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The Disney Live-Action Reaction

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Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and now Beauty and the Beast – Disney is certainly making a mint by remaking its most beloved films in live-action, complete with the biggest names in Hollywood. However, could this be a task too ambitious for even the giant of classic fairy-tales? The general reaction to Disney’s latest offering, The Jungle Book (an impressive 94% on Rotten Tomatoes) suggests that this is not the case.

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Angelina Jolie, Sir Ben Kingsley, Scarlett Johansson, and Cate Blanchett are only some of the lovely people headlining Disney’s foray into live-action films. Their latest offering, Beauty and the Beast due for release in March 2017, sees Emma Watson cast off her wizarding robes and don the trademark golden ball-gown of Belle, the beautiful bookworm who tames the heart of a Beast. Dan Stevens (Matthew from Downtown Abbey and the nasally challenged Lancelot in Night at the Museum 3) will be hiding his blue eyes behind a mountain of makeup and fantastic CGI effects to become the titular Beast, and Disney has done a fantastic job at transforming a handsome man into a creature as horrifying as his animated counterpart.

Not even excessive facial hair can make Dan Stevens less adorable

Not even excessive facial hair can make Dan Stevens less adorable

But Disney’s ambitions have not ended there: a live-action Mulan (featuring an all-Chinese cast) is set for release in 2018, with The Little Mermaid and Walt Disney’s very first brainchild, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, also in the pipeline. One can only imagine the feast for the eyes Disney will create by remaking Ancient China, especially if the staggering success of The Jungle Book is only a stepping stone in the technical greatness that Disney can achieve on-screen.

These direct remakes, in which the core stories remain the same, are only part of the live-action reinvention. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was a star-studded continuation of Disney’s original version, garnering much praise for the visual spectacle of Underland, while Maleficent told the story of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty through the eyes of the antagonist, also creating a magical fantasy world on-screen with CGI.

Disney has clearly hit gold with its magical live-action campaign. Every title announced has been met with elation and anticipation: the Beauty and the Beast teaser trailer nearly broke the net with a whopping 91.8 million views, making it the most-watched teaser trailer in history. With this kind of exposure, every star in Hollywood is vying to play their childhood hero or favourite princess, and even bigger names are vying to direct them. Even the great Kenneth Branagh hung up his Shakespearean pantaloons to direct Cinderella.

Jon Favreau (director of the massively successful aforementioned remake of The Jungle Book) seems to have a soft spot for animals, as he is set to direct the remake of The Lion King. This is a project that could either make or break Disney’s winning streak; directing and starring in remakes of classic Disney films is one thing, but bringing to life one of the most beloved of all animated films is another. The Lion King has a slew of awards to its name, and even a hugely successful stage production was adapted from the original film by Julie Taymor, which is arguably just as (if not more) popular than its namesake. Can Favreau live up to the hype and expectation of literally billions of fans? I will say this: I was not expecting much from The Jungle Book, but when I saw the film, I realised what CGI is capable of. I could have sworn that Bagheera, Shere-Khan and all the other creatures in the film were living, breathing, talking animals. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that with the team Favreau had to bring that spectacle to life, that lions would be a piece of cake. Neel Sethi (Mowgli) had to act through an entire film talking to no one but a green screen. The Lion King has no human characters, which may be a blessing or a curse, because they will have no need to micro-direct an actor regarding spatial logistics. However, without a human, will they still have the hearts and souls of the audience invested in computer generated animals and VFX?

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Pretty graphics mean nothing without an emotional connection

To be blunt, The Jungle Book was essentially an animated film with a human at the centre. Without the “live” in “live-action”, will the remake of The Lion King simply be another animated film with updated graphics? There is no doubt that Favreau, with the help of the entire Disney team behind him, will pull out all the stops, but whether they fascinate or fail us, remains to be seen.

Coupled with the public’s appreciation of the magic of CGI and the more thoughtfully developed backstories of our favourite Disney heroes and heroines, one might say that Disney live-action is no passing fad, but a “whole new world” of possibilities (which reminds me that Aladdin, too, will be getting a realistic face-lift, rumoured to be directed by none other than Guy Ritchie, so we can assume that the film will be quite a lot darker than its animated original).

Disney has recently also added a feminist flavour to its remakes, much to the appreciation of its female audience. Alice in Wonderland saw a feisty young lady with a strong mind fight (a frightening realistic) Jabberwocky with a Vorpal Blade; Maleficent made the audience realise that ‘true love’ is more often familial than it is the prince-and-princess-live-happily-ever after cliché; and Jon Favreau even changed the gender of Kaa (the gargantuan python in The Jungle Book, voiced by Scarlett Johansson) because he thought that the cast was too male-heavy.

True Love's Kiss

True Love’s Kiss

Breaking stereotypes seems to be the name of Disney’s game. It is no secret that engaging backstories and emotional connection to the characters makes them far more likeable. Identification and empathy with a character allows for the audience to connect to a film that was essentially made to elicit emotion. Disney has finally realised that the prince is not always necessary (as comically demonstrated in Maleficent), and that the princess does not always need to be saved, because she can save herself. In the same vein, male characters also have been made more emotionally accessible to the audience. Whether they want to admit it or not, men do cry, as illustrated by a teary-eyed Prince Charming lying in the foetal position next to his dying father in Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella. It was a truly touching moment, as well as surprising, because princes are not meant to have emotion. There is but one prince in the classics that the audience actually got to know, that being Prince Eric (The Little Mermaid), literally the only prince that was truly developed in terms of his personality, even if it was a shallow one.

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An emotional prince

Thus, Branagh ingeniously forced emotion into even his most emotionally-hardened viewers – whether you felt disgust at the prince’s emotional weakness, or you felt pity and empathy, at least you felt, which is the most essential characteristic of any Disney film. When a director is remaking a classic, and the audience already knows the story, sometimes a few emotional surprises need to be inserted in order for the audience to feel that pang of nostalgia, taking them back to the very first time they saw the original, especially when ground-breaking visuals distract you from the heart of the film itself. The Jungle Book would never have been as successful as it has been without the real emotion conveyed by the voice actors: we could feel Shere Khan’s hatred, and Raksha’s love and concern. Without the sincerity behind the CGI, the film would simply be pretty, without Disney’s trademark emotional engagement.

I suppose it’s the circle of life that has caused this evolution in Disney, as it is taking tales as old as time, and giving them a whole new world of visual and emotional possibility, and essentially making them a part of our world. So as they say, Hakuna Matata (it means no worries), and let it go, because Disney is prepared to go the distance, not only bringing our childhood favourites to life, but improving them with better morals and more engaging characters, that will always be in our hearts.

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I like writing. I like gaming. I'm a girl. Those are three sentences rarely said together, but should be. What else defines me as a person? Oreo McFlurrys. And RPGs. Put them together and you have yourself the perfect Saturday night.

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70 Best Movie Posters of 2019

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Best Movie Posters of 2019

Deciding the best movie posters is no easy task…

I remember when I was younger, I used to head to the video store and rent movies I’d never heard of based solely on the movie poster art. This was, of course, a different time— sure, the internet was a thing, but we didn’t have countless websites, not to mention social media platforms, promoting new movies online with news stories, movie stills, featurettes, teasers, trailers and so on. Not to say that sort of marketing didn’t exist in the past, because it did, but it wasn’t always in your face. For better or for worse, the internet changed the way studios market movies, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the use of a poster to help build excitement and anticipation for an upcoming film. Most posters continue to be an important marketing tool for filmmakers worldwide and so once again, we’ve decided to collect images of our favourite movie posters revealed over the past twelve months. If you checked out our list of the best movie posters of 2018, you’ll remember it included posters for indie gems, thrillers, horror movies, foreign language films, Hollywood blockbusters and everything in between. This year is no different, although it should be said that some marketing campaigns were so good, we’ve decided to include more than one poster for a few select films. Also worth noting, we didn’t include any fan-made poster art below. That out of the way, here are the best movie posters of 2019.

Click on any one of the images to enlarge the posters.

The Best Movie Posters of 2019

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The Piercing ‘Marriage Story’ Is Noah Baumbach’s Best Film to Date

TIFF 2019

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Marriage Story

In 2010, director Noah Baumbach began divorce proceedings with his now ex-wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh. The divorce was finalized three years later, and since then Baumbach has been in a relationship with actor and director (and occasional collaborator) Greta Gerwig. It’s impossible to view his newest film, Marriage Story, without taking into account his own dissolved marriage; this is a searching, seething work of recriminations and longing that pits two all–too–human parents against each other, and invites the audience to not only imagine which bits of psychic trauma are his own, but also to consider our own relationships, successful or not.

Marriage Story stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as Nicole and Charlie, a married couple living in New York City with their young son Henry. The film opens with a montage as Nicole recites the things she most loves about her husband, from the way he can cook and doesn’t mind waking up with their son, to his skill as a theater director. In turn, Charlie narrates his favorite aspects of Nicole, his regular lead actor. There are plenty of opportunities for tears here, but the unguarded emotions of these confessions might get them started right from the beginning. But just as they finish reciting these traits, we’re brought back to reality; these confessions were things that they had written down to read to each other as a kind of peace offering at the start of their mediation following a separation that has led up to their divorce. But Nicole doesn’t like what she has written — or at least doesn’t want Charlie to hear it. And if she won’t go, then it’s not really fair for him to read his. So neither tells each other what they most admire in the other, and instead stop seeing the mediator.

It’s the first strike in Nicole and Charlie’s mutually assured destruction agreement. Though they initially plan on avoiding using lawyers, Nicole gets tipped off to a well-regarded attorney (a funny and ice-cold Laura Dern) who advises her to take a maximalist position in order to ensure she gets half of everything she wants — at the very least. Once she has a lawyer, Charlie tries out a variety of legal counsels (a soothing Alan Alda and a fiery Ray Liotta), but the real conflict comes down to location; Nicole has taken Henry to Los Angeles while she films a pilot, and wants to stay even after it’s finished. Charlie, however, thought they would move back to New York. Each escalation in the feud necessitates an opposing reaction, and the two are driven further and further apart, even as they try to stay close for the sake of their son.

Marriage Story

Baumbach has admitted that some details of the film are based on his own divorce, but he’s also said he interviewed many of his friends who divorced around the same time, as well as lawyers and judges involved in divorce cases. In some ways, Marriage Story isn’t just a portrait of a couple separating, but a primer on divorce court that far surpasses something like Kramer vs. Kramer, which was out of date even in 1979. The film is also an opportunity to observe two of the best living actors at the top of their game. Johansson and Driver have a knack for finding the sweet spot between un-actorly naturalism and the stylistic ticks that we recognize as compelling acting. It gives us a sense that these people were actually a family, and really cared for each other. Baumbach’s script helps; it’s maybe his best writing ever, filled with so many painfully open moments, yet leavened with just the right amount of humor. He’s also as fair as he could be, and neither parent comes off as too saintly or self-centered.

Marriage Story ends in a circle of sorts with the discovery of Nicole’s notes about Charlie’s best qualities. Their marriage was effectively over before the film even started, but I kept thinking back to that lovely introductory scene. How might their journey to divorce progressed if they had the courage to speak openly to each other in that one moment? Perhaps something might have been better. Marriage Story doesn’t harbor any of those romantic illusions, however; once it’s over, it’s over.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 12, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.

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Don’t Be Sad ‘A Rainy Day in New York’ Never Made it to Manhattan

Spend this rainy day playing a board game or something

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Rainy Day in New York

You do not come to late-era Woody Allen for anything resembling true originality. He is the drunken piano man, riffing off the same old hits in the same old bar, hoping that nostalgia will hit a chord with somebody. As in Midnight in Paris, Blue Jasmine, or even Irrational Man, his output over the last decade can still bring up moments of true inspiration and fresh-feeling angles on the same old tales, even if the plot-lines feel somewhat familiar. In the best humanist cinema, like that of Rohmer or Ozu, this repetition can make you see the same thing in a slightly different way. The same cannot be said of A Rainy Day in New York, a film so derivative it feels like it came out of an auto-generator, making me feel nothing but contempt for the waste of so much talent. If you are an American Woody Allen fan sad that this movie never made it to Manhattan, there’s honestly no need to be.

Timotheé Chalamet stars and narrates in a performance so poor that he must be happy this film hasn’t released back in the States. He plays Gatsby Wells, a student at upstate Yardley College, a place he detests yet tolerates because his beloved girlfriend Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) — heiress to a rich banking empire in Tucson — also studies there. As a writer for the University paper, she gets the chance to interview famous director Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber), giving them the possibility to explore New York together. Yet when they arrive there, a series of misunderstandings, mishaps, and fear of missed opportunities keeps them perpetually apart, handing them the chance to explore romance with others — including old flames, movie stars and, of course, high-priced escorts. 

Although his first name is Gatsby, Wells better resembles the other great male of 20th century American literature: Holden Caulfield. Like the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, he is born of massive privilege, shunning his supposedly phoney origins while still visiting the fanciest hotels and drinking in the fanciest bars. There is perhaps some kind of interesting modern portrait of New York privilege in here, but Woody Allen is simply not the right director for the material. It’s like asking a jazz pianist to bash out a techno tune. 

And just as Allen’s blinkered view of New York blinds him to the real world and its contemporary concerns, Chalamet’s nostalgia act cannot find a way to escape Woody’s wooden writing. The sensitive, pretentious, sensual young man who turned in such a deeply felt performance in Call Me By Your Name could be a natural fit for a Woody Allen character, if only he actually leaned into what makes him a great actor instead of trying his best Woody Allen imitation. While some actors can do Woody Allen well (Kenneth Branagh is uncanny in Celebrity, while Larry David is great in Whatever Works), Timotheé Chalamet has neither the studied talent to impersonate well, nor the arrogance to put his own distinctive stamp on it. Elle Fanning is similarly dire; playing both an intrepid, impetuous journalist and a thick floozy, she carries neither the charm nor the wit to make her a compelling co-lead.  

A Rainy Day in New York

I don’t blame either actor; they’re young, and there’s a feeling that they weren’t given much direction. In fact, almost every aspect of A Rainy Day in New York feels underdeveloped, underwritten, and under-thought. This is a film so lazy that it even recycles the ending of Midnight in Paris, perhaps hoping that the audience developed amnesia since 2011. Even Allen’s trademark eye for Manhattan is missing. Filming here properly for the first time since 2009, the city no longer seems like much of a character by itself, and instead comes off as it would in a generic TV Christmas Movie. 

While Allen’s early 00s work — easily his worst period — is characterised by its TV-movie lighting, his collaborations over the past ten years with cinematographers such as Darius Khondji (Midnight in Paris, To Rome With Love), Javier Aguirresarobe (Blue Jasmine), and Vittorio Stororo (Cafe Society, Wonder Wheel) elevated his films’ look considerably, even when the writing may have been lacking. Sadly here, the legendary cinematographer behind Apocalypse Now and The Conformist — despite what seems like his best efforts to light generic hotel rooms with warmth and vibrancy — cannot save A Rainy Day in New York at all, which feels even more rushed and cut-to-pieces than usual. This is really only for die-hard Woody Allen completists; casual minds need not bother.

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