Saturday 23 September 2017

Film review: Beauty and the Beast - enjoyable and visually sumptuous

Cert: PG; Now showing

Dan Stevens and Emma Watson in Beauty and the Beast
Dan Stevens and Emma Watson in Beauty and the Beast

A combination of my age and my children's ages means that I never got to see the 1991 Disney animation of Beauty and the Beast.

Bill Condon's much-anticipated live-action version of the animation is, at $160m, a no-expense spared beautiful rather than beastly version that uses the 1991 score with some new songs, retains a sweetness and even features that yellow dress.

There has been much made of it also featuring Disney's first gay character, it does (Josh Gad) but he's a lot more eejit than gay. The story will be familiar but this version is set in the French village of Villeneuve where Belle (Emma Watson), with her weird-for-a-girl penchant for reading, lives with her forward-thinking father Maurice (Kevin Kline).

Belle dreams of a bigger life and refuses to marry town swaggery dude Gaston (Luke Evans), not that Gaston thinks her 'no' is a real answer.

On the way to market Maurice falls prey to magic and ends up prisoner of the Beast (Dan Stevens).

In my childhood book version the father, like all fairy tale fathers of the time, was a lily-livered man who traded his daughter for his own safety.

Not this Maurice. But feisty Belle tricks him so she is holed up in the enchanted castle with the Beast and his former staff, all now pieces of talking furniture (Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson). Only love can break the spell.

Watson is dutiful in her performance, the furniture actors have more fun.

Although not crucial to the history of BATB this is sweet, enjoyable and it is always visually sumptuous. ★★★

Aine O'Connor

The Salesman

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Multi award-winning Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi's great talent lies in finding powerful drama - not in plot, but in the deepest layers of emotion that plot evokes. And he does it without making it anywhere near as tedious as that might sound via under-saturated shots of rainy Tehran.

The Salesman (Forushande) takes its name from the production of Arthur Miller's play in which married couple Ebad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are performing. Following a major structural breach in their apartment block they need a new home at short notice. The apartment they find has a mysterious former tenant whose involvement in prostitution is only revealed after Rana is attacked in the home when Ebad is not there. Although not too seriously hurt, Rana is left with a head injury and a real fear of being alone. Their relationship is clearly a loving one but even though it is established that "nothing" really happened, ie, her head was hurt but there was no sexual assault, Rana refuses to go to the police. She is needy but sending out mixed signals, he is upset, angry, his pride dented that his wife was seen in the shower by another man, that he wasn't there to save her and feels powerless. So he goes on a mission to find the culprit. Although not quite as good as A Separation, this is still a wonderfully powerful study of complex human emotion.

★★★★

Aine O'Connor

Personal Shopper

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Olivier Assayas is proof that you have to know the rules to break them. He knows his films and genres and he takes from many to deliver category-defying movies that while not to everyone's taste, they are always layered and interesting and never boring. It's a feat he manages again in Personal Shopper, a psychological observational ghost story set in Paris.

As in his last film, Clouds of Sils Maria, Assayas is ably helped by an interesting performance from Kristen Stewart. As in that film she plays a character orbiting celebrity, this time the personal shopper of the title, Maureen. She works for the supercilious and fabulous Kyra (Nora Von Waldstatten) who prefers on occasion to communicate with her via text than in person. Maureen is not the only being who prefers text as a means of communication.

★★★

Aine O'Connor

Get Out

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Subversion, mischief and tension in the highest traditions of Hitchcock are alive and well in this bold and brilliant thriller debut from writer-director Jordan Peele that darkly sends up the social fissures that still exist in US race relations.

We meet Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), who is about to meet the parents of girlfriend Rose (Girls' Allison Williams). He is apprehensive that the well-to-do Wasps may be unaware he is black, but Rose assures him this isn't an issue because her dad, like, totally voted for Obama.

But soon an atmosphere creeps into the interactions with Rose's doctor dad (Bradley Whitford) and therapist mum (Catherine Keener). There's the weird housemaid (a chilling Betty Gabriel) and groundskeeper, both of whom Chris can't help but notice are black. Rose's brother (Caleb Landry Jones) is eerily familiar with Chris, while family friends come across as suspiciously polished. Is he just paranoid?

It's impossible to say much more but don't be surprised if a knot sets up residence in your stomach as Peele toys with you.

★★★★★

Hilary A White

The Olive Tree

Cert: Club; Now showing in IFI

Times are hard in recession-hit rural Spain. Once producers of olive oil, Alma's family now runs a hatchery to keep afloat. She is worried about her grandfather who has not uttered a word since her father sold an ancient and totemic olive tree that appears to be connected to his life-force. She takes it upon herself to track down the tree, resulting in a road trip to Germany to locate the thing and bring it back to the farm. Family healing is at stake.

Paul Laverty takes a break from his long association with Ken Loach (he wrote screenplays for The Wind That Shakes The Barley and I, Daniel Blake) to collaborate with partner Iciar Bollain for this charming but purposeful community drama that wears its heart on its sleeve while discussing broader themes. Anna Castillo and Javier Gutierrez star.

★★★★

Hilary A White

Sunday Indo Living

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment