Out on Friday 17 March
Emma Watson leads a live-action recreation of a familiar fable. Kristen Stewart texts a ghost in a spooky, twisty thriller. Jordan Peele enters the world of Blumhouse horror.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Beauty and the Beast, Personal Shopper, Get Out, The Salesman, A Silent Voice, Gleason, The Olive Tree, Rahm, and Wolves at the Door.
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Beauty and the Beast
Following Maleficent, Cinderella and The Jungle Book, Disney continues its run of live-action adaps of its animated back catalogue with a slavishly faithful and lavishly mounted rendering of Beauty and the Beast. It might just be the studio’s best re-do yet. A nostalgia rush for viewers over a certain age, and magical enough in its own right to convert newcomers, it’s a roaring success.
Clinging closely to the template of the 1991 Best Picture nominee, its story, characters and songs will feel potently familiar to anyone who’s seen the Mouse House’s first crack at the tale as old as time. While it’s a good 40 minutes longer than the animation, any additions are well-judged by director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 and 2), and nothing new distracts from the familiar formula.
A slightly revised prologue sees the vain prince (Dan Stevens) transformed into the furry fiend by a wandering enchantress. He’s condemned to a lifetime of isolation in his castle – unless he can find true love before the last petal wilts from the rose that’s counting down his fate. In a nearby village, meanwhile, Belle (Emma Watson) feels like an outcast for reading books and dreaming bigger than the small-minded locals.
Of those aforementioned additions to the plot, most are minor tweaks centred on Belle, increasing the independence she already had in the cartoon compared to some other Disney heroines (at one point, Watson’s Belle definitively states, “I’m not a princess!”).
Devising inventions and hatching escape plans, Belle is also given a little more backstory, which adds to the foundation of her relationship with the Beast. Watson’s natural strength and sweetness fit perfectly with the role, and she meets the role’s musical demands.
Stevens, who looks alarmingly like the cartoon’s prince, gives the Beast a soulful voice in a mo-capped performance. If the CGI isn’t always perfect (it’s hard to shake the feeling that the tech might have been more up to the challenge in a couple of years’ time), it’s good enough to prevent any major distractions, even in the centrepiece ballroom scene.
Gaston, as played by Luke Evans, is again a scene-pincher. With biceps (and arrogance) to spare, Evans is more hissably cruel than the cartoon’s doltish hunter. Josh Gad, meanwhile, adds layers to Gaston’s sycophantic right-hand-man Le Fou. The supporting cast are, in general, a hoot, mostly composed of the Beast’s enchanted homewares: servants having assumed the form of various ornaments or pieces of furniture while their master is under the spell.
Present and correct from the cartoon, there’s Cogsworth the clock (voiced by Ian McKellen, a standout), candelabra Lumière (Ewan McGregor) and tea-spurting Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), and this version adds Stanley Tucci as a harpsichord. All impressively digitally rendered, they’re part of a large supporting cast that almost steals the limelight from Belle and Beast, especially as the rose-petal countdown feels more urgent for all involved here.
Even McGregor’s “Maybeee she iz zee one” French accent feels less egregious in context: these performances are all panto-broad, adding to the film’s Broadway atmosphere. Which brings us to the songs...
A huge benefit for this adaptation is that it gets to revisit Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s songs. Once again, ‘Be Our Guest’ is a highlight, as Lumière and co tempt Belle to stay for dinner via a Busby Berkeley-style song-and-dance routine, but there’s also joy in seeing Belle and Gaston’s numbers given new life (and you’ll be humming them for days afterwards).
Some new verses are weaved in to extend classic songs, and a couple of completely new tracks sit comfortably alongside the old favourites, though only time will tell if they have the same staying power.
Familiarity can be a double-edged sword, but it plays in Beauty and the Beast’s favour. You’ve seen this film before, but when it’s redone with such warmth and craft (Jacqueline Durran’s exquisite costumes deserving special mention), it’s impossible not to be won over anew.
This is finely tuned entertainment that should satisfy all quarters of the audience. There’s enough darkness to give it a bit of edge, but plenty of laughs for levity, and also moments sure to elicit tears.
One minor gripe though – it feels like a trick was missed by not releasing it at Christmas. Presumably wanting to avoid clashing with Rogue One, the film’s snow-shrouded castle, musical numbers and all-round family friendliness would’ve made for an ideal festive treat. Still, it’s hard to imagine this lovely fairytale is going to have to beg for guests at any time of the year.
THE VERDICT: A delightful live-action recreation of a familiar fable. You’ve seen it before, but its spirit and pizzaz are pretty much irresistible.
Director: Bill Condon; Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson; Theatrical release: March 17, 2017
From Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me to Under the Skin, many fine films have been booed at Cannes and later reclaimed for cult-ish appreciation. The second pairing from Kristen Stewart and director Olivier Assayas deserves similar consideration. Following Clouds of Sils Maria, the duo’s hybrid of genre spook-show, celebrity satire and stalker thriller is slippery and borderline silly. But it’s also a hypnotic tease with a haunting grip.
Detached even at her most exposed, Stewart plays to her warily evasive strengths as Maureen, a PA drifting through France collecting clobber for a fashionista. She’s also a medium whose attempts to connect with her dead brother in a gloomy mansion lead us into House of the Devil terrain. Assayas’ restrained direction lends the chills intensity, sustained beautifully when a stranger texts Maureen and click-starts some suspense-cranked SMS malevolence.
Shopper binges on self-awareness, high-art nods and diffuse plot swerves, yet there’s tight thematic braiding. A study in grief’s between-states limbo (Maureen does a lot of waiting) gradually takes shape, designed to haunt your head long after Maureen’s suggestive final query to the afterlife. How long? Longer than those boos, at least.
THE VERDICT: A genre-blender imbued with style and substance. Magnetic and elusive, Stewart matches her director.
Director: Olivier Assayas; Starring: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz; Theatrical release: March 17, 2017
US comedian Jordan Peele makes his directorial debut with this racially charged Blumhouse horror. Daniel Kaluuya stars as Chris, a twentysomething black man who reluctantly visits the family of white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), but quickly realises something’s off with the hired help.
It lacks the subtlety of Night of the Living Dead, but deftly balances laughs and bloody thrills.
Director: Jordan Peele; Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford; Theatrical release: March 17, 2017
This nuanced drama from Iran’s Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Past) follows Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), two happily married, part-time actors, through the ramifications of rape.
Sparse and intricate, it’s a study of judgement, of ‘honour’, of Emad’s own fragile masculinity; one paralleled cleverly by his role in a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
Director: Asghar Farhadi; Starring: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi; Theatrical release: March 17, 2017
A Silent Voice
Based on Yoshitoki Oima’s manga series, this beautifully rendered anime follows schoolboy Shoya, a nasty little shit who bullies a deaf classmate. When she transfers schools, he finds himself ostracised and reaching out to his victim for redemption.
Viewing the heightened emotion and drama of adolescence with an unjudgemental eye, it’s a reminder that schooldays are always the best.
Director: Naoko Yamada; Starring: Miyu Irino, Saori Hayami, Aoi Yuki; Theatrical release: March 17, 2017
This moving docu-portrait of former NFL player Steve Gleason’s battle with motor neurone disease is as much heartrending home video as it is awareness-raiser.
Supported by his initially pregnant wife Michel, Gleason faces his drastically deteriorating health with inspiring positivity, but there’s no escaping the devastating sight of a man leaving messages for a son that he’ll never see grow up.
Director: Clay Tweel; Starring: Steve Gleason, Mike Gleason, Scott Fujita; Theatrical release: March 17, 2017
The Olive Tree
Following Even the Rain (2010), Spanish actor-director Icíar Bollaín and screenwriter Paul Laverty re-team for this warm-hearted road movie, in which Alma (Anna Castillo, irresistibly appealing) travels across Europe to retrieve the 2,000-year-old tree whose loss left her beloved grandfather devastated.
The plan she hatches to liberate it from a faceless corporation’s foyer will have you cheering.
Director: Icíar Bollaín; Starring: Anna Castillo, Javier Gutiérrez, Pep Ambròs; Theatrical release: March 17, 2017
Ahmed Jamal’s directorial debut re-imagines Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure as a Sufi morality tale, charting the resistance of a virtuous woman (Sanam Saeed) against religious hypocrisy.
Like Kurosawa, Polanski and Luhrmann, Jamal demonstrates that the Bard’s themes remain startlingly relevant today. If Rahm feels more stagey than cinematic, it’s still a gripper.
Director: Ahmed Jamal; Starring: Nayyar Ejaz, Sajid Hasan, Sanam Saeed; Theatrical release: March 17, 2017
Wolves at the Door
John Leonetti’s ’60s-set horror sees five twentysomethings, including pregnant actress Sharon (Katie Cassidy), stalked in a secluded LA home by a gang of mallet-wielding long-hairs.
Only at the end does a caption reveal these are in fact the infamous Manson Family murders. With no context, it’s merely a Friday the 13th-style slasher pic. Utterly tasteless.
Director: John R. Leonetti; Starring: Katie Cassidy, Elizabeth Henstridge, Jane Kaczmarek; Theatrical release: March 17, 2017