Friday, July 21, 2017

Sister Act

The latest production I have been working on opens in one week! (Friday, July 28, 2017). If you happen to be anywhere near Highland, IL you should check it out. I'm acting in a role that has been one of the most difficult in my life so far. You should check it out.

Friday, June 02, 2017

I Shall Run No More (At Least for Now)

Four years ago I downloaded the Temple Run game to my phone. To make some space, I recently deleted it. It was an incredibly addictive game when I first played it. However, I hadn't played it in a very long time. I might download it again at some point, but chances are if I do, my data will be lost and I will be starting from scratch. So, I took some screen shots of all the different "achievements" I "accomplished."

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Hyped By Nostalgia - Movie Review of "Beauty and the Beast"

In late 2015 I heard that Disney had decided to make a live-action version of their 1991 animated classic, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is not my favorite animated Disney movie, but it is a classic. That particular film was the first movie to have three songs nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, was the first animated movie to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, established that the Disney Renaissance was real and not a one-time fluke, and became the first animated Disney film to be transformed into a successful Broadway musical.  Disney’s original BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is filled with memorable characters and songs and rightfully deserves to be called a modern Disney classic.

When I first heard of the live-action remake, I thought it was a great idea. There is so much in the animated film that could be fleshed out and enlivened.  However, as the release of the film approached and more and more marketing materials for the movie (photographed still, clips from the movie, and eventually the full soundtrack) were released, my hopes for the movie severely diminished. The computer animation looked askew to me, the vocals in the music weren’t as impressive as they should be, and much of what I read about the additions and changes in the plot seemed completely unnecessary to me. However, I attempted to put aside my reservations and watch the movie with no expectations. After having seen the movie, I can say the 2017 BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a good movie and better than I expected, but it’s not a great film and somewhat undeserving of the hype and the accolades being bestowed upon it.

The movie follows the plot of Disney’s original animated film fairly closely. Belle (Emma Watson) is a free spirited woman living in a small village. Her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline) is an artist and music box maker. Maurice and Belle are not natives of the village they live in and are viewed as a bit odd, particularly Belle. The village’s local hero, Gaston (Luke Evans) is a former soldier and avid hunter who is obsessed with marrying Belle, but she will not have him. While on the way to market to sell some music boxes, Maurice is attacked by wolves and takes shelter in a mysterious castle in the woods that is covered in snow (in June!). He soon discovers the castle is enchanted and ruled by an angry Beast (Dan Stevens) who imprisons him.  Belle finds her imprisoned father and trades places with him. Over a few days, Beast and Belle fall in love, he releases her so she can save Maurice from being taken to an asylum, and Gaston leads the villagers in an attack on the castle to “kill the Beast.”

There are several positives in the new movie.  Much of the acting in the film is top-notch. Emma Watson, Kevin Kline, Emma Thompson, Ian McKellan, and Stanley Tucci all deliver fine acting performances. Most of the characters are quite enjoyable to watch, including new characters (such as Tucci’s Maestro Cadenza) that weren’t in the original movie; these characters actually add to the story and aren’t a distraction. I liked the new song “Days in the Sun” better than the “Human Again” (from the Broadway musical that was later added to the original movie). I also liked Beast’s song “Evermore.” There really is a lot to enjoy about this new live-action movie. However,  there is much in the movie that prevents it from surpassing the quality of its predecessor.

First of all, there’s the computer animation of Beast. For most of the movie, it’s well done and blends seamlessly with everything else. However, there are a few moments where it’s obvious that Beast has mostly been computer generated. In a film of lesser quality or one that didn’t have a budget of $160 million, these instances could be more easily overlooked. However, with the details that went into the rest of the movie, these instances of poor animation are severely jarring. They break the spell of enchantment that everything else in the movie has tried so hard to create.

Then there is Lumiere. Lumiere is a crucial character in both versions of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. He’s portrayed decently enough in the new live-action version by Ewan McGregor, but the biggest problem I have with Lumiere is that he’s the only one of the “cursed” household servants who has human legs. Not only that, but sometimes he has them and other times he doesn’t. When the audience first sees Lumiere he’s whispering to Cogsworth (Ian McKellan) and appears as a regular candelabra with a normal base. Later, he suddenly appears hopping and jumping about on two golden, but obviously human legs. None of the other servants who are objects have legs that resemble human legs so why does Lumiere? Later in the film there is another moment where we see Lumiere standing and again, he has a base and looks like the Lumiere of the original animated movie. However, when we see him again the base is gone and he’s walking on two legs again. Towards the end of the movie the same thing happens again. It just doesn’t fit. The movie would have worked much better had it been more consistent: either allow all of the servants to move as freely as Lumiere or keep him as a true candelabra like he is in the original movie. I understand why the filmmakers did things this way (Lumiere moves around so much, it was easier). However, when you have $160 million dollar budget, easier is not an excuse and is a challenge that should have been met. There’s also Lumiere’s singing voice. Ewan McGregor is a good singer (see MOULIN ROUGE). However, if you only listened to him sing in this movie, you wouldn’t realize that. You would think he’s an ok singer, but not very good. I’m not sure what the problem was, but listening to Lumiere’s songs in this film make me think either something was wrong with McGregor’s voice during the production or he was only delivering a half-hearted singing performance.

Of course, McGregor’s voice sounds angelic to the singing of Emma Watson. Watson is a beautiful woman and an excellent actor. Like many, I’ve been a fan of hers since first seeing HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE. She captures the essence and spirit of Belle quite well. That is until she starts singing. She is not a terrible singer. However, she’s not great either, and Belle should really be a great singer.  Although it’s not done very often anymore, the filmmakers could have improved the movie by dubbing over Watson’s singing performances with someone who can sing better.

Then, there is Gaston. Luke Evans is miscast as Gaston. He somewhat looks the part in the face and he sings well enough, but he’s not tall enough or buff enough. However, his character has been somewhat altered in this version. In this incarnation, Gaston isn’t just a hunter, but he’s a decorated soldier with a bloodlust that is never satiated.  Make no mistake, Gaston has always been a villain. However, in the original story, he was a brawny villain that was full of charisma and he was driven by ambition, not bloodlust. In the new movie, Gaston does things that are completely out of character for him.  For instance, at one point he attempts to murder another character. The Gaston of the original movie would never have done that. Not only that, but in this version of the story, it seems like most of the villagers follow and admire Gaston not out of adoration, but because they are compelled to do so. It’s almost as though Gaston is part of magical spell that has fallen over the village and the town folk are attracted to Gaston even though it’s against their true nature. Regardless, the Gaston of this BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a poor imitation of the original and a failure to truly bring one of the great Disney villains to life.

Overall, the 2017 live-action version of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a good movie with some memorable moments. It attempts to replicate the magic of its animated predecessor, but doesn’t. It’s an enjoyable movie, but just not a great film. The movie is enjoying tremendous success, but that’s largely because of nostalgia and a year from now, people will re-watch the movie and realize it’s not as good as they thought it was.

Disney has several other live-action adaptations of its animated library coming to the big screen in the next few years (DUMBO, THE LITTLE MERMAID, THE LION KING, etc.). With the success of this version, my fear is that BEAUTY AND THE BEAST will be the standard that these other films attempt to emulate. While BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a good movie, it’s not as good as it should have been and never reaches the pinnacle of greatness that it should.  If the future live-action Disney films want to be great films, they should emulate the only truly great live-action adaptation brought to the screen so far: 2016’s THE JUNGLE BOOK. That movie successfully followed the plot and pacing of the original movie, but made the characters seem fresh and original. That’s the movie BEAUTY AND THE BEAST should have been, but isn’t.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Graphic Novel Review: SNOWPIERCER, VOL. 2: THE EXPLORERS by Benjamin Legrand & Jean-Marc Rochette

Set in the same universe as the original story, SNOWPIERCER, VOL. 2: THE EXPLORERS is set several years into the future as the original SNOWPIERCER. Much of the plot of SNOWPIERCER, VOL. 2: THE EXPLORERS takes place upon this new train, The Snowpiercer 2, aka Icebreaker. This train is larger than the first, runs even faster, and is even capable of stopping for short periods of time. Snowpiercer 2 runs along the same track as the original train did and the people on board are fearful that the two trains will eventually collide. It is during the brief stops the train makes that a particular group of individuals, called Explorers, set out to survey the landscape and see if they can find any signs of the original train, signs of a thaw, etc. The protagonist of SNOWPIERCER 2 is an Explorer named Puig. Puig is kind of a rebel and gets in trouble. As a result he ends up being selected for a suicide mission, he ends up surviving the mission. He becomes a hero, and as a result, and life aboard Snowpiercer 2 completely changes for everyone. SNOWPIERCER 2 ties into the original story, but it’s a much different story. Instead of a social commentary on the haves and have-nots of the world, SNOWPIERCER 2 is more a commentary on how governments can control large populations of people and make them believe things that aren’t really true. It’s still a social commentary, but just a different type of one. If you read the original SNOWPIERCER, then you will want to check out Vol. 2.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

What Is Truth?

It's weird how much my life has changed in the past several years. In some ways it hasn't changed at all. I've been working at the same job now for over 5 years consecutively and living in the same place for 3 1/2 years. However, those things are kind of new in and of themselves: for my entire adult life until a few years ago, I had been working at different jobs, moving to different places, and never staying anywhere for very long. The world has definitely battered me over the past decade. Truths that used to be universal, I now know are not universal for everyone. I no longer have certain desires that for most my life I had always wanted (for instance, I used to want to have children, but that is no longer the case). The world might be black and white, but it's made of a bunch of black and white dots that when looked upon with human eyes often looks grey.

Despite this, there are some things that are just as steadfast and true as they have ever been. The hero dies in the end and the sidekick never gets his due, but good is stronger than evil. Laughter is often looked upon as a mark of madness, but it's really a powerful tool and weapon. Pride really is the root of all evil. Hope really is one of the best of things. No matter how crazy the world gets, no matter how much you change, no matter how much this ole world batters you about, hold on to the things that really are true. Truth is eternal and things that are truly True will always remain so.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Book Review: I'M ONLY IN THIS FOR ME by Stephan Pastis

I’m a huge “Pearls Before Swine” fan and I was very happy to read a copy of I’M ONLY IN THIS FOR ME. I’M ONLY IN THIS FOR ME is a collection of “Pearls” strips that originally ran in newspapers from March 3, 2014 to December 6, 2014. The book has an introduction from Pastis about the time he ran for political office. This brief introduction is really the only thing in the book that is even slightly connected to the front cover which features a strongly political theme of Rat running for President. I enjoy the book even more because of the cover: it’s a complete misnomer designed to sell more books during the highly political year of 2016. The book is filled with strips that feature the usual “Pearls” humor: witty one-liners, extensive verbal gags, and bad puns. There aren’t as many long running storylines as in some of the other “Pearls” collections. However, the book does feature a running storyline about Stephan Pastis being kicked out of his house by his wife Staci. There’s also a storyline where one of the Crocs goes on “Wheel of Fortune” with Andy Capp and a guy from the comic “B.C.” Lemmings are also featured in several strips. There’s an absurd storyline that deals with Jim Davis and Garfield. However, out of all the “Pearls” collections out there, I’M ONLY IN THIS FOR ME is one that you have to own because it features the three strips that were guest drawn by Bill Watterson! Bill Watterson came out of his comic self-exile to draw those three strips so they could be auctioned off for charity. That makes I’M ONLY IN THIS FOR ME a must-have book for most comic-strip fans.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Graphic Novel Review: SNOWPIERCER, VOL. 1: THE ESCAPE

I first became acquainted with SNOWPIERCER, VOL. 1: THE ESCAPE after having watched the movie starring Chris Evans. I enjoyed that movie and after learning it was based on a graphic novel, I wanted to find and read the original story. The story is set in at an undetermined date in the future. The Earth has been turned into a frozen wasteland (by human hands and not nature) and a remnant of humanity survives by living on a giant train of over a 1,000 cars that travels around the globe non-stop. The rear cars contain the most poor and impoverished people while the most wealthy and affluent are near the front of the train. After an attempted coup years before, the rear of the train has been quarantined from the rest of the train and there are rumors that the train officials are considering dumping those cars as soon as they can. Proloff, a refugee from the rear, escapes and is wanted to be seen by the top officials. Some want to use him to advance their political careers while others just want to see him out of curiosity. However, as Proloff is escorted through the train, it becomes clear that things aren’t exactly as they seem and his only chance for survival is to make it all the way to the engine.

SNOWPIERCER is a graphic novel that was first published over thirty years ago in France. It’s amazing how relevant many of the issues the book raises still are. In some ways the story is even more relevant today as society wrestles with climate change and our impact upon the environment. There are moments that the story drags, but not so much that it distracts from the overall story. Personally, I really enjoyed reading SNOWPIERCER, VOL. 1 THE ESCAPE and I look forward to reading the other three volumes in the trilogy.