The Real Beauty

Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite Broadway musicals – I especially liked Susan Egan singing Home and Terrence Mann singing If I Can’t Love Her – so I was a bit disappointed not to see these two songs in this year’s live action film. (Yes, there’s the new Beast song, Evermore, but it doesn’t sound as good.) But there are three things in the Beauty and the Beast live action film that more than make up for these.

TRB - Emma Watson

First: EMMA WATSON. She might not be able to sing like Susan Egan did, but she does have a lovely, innocent voice (yes, despite auto-tuning) to match her lovely face and body and, I would like to believe, her soul, too. If there’s any single reason why the live action film is better than the 1991 cartoon, it’s her. I’m glad she chose to be Belle instead of Mia (in La La Land), and I’m sure she’ll get her Oscar or BAFTA someday. At least she already has a Britannia Award, along with other fine actors like Tilda Swinton and Emily Blunt.

Second: the dazzling cinematography, production design, costume design, and visual effects. It is in one or more of these categories that this $160-million film by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) might bag an Oscar. Celine Dion’s How Does a Moment Last Forever might also win Best Song. [Update: Meanwhile, on April 13, 2017, the film joined 28 others that have earned $1 Billion at the box office. Can it surpass its fairy tale sibling, Frozen? As of July 1, it is only $32,000 behind.]

Third: the great ensembles. There’s the “castle ensemble” including Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts, who sings Beauty and the Beast), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere, who sings Be Our Guest), Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe), and Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza) singing, for example, the Beauty and the Beast Finale (but sadly they did not sing Human Again); and the “village ensemble” including Luke Evans (Gaston) and Josh Gad (LeFou) singing, for example, Gaston or Belle.

A lot of people have of course compared the 2017 live action film against the 1991 animated film, and pointed out that the singing in the latter is superior. I agree (but the singing in the Broadway musical soundtrack is even better), but the 1991 film did not have a live, beautiful Belle, dazzling cinematography and design, and great actor-singer ensembles.

TRB - Wall

Thanks to Alex Zamora for treating me to the musical long ago! 🙂




Edge of Tomorrow – It Has To Be Blunt

Live Die Repeat

Transformation and Emily Blunt work together to make Edge of Tomorrow my favorite movie of the year.

EB SideWith the luminous Emily Blunt playing the role of Rita Vrataski, the heroic “Angel of Verdun” (so called for her killing more than a hundred aliens at the Battle of Verdun), I was quite ready to be hooked. But I’m also a sucker for transformation, so when Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) changes, through time loops and Rita’s inspiring friendship, from a high-ranking but spineless army spokesman to a simple soldier intent at destroying the invading horde of aliens called Mimics, even if the only way to do so was to die, I was so hooked that I had to watch the movie again *and* buy the book on which the film was based: Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s 2004 light novel, All You Need is Kill.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

The film and novel versions are both memorable. In the following aspects, I find the movie better than the novel:

  1. edge-of-tomorrow-cage-ritaThe protagonist’s transformation is more dramatic in the film version. The film begins with a Bill Cage who is the epitome of cowardice hiding behind charisma and military rank. It ends with a Cage who is on a suicide mission to destroy the “Omega” (i.e., the queen-brain of the alien horde). In the novel, Keiji Kiriya simply begins as a new recruit who, after 163 time loops, turns into a war veteran.
  2. The happy ending. Who doesn’t love a happy ending? In the film, Bill is killed by an “Alpha” (a boss) but manages to kill the Omega (the Big Boss). The result: a “bonus” time loop in which Rita and everyone else, including Bill, but excluding the Omega and her colony, is alive. A very happy ending. (Alas, Rita would die in the novel.)
  3. EOT Rita and AlienBetter looking aliens. In the novel, an alien looks “like the bloated corpse of a drowned frog” (p. 18), which reminds me of when I had to dissect a toad in high school, blech. In the film, they look like the fearsome multi-tentacled metallic sentinels of The Matrix. (For this same reason, I predict that when Ender’s Game’s sequel, Speaker for the Dead, is eventually filmed, the Pequeninos or “piggies” (the only sentient alien species discovered since the xenocide of the Formics) would be made to look less piggy-like and more like, say, the Ewoks of Star Wars.)
  4. EB VioletGreat actors. Rita’s character in the novel is certainly memorable, but Rita’s being played by gorgeous and talented Emily Blunt, who just happens to be the 2009 BAFTA British Artist of the Year, is what makes me want to watch the movie again and again. Tom Cruise’s Cage isn’t bad at all; in fact it is a welcome respite from the flatness of the unkillable Ethan Hunt.
  5. When Cage gets a blood transfusion and loses his reset ability, he finally becomes “mortal “again. This is when the film soars.

But I find the novel better than the film in the following ways:

  1. AYNiK 2Interesting characters. Rita Vrataski might be a war machine but she is utterly feminine. Like any good soldier, she is tough but neither emotionless nor emotional. She is beautiful, but to her what does that have to do with killing the alien horde? Alas, only Cage and Rita’s characters are given some depth in the film (and even then, their characters are not as well formed as, say, that of Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity, also directed by Doug Liman). In the novel, several supporting characters also end up as memorable if not endearing: the nerdy Shasta Raylle, top MIT graduate, who developed Rita’s battle-axe; war veteran Ferrell Bartolomé, Keiji’s platoon leader, who inspires Keiji’s respect; and the well-endowed Rachel Kisaragi, who cooks for the Japanese soldiers of the United Defense Force (UDF).
  2. All_You_Need_Is_KillBackground story. The novel explains where the alien Mimics came from, why they came to be called Mimics, and what exactly happens when the Mimic that the film calls the “Alpha” (but which the author simply suggests we think of as “the server of a network”) is killed: “the signal emitted by Mimics that had lost their server traveled back in time to warn them of the imminent danger they faced” (p. 168).
  3. Younger characters. Keiji is around 18 (he joins the UDF immediately upon finishing high school, and has done only six months of training when the novel begins), while Rita is a year or two older than Keiji (she joined the UDF when she was 16, soon after her parents were killed by Mimics). While I have no problems with older characters, younger characters – Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon – are usually the ones who have the idealism, reckless boldness, and stamina to fight against oppressors, and guided by the wisdom of elder characters, the young ones do win.
  4. AYNiK 6Though not clear in the film, it is quite clear in the novel that the tachyon particles emitted when a Mimic server dies are received back in time by all the Mimics in the network (as well as the human who kills a server while in electrical contact with it), so the entire Mimic network is able to plan ahead in the same way that the human who enters the time loop does. Therefore, whereas in the movie, the final battle occurs in the Omega’s lair, in the novel it occurs when the Mimics catch the humans, Keiji and Rita included, by surprise. The other implication of this is that the only way humanity could win in the novel was for Keiji (or Rita) to break out of the time loop. Therefore, Keiji and Rita had to fight each other to the death to break out of the loop, and only one of them could survive.

Kudos to Emily Blunt and the rest of the cast and crew of Edge of Tomorrow, to Hiroshi Sakurazaka, and to all the Rita Vrataskis out there!

EB Iso pushup


The Hunger Games: Book vs. Film

This is my first time to blog about a film, and the reason I’m doing this is that I’d like to analyze in the future other film adaptations of my favorite fantasy book series (e.g., LOTR, the Chronicles of Narnia, A Song of Ice and Fire).

In an earlier post, I gave the Hunger Games book 3 stars out of 5. I’m also giving the Hunger Games film the same rating for the following reasons.

First would be the top 3 things I appreciate about the film, which are:

  • The film manages to portray the violence in the book without being too gory (cf. Battle Royale).
  • The film contrasts very well the poverty and oppression in the districts on one hand and the sickening extravagance and apathy in the Capitol on the other.
  • The film manages to keep the action flowing; there doesn’t seem to be any dull moments.

However, here are the top 3 things I believe this film could have done better (or hope that the film adaptations of the other two books would do):

  • The film could have been more careful about the details. I understand that many details need to be omitted; otherwise, we’d have a miniseries. For example, I understand that Peeta’s leg did not have to be amputated in the film; the author herself seems to have forgotten this detail in the later books anyway. However, the film could have paid more careful attention to Buttercup (see the excerpt here to know more about the cat), who, in the end, would be Prim’s gift to Katniss. The film could also have used the dialogue below (from Chapter 22, in the cave), which would then make clear the steadfastness of Peeta’s character as well as his love for Katniss:

“Peeta,” I say lightly. “You said at the interview you’d had a crush on me forever. When did forever start?”

“Oh, let’s see. I guess the first day of school. We were five. You had on a red plaid dress and your hair…it was in two braids instead of one. My father pointed you out when we were waiting to line up,” Peeta says.

“Your father? Why?” I ask.

“He said, ‘See that little girl? I wanted to marry her mother, but she ran off with a coal miner,’” Peeta says.

“What? You’re making that up!” I exclaim.

“No, true story,” Peeta says. “And I said, ‘A coal miner? Why did she want a coal miner if she could’ve had you?’ And he said, ‘Because when he sings…even the birds stop to listen.’”

“That’s true. They do. I mean, they did,” I say. I’m stunned and surprisingly moved, thinking of the baker telling this to Peeta. It strikes me that my own reluctance to sing, my own dismissal of music might not really be that I think it’s a waste of time. It might be because it reminds me too much of my father.

“So that day, in music assembly, the teacher asked who knew the valley song. Your hand shot right up in the air. She stood you up on a stool and had you sing it for us. And I swear, every bird outside the windows fell silent,” Peeta says.

“Oh, please,” I say, laughing.

“No, it happened. And right when your song ended, I knew—just like your mother—I was a goner,” Peeta says. “Then for the next eleven years, I tried to work up the nerve to talk to you.”

  • Though I respect Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson as actors (both were in award-winning films before), their characters in the film do not seem to mesh quite well. I hope that the scripts of the future film adaptations will remedy this.

  • As I wrote in my review of the trilogy, several important characters remained one-dimensional throughout the trilogy: Habermitch, Gale, President Snow, President Coin. Hopefully, this will be addressed in the film versions of Books 2 and 3.