Watch the whole thing HERE!
Posts Tagged ‘Bill Condon’
If Wolverine had been around in the 1840s P.T. Barnum would have made him a star. As “The Greatest Showman” tells us, the inventor of the modern circus sought out “unique persons and curiosities” to build a show that lasted for 143 years. After nine movies as the cigar-smoking X-Man Hugh Jackman now dons the ringmaster’s trademarked top hat to tell the tale of an American institution.
We first meet the future impresario as the young son of an impoverished tailor. When he makes the daughter of one of his father’s rich patrons laugh, it is love at first sight. Cut to a song or two and many years later, Barnum (now played by Jackman) is grown up with a head full of dreams, a houseful of children and a happy marriage to his childhood sweetheart Charity (Michelle Williams). What he doesn’t have is a viable career.
Fired from a job as an accountant, he packs up his desk, taking his ledger, pens and a packet of worthless deeds to sunken ships. Using those certificates he secures a $10,000 loan to start his first business, The Barnum Museum, complete with wax sculptures, stuffed animals and a thief-turned-magician named O’Malley. “People are fascinated by the exotic and the macabre,” he says.
He has trouble selling tickets until his daughters make a suggestion. “You need something sensational,” they say, “like a mermaid or unicorn. Something alive, not stuffed.” He doesn’t round up any mermaids or unicorns but does assemble a bearded lady (Keala Settle), trapeze artists (Zendaya and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), tattooed men, Dog-faced boys, Irish giants (Radu Spinghel) and Siamese twins.
Critic James Gordon Bennett (Paul Sparks), denounces the show as exploitation. “It’s a circus,” he raves. “The word you used to describe my show has a nice ring to it,” says Barnum and the concept of the contemporary circus was born.
Money poured in but respect did not. “My father was treated like dirt,” says the so-called “purveyor of the obscene and indecent.” “I was treated like dirt. My daughters won’t be treated like dirt.” In an attempt to court a more upscale crowd he brings on socialite and actor Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron). Carlyle, when he isn’t pining for acrobat Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), sets up shows for Queen Victoria and introduces Barnum to opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson). Dubbed the Swedish Nightingale, she is the biggest singing star in Europe, and Barnum almost goes bankrupt trying to make her a sensation in America.
It isn’t until he rediscovers his roots—and the virtues of performing under a tent—that he makes a lasting impression.
“The Greatest Showman” is a period piece but pulsates with the rhythms of contemporary music. Songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who took home as Oscar last year for their work on “La La Land,” provide a timeless score that rings with the brassiness of present-day Broadway. It feels slightly strange, although no more strange than people suddenly bursting into song while traipsing down the street. The songs are catchy and the loose-limbed contemporary choreography would likely have caused riots in 1845.
As the flamboyant huckster who craves legitimacy Jackman returns to his musical theatre roots, handing in a performance that wouldn’t be out of place on the Broadway stage. The flimsy-ish story doesn’t give him much opportunity to really dig deep into what made Barnum tick. The genial actor, however, in a bigger-than-life performance, brings the rags to riches tale if not to vivid life, at last to tuneful life.
More interesting is the film’s subtext. It’s an American success story writ large but beyond that are comments on equality and bigorty. Despite advertising his menagerie of performers as a freak show we’re told Barnum saw his circus as a celebration of humanity in all its forms. The movie favours uplift and inspiration over deep insight, but its harmonious pop psychology will make your feet tap.
The message of tolerance is central to the plot, reinforced by the Carlyle, Wheeler romance. The upper crust actor and the African American acrobat are drawn to one another despite societal the norms of the day. When his father scolds him, reminding him to remember his place he snaps back, “If this is my place I don’t want it.” As Barnum reaches for the gold, turning his back on his family and ‘freaks,’ Carlyle walks away from his privilege, following his heart.
With that in mind it’s a shame that the move doesn’t give its marginal characters more of a voice. The Bearded Lady, the Dog Faced Boy and others are more or less treated on film as Barnum treated them in life, as set dressing and not much more.
“The Greatest Showman” seems to have taken its lead from its subject and delivered a movie in which every number is a showstopper. It’s a rollercoaster of story and music that occasionally moves too fast but delivers enough thrills along the way to be worth the price of admission. Maybe that’s enough. As Barnum himself said, “The noblest art is that of making others happy.”
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the big weekend movies, the live action version of “Beauty and the Beast,” the drug addled “T2 Trainspotting” and the no-holds-barred “Goon: Last of the Enforcers.”
Watch the whole thing HERE!
Watch the whole thing HERE!
Richard sits in on the CFRA Morning Show with host Bill Carroll to talk about the weekend’s big releases, the live action version of “Beauty and the Beast,” the drug addled “T2 Trainspotting,” the no-holds-barred “Goon: Last of the Enforcers,” and “The Sense of an Ending” with Jim Broadbent.
Listen to the whole thing HERE!
Poet Paul Éluard said that to understand Jean Cocteau’s 1946 version of La Belle et la Bête — Beauty and the Beast — you must love your dog more than your car. His comment is baffling only if you haven’t seen the movie.
Once Cocteau’s film is seen, it’s apparent that what makes his version rewarding is that it values the organic over the mechanical — even the special effects are handmade. It refuses to allow the technical aspects of the film to interfere with the humanity of the story.
This weekend Disney will have their collective fingers crossed that audiences will favour their poodles over their RVs as they release the big-budget, live-action version of Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson.
Director Bill Condon says the animated 1991 Disney classic was an inspiration for the new film, but adds he also drew from everything from Twilight and Frankenstein to a 1932 musical comedy called Love Me Tonight when creating the look for the new movie.
He also mentions La Belle et la Bête. “A film I really love.” His take on the Beast looked back to the movie, cribbing the character’s combination of ferocity and romance from Cocteau.
Before taking in the new version this weekend, let’s have a look back at the little-seen 70-year old Cocteau classic.
Loosely based on the timeless Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont fairy tale, the action in La Belle et la Bête begins when a poverty-stricken merchant pilfers a rose from a grand estate owned by a strange creature. The Beast strikes a deal with the man.
He’ll spare the life of the merchant in return for the hand of one of the man’s daughters. Reluctantly the merchant offers Belle, a beautiful girl who had been courted by the oafish Avenant.
At first she is repulsed by the Beast, who looks like the love child of the Wolf Man and Mrs. Chewbacca, but over time his tender ways and nightly offers of marriage warm her heart and she learns to love him for his inner beauty.
Cocteau’s version strays from the original story and Condon’s adaptation with the addition of a subplot involving Avenant’s scheme to kill the Beast and make off with his treasures and an unexpected magical personality switcheroo.
It’s meant to be a happy ending, but not everyone loved the new coda. When Marlene Dietrich saw an early cut of the film at a private screening, she squeezed Cocteau’s hand and said, “Where is my beautiful Beast?”
Other audiences embraced Cocteau’s vision. In his diary the poet wrote of a test screening held for the technicians in the Joinville Studio were the film had been made. “The welcome the picture received from that audience of workers was unforgettable,” he wrote.
Others criticized La Belle et la Bête for its straightforwardness, complaining that the characters are simply drawn, the story one dimensional. Taking that view, however, misses Cocteau’s point.
At the beginning of the film he asks for “childlike simplicity,” inviting the viewer to connect with their inner child, eschew cynicism and embrace naiveté for the film’s 96-minute running time.
In 1946 the request was meant as a salve for a post-occupation France that was still dealing with the aftermath of a terrible war.
Today, in an increasingly contemptuous world, the message still seems timely and welcome.
Poet Paul Éluard said that to understand Jean Cocteau’s 1946 version of “La Belle et la Bête”—“Beauty and the Beast”—you must love your dog more than your car. It’s a good line that suggests Cocteau’s adaptation values the organic elements of the film — even the special effects are handmade—while refusing to allow the technical aspects of the film to interfere with the humanity of the story.
The same can’t be said of the new, big budget live action Disney version of the story. Inspired by their classic 1991 animated story of belle and beast, the remake relies too heavily on computer generated splendour and too little on the innate charms of the story.
Emma Watson plays the bright and beautiful Belle, the independent-minded daughter of eccentric inventor Maurice (Kevin Kline). She is, as the townsfolk warble, “strange but special, A most peculiar mad’moiselle!” She has caught the eye of dimwitted war hero Gaston (Luke Evans) who unsuccessfully tries to win her hand.
Taking one of his new gizmos to market Maurice picks a rose as a present for Belle but runs afoul of the Beast (Dan Stevens). Once a self-centered prince, he was changed into a part-man, part-wolf, part Chewbacca creature by a witch as punishment for his hedonistic life. The only way to beak the spell, she cackles, is to find someone to love him before the last petal falls off an enchanted rose. “Who could love a beast?” he asks.
On the hunt for her father, she makes her way to the Beast’s remote castle only to find Maurice locked up for rose theft. She pleads with her hairy host for a moment with her father, and while giving him a hug pushes him out of the cell, slamming the door behind her. Trading her freedom for his, she is now the Beast’s prisoner. The staff—once human, now transformed into the enchanted candlestick Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth the clock (Ian McKellen), a teapot Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and wardrobe (Audra McDonald) although it feels like a missed opportunity to not have Daniel Craig play a eavesdropping microwave—see Belle as just the person to look past his ghastly appearance and see the true princely beauty within and lift his curse and theirs.
Director Bill Condon has made a classic big screen musical with state of the art special effects. Up front is a perfectly cast Emma Watson, who brings more tenacity to the character than we’ve seen in past versions as well as a considerable amount of charm. She is the movie’s beating heart, the human presence in the midst of a considerable amount of pomp and circumstance.
Condon decorates the screen, over-dressing almost every scene with layers of pageantry and CGI. It entertains the eye, particularly in the Busby Berkeley style “Be Our Guest” sequence but overwhelms the film’s humanity. This is a movie that loves its car more than its dog.
“Beauty and the Beast” is a handsome, straightforward movie that adds little to the animated classic. Some of the details have changed. Belle and Beast mourn their deceased mothers and Gaston’s minion Le Fou (Josh Gad) is now gay but the dreamlike of the 1991 version is lacking. The story just seems less magical when built from a collection of pixels.
Richard sits in on the CJAD Montreal morning show with Andrew Carter to discuss the weekend’s big releases, the live action version of “Beauty and the Beast,” the drug addled “T2 Trainspotting” and the no-holds-barred “Goon: Last of the Enforcers.”
Listen to the whole thing HERE!
Watch the whole thing HERE!