Tale As Old As Time — Too Old, Or Timeless? The Latest Beauty And The Beast

I don’t need to wax poetic about the lasting appeal of Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast, nor its nigh-unparalleled influence on my generation. It’s a flawless cinematic masterwork (no successive Disney film has yet to touch its venerated quality), and ingrained in our DNA. So naturally, five successful ventures into their live-action reboot experiment, the studio chose it as their next guaranteed cash cow.

The question here was always two-fold. Is this going to be any good? And Is this necessary?

For the latter, of course not. None of Disney’s live-action remakes have been necessary, despite their solid, if unremarkable, quality. They reinvent just enough to put a new spin on familiarity yet never stray too far from established convention. That fact leads to the additional inquiry of how much do we want them to stray. No one’s forgotten Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella or The Lion King, nor are they unattainably locked away in the Disney vault of yore. But if these scrumptious-looking remakes are going to exist, would we prefer something unrecognizable, or something that appeases with its predictability? Something borrowed, something blue?

Despite my existence as a life-long devotee, I’d love to see Disney take creative risks. Oof, how I’d love that. Revamp Beauty in ways we never suspected — introspective, darker, more in line with the original tale and the French films of both old and new (Jean Cocteau’s 1946 black and white take, the criminally under-seen 2014 adaptation), or even Angela Carter’s novellas The Courtship of Mr. Lyon and The Tiger’s Bride. Hire a director who understands the subversive nature of fantasy and its monstrous-on-the-surface outsider protagonists, ala Guillermo Del Toro. Don’t take the easy route of making what constitutes as a filmed version of the Broadway play with a bigger budget.

Which brings us to the first question.

It’s great. Of course it is. Disney knows its audiences’ expectations and the winning formula to secure their affections. This new Beauty satisfies to the point of nostalgic tears and pleased applause. In the secret depths of my heart, a shameful admission if I want to be A Good Film Critic, I wanted a by-the-numbers, animation-brought-to-life comfort movie.

Which is exactly what Beauty and the Beast is. Whether that’s enough or an irritant, or both, depends on your perspective.

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John Wick: Chapter 2 Is A Cathartic Balm To The Soul

Keanu Reeves is American cinema’s greatest action star.

Wait, what about — nope. It’s Keanu.

Over thirty years in showbusiness, dozens of revered films to his credit, an inarguable pop culture icon with chameleon-like genre versatility, and it took until 2014’s majestic, breathtaking sleeper hit John Wick for the man to finally start receiving, in slow drips, the cultural appreciation he deserves. He’s a solid box office draw with an adoring fanbase, but if I had a dollar for every time I heard the “Keanu Reeves is the worst actor ever and only says Whoa” adage, I’d be Scrooge McDuck levels of rich. And it’s not true.

Remove the stunning fight scenes and fascinating worldbuilding from Wick (impossible as that sounds), and so much of its success resides on Reeves’s deliciously broad shoulders. The crumbling planes of his face evoke more grief than a spoken soliloquy. The martial arts skill honed into effortless presentation, a pristine-suited harbinger of death both terrifying and electric in equal measure. Infinitesimal switches in posture simultaneously convey a fury deadly as several hundred bullets and the chasm-deep devastation of a lost, broken man. The character, the actor, overflows with feeling, in polar opposite to the stoic and emotionless archetype — his brokenhearted rage informs every decision. Those prolonged stares aren’t cold, they’re vengeful Old Testament fire. And he bleeds. You feel the pounds of flesh taken; no macho Terminator bullshit here. Wick is a man — a humanized grim reaper antihero, but a man all the same, one we cheer for even as he leaves a massacre in his unshaven wake. (I mean, if someone killed my cat…just sayin’.) That’s all due to Reeves, in a role acknowledging and — if I may be so bold — weaponizing his talent for quiet, layered intensity and understated lethality.

John Wick: Chapter 2 does everything a sequel should. Bigger, louder, and somehow even better, it subtly unveils new layers to Wick’s character, expands its unique mythology with stunningly believable authenticity, and enhances its predecessor’s esteemed action through elaborate scenes of visceral beauty. It operates on the same level as Aliens, The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part 2: realizing its formula, preserving, and elevating, while also ensuring the franchise’s place among the genre greats it idolizes.

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We Need To Talk About Split

(Spoilers from word one.)

M. Night Shyamalan and I have always had a complicated viewer-filmmaker relationship. He directed three of my most beloved movies — Signs, The Sixth Sense, and Unbreakable, the latter an underrated masterpiece. He also made one of my most loathed, The Last Airbender, a tone-deaf white-washed adaptation of the stunningly progressive animated series of the same name, not to mention a run of uncharming B-movies. But it’s impossible to deny his talent for suspense, atmosphere, and emotionally satisfying genre payoffs (I even love the much-reviled The Village and argue it was ahead of its time), so I’ve spent years rooting for him to have a career renaissance.

Looking at the reviews and box office numbers for Split, you’d think this is his long-overdue win. It isn’t.

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In Praise of the Shy Girl: Halloween’s Laurie Strode (Women In Horror Series)

What’s a Women In Horror series without Jamie Lee Curtis?

Not just the most famous Final Girl in cinema history but one of the most influential and a main originator of the term, Laurie Strode is, for me, the queen. Future horror heroines would emerge from the building blocks of Laurie’s character and develop in more progressive directions (see Nancy Thompson, Ellen Ripley, and Sidney Prescott), but without Laurie, would they exist? For all of Halloween’s flaws when it comes to portrayals of women in general, she should never be dismissed as just a simplistic Final Girl, or only the trope’s codifier.

The reason Halloween remains successful is because its terror stems from a deliberately simple premise: unexpected violence in a suburban neighborhood. Laurie spends Halloween day going through the motions of her daily life: school, home, friends, work. She feels listless, bored, and unsettled — only for her routine to suffer disruption from a serial killer. That’s something that could happen to any of us, the monotonously predictable grind of existence uprooted just because someone decided, without discernible reason or motive except their own sadism, they wanted to kill us. Specifically, a man with hatred for the female body. Laurie expects a typical night babysitting, not a fight-to-the-death situation, and it happens so fast she isn’t granted more than seconds to plan any sort of proactive, autonomous attack of her own — exactly how it would play out in real life if someone broke into our home. She’s alone, in a house not her own, lacking any parental supervision or assistance. Within this context her reactive, defensive nature is perfectly acceptable, and doesn’t define her as a victim. How many of us wouldn’t cry and scream and panic at the realization we’re being hunted to our deaths?

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Through a Mother’s Eyes: The Babadook and Examining Trauma (Women In Horror Series)

Mothers get a bad rap in horror movies. They’re either defined as the angelic defender, seen in The Exorcist, The Shining, and Poltergeist, or an inherently corruptive evil: Carrie, Psycho, Friday the 13th. That latter characterization evolved into a prominent sub-genre, the Bad Mother, a force of terrifying violence born from an inability to conform to the socio-political qualities associated with motherhood. While some of these characters are impressive figures, few challenge their old-fashioned interpretations by offering complex, honest portrayals of mothers. Even less originate from the perspective of the parent — which is where director-writer Jennifer Kent’s masterpiece The Babadook makes waves.

The film follows Amelia Vannick (Essie Davis), a widowed mother whose husband died the night her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) was born. Seven years later Amelia exists in a profound state of mourning. Exacerbating her turmoil is Samuel’s frequent misbehavior: he’s unpredictable, prone to temper tantrums and causing trouble in school. Despite trying so hard to be the perfect, patient mother, Amelia can’t find a moment of rest or privacy. She’s perpetually exhausted and stressed, nerves shredded to their utmost, especially when Samuel turns unexpectedly violent in the wake of reading a disturbing children’s book titled Mister Babadook. Convinced the Babadook is real, Samuel’s outbursts intensify, and in tandem Amelia’s emotional and mental stamina frays — leading her to wonder if there actually is a demonic entity haunting her house.

There is, of course. The Babadook is a real creature, its book foretelling the violence that occurs when it possesses the mother of a child. Beyond the immediate physical danger it represents, the Babadook serves as a triple-threat subtextual allegory for grief, depression, and motherhood.

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Luke Cage Is The Best And Most Important Thing Marvel’s Ever Done



Stories influence and reflect our world. It’s been that way since ancient mythology and prehistoric cave paintings— we try to understand ourselves and our place in the universe through the interpretive prism of fiction. That’s one of the reasons why inclusive, diverse representation in media is so vitally important — seeing yourself onscreen is unfathomably powerful. That identification, the acknowledgment that you exist, that you can accomplish wonders, that the worlds of movies and TV aren’t exclusive to just the nauseatingly overrepresented white male, is precious and desperately needed. Doctor Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, become an astronaut after seeing Nichelle Nichols’s Nyota Uhura on the bridge of the Enterprise in Star Trek.

Onscreen inclusivity leads to richer storytelling landscapes with a wider range of perspectives, ones that disprove dangerous stereotypes and hopefully lead to better understanding. It’s never “just a movie”; we’re shaped by what stories tell us, just as we shape the stories told.

Luke Cage is more than another successful Marvel venture in a string of solid, formula-aligning Netflix efforts. It’s undeniably urgent, undeniably relevant, and undeniably black. A thrilling, genre-bending hybrid, its hero a bulletproof black man in a hoodie walking unafraid into a barrage of gun fire and emerging unscathed, an image the power of which can’t possibly be overstated. It’s a love letter to Harlem — its history, its culture, and the community living within it. Conversations meditating about the legacies of sports figures, hip hop artists, authors, and war heroes are as important as outwitting a villain’s schemes. The visual choices and music cues are steeped in layers of black history, the latter especially woven throughout the series as its beating lifeblood (every episode is titled after a Gang Starr song). The subjects of police brutality, systematic racism, economic inequality, the criminal justice system, and politics are combined into a nuanced, seamless whole. There are no deplorable stereotypes or cheap caricatures but a rich, complex, multifaceted, stunning cast of characters with histories, dreams, goals, motives, perspectives, and experiences, both shared and different; heroes, villains, and the spaces in between, with a cast made up almost entirely of people of color. Trust, legacy, dignity, respect, and responsibility are all reexamined. It gets inside your favorite superhero genre cliches and tears them apart from the inside out; reinvents them through the perspective of a black man’s life in modern America.

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Contact: The Power of Feminist Representation (for Bitch Flicks)

Announcement!

I got to write about my childhood heroine, Ellie Arroway, for btchflcks.com’s Women Scientists week! I take a personal look at how she affected my career track as well as the inherent sexism she experiences in a male-dominated professional field, and how the film treats her character overall as an example of much-needed female representation.

That’s what girls need to see: the normalization of women as protagonists, as professionals, as figureheads of heroism. Viable, easily seen examples that women belong in the worlds of science and technology, that the fields aren’t exclusive boys’ clubs. A woman can achieve breakthroughs in math and physics. A woman can raise her voice and fight for her beliefs. A woman can serve as representative for the best of humanity.

More than anything, she can succeed in the face of overwhelming societal pressures trying to undermine her choices — just like social norms dictate what young women can and can’t do. Pink is for girls, blue is for boys; you play with dolls, not trucks. It’s impractical to be a scientist, or an engineer, or a radio astronomer.

Check it ouuuuuut!