small children.
Leading up to the film there was controversy when the director made news in speaking about the film’s “exclusively gay moment”, which takes place near the end of the film. However, we saw LaFou’s homosexuality played out throughout the film, along with other things thrown in to make this film, as Condon has stated, as diverse as possible. He stated that “By representing same-sex attraction in this short but explicitly gay scene, the studio is sending out a message that this is normal and natural…” Chances are, small children will not even notice what Condon and Disney have put in this film, but discerning Christians will and they will find it in conflict with the Scripture (Romans 1:26-27). It’s not enough, in my opinion, to keep you from seeing the film, but it did impact our enjoyment and our overall rating of the film.  On the flip side, sacrificial love is portrayed well.

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Movie Review ~ Ricki and the Flash

Ricki and the FlashRicki and the Flash, rated PG-13
**

If Meryl Streep isn’t the greatest actress of our generation, I don’t know who is. The 66 year-old three-time Oscar winner returns as the leather-clad Ricki Rendazzo (formerly Linda Brummel), who abandoned her husband, daughter and two sons years ago to pursue her dream of rock and roll stardom.

The film is directed by Jonathan Demme, who won the Oscar for directing 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs. The film is written by Diablo Cody, who won the Oscar for Best Writing, Original Screenplay for 2007’s Juno. The story is loosely based on Cody’s real-life mother-in-law who has been singing rock and roll for many years.

The film also stars Kevin Kline as Ricki’s ex-husband Pete, who won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in 1988’s A Fish Called Wanda. While the film includes plenty of star power, it doesn’t add up to a great movie.

Ricki has not been a part of her children’s lives for years. She is fronting a bar band – Ricki and the Flash – featuring guitarist and sometime boyfriend, the likeable Greg, played by rocker Rick Springfield. She works as a checker at Total Foods in California, is broke and has declared bankruptcy. She is called home to Indianapolis by Pete (now remarried to Maureen, played by Audra McDonald), when daughter Julie (Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer) is dumped by her husband for another woman. Julie is depressed and suicidal when Ricki re-enters her life. Although Julie accepts Ricki’s re-entry into her life fairly quickly, her sons are not so welcoming. One son is engaged to be married and was not planning to invite his mother to his wedding, and the other son, the obligatory gay character in the film, is not at all happy to see his mom.

The film contains far too much of Streep singing with Springfield and the rest of the Flash. It’s not that her singing is bad, it really isn’t. But there is far too much of it included in the film. Overall, though the film has some good messages about the importance of family despite making bad decisions, it is mostly a downer and overall disappointing.

The film contains some sexual activity outside of marriage and adult language, including the abuse of God’s name several times.

Note: Streep and Kline previously appeared together in 1982’s Sophie’s Choice, while Streep was pregnant with daughter Mamie, who portrays Streep and Kline’s daughter Julie in this film.


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Movie Review ~ My Old Lady

My Old LadyMy Old Lady, PG-13
**

About ten days ago we were walking down the Champs-Élysées in Paris and saw that this film was showing in one of the theatres there. We had remembered seeing the trailer for the film, but the film had never come near us. Back at the apartment I found that the film had been released in the U.S. in September and was available on Amazon Instant Video.

Kevin Kline plays Mathias from New York. He travels to Paris to sell an apartment he has inherited from his father. To say that Mathias did not have a good relationship with his father would be an understatement. However, once he finds the valuable apartment in the Marais section of the city, he discovers that an elderly woman named Mathilde (Maggie Smith from Downton Abbey) living there with her daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for The English Patient)

Mathias learns that he can’t sell the property, even though he has inherited it from his father due to something in France called a viager. Mathias will not get possession of the apartment until Mathilde, who is 92, dies. In addition to that, he owes her a monthly payment of 2,400 Euros per month! Mathias is basically broke and owes a lot of people money. He doesn’t have any friends. He was looking at the sale of the apartment as giving himself a fresh start in life. Instead, he sees this as one final shot from his father.

Since he has nowhere else to go, Mathilde allows him to stay in the apartment for the 2,400 monthly fee, which he gets by secretly selling furniture from the apartment and asking a potential buyer for an advance payment.

Mathias finds out that Mathilde has lived in the apartment for many years. The film reveals family secrets and quickly turns much more serious than we had expected as it addresses themes of alcoholism, marital affairs and suicide.

The film is the directorial debut of respected playwright Israel Horovitz. It features a strong cast who deliver excellent performances (especially Kline), and some beautiful scenes of Paris, especially along the Seine River. The soundtrack features the song “Peace Like a River” performed by Paul Simon.

The film deals with serious issues and the characters dealing with pain in their lives. Despite that, none of the characters turn to God to help them with their pain. Overall, the film is morally bankrupt and should be used to discuss ethical questions.