Sunday, November 5, 2017

Theatrical Review: The Lego Ninjago Movie

Date: Saturday September 23 2017
Location: Cinemark at Stroud Mall
Time: 11am
Party: 3 (my mom sister and I)

Directors: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan
Writers: (too many to list)
Composer: (too many to list)


Notable Cast:
Master Wu- Jackie Chan
Lloyd- Dave Franco
Garmadon- Justin Theroux


Duration: 141 minutes (+6 trailers)

Opening comments

Yeah I’m posting this a little late but with this movie I figured there wasn’t a big hurry.
Like with Lego Batman this was another movie my sister wanted to see but she was also a fan of the Lego Ninjago series. I’d seen very little of it myself but any excuse to go to the movies these days (when there aren’t as many I want to see for whatever reason- I hope it’s just an off year) I’ll take.
The theater had a good crowd, a lot of kids but none that distracted too much from the movie. They laughed at most of the right parts- although I can’t remember which drew the most laughter.

Coming attractions


 A bunch repeated from the previous movie, Leap!
Daddy’s home 2, my little pony (my mom told us there’s no way she’s taking us to that one and we didn’t argue lol), coco and paddington 2 (the one trailer I forgot from the last one- hey, I’m used to only having to remember 3 trailers per movie, give me a break).

Then there was another rendition of Peter Rabbit. (Nick Jr had a series a few years ago with Peter Benjamin Squirrel Nutkin and a new female bunny named Lily- Peter has three sisters and they had to come up with another female protagonist? I don’t get it. Also have no idea if that series is still on but what little I saw of it I enjoyed).
This time it’s about the origin of Peter rabbit and how he became what he is... except it showed him hosting a party at mr mcgregors house and James Corden is doing his voice. Uh... I mean I like James Corden and Peter Rabbit but together? I’m kinda concerned- this is my child hood I’m talking about and I hope they didn’t ruin it by having this be a more PG version.
Then there was the curious “Isle of Dogs” which looks like Wes Anderson’s attempt at recapturing the success of Fantastic Mr. Fox (but with dogs and it takes place in Japan- and is likely to catch flack from the PC crowd cuz no lead roles are done by Japanese actors). The sense of humor feels very similar so I think this movie could be good. Just gotta see what the critics have to say.

The Main Event


 Maybe this is a Japanese thing but the methodology of our main characters seems extremely similar to Power Rangers. They even have their own Zords (although I think they’re just called Mechas in this case). But these 6 characters are high schoolers that will make an excuse to leave at the same time when the main villain attacks their town. And nobody seems to have a clue.
The other interesting coincidence is that the green one seems like the odd man out while poised to become the leader of the group. They even have an old dude as their master- except he’s in the flesh and he can hold his own in battle easily. I think the similarities end there (I guess between the ill advised peter rabbit and power ranger reboots I’m feeling nostalgic)

But here’s a couple of twists that make things interesting and set them apart-
The green ninja Lloyd is the least popular kid in school (unlike Tommy the green ranger)... because the villain Garmadon who is always attacking the town is his father. Yeah- how’s that for awkward?
Plus- all his friends have elemental powers like fire lightning ice earth and water. He’s just... green. (Funny enough I was thinking why he is the only one without an elemental power minutes before this conversation takes place)

Things boil up to a point where Lloyd decides the only way to defeat his father for good is to use the ultimate weapon. Which of course backfires or we wouldn’t have much of a movie.
This “weapon” (not saying what cuz it’s kinda hilarious how badly this turns out) summons Catzilla who proceeds to destroy the city.

Adding more to predictability- the ninjas need to go into the jungle to get the ultimate ultimate weapon and they need a true ninja to lead them. Their master is temporarily lost to them so, yeah, they gotta take Garmadon with them. By this point Lloyd had already revealed his secret identity to him (“and now we got bad blood, hey!”— sorry, couldn’t resist) so it makes the journey awkward at times but things happen and.. I’ll just leave the rest to the imagination.

Kinda hard to believe what a funny villain Garmadon is. I mean yeah he is kind of an idiot and kinda predictable but well written and acted. Justin Theroux isn’t very big in Hollywood and I know him better for co-writing Tropic Thunder and Iron-Man 2 (I think one led to the other and may be why Iron-Man 2 fell short of the original... but that could also be Sam Rockwell’s fault- his character is such a tool in that movie). But yeah he was great.
The funniest gag is him “firing” his generals when they say something he doesn’t like or they just have no ideas... but unlike with Dr. Evil in Austin Powers, this comes back to get him in hilarious fashion.

One nice difference about this movie is that it begins and ends in reality with Jackie Chan telling a kid the entirety of the movie and we get to see the story unfold without interruption. I thought to myself- I’m going to forget that the movie was being done this way by the time it ends. And sure enough I did.
And it’s worth sticking through part of the credits cuz we don’t just see the characters sing and dance but also Jackie Chan outtakes.

As for the movie itself, it was funny, had great characters and killer action scenes (although maybe a little too fast paced at some points). But even though it wasn’t a terribly long movie I found some scenes ran too long and I was asking myself when they’d be over. But my sister enjoyed it and that’s the important thing.
As far as Lego movies go, I liked how it was different from the others where they didn’t go too over the top with humor or pop culture references. And of course everything is better with ninjas- or for me some Asian influences just to set things apart.
It was kinda funny how it made fun of the formula of your typical “bad guy regularly tries to take over the town” story. We have GMA’s Michael Strahan and Robin Roberts hosting the morning show and asking themselves what % chance is there of an attack. Not to mention someone posing the question how effective the ninjas are because they defeat Garmadon but he always gets away. I kinda like it when cartoons ask the deep questions but the seriousness of said question doesn’t kill the fun tone of the movie or genre being presented.

Grade: B

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Theatrical Review: Leap!

Date: Saturday August 26 2017
Time: 11:55am
Location: Cinemark Cinema in Stroud Mall
Party: 2 (my sister & I)

Directors: Eric Summer and Eric Warin
Writers: Eric Summer (based on his idea), Laurent Zeitoun and Carol Noble
Composer: Klaus Badelt

Cast:
Felicie- Elle Fanning
Victor- Nat Wolff
Odette- Carly Rae Jepsen
Camille- Maddy Zeigler
Merante, the choreography- Terrence Scammell
Mother Superior/Regine/Felicie's mom- Kate McKinnon
Luteau- Mel Brooks

Duration: 89 minutes (+ 7 trailers)
Opening Remarks


First off, I listed the venue for the first time in a long time for a very particular reason. A particularly sad one.
Our super local cinema was one of several businesses in our local flea market affected by a fire and is one of such businesses that may never recover. It happened a couple weeks after we saw Despicable 3... it sucks. Granted, it wasn't perfect. We've had our share of sound issues, screen splits and so on. A couple of times when the movie was shut off prematurely or we had to remind people we were still there. But it was SUPER convenient and I'm going to miss it.

The mall is a good 20 minutes away from the house and downtown traffic can have its issues every now and then. But it's a really nice place. Can't beat the cushy stadium seating. And it was the two of us and two other twosomes within this one theater, so it was pretty cool.

Probably the one negative... there are a million trailers. Not commercials. Trailers. And unlike with "The Judge," where I managed to write them all down, I was just lucky I was able to count these.

Trailers


A bunch were animated and a bunch had real people. That much I remember for sure.

First up- "Daddy's Home 2"... how this movie got a sequel is as beyond me as Adam Sandler still being able to make movies when most of them are terrible...
Mark Walberg is the dad and Will Ferrell is the stepdad. But this time, their dads come into the picture for some holiday. Walberg's dad is Mel Gibson and Ferrell's dad is John Lithgow.

I'd never go to a theater to see this (certainly not traveling 20 minutes down the road to see it)- but Mel Gibson had some funny moments in this trailer pretty much side-eying Will Ferrell and saying to Mark Walberg "this [idiot] is raising your kids."
Mel Gibson has had his issues and RDJ has been lobbying for the past few years to get him acting jobs (paying it forward after Mel Gibson did the same for him after the final rehab stint)... but as crappy as this movie might wind up being, it's at least an opportunity Mel Gibson could possibly use... I'm spending too much time on this, moving on.

Next- a "My little pony" movie... yeah, this is getting a theatrical release. It looks super cute, but maybe not something I'd ever see unless it happened to be on TV and I happened to have nothing else I need to see.

Beyond that, I don't remember the order of these trailers, but this is what I remember.

Animated movie- Duck Duck Goose where this inept goose winds up becoming dad to a couple of ducklings who sound oddly mature for ducklings who'd recently hatched.
Animated movie- Ferdinand where a tame bull is sent off to be a bullfighter and a bunch of hedgehogs want to help get back to his girl... the hedgehogs had some funny moments, so this could potentially be a good movie

Animated movie- Disney's "Coco" where a live boy finds himself in the world of "The Day of the Dead" and meets his family... I still don't know why the hell the movie is called "Coco." I'm too lazy to Google it :P I don't care that much


animated movie- Lego Ninjago... my sister wants to see this one... she's really familiar with the series. This focuses on the green ninja Lloyd who has no friends beyond the other ninjas cuz his dad happens to be the main villain. The trailers feature the two of them meeting and Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" playing (so excited for her new album...).

and I think there's one other live-action movie and I can't remember what it is. Probably wasn't important.

The Main Event

Felicie and Victor are best friends who grew up at an orphanage and both have big dreams. Victor to become a famous inventor and Felicie to become a ballerina and enroll in Paris's world famous dance school.
Once they manage to break out of the orphanage (and evade the caretaker, Mr. Luteau- whose physical appearance reminds me a lot of Richard Griffiths in the Harry Potter movies), the story can finally begin.

One thing that didn't make it into the trailers- Felicie commits identity theft to get into the ballet school. (Maybe not the first time in a kid's movie, but it kinda shocked me). But considering whose identity she steals, we can let it go.

Felicie befriends Odette, who is the cleaner at the dance school and she asks to work as her assistant. Her other job is with this mean rich lady, Regine, who had bought her daughter Camille into the dance school. After meeting Camille and Camille breaks the music box her mother gave her, Felicie kinda gets her revenge by using Camille's letter of acceptance to get into the school.

A theme repeated throughout the movie- skill vs. passion. Felicie has all the passion in the world, but she's a bit of a klutz and has no professional training. But with Odette's help (she was a dancer before an accident stole that ability from her), she works hard and makes it through week after week. She also falls for Russian dancer Rudy while Victor is trying to get the courage to tell her that he likes her.
Meanwhile, Camille and her mother do find out what happens and the situation gets a little more dire: Felicie needs to nail the final audition to play Clara in the Nutcracker or she gets kicked out of the school.

And there's also another point where we see that Camille has the skill but no passion. She dances because her mom makes her. (Maddy Zeigler, who plays Camille, was on "So you think you could dance" last Monday night explaining it just like that)

Overall, the movie was great. The animation for the people had come so far. It's amazing how realistic it is. Felicie is a plucky fun heroine that a lot of girls will be able to relate to. Her friend Victor is a great friend to her (able to fix her music box, which is a very important trinket to her).

Carly Rae Jepsen, I have not liked for years because of "Call Me Maybe." It's catchy (heck, it went viral at the 2012 Olympics and was the song of that summer), but the lyrics are so badly written. She'd had other songs, but the radio only plays that one. But since she started doing acting roles, I've come around. She was perfect as Frenchie in Fox's rendition of "Grease." And she's great here. I don't know how old Odette is supposed to be, but she could easily be the same age she is.

In "Legally Blonde," Elle Woods said during her valedictorian speech that first impressions aren't always correct.
This goes on to be true about a couple characters in this movie and in a good way.

Not to spoil anything, but Luteau winds up being helpful to Felicie later in the movie and despite his gruff exterior, there's a heart underneath there.

The biggest surprise for me was the choreographer, Merante. I thought he was played by Tim Curry because he sounded like Nigel Thornberry (he wasn't), but the impression I got was that he was stuffy and he wasn't going to budge in his opinion of Felicie (although to be fair- she was pretending to be Camille and he didn't like how her mother bought her way into the school). But he does come around. He also is very accommodating to Odette- which made me wonder if they had a history or they were related. He did some kind things for her because she was a dancer he admired and he wanted to help her if she needed it now that she couldn't dance anymore.

There's a great scene where Felicie puts on a performance at a bar with Victor and he sees her and slips in a compliment... that made me smile and hastily clap a couple times.

The review in the local paper seemed to have only one issue with the movie- the historical inaccuracies. The movie takes place in the 1870's. Someone's wearing denim. And :groan: someone says it's hammer time...

The one negative I found personally, which kinda sucked the fun out of it a few times... Camille's CRAZY stage mom. Maybe it's the hairstyle, but she reminds me of Lady Tremaine (aka the Evil Stepmother from Disney's "Cinderella"). The cutthroat attitude and the absolute meanness. There were no redeemable qualities about her whatsoever and all villains should have something in their background to explain why they are who they are.

Not only do her actions completely derail the movie halfway through (that whole 3rd act issue that's been cliché for years)... towards the end, she's threatening bodily injury and there's a hammer involved.
She said "it's hammer time" and I groaned so hard thinking "she totally ruined that for me"...


she didn't... I said "it's hammer time" about something a couple hours later and still got joy from it.

I don't know- maybe it's just a personal peeve. Up there with villains who are depicted with no weak points so it's impossible for the heroes to defeat them. [And also to derail my earlier point- it was explained why the "House of Night" villain Neferet became evil, but I still hated how she had no weak points that the good guys could take advantage of to defeat her]

I guess what I'm saying... the villain was simply an archetype. She wasn't three dimensional like the protagonist was and that's not good.


Grade: A-

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Theatrical Review: Despicable Me 3

Date: Sunday, July 9 2017
Time: 11:45am
Party: 3 (my mom, sister and I)

Directors: Pierre Coffin (directed previous "Despicable" films), Kyle Balda (directed Minions & The Lorax) and Eric Guillon (a character designer for "Sing" and several other films)
Writers: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio

Cast:
Gru & Dru- Steve Carell
Lucy- Kristen Wiig
Minions- Pierre Coffin
Balthazar Bratt- Trey Parker (yeah, one of the 2 guys behind "South Park")
Fritz/Ramsbottom- Steve Coogan
Margot- Miranda Cosgrove
Edith- Dana Gaier
Agnes- Nev Scharell
Clive the Robot- Andy Nyman

Duration: 90 minutes (+2 trailers)

Write-up:

Opening Comments

I forgot which movie we were going to see when they aired the trailer. The music and all the fun action happening was enough to sell me on this movie, not to mention it's been a good franchise up to this point.
Although part of me wonders if it's already worn out its welcome.
We got to the theater and a sign on the door said two of the theaters didn't have air-conditioning. This is a small local place, so it doesn't have the best facilities. But hey, it's close by. That's kinda hard to argue with.
It was the three of us and three other people. Then maybe a dozen other people showed up during the trailers or the first couple minutes of the movie. But considering we had to be told we were in the wrong theater (it said 3 Despicable, so we thought it was the right movie- not because it was where the 3D version would be later... but at least there was no issues with the screen or sound system, so I really shouldn't complain).

Trailers

First there was a teaser for the Emoji Movie. It was narrated by the "meh" emoji with various other things going on. We get more from the trailers shown on TV, but they only show one trailer where it seems like the poo emoji is one of the most famous because he's very full of himself.
Me, I like these things as much as the next person. Heck, my favorites are the :P face, followed by the winkie face, and on Twitter, I've gotten into using the purple umbrella with rain drops for my Prince tweets and comments. And prince.org (a messageboard where I got my start in the fan community 10 years ago) used these things LONG before they were popular for cell phones. But we called them emoticons. And I still like that name better than "emojis"... I'm sorry, that always sounded lame to me. And by extension, this movie looks kinda lame. Like they're trying to commercialize emojis even more with a storyline that reads like a cheap imitation of "Inside Out."
I believe "Angry Birds" failed at the box office, but the fact the game isn't as popular as it used to be might have more to do with it than the idiocy of trying to do a movie about something you find on your phone. And don't get me started on the TV game show of "Candy Crush." What the heck is Mario Lopez even doing hosting that? He's probably the most successful alum from "Saved by the Bell" with various other hosting gigs on better shows and he's a part-time DJ. It's not like he needs the money... I don't think...
I'd spent way too much time on this thing I'm deeming a waste of time, moving on...

Leap!, by contrast, has the potential to be something really good. In a year where there really haven't been any standout animated movies, I can see this winning an Oscar. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
It's a story about a boy and girl who grew up in an orphanage and both have big dreams. The girl (played by Elle Fanning... whatever happened to her sister, Dakota... did Twilight "ruin her career" too or did she just outgrow her niche, which was precocious child star?) wants to be a dancer for a ballet company. The boy (played by Nat Wolff- this guy from two movies based on books by an author whose name escapes me...John Green... he's really getting a lot of good material coming his way) wants to be a world-famous inventor.
I was thinking while watching this that animation has come such a long way since Walt Disney did "Snow White"-- THAT was groundbreaking, but we now have 3D animation with really life-like human characters.
We'll see how the critics react (I don't put a lot of stock in critics, but I still check out what they say on some things), but this has a lot of potential, I think.
I just don't know if these kids are brother and sister or friends because there's a scene where the guy seems to be falling for the girl...and that'd be icky and not-so-kid friendly if they were related.

Geesh... I've had so much to say about the trailers, and I don't know if I'll have as much to say about the actual movie.

The Main Event

Here's the basic story-- Gru and Lucy (his new wife from the previous movie) are given the mission to bring Balthazar Bratt to the Anti-Villian League and thwart his attempt to steal a rare pink diamond (they don't call it the Pink Panther, but it might as well be).
However, while they manage to retrieve the diamond, Bratt gets away. And the new leader of the AVL fires Gru for this mistake (and Lucy, who says in the trailer that she'll have to fire her as well).
The Minions take this news in a positive way. Led by Mel, they decide they want to go back to villainy. Something Gru doesn't want now that he's happily married to someone who catches bad guys. So the Minions abandon him and due to some shenanigans they commit, they wind up in jail.
Gru also finds out that he has a twin brother named Dru. The whole family goes to another country to meet him. Dru reveals that their father was a great villain and he wants the two of them to go into the villain business together. Not telling his brother, Gru's plan is to gnab Bratt and bring him to the AVL to get his and Lucy's jobs back. Meanwhile, Agnes, the youngest of the three girls, is on a quest to find a real-life unicorn after hearing a barkeep in town rave about one.
And Bratt has another evil plot in mind and it involves getting back at Hollywood.

Balthazar Bratt is probably one of the most unique, most slyest, but goofiest villains I'd seen in any movie. He was a child star who had a show where he committed heists. The show got cancelled the moment he hit puberty and it got super awkward super fast to see a pimpled teenage Bratt say his noted catchphrase "I've been a bad boy."
His methods, funny enough, are real-life versions of things he did in his show. Only in an animated movie would they be able to get away with this and I thought that was kinda cool.

The best part, for me personally... his show was big in the 80's, so this guy is all about the 80's references. He wears a purple body suit with big shoulder pads. He has a keytar that not only produces a killer soundtrack for dance fights, but it literally blew Gru away and his clothes right off his back.
However, it did get to a point where I thought to myself: did the writers really love the 80's, as I do... or were they making fun of all the pop culture cheese that decade produced? It's hard to tell. Because after a while, I was even tiring of it, which made me sad. I guess you really can have too much of a good thing.
Then everything was okay after when he first unreleased a legion of his own action figures (merchandise that nobody bought, apparently) and calls them... wait for it... The Bratt Pack! [Brat Pack movies are among my all-time favorites... although the best of them is The Breakfast Club, followed by Ferris Bueller and the rest aren't quite at the same level]

As for the soundtrack... 80's songs included
"Bad" by Michael Jackson

"Into the Groove" by Madonna (my favorite song by her, by the way)
"Sussido" by Phil Collins (if you're one of those people who accused him of stealing this song's synth line from Prince's song "1999"... this movie has that 80's pop trifecta... I am not nearly THAT crazy)

"Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits (one of the best 80's videos ever!)
"Take on Me" by A-Ha


...I'm sure there were more, but those were the best of the bunch.

We've gotten to know Margo, Edith and Agnes a bit over these three movies. Margo is only 12, but she comes off as 16 (but she's also played by 20-something Miranda Cosgrove). She went from being the one in charge to the boy-crazy teenage to... kinda being embarrassed by her new stepmom, who makes her be nice to this local boy. Something that backfires, but how it resolves gets them closer as a result.

Agnes's cuteness still hasn't grown out its welcome, at least for me anyway. She represents the kid in all of us who wants to believe that unicorns are real and she just might get her wish this time to have a real one.
Edith... I still don't know what her character is supposed to be. She spent all of the last movie dressed in a karate/ninja outfit. In this movie, she likes pranking Fritz, the butler at Dru's mansion and she goes with Agnes to find the unicorn, but she's not quite believing it. I don't know-- so much attention has been given to the other two girls, I just don't get her the same way. And we're three movies in.

Of course, we have the Minions. They spend most of the movie in jail and, maybe because they have the numbers, they wind up ruling the roost. (At least it makes a lot more sense than Austin Powers 3 where Dr. Evil and Mini-Me manage the same thing with just the two of them). All the while, Mel (a Minion we hadn't gotten to know before this movie) starts regretting his decision to leave Gru and reflects on their time together. He acts like such a tough guy by leading this revolt, but the flashbacks show he was kind of a baby.
Sure, their cuteness legitimized them getting their own movie with origin story and everything... but I think that might have worn out its welcome a bit.

And Lucy spends most of the movie trying to adjust to her new role as stepmom. Which isn't perfect, but then again, who is?
One of the most often aired trailers for this movie has her saying to Gru and Dru "so you're villians now?"... that scene never happened in the movie! At one point, it appears she's starting to get the scent that something isn't quite right with those two, but there's no confrontation scene.

Of course, Steve Carell plays both roles of Gru and Dru. And they both have their individual quirks. It's kinda funny how each was raised by a single parent and that parent told their kid that they were the biggest disappointment. Yet when Gru is part of this job he's pulling with his brother, it really seems like he's a better villain than he appeared to be in the original Despicable movie. Meanwhile, Dru is a big klutz that nearly ruins everything. But they do come together in the end and come out on top.

Bratt may seem like a goof super obsessed with the 80's, but he does have moments of brilliance in his own villainy. Although there was one moment that happened that I saw through the deception almost immediately... maybe the writers wanted it easy for the adults to guess or they didn't... either way, I liked feeling super smart for a moment as long as it lasted.

The movie as a whole... it's not bad, but being the 2nd sequel of one really good movie... there were times where I was thinking it's getting stale and maybe they should quit while they're ahead.
However, the final act of the movie is really good. Very action-packed and exciting and it was fun to be back in the 80's again.

Grade: B+

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Theatrical Review: Wonder Woman

Date: Sunday June 4 2017
Time: 12:30pm
Party: 3 (my mom aunt and I)
Director: Patty Jenkins
Composer- Rupert Gregson-Williams [no relation to movie composing legend John Williams as my mom wondered leaving the theater... would've been cool, though]

Cast (in no particular order):
 
Diana Prince/Wonder Woman- Gal Gadot 
Steve Trevor-Chris Pine
Hippolyta- Connie Nielsen
Antiope- Robin Wright
Sir Patrick- David Thewlis
"Doctor Death" Maru- Elena Anaya
Ludendorff- Danny Huston
Etta, Trevor's secretary- Lucy Davis

Duration: 141 minutes (+2 trailers)

Opening remarks
Anyone who's read my blog before knows that my allegiance is the marvel universe. And I hadn't seen any of the recent DC comic movies directed by Zack Snyder. (Nothing against him- Sucker Punch is one of my favorite movies). Honestly I'd been out of it with Batman (unless you count Gotham which technically doesn't cuz Bruce Wayne isn't batman yet) since Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale ruined Batman for me forever (or at least until Will Arnett took the bat voice to better places with his performance as Lego Batman). 
Suicide Squad was also great.

But the trailers for Wonder Woman kept cropping up and looking even more amazing PLUS rave reviews so I couldn't pass this up.
And much like with Iron-Man when it first came out it got so much hype and kudos that not even a day into its debut and they're already talking about a sequel (in this case the director is returning and it will take place in modern day--the obvious route would be to go to WWII since this one is WWI but the fact they're not says they have big plans in store... wouldn't it be crazy if this character is the reason DC overtakes Marvel in a couple years? I say go for it. If I get an enjoyable experience out of it, thats the most important thing).
 
Trailers
 
I have no idea why "Rough Night" was included in this... none of the cast members were a part of this movie... at least I don't think so.
Anyway it's kinda like a female version of The Hangover- a bachelorette party gone array after the stripper is accidentally killed. And all the girls are old sorority friends. Scarlett Johansson stars and for whatever reason Kate McKinnon plays the Australian exchange student. I know I said before that I'm all for her playing these quirky roles that aren't impressions of other people but I can't help but feel there's some Australian chick out there that was passed over for this role. Not that the movie looks like it'll be any good but for the sake of the people involved (miscast or not) I'll probably be seeing it at some point 
Then we had the Justice League... I had no idea this was coming out this year. To me it looks like a darker version of The Avengers (mainly due to the lighting). Batman Wonder Woman The Flash and Cyborg were a few I caught. Then there was Aquaman who looks nothing like the comic (or even Raj dressed up on Big Bang theory's Halloween show where he laments "aquaman sucks"). He looks kinda like black beard the pirate but with no shirt and wielding a trident.
Anyway I'll have to see what the critics say on this. If there's the slightest danger of it taking down Avengers I might have to scope out the competition.

The Main Event 

We catch up with Diana Prince- I assume after the events of batman vs superman (hadn't seen it yet) and Bruce Wayne sends her an old picture of her with a small group of men.
So the whole movie is practically a flashback going back to the very beginning when she was just the daughter of Hippolyta- queen of the Amazons and her mother didn't want her to learn how to fight.
But we see very quickly a pattern that repeats throughout the movie- Diana always gets her way and does whatever she feels like.
She also grew up with a mythological story about how Zeus created man, Ares corrupted man to fight one another and the Amazons were made to keep the peace. And they are always ready if Ares were to ever return.
When German spy Steve Trevor (not Rodgers-- I know these are two different comic book worlds but I can't be the only person annoyed that they used that same first name- not that I'd ever get these characters or actors confused) crashes into the sea surrounding the amazons' island and inadvertently brings a squad of German soldiers with him... let's just say all hell breaks loose. After hearing his story Diana believes that this Great War he speaks of is the work of Ares and she must go with him to defeat the menace behind all the chaos.
As is often the case- it's something easier said than done.
 
Additional commentary 
 
For me, the movie had a great beginning and unexpected exciting ending. But the middle, not that I was bored but I admit looking at my phone 2-3 times  to see what time it was. Hearing this was a long movie without knowing the actual length was giving me a case of ADD.
Although for the mythological portion- saying that Ares destroyed all the gods before he was defeated by the last ditch efforts of Zeus... I'm sorry but as a fan of the Percy Jackson series, that bothered me a lot. Gods can't be killed, at least not permanently. They're sent to the underworld and can rise up again-- assuming they aren't banished there the way hades is (and Persephone for half the year... just don't eat the forbidden fruit- should you ever visit)
Gal Godot was amazing in the title role. She lived and breathed this character and definitely kudos to her for all the sword fighting and stunt work she did. 
Of course Chris Pine (who I'd known since the princess diary sequel) was great. Even if all he's remembered for in this movie was his "nude" scene. (They pushed the envelope as far as it could go without breaking- only his hand covering the rest of him and he was also far away and in some shadow. 
Since he was the first man Diana had ever seen in person, they had to go to the most obvious place. Fascination, innuendo and the good old "would you say you're a good representation of your sex?"
Maybe not as bad as dialogue I'd heard in both 50 shades movies but close. Then again there is no way to do it without making it awkward. There was no crowd reaction in the theater but I'm sure all the women in house enjoyed that cave pool scene.
Shortly after she explains to him that she read all 12 volumes by the muse (I believe...) Clio that talked about men and sex and how men are only good for procreation.  (The ultra feminists who saw this movie probably got a kick out of it).
One of the antagonists is also worth mentioning- the German woman known as "Doctor Death". People talk about wanting more female led movies and strong women characters. She may be subservient to someone else but she's a genius dedicated to her job. Although one could also say she's kinda mad-since this special  mustard gas is her idea.
Maybe it's because I'd been watching Gotham she reminds me a bit of Dr. Hugo Strange (he and Dr. Stephen Strange are not so easily confused as the two Steves) who was responsible for creating and resurrecting villains.
Steve's secretary only has a few scenes but she has a tendency of stealing all the ones she's in.
 
There's a lot of great action that also comes with a lot of explosions. Michael Bay might have cornered the explosion market but maybe not for long. These ones can be a tad excessive but they're also startling and almost too real at times because some come when you least expect them too.
I won't give away the big ending and the final battles and who the villain was (I had a suspicion but I was kinda hoping I was wrong).
 
I'm not one who looks for political messages in movies but one became clear during the final battle- and let's just say it was something I wish more people would realize.
 
"No time 4 politics, no we don't wanna fight.
Everybody get up, it's gonna be a beautiful night."
 

Also- there are no post-credits scene... DC must think they're too cool for them... although this movie didn't really need it...
 
Grade: B+ (id get it an A- if it was a movie I was super excited to see again... it's not like I had anything else to do that day but I'm going to dedicate more than 120 minutes to a movie, it needs to hold my interest the whole time or I just need to be in the right mindset for it).

Monday, May 29, 2017

Checking Out of "Bates Motel"


When this first came out, I was intrigued and excited to check it out (no pun intended). I'd never seen Psycho and since scary movies aren't my thing, I thought this was worth a shot. Especially since it was a limited series so there wasn't going to be a big commitment.
I remember also voicing outrage when they said it was going to be more than the 13 or so episodes originally aired. Surely, this whole prequel to this classic movie could be done in a couple months.
But in the end, everything worked out just as it should. The ending especially. It was looking dodgy a couple times in the final few shows, but once the ultimate resolution was revealed, it all made sense. And all things considered, it did the best possible by all the characters involved. Although Chick and Romero both got the short end of the stick I think... that's what was so great about the series. Weirdoes and bad guys made you root for them (not that I ever saw Romero as a bad guy).
In the beginning... 
 
This is going to sound so cliché but it's true.
At the start of the series, it was just Norman and his mother Norma Bates. She buys a motel and large house on a hill in the small Oregon town of Pine Creek Bay. This is something she does completely on a whim and doesn't even consult Norman about until they are there. As is the case with any teenager, Norman is not happy about these circumstances. And of course, Norma finds out rather quickly that she got a lot more than she bargained for.
 
I saw the pilot, I think, on the following weekend- not the day it actually aired. Knowing my Mondays, schedule conflicts most likely came into play.
I think one time I saw 2 or 3 back to back. It's seriously addicting once you start watching. I'm not a binge-watching person typically (I don't have Netflix- yeah shock/horror- and it's exhausting and time consuming) but this series is ABSOLUTELY binge-worthy if there was ever a candidate.
Ironically, the only other show I've binged... it's the one I'm covering in my next post.
 
Back to our characters though... Norma is so high maintenance and prone to overreaction, you want to kill her yourself. 
But she finds herself in trouble with the former owner of the motel (I think he lost it to bankruptcy which is why it was a bargain that Norma couldn't resist). What happens and how it resolves... there's a reason why it's on at 10pm. It was kinda startling at first. But that became part of the show's unusual charm. Barring any nudity and f-bombs, they're not afraid to "go there". [One episode later on had a "viewer discretion is advised" disclaimer and it was in reference to a final scene where a teenage girl attempts to seduce an older man... this, however, did not carry over to a 2-3 other episodes where sex or rape scenes occurred].
And drawing reference to the other series I will cover in a future post: it pushed the envelope of explicit content in the comedic department.

Also in the show we get to know Norman's friend Emma who has cystic fibrosis (she always had an oxygen tube around her nose and her tank was extremely portable-- her character lived with the disease, but never let it damper her demeanor), the town sheriff Alex Romero and Norman's half-brother Dylan. All things considered (Norma being Norma, Norman being more than a little off and the fact his father is Norma's brother) Dylan's surprisingly the most normal person in the family. I didn't like him when he was first introduced (can't remember why- it was so long ago) but it got to the point with him where I just hoped to God he survived to the end of the series. After all, Norman didn't have any siblings in Psycho.
 
The Psycho Connection 

**This is where the spoilers begin to pop up, but the biggest one is to the movie itself. For the series itself, I gave away nothing major**
 
Of course the house is practically a replica of the original.
But knowing what I knew about the movie (and then finally seeing it- what I know about that world) one thing was obviously going to happen. In the end, one or another, Norma wasn't going to be alive to see it. Heck, there was a preview to a finale where it looked like she might not make it... but she lived for another season and that particular finale was kinda effed up. Not going to sugarcoat it. But that's the thing about the series- you spend enough time with these people and you start to feel disoriented yourself. That's just how good it is.
The biggest love letter to the movie itself was in the final season where Norman runs the business as if nothing was wrong. But then Marion Crane comes to town and the shower scene happens... but it's not how you expect it. Norman did rack up a lot of casualties (I never counted but I think it's 10 or slightly less) and romance was never in the cards for him because of his mental issues. But the shower murder had a motive behind it which made him somewhat redeemable. Let's just say the person actually deserved it opposed to just being unlucky to cross paths with him.
 
Descent into Madness
The acting is amazing and so is the fact that Max Thierot, Nestor Carnobell, and Freddie Highmore each had a few turns in the director's chair (Freddie even wrote one of the last episodes- the acting was even more exceptional).
 
But the best thing about the series was how Norman's character was slowly developed over time. At first, you're led to believe- you know, his mother is a nut job and insane control freak, how can anyone turn out remotely functional living with her?  But as you spend more time with Norman, all those little things about how he was raised and how he reacts to certain situations, they all begin to add up. 
He has blackouts that grow steadily worse and it isn't until the final 2 seasons you see what happens to him during those times. 
Over time, Norma becomes more aware of these blackouts and that things aren't quite right with Norman. But in doing so, she pulls the apron strings even tighter and Norman never fully gets the help he needs until it's the last resort. Like when Norman goes to get his drivers license but Norma stops the driving test by telling the instructor about it and the whole thing gets derailed. Norman rebels but he never gets fully away from his mother and his home. It's comparable to a ghost that can't leave a house and is left to haunt it because that's where they died and it's impossible to solve their unfinished business. Except Norman is alive and the manifestation keeping him bound to his mother and the Bates Motel is in his mind.

On the other side of the coin-- Norma is certifiable in her own right, but aside from racking up dead bodies, Norman shows how unstable he really is when he agrees to check into a mental hospital for one of the later seasons. The reason he ultimately works to break out is discovering Norma got married. Granted, her past relationships have always ended in disaster and none of those men were particularly nice to her (although there was one to a very nice man that she broke off because... well, she found an excuse somewhere, I'll just say that cuz I don't remember)... but Norman is under the impression no man is good enough for his mother other than him, so he does everything to maintain the dynamic the two of them always had. Needless to say, it has some deadly consequences. I had a feeling that Norma would end up with another main character and it wouldn't end well for either of them... just based on the end of the Psycho script where it said Norman killed his mother and her lover.
However, I thought it was a tad unbelievable that White Pine Bay was led to believe Norma committed suicide... but we were there to witness the whole thing as the audience and the only other person to know the truth was conveniently thrown in jail to atone for various crimes he committed in his own career. I guess they needed to have that final season and that was the only way to assure it.
Perhaps the craziest part was how it took so long for most of the corpses to be discovered. Never mind that Norma (and Norman under the influence of "Mother") is so good at sterilizing the crime scene and how Norman's taxidermy hobby comes in handy. Or they just happened to be located near this big deep lake.
Season two, I believe, his favorite teacher wound up dead. He could be placed at the scene of the crime but he's cleared by DNA evidence that somehow doesn't match his. I'm still not entirely sure if she seduced Norman or it's all in our heads (his and the audience) but that was one of the bigger breaking points in the series. One of those no-point-of-return moments for Norman. He's so upset about the situation he can't go to school anymore and Norma homeschools him until he can get his GED. His illness is exacerbated because he never leaves the house or the motel he now plays concierge to.
 
Final Thoughts
 
Other than that I don't have much to add without spoiling the ending of the series. 
Even for those who'd seen the movie there are some surprises in store. In the end it all makes sense and it was the best resolution for everyone. Doesn't mean it wasn't sad though.
I have to get up at 5:30am to go to work, but I had to stay after the show for a cast discussion. You really get to know and love these characters, it's hard to leave, even if it's the best thing for all of us.
The part that's always trippy to me... hearing Freddie Highmore being interviewed. He is so good in this role, you forget that he's British and that he got his start in movies like "Charlie & The Chocolate Factory" and "Finding Neverland."
I also found out that Olivia Cooke, who played Emma, was English. That really threw me for a loop. Both of these actors are so good, you'd never guess they were putting on American accents.
Also need to give it up for Vera Farmiga- not just for being crazy good at being this nutjob of a woman :P but she's the one who recommended Freddie Highmore for the role. Not just great judgment on her part, but certainly a testament to his talent. This is going to be a tough role to top, that's for sure.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Theatrical Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


Date: Sunday May 7 2017
Time: 1:45 pm
Party: mom, aunt and I 

Writer/Director: James Gunn

Cast:
Star-Lord- Chris Pratt
Gamora- Zoe Saldana
Drax- Dave Baustisa
Groot- Vin Diesel
Rocket- Bradley Cooper
Nebula- Karen Gillan
Yondu- Michael Rooker
Ego- Kurt Russell
Mantis- Pom Klementieff
Starkar Ogord- Sylvester Stallone
Ayesha- Elizabeth Debicki

Duration: 138 minutes (+2 trailers)

Write-up

Opening comments 


As is often the case with these movies (sequels in particular) there's always going to be those negative reviews that bug me. 

One said this had a lot of the things from the first movie that worked. But also criticized it for not really getting to the plot (which I'll add includes the reveal of who the central villain is) until later on and the final battle is inane and runs too long.

Another article wasn't so much about this movie in particular, but a genre of movie that's apparently new and annoying people. (Who these "people" are- I have no idea but I don't want to know them). The article criticized movies sub-genred as "needle-droppers" where a song starts to play, the movie becomes about that song and you're so swept up in nostalgia that you forget the movie is crap.

First of all, I'm not saying this movie is perfect. Second of all, this is not new. Saturday Night Fever- in my opinion- was a terrible movie. It's best remembered for John Travolta kicking ass on the dance floor and The Bee Gees. The movie itself was dark and not particularly fun unless there was music playing. Purple Rain could get the same argument, but the movie was designed to highlight the music as well as introducing Prince to the world beyond MTV. The plot was always kinda secondary behind him, the characters (and most are characters- not 100% accurate to the people in real life) and the music.

Third- I just don't like how this article sees this sub-genre as a bad thing... whatever gets people to see movies, what the hell does it matter why they go to begin with.

As for this movie's music--in my opinion, for this to be a "needle-dropper," the songs have to be memorable. Other than "Brandy" which got played twice- I couldn't remember any. The previous movie I at least could name 3. [But I was already familiar with the Jackson 5 and Pina Colada song, just to name a couple]

Now onto the actual stuff people care about...


We were among maybe 21 people and it was kinda miserable outside so the escapism (which this movie essentially is) was much appreciated 

Trailers 

One was a super tease for the new Star Wars movie. A narrative by Mark Hamill and brief moments with the new characters. From what I've heard, Luke isn't willing to teach Rey about The Force at first. I just hope Oscar Isaac gets a lot more screen time in this movie 

Then there was a trailer for the new Thor movie which I hadn't seen until now. His hammer gets broken and he's forced to be a gladiator and fight the Hulk. He's cheering, saying that he knows him from work and it was hilarious. Can't wait- too bad it's not until November 

The Main Event 

 I guess in a way you could compare the handling of the plot to the novel "Twilight".

 Stay with me on this... 

 The book read like this:

Bella is new in town. She becomes infatuated with Edward Cullen, the two of them get to know each other, she meets his family and suddenly the plot happens.

One could argue (I could) that the plot was about Edward and Bella getting together and in the last third, they're trying to deal with this new threat to their happiness.

Guardians of the Galaxy this time around is a lot like that--except a lot more action-packed and the only thing not really highlighted is romance. Maybe hinted at, but part of me will be kinda disappointed if Star-Lord and Gamora get together because it's so damn cliché.

But we have various plot lines and character arcs happen and maybe it takes a little too long for it all to come together in the final third of the movie.

But if that's what you care about (namely: things making sense), this might be the wrong movie for you.
 
This movie is about character interaction, crazy space battles, and... basically that's it 

Those who care about a plot...

Star-Lord meets his father Ego (no spoilers but this guy lives up to his name in more ways than one).

At the start of the movie, the Guardians are contracted by a golden somewhat regal alien race to defeat this monster who wants to go after their energy source- super special batteries. As much as I love Groot- in this case Baby Groot- the movie focusing on him dancing to music (can't even remember what song-- at least in the first movie the song, in a similar moment, was memorable) instead of the actual fight... it just made the fight seem pointless.

So did the fact Rocket stole some of these batteries... because of his character? Or because we needed to make this race of aliens an enemy for the Guardians... which is more likely to play out in the next sequel. (I did love the methodology of their ships and how they conduct their battles-- the ships are drones and the fighters are on the ship in virtual reality pods, like a more interactive first-person space shooter game).

This first space battle leads to a crash landing, half the crew goes to Ego's planet and the other half eventually gets captured by Yondu's raiders... except Yondu ceases to be in charge after a point. This is due to his favoritism of Star-Lord and past transgressions that get fully hashed out later (which is another nice touch- completing that story arc begun in the first movie).

Character Discussion and Development

Don't quite know why, but the non-humanoid characters are my favorites. I loved Rocket and Groot from the first movie and that's still true. Although Groot not quite as much as Rocket. Which is even stranger because Groot is so cute and Rocket is not only a jerk most of the time, but a lot of what goes wrong is his fault. Also in the review I read, it said playing Rocket is the easiest money Bradley Cooper will ever make. I didn't know what was supposed to mean, considering how hot and cold the article was- but he is so good in this role... I just forget that Bradley Cooper is the one playing him. (I'd only been a big fan since seeing him in movies like "The Words" and "Burnt"- the critics and I are complete opposites on those- but I won't necessarily go out of my way to see one of his movies. The premise has to grab my attention).

Drax was a character that was almost as much a surprise as Groot- he's not always easy to like, but he got a bit of a following after the first movie came out. I think I read somewhere that an autistic boy said he was his favorite character because they had one thing in common-- they take things literally and don't often understand sarcasm.

In this movie, it would seem like Drax had been spending too much time with Star-Lord and Rocket because he makes one or two jokes that are actually kinda funny. But he still doesn't have a complete grasp of the obvious.

Then there's the whole dynamic between Gamora and her sister Nebula-- which is extremely confrontational but also mired in jealousy.

Elizabeth Debicki plays Ayesha, the leader of the regal alien race (whose name I don't remember or feel like Googling) and judging from the post-credits scene (one of FIVE-- so stay to the end of the credits), we won't be seeing the last of her.
For me, it was great to see her again... I hadn't seen her around since she played Jordan Baker in "The Great Gatsby" (she was my inspiration to get a Gatsby 20's haircut-- which I had gotten practically once a year since 2013).

Don't think I'll give away much more than that. But the final third of the movie... so much happens. Not just from a visual effects standpoint, but the character development as well. It's action packed, but there's also a running gag that spans maybe 3 minutes between Groot, Rocket and Star-Lord (it is so stupid and unnecessary, but most people who love these characters won't care) and you feel almost every emotion possible with what's revealed and the results of these final battles.


Grade: A-
[Looking back at the last review I wrote, I gave it the same score... both Guardian movies are great, but for different reasons. That's not something you can often get with sequels, which is nice)

 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Theatrical Review: Beauty & The Beast

Date: Sunday March 19 2017
Time: 1:30pm 3:55pm
Party: 3 (mom sister and I)
 
Director: Bill Condon (of Breaking Dawn and Dreamgirls fame)
Screenwriters: Stephen Chbosky (wrote "Perks of Being a Wallflower", the book as well as directed the movie that Emma Watson co-starred in) and Evan Spiliotopoulos
Composer: Alan Menken (lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice)

Cast:
Belle- Emma Watson 
The Beast- Dan Stevens 
Gaston- Luke Evans
LeFou- Josh Gad
Maurice- Kevin Kline
Lumiere- Ewan McGregor
Cogsworth- Ian McKellan
Mrs. Potts- Emma Thompson
Duration- 130 minutes ( +2 trailers)
 
Opening remarks 

It's finally here!
I almost feel like it'd been looking forward to this movie than any other- at least in a long time. I think the thing that came closest to this for me was twilight. Seeing that world I came to love in the books and its characters come to life.
As a kid I think Ariel was my favorite Disney princess- even if i always cry at the end of the little mermaid. (The goodbye at the wedding always kills me).
But beauty and the beast was always something I enjoyed but didn't have any major fandom over. But I will say as I've gotten older I love this story so much more. I see myself in belle more than any other Disney princess- we have the same appearance (brown hair brown eyes- that's the one thing about Emilie de Raven's once upon a time portrayal of belle that's amiss for me- she doesn't have brown eyes!!- otherwise she's amazing and perfect in the role).
And of course there's Belle's love of books. I really didn't get to love books as much as I do now until I was in my 20s- where I always had to be reading or was looking forward to the next installment of the series I was reading at the time. And I only recently "got" in the last couple years that people in Belle's town thought she was weird cuz she was always reading. Like what the hell is wrong with that?! Seriously...
 
Anyway-- it should be noted that we didn't get to the movie until almost 4.
We completely screwed up by not double checking the movie times. We got there and the movie had already started. We thought it was 1:30 and it was really 1:05.
Like wtf! Who starts a movie at such a weird time? (But I suppose if I went through old ticket stubs I might find some really random times).
So anyways my mom said "I'm sorry" a hundred times as we turned back to go home. I thought about maybe going back for the next 3D showing so we wouldn't have to wait as long. I found a review that said it didn't have enough going for it to warrant the price. So here we wait- and hopefully some other mishap doesn't happen between now and 3:55 when the next showing starts.
The Arnold Palmer invitational was the perfect way to kill time (yeah I'm such a dork- I like to read and enjoy golf and figure skating).
 
A bunch of people still coming into the theater despite it being one of the later showings. A few families with a bunch of little kids I hope will stay quiet for the whole movie. At the moment it doesn't sound promising.
Three people in their mid 20s or early 30s took a seat two rows ahead of us. Two girls and a guy-I wonder if he really wanted to see this or he lost a bet.
Also we're back in the theater from that notorious "La La Land" showing with the audio issues.... we'll see how it goes
 
(Spoiler alert: both went fine. Although some kids rows behind us were making farting noises with their mouths at one point and one of the parents in front of us crossed the aisle to tell his kids to be quiet because the BIG number- you know the one- was about to start)
 
Somewhere between 40 to 50 people showed up to the theater for this... which is pretty darn impressive considering this isn't the first showing of the weekend.
Trailers 

"Coco" is the latest Pixar film. Looks like a boy and his dog wind up in the realm of the day of the dead and he admires this man (who may or may not be his father) who is a great guitar player- mariachi type.
 
Then a lengthy trailer (much more than a tease) for the last Pirates movie. Complete with Johnny Depp himself in what will be his most famous role ever.
Looked impressive but I don't know if I'm sold enough to buy a ticket.
 
The Main Event 
 
We finally arrived!!
 
Everyone knows the story by now so I won't go too much into it.
First off the visuals are AMAZING. Definitely see a bunch of Oscar nominations in the future. For production design and possibly makeup (unless The Beast makeup is CGI- in that case maybe special effects).
Seeing the sets from the animated film in real life... it was halfway between fangasm and "I wish I could live there."
Of course Emma Watson was great as Belle. And she was definitely a strong confident woman like the character demands. In some aspects more so but that's what happened when you have the freedom to go behind what's drawn on a page.
Luke Evans oddly made me like Gaston for the first half of the movie. Not in that way but I didn't find him as repulsive. Not until he had the town believing Belle's father was crazy. He just needs to walk into a room and give his opinion and people automatically follow him. (I'm sorry but these townspeople are so fickle and stupid sometimes).
Dan Stevens embodied the beastly side of his character really well. But he also had some help from the script he was given. There were a few changes in his early interactions with Belle between the two versions that I didn't appreciate and made it harder to really like him or imagine these two together. This time around anyway I wasn't thoroughly convinced that they belonged together. There just came a point where I threw my hands up and just said "to hell with it."
Other than the romantic side (I can see how they can become friends but falling in love... not so much) everything else worked so well. There was plenty of nostalgia with the songs and the score at certain points (that transformation scene at the end in particular... that was an especially powerful moment in the original and those feelings came rushing back).
I was able to recall a lot about the original and relish in how it was adapted for this version. And I was also able to let go and appreciate the changes (well most of them) as they came.
One massive improvement- LeFou and his relationship with Gaston. Josh Gad couldn't have been any better in this role. He felt like one of those characters you see in a musical where you don't expect them to steal the show and they just do. His character arc was so great- both cause for celebration, laughs and fist pumps (in particular- the battle scene in the castle at the end).
Ewan McGregor was really great as Lumiere and "Gaston" and "Be Our Guests" and "Beauty & The Beast" were all highlights both carried over really well from the original but also bettered with the special effects. Definitely worth a round of applause.
And there are also some great twists about the townspeople and how they have connection to people in the castle.
We also get more backstory from our two main characters that don't, personally, slow the story down but add to the film's length tactfully. One or two songs ran a little long and one of the new songs maybe felt unnecessary.
Overall this is a movie and story for escapism and suspending belief and for me it did its job. Makes me wish I didn't have to go to work tomorrow and see the movie again. But I'd more than enough time away last week with the blizzard.

And when the movie finally ended, a bunch of us in the theater clapped, which pretty much says Disney did their job and nailed it.

Grade: A-