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Old 03-29-17, 10:48 AM   #3593
Peggy Sawyer
Blew Up the Hatch
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Re: Rate The Last Movie You Watched

La La Land
Beauty and the Beast

both 4/10

In a very rare occurrence for these times, it is possible in some areas to actually see two live-action musicals on the big screen. One is the almost-Oscar winner La La Land (nearing the end of its run) and the other the just-released Beauty and the Beast. Both are clearly successes as far as box office is concerned, and they’ve both, for the most part, been successful from a critical standpoint. But is this the result of a deeper desire for the return of a once-great genre, or the genuine recapturing of a form so long ago lost?

To my eye, filmmakers still have a long way to go before we can reliably announce the successful rebirth of the musical. La La Land has a perfect parallel, in a film called The Artist. Does anyone remember that Best Picture winner of less than a decade ago? It was hailed as the return of the silent film. It was widely celebrated and honored. But who remembers it? The fact is, it was a modest recapturing of the silent-movie style, not half as good as any average film from the '20s, but because it dallied with authenticity, was wildly overrated. Its main fault existed in that it took itself too seriously. Starting on a light note, it had the makings of a breezy throwback comedy. But by the second half, it had to get Dramatic, and out went its only appeal. La La Land is much the same. The first half is a somewhat bright little story of a girl trying to break in as an actress, and her jazz musician boyfriend who is trying to open a club. It's a harmless trifle, but few musicals are anything more than that. By the second half, however, this romance has gotten very gloomy indeed. It takes away the movie's only charm--a charm that does not get compensated for in the musical numbers.

For all of the good dancing and singing that still exist today, it is a shame that Hollywood continues to insist upon non-musical actors for its few musicals. I'm sure these young stars all believe they can rise to the challenge, but the reality is otherwise. Emma Stone--who at least has a smile--can only fake her way through a song, and all that Ryan Gosling can do musically is play piano (which, admittedly, he does well). The choreography is limited to their very basic dancing capabilities, which prevents any number from ever really taking off. Inexplicably, the big opening scene on the freeway (in which a large crowd of presumably actual dancers jump around on their cars) is also very limited choreographically--it's just a lot of gyrating, jumping and swaying, no steps. West Side Story it ain't.

Beauty and the Beast has similar problems, though to different degrees. Emma Watson can't exactly sing, but she's such a glowing movie star, and so otherwise well-suited to her role, that this is one instance in which the vocals can be overlooked. Not so with most of the rest of the main cast. That said, the majority of the movie's faults are artistic ones, and there are many. The choice of adding new, highly undistinguished songs, in place of classics from the excellent Broadway musical version, was a poor one (listen to "Human Again" and "If I Can't Love Her" and then compare them to "Days In The Sun" and "Evermore"...the decision is staggering). The addition of a somber backstory for Belle, some unnecessarily elongated scenes, and a villainous, less absurd Gaston are other missteps. The musical numbers are typically modern in that they give us a lot of fast cuts and few genuine dance moves, with the addition (as this is Disney) of bigness. "Be Our Guest" wants to evoke a Busby Berkeley number, but the director here forgets that Berkeley kept his camera trained on his kaleidoscopes for more than two seconds at a time...he let his routine, fast-paced though it may have been, develop. This dinner may be good food, but it's force-fed.

And speaking of force-fed, my final remark on B&B is in regard to a noticeable degree of political correctness that it tends to overstate throughout. Let me stress that this is not a matter of where one stands on social issues. Whether one agrees or disagrees with any point a scene may make is entirely irrelevant. But there is an art to subtlety that filmmakers would do well to rediscover. I know that if a movie feels calculated, manufactured, or obvious, it takes me out of the story. Very little of B&B went by without my seeing a boardroom in my head checking off a key point here, a plot-device-by-committee there. Can no one just make a genuine, spontaneous movie anymore?

For the best version of Beauty and the Beast, I recommend either seeing the stage version or watching the 25th Anniversary Edition DVD of the animated original--it incorporates a great extra scene.

So the quest for a great new live-action musical goes on. Meanwhile, I'll do what these filmmakers should have done; pull out a copy of 42nd Street, Top Hat, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Singin' In The Rain, Gigi, The Sound of Music, etc, and see how they were done.

Because we could use a lot more of this form of entertainment.
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