I am not sure what to make of Disney Studios’ apparent desire to remake every single one of their animated films into a live action version. I wasn’t interested in Cinderella, nor did I see 101 Dalmatians. I did see Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, as I was drawn by the CGI spectacle, and I quite enjoyed it. When I heard that a live action Beauty and the Beast was in the works, I had some interest because I love the original animated film. (I remember going to see it when it first came out, on a trip with a high school film class, and being blown away by the film.) So I was intrigued by the idea of a new version, but also as perplexed as I am any time Hollywood decides to remake a great film. I can understand remaking bad movies, in an attempt to spin a failed concept or execution into a more successful undertaking, but what is to be gained by remaking an already great movie?
This new version of Beauty and the Beast is an interesting exploration of that question. On the one hand, I freely admit that this new version is terrific. I have a lot of great things to say about it, all of which I will get into in just a moment. But is it better than the original film? Not in my opinion. It’s just different. It’s an extraordinarily well-crafted piece of work, and I had a heck of a lot of fun watching it on a humongous IMAX screen. But after seeing it, I have been wondering, what was the point? Why did so many people work so hard for so many years just to remake an already great film?
Perhaps I should say “recreate” rather than “remake,” as this new Beauty and the Beast hews extremely faithfully to the original film. There are a few tweaks here and there. They delved a little bit more into the Beast and Belle’s backstories; they changed the character of Belle’s father Maurice a bit; they tweaked Belle’s involvement with the other villagers; they gave the Beast a new song; etc. But whereas The Jungle Book was a far more complete reinvention of the story, one that took full advantage of what modern CGI can do, this film uses modern CGI not to reinvent the original movie but rather to recreate it as faithfully as they could. What changes have been made to the original film’s story are entirely superficial. (I read a LOT in the press, in advance of this film’s release, about the changes made to Belle’s backstory, how she was now more of a fighter for the other … [continued]
In Bill Condon’s magnificent new film, Mr. Holmes, Sir Ian McKellan stars as an elderly Sherlock Holmes. Now 93 years old, Holmes has long-since retired and lives far from London (and 221B Baker Street) in a quiet, rural farmhouse. Holmes’ main occupation has become raising bees, and his only two companions are his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her young son Roger (Milo Parker). The once-brilliant Holmes now struggles with a fading memory. At Roger’s prodding, he attempts to reconstruct the details of his final case, the one whose resolution drove him to abandon his profession as a detective.
Mr. Holmes is a masterpiece, a beautiful story of the later years of a former legend. The film cleverly treats Holmes as if he were a real person (rather than a fictionalized character), about whom his partner John Watson wrote many books, and explores what might have happened to this brilliant mind when beset by old age. I am reminded of the cleverness of the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, which make the case that a story’s ending becomes happy or sad based on where you choose to end the telling. If you stop reading The Lord of The Rings at the end of the last chapter of The Return of the King, then the story has, for the most part, a happy ending. But if you continue through the appendices and read more about the lives of the characters, through to their later years and their deaths, then the end of the tale becomes far more heartbreaking. Such is the case here with Mr. Holmes, as the film (based on the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, by Mitch Cullin) takes the story of Sherlock Holmes past the years of his adventures as a detective to see what the man might have been like at the end of his very long life.
The result is a gorgeous, delicate story, a wonderful character piece that is anchored by a mesmerizing performance by Ian McKellan. Sherlock Holmes feels like a role that Mr. McKellan was born to play. He brings great gravitas and intelligence to the role of Holmes, while also gently allowing the audience to see the man’s beating heart, his loneliness and creeping sadness at the devolution of his faculties. It’s an extraordinary, riveting performance, one that had my attention completely glued to the screen. It’s great fun seeing director Bill Condon reunited with Mr. McKellan, with whom he collaborated back in 1998 with Gods and Monsters (a terrific film that I really need to re-watch one of these days). It makes me happy to see Mr. Condon freed from directing Twilight movies and back to … [continued]