A look into the Lifetime remake of the 1988 film ‘Beaches’ [Review]

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Beaches
Credit: YouTube

Fun fact, the original Beaches, starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey, is my favorite movie of all time. I consider it one of Garry Marshall’s best films (take that Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries) and I’ll fight anyone who says it’s not a cinematic masterpiece.

Suffice it to say, I was more than a little skeptical when I saw that Lifetime, the home of all of those horrible biopics that have been coming out the last few years, was doing a remake of the film. While I appreciated the effort to make the retelling of the story more modern and diverse by casting Nia Long as Hillary Whitney, now the daughter of a Black civil rights lawyer who eventually goes on to be one herself,  I still wasn’t sure this film needed to be redone. I’ve never been a fan of redoing movies that were seemingly done right (or at least halfway decent) the first time and I worried it would simply be a stale retelling of the 1988 film.

I’m pleased to say I wasn’t totally right. Don’t get me wrong, the updated Beaches still has its flaws and it will never be the original, but all things considered, it was at least worth sitting through once. Maybe eventually I’ll add it to my “I just want to curl up in bed and watch a movie” list.  Nia Long and Idina Menzel hold their own as C.C. Bloom and Hillary Whitney, the film’s unshakable duo, although I did miss the side characters that seemingly got shaved out of this version’s cast (more than likely for time). C.C.’s mother was a favorite of mine who was eliminated all together and John, the love interest who is shared between Hillary and C.C., seems much flatter and doesn’t get nearly as much screentime, despite being an interesting, albeit brief, foil to C.C.’s success and wealth-driven ambition. An unexpected bright spot in the new cast was Sanai Victoria, who I felt was a much better actress and made Hillary’s daughter Victoria more compelling and sympathetic than she was in the original.

My main issue with Beaches was that it was a TV movie and was paced as such, which meant this movie was a bit more jolting and plot points got cut short or eliminated all together. The setting was also changed from New York to Los Angeles and this gives the story a more polished feel. Unfortunately this isn’t always a good thing. I especially missed the grit of New York City during the scenes where C.C. and Hilary were living together. I just couldn’t buy the idea that these were two young women getting their start living their dreams in condo-like apartments with palm trees swaying just outside.

There were also a few times where the dialogue just didn’t feel authentic, or made the characters seem more like caricatures. Specifically with Idina Menzel, whose attempt at pulling off a brash but soft-hearted C.C. came across as more insecure and whiny. There were also a few recycled lines that felt a little bit less authentic this go around.

But the good thing about the movie is that it never set out to be a carbon copy of the original.  The most similar aspects were more off putting but the differences, namely the updated time period and the diversity, were fun and refreshing. So if you’re feeling nostalgic but looking for something new, or if this is your first introduction to the film, Lifetime’s remake of Beaches may be a good starting point.

‘La La Land’ – Does it live up to the hype? [Review]

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'La La Land'
From left to right: Ryan Gosling ("Sebastian") and Emma Stone ("Mia") star in Lionsgate Home Entertainment's 'La La Land.'

The Academy Award and Golden Globe winning ‘La La Land’ has generated quite a buzz since its initial theatrical release – does it live up to the hype?

On April 25, La La Land became available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD from Summit Entertainment, a Lionsgate company. The Academy Award and Golden Globe winning fill has generated quite a buzz since its initial theatrical release last December. Starring Ryan Gosling (Sebastian) and Emma Stone (Mia), this production incorporates modern themes with flair reminiscent of the golden age of Hollywood musicals. With gushing press about the singing, dancing and large production numbers, those who have yet to see it may wonder if it lives up to the hype.

Overall, La La Land was a successfully executed film. This production captures the essence of old school Hollywood movies, without presenting as overly contrived. Much of the realism grounding this, otherwise whimsical, film was generated by Gosling and Stone. These artists brought a palpable chemistry to the screen, while not shying away from the less than perfect parts of life and love in LA. Their dynamic portrayals of Sebastian and Mia kept viewers engaged throughout.

Any time actors are cast in rolls requiring other technical skills, there are questions about how authentic it will feel. Both Gosling and Stone were cast as triple threats in this production, pushing them to flex a wide array of artistic muscles. Surprisingly, Gosling’s piano playing was believable – at least to a layperson – given that he has little experience prior to preparing for this role. Dancers in the audience will note some awkwardness from both leads at times – though this did not detract greatly from the overall viewing experience. Choreography throughout the film was solid, though not jaw-dropping. Additionally, some of the large production numbers felt like missed opportunities for greatness.

La La Land’s arch was captivating and moved at a successful pace. Audiences will find themselves smiling and frowning along with the story line. There were only two moments that viewers may find disconcerting. One is a particularly surreal moment, dropped in the middle of a scene. It finds Sebastian and Mia floating through the cosmos in a manner discordant with the rest of the film. The second moment involves a seemingly uncharacteristic choice the two leads make regarding their relationship. This somewhat inauthentic feeling moment arises toward the end of the movie, causing a bit of confusion.

La La Land did, for the most part, live up to it’s reputation. Though not the completely perfect production some claimed it was, this film is an entertaining and engaging watch. Viewers are likely to want to see it again.

 

'La La Land'
From left to right: Ryan Gosling (“Sebastian”) and Emma Stone (“Mia”) star in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s ‘La La Land.’

‘The Girl With All the Gifts’ breathes new life into the zombie [Review]

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On April 25, Lionsgate Home Entertainment will release The Girl With All the Gifts on DVD and Blu-ray™. This film takes place in a somewhat familiar post-apocalyptic world in which zombie-like creatures run amuck. However, there are key points in the writing that keep this film fresh.

 

The origins of what characters in the movie refer to as “hungries” is a fungus – based upon one actually found in nature. This fungus attaches to human brains, causing the infected to lose control and begin eating flesh. Though, some children seem partially immune to the effects of these organisms. Naturally, government programs are therefore launched to study these exceptional kids in an effort to design a cure.

As events unfold, one child in particular – played by Sennia Nanua – becomes the focal point of the film. Nanua does a solid job of keeping the audience guessing about her right up until the end. With Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine playing the other three primary roles here, it would be easy for this young actor’s performance to seem weak in comparison. However, she holds her own in this seasoned cast – each member of which turns in a strong and engaging performance.

 

Overall, The Girl With All the Gifts presents a captivating story arch. The pacing is strong throughout, allowing the writer (Mike Carey) to cover a great deal of ground without feeling rushed. There is one moment of audience frustration toward the end, where a lead does something totally out of character and seemingly unnecessary to the story line. This moment is the invisible tree root trip of the flick. However, as thrillers go, seeing only one big moment like this makes it an above average composition.

 

RELATED: Cult classic horror flick ‘The Gate’ rereleased [review]

 

Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s score is solidly molded to the film, with several standout moments. Additionally, costumes and makeup are well executed through most of the movie. The one exception is found in a group of children mid-film, who are unfortunately clad in borderline cheesy attire. However, the rest of the flick and a refreshing lack of CGI mostly make up for this blunder.

 

The Girl With All the Gifts manages to breath new life into a mostly played-out theme. Zombie and/or thriller fans are very likely to enjoy this film.

 

DVD review for ‘Country Crush’

A new movie-musical set for DVD release on May 16, Country Crush explores the bonds of family, the power of dreams and the sacrifice of service.

Country Crush follows Nancy (Madeline Merlo), a city girl and aspiring singer-songwriter navigating the music industry in the hopes of making her first album. Along the way, Nancy encounters Charlie Bishop (Degrassi star, Munro Chambers), a handsome stranger turned crush, who is still reeling from his mother’s death.

Upon meeting, the pair notices an instant connection, but both hesitate to pursue a relationship. Nancy is involved with her music producer and fears jeopardizing her career, while Charlie promises to look after his sister-in-law, Katherine (country singer and One Tree Hill actress, Jana Kramer) and young nephew as his brother prepares to deploy overseas with the army. Still, Nancy and Charlie’s chemistry is unavoidable and through a series of triumphs and losses, they each learn something about life and themselves.

Set to an original series of country-pop hits, including “Doin’ Some Good,” “What If I Am,” “Alive,” and “To Have You Stay,” Country Crush has tremendous drama, heart and musicality.

In addition to its DVD release, Country Crush—and its soundtrack—is also available for purchase on iTunes.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ remake charms its way into audience’s hearts (Review)

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The live action remake of Beauty and the Beast was released Friday, March 17, in movie theaters everywhere in digital and 3D.

Beauty and the Beast follows the story of a bookworm named Belle who feels out of place in her small village.  When her father runs into trouble at a cursed castle, Belle goes to save him only to find that the castle’s objects come to life and that the Prince-turned-Beast is not as bad as she thought.  But not everyone agrees.

My favorite movie growing up was Beauty and the Beast.  Even today, when people ask me what my favorite movie is, I always describe Disney’s 1991 animated classic with the biggest smile on my face.  So, when I heard Disney was doing a remake, I had very high expectations. In fact, right before I sat down in the theater, I had a last minute thought that perhaps this new take would ruin my childhood.  But, to my delight, I was wrong.

The remake was entertaining, charming and witty.  The screenplay (by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos) maintained the same iconic lines and plot that audiences came to love before.  But now, there is more background on Belle’s mother and some sarcastic jokes that kids may not understand but fans of the original, who are adults now, will enjoy.  Some of the new plot drags, but the dazzling spectacle of it all keeps you hooked and the anticipation of seeing your favorite scenes come to life maintains your interest.

The performances are strong all around.  The one who steals the show is Josh Gad, as Gaston’s goofy, but lovable sidekick LeFou.  His quick wit will make you chuckle and his energetic performance will entertain all ages.  And that “exclusively gay moment” everyone is talking about?  It’s not as big of a deal as people are saying, however, LeFou’s arc is played wonderfully by Gad.  I actually want a sequel or prequel just focusing on LeFou.  Disney, are you reading this?  Make it happen!

Luke Evans brings a deliciously sinister quality to Gaston (and it helps that Gaston has all the best songs in the film).  Maurice, Belle’s father, gets more screen time in the remake and Kevin Kline’s portrayal earns it as he makes you want to learn more about his past.  Dan Stevens portrays the Beast as a lonely, but strong soul.  His performance stays true to the movie, but his new song “Evermore” is a great moment.  Also, his eyes are GORGEOUS.  Try not to get lost in them the whole movie.

The “Castle Squad,” as I have come to affectionately call them, also give great performances.  Emma Thompson is an endearing Mrs. Potts and Nathan Mack is adorable as her teacup son, Chip.  Ian McKellen is quite funny as Cogsworth and Ewan McGregor, despite never seeing the original movie, brings the same upbeat and whimsical performance to Lumiere.  Audra McDonald and Stanley Tucci are also delightful as Madame Garderobe and Maestro Cadenza, respectively.

Belle, as portrayed by Emma Watson, was shockingly one of the weaker performances in the movie.  It might have just been that the other characters were so much more entertaining that Watson’s Belle got washed away.  Watson portrays the iconic Disney Princess with her own twist, but the performance is a little bland compared to what Gad, Stevens and McGregor did with their characters. Nevertheless, Watson is still good in her role, just a little underwhelming.

As for the music, all your favorite classics are back with energetic performances such as “Gaston” and “Belle.”  The new songs written specifically for this movie by the original film’s composers Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, are welcomed additions, specifically “Evermore” and “Days in the Sun.”  It’s hard to not sing along with the movie when you’re in the theater.

And, of course, the special effects and the scenery were beautiful.  The Beast looks exactly like Dan Stevens and the inanimate objects that come to life are impressively animated.  I did not see the movie in 3D, but I could imagine that the flashy dancing and action would delight 3D viewers everywhere.  As a fan of the original movie, seeing my favorite sets and characters come to life was such a treat.

In all, I loved the remake!  It was both a tribute and a new take on the original classic.  I may have loved this movie more than a typical movie goer, as I have been a massive fan of it for a long time.  But, fan or not, it is hard not to be charmed by the dazzling world of Beauty and the Beast.

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ starring Andrew Garfield and Vince Vaughn Blu-ray review

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On Feb. 21, Lionsgate released their new war film, Hacksaw Ridge on Blu-ray and DVD. The movie uses gratuitous violence, but nevertheless, it tells the emotional and harrowing tale of a true American hero.

Desmond Doss was a conscientious objector who signed up for the United States Army during World War II. Due to his religious beliefs, he refused to carry a weapon. While he saw the war as justified, he believed the killing was wrong. Instead, he became a medic and single-handedly rescued 75 men from behind enemy lines while being shot at, eventually damaging his leg on a grenade.

This film combines Doss’s love story with his wife Dorothy with his heroism during the war. While facts have been blown out a bit for a better theatrical experience, the truth lies beneath and is no less spectacular. Like Saving Private Ryan before it, the film is heavy on war violence and disturbing images, but it only adds to the emotional pull of the movie, giving you a feeling of what these men must have experienced. It’s horrific, but the story is beautiful.

While the story brings Doss’s God into the mix, it’s not overly preachy. I thought Vince Vaughn was an odd choice for the Sergeant, but his acting was decent and Andrew Garfield truly shined. If you can stomach the violence and gore, this movie is something special. It honors a mostly unsung hero and gives us a look into the atrocities our grandfathers must have experienced.

‘Nerdland’ featuring Paul Rudd and Patton Oswalt Blu-ray review

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On Feb. 7, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released their new movie, Nerdland on Blu-ray and DVD. The film has a unique animated style, but while it has its funny moments, the story is strange overall.

The movie is about two best friends, voiced by Paul Rudd and Patton Oswalt, who make a pact to become famous by the end of the day, no matter what it costs. They start with good deeds, then move onto juvenile pranks and finally think about more sinister activities. With them on their adventure are an odd comic book store owner and the women of the friends’ dreams.

The animation in this film is distinctive and well done. The story, however, is lacking something. The characters are shallow and while there are some humorous instants, the story revolves mostly around sex and violence jokes. Rudd and Oswalt make a valiant effort at making the script passable, but it’s simply missing depth.

While this film isn’t terrible, it’s not something I would recommend to friends unless they were die-hard adult animation fans. It would be a unique addition to an eclectic collection of films, but if you don’t enjoy juvenile humor, this one isn’t for you.

New action crime movie ‘Trespass Against Us’ [Review]

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On March 3, Lionsgate will release new action/crime movie Trespass Against Us on DVD and Blu-rayTM. Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender plays the lead character, Chad. Golden Globe nominee Brendan Gleeson is Chad’s father, Colby. The relationship between these two men takes center stage throughout the action/crime film.

 

Trespass Against Us examines the lives of a family of criminals that live on the outskirts of a well-to-do area in Brittan. Colby represents the eldest generation in this clan. His son Chad and grandson Tyson follow after. Chad becomes torn about the life of thievery he belongs to, as he watches his son grow up. When the game of cat and mouse with the police grows more intense, he has to navigate the dangers of staying in the family – as well as the dangers of attempting to leave.

 

Fassbender and Gleeson carry out their roles with honesty and heart. The two men play well off one another, making their tumultuous relationship palpable. Lyndsey Marshal is well cast as the tough but loving wife of Chad. These three primary adult characters do a great job of portraying the complexities of family life – and a desire to do right by those they love – amidst utter chaos.

 

Somewhat surprisingly, young Georgie Smith holds his own as Tyson. Despite his age, he manages to turn in a believable performance. This is a theme that carries throughout the story and characters in Trespass Against Us. The film is not a romanticized take on a life of crime. However, it is also not a classic good vs. evil setup. Each character has a sense of humanity and realism about them, which creates an overall sense of authenticity.

 

With some fun car chases, serious moments, hints of humor and dashes of suspense, this is a solid movie. Additionally, the cast takes this film from a good idea to an engaging and relatable piece. Audiences are likely to end the movie feeling as though they know the characters – and may even want to see it again.

Cult classic horror flick ‘The Gate’ rereleased [Review]

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On Feb. 28, Lionsgate and Vestron Video Collector’s Series will re-release The Gate. This cult classic horror film was debuted in 1986. The new Blu-ray edition revisits the original movie, but comes with a wide variety of special features – including three commentary tracks, eight sets of interviews and five additional extras. Fans of the genre are likely to enjoy the perspective this repackaging delivers.

 

The Gate is a relatively family-friendly horror flick. It follows two boys, named Glen and Terry, as they accidentally open a gate to hell. The friends have been left alone for the weekend with Glen’s older sister. While no adults are present to assist, the three youngins have to fend off hallucinations, mini minions and one giant demon in an effort to save the world.

 

At the time it was created, The Gate was considered a low-budget movie. By today’s standards, it is an extremely low-budget and low-tech production. However, this film captured a wider audience than was thought possible. This was due, in a large part, to the crew’s ability to invest their effects funding wisely. It has lived on as a cult-classic, whose influence can be seen in later films.

 

Audiences looking for cutting edge, shock-factor based modern horror should look elsewhere. The fashion, style and production here are drenched in 80’s camp. Additionally, overacting abounds, which is to be expected from a cast this young. However, fans of horror at large will enjoy this flashback piece.

The fun is in the features with The Gate

 

Rather than working against the grain of this film, or putting on airs, the cast and crew involved in special features here stay true to the mood. This is refreshing to see and makes the whole package more entertaining. Everything from costumes and effects to story and casting are addressed here – all with a sense of honesty and humor.

 

Rather than creating one lengthy behind-the-scenes documentary, the producers chose to include several pieces that range from 10 to 30 minutes each. Some were shot in the last year or so, while others are pulled from years back. This technique helps to maintain audience interest, while imparting fun stories and interesting perspectives.

 

Overall, this is an entertaining release. Horror buffs will enjoy the process of revisiting this old friend. Meanwhile, new viewers are likely to enjoy the behind-the-scenes looks and stories.

 

‘La La Land’ starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling movie review

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On Dec. 9, La La Land was released to theaters. On Jan. 8, the film won seven Golden Globe Awards. Now, the dream-like musical has been nominated for 14 Oscar nominations.

Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz musician who is struggling to bring back popularity to the once acclaimed music genre. When the two clandestinely meet, they fall head over heels for one another. In a romance set in Los Angeles, a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts, the pair must either fight for love or fight to follow their dreams. The original musical, written by Damien Chazelle, explores both the joy and pain involved with pursuing one’s dreams.

The film is largely a nod to Old Hollywood. Everything from the costume design to the music pays homage to the glamour that Hollywood was once known to be. The film opens with a large, colorful musical number in the middle of an L.A. freeway. The scene grabs the audience and sets them up for a glamourous ride throughout the rest of the film. However, the audience might be disappointed if they think that the entire film will be as big as the opening scene. While there are more musical numbers, nothing as big as “Another Day of Sun.”

The plot of the film is a basic romance story. However, in the simplicity of their love, the second act is pretty bare. For about an hour, nothing really seems to happen until the film nears the third act. The ending of the movie is beautiful. From the dreamy, melancholy sequence of Stone’s solo song “Audition” to the finale “Epilogue,” the audience’s hearts will wrench and bleed along with the character’s on the screen. However, while there is a perfect moment to end the film towards the end of “Epilogue” the film keeps going for about another five minutes and ends on what feels like a cliché note instead. While this is clearly an attempt to nod, once again, old Hollywood, the moment does not feel genuine.

La La Land first appears to have the inherent optimism that one finds in most musicals, but instead it is a melancholy story. Anyone who has dared to dream or who has had their heart broken can relate to this film.