This week’s Letter from the Editor delivers first impressions of Beauty and the Beast, some FAQs about Logan, and the Best of the Week.
The embargo has lifted on Beauty and the Beast — which I saw yesterday at a press screening with a good friend who is a huge fan of the entire franchise (from Broadway to animated and so on) – so it’s time to talk about Disney’s delightfully flamboyant new live-action film. The overwhelming lobby sentiment following the screening: that was so gay. And not in a pejorative sense, either. It is, simply, a proudly theatrical, zealous, and vibrant bit of filmmaking from Bill Condon. It’s the 1991 animated film remixed with some Broadway sensibilities, speckled with some Vegasy neon. And for that, it deserves plenty of credit.
This goes beyond this week’s big headline, that Disney is proudly talking about its “first ever live-action gay character,” that of LeFou (played to a flirtatiously perfect pitch by Josh Gad). Which on its face is being taken as some sort of big win for the gay community. But really, it’s 2017, should we really be helping Disney pat itself on the back for getting with the times? Disney waiting this long to admit that one of its characters is out and proud is about as dated as the Alabama theater that won’t play the movie because “ew, mildly suggested gay stuff.” Beauty and the Beast also features, apparently, the studio’s first live-action interracial kiss. A fact I would not have known had it not been pointed out to me, as seeing Stanley Tucci kiss Audra McDonald on-screen didn’t even register as something that wouldn’t have happened previously in a Disney movie. Seriously, Disney? This is the first one? No, sorry, I’m not celebrating you for that. You should feel a bit of shame that you’ve taken this long to feel comfortable doing said things, not celebrating Twenty-mothereffing-seventeen as your big inclusive coming out party.
That said, there’s plenty of reason to celebrate LeFou’s delightfully open existence in this movie. For one, the movie is very flat until Josh Gad and Luke Evans bang out the “Gaston” song. It brings the film, which suffers a bit from Emma Watson’s way-off-Broadway performance, to life and kickstarts a second act that really moves. Also, as my good friend Joanna Robinson points out in this wonderful piece at Vanity Fair, LeFou’s unambiguous openness is a tribute to Howard Ashman, one of the creators behind the beloved 1991 animated film. Ashman, who was at the time was locked in an ultimately fatale battle with AIDS, was responsible for bringing the Beast forward in the story, his curse a metaphor for the struggle with AIDS and the ostracization that came with being gay and sick in the late-80s.
We should seek to go beyond the surface in our praise of Beauty and the Beast’s social resonance, looking to what the filmmakers mean to say with their film instead of handing the studio a participation trophy for catching up to social norms. What Bill Condon has done with his tribute to Ashman is special. What Disney is getting credit for putting on screen is long overdue.
Then, of course, there’s the rest of it. The inconsistent CGI work on The Beast, the bloated runtime thanks to some newly concocted songs, and another “French” movie in which everyone is British. And the most important question in my mind: why do this? As you’ll see if you end up seeing Beauty and the Beast, the task of pulling off this story in a live-action environment is overwhelmingly difficult. It’s magic is at times very palpable, but in others it shows its seams in painfully glaring ways. It’s a fine movie that only appears to exist because they wanted to do a version with Emma Watson, not because of some revolutionary idea that would change the way we see this tale. After all, it’s a tale as old as time and Hollywood will continue to tell it, creativity be damned.
Since this weekend is the release of Logan – which I wrote about in this column last week – I thought I’d do a little mini-mailbag about Logan and his X-buds. Here are few that I received from our wonderful readers:
Josh Tarpley: Is it advisable to watch the entire “Wolverine Trilogy”?
Nope. In fact, I’d advise against considering it a trilogy, a fact that Josh admitted in his tweet. X-Men Origins: Wolverine should be stricken from any record, especially when considering Hugh Jackman’s run with the character. It was, like its final bad guy, a mishmash of bad ideas from a bunch of people who didn’t know what they were doing. The Wolverine and Logan, however, are great. They are Batman Begins and The Dark Knight for Wolvie fans.
Matt du Plessis: Do people under 40 even know about Shane?
Not really, and that’s part of the brilliance of director James Mangold anchoring so much of Logan’s thematic weight in parallels to Shane, George Stevens’ 1953 western. That film is brilliant, won a cinematography Oscar, and is guaranteed to send you down the rabbit hole of watching a bunch of Alan Ladd movies. Sometimes it’s okay if the young audience isn’t hip to a film like Shane so long as the filmmaker is able to make a powerful, educational connection. Credit to Professor James Mangold, for sure.
Andrea: Why did the henchman (played by Boyd Holbrook) have a mechanical arm?
My guess is that otherwise he would’ve been a very blank henchman, which is sort of the point of The Reavers. The real bad guy in Logan is mortality and acceptance of one’s legacy. So the physical bad guys don’t have to be particularly memorable. That said, Holbrook has some fun with the role and will easily be remembered as “mechanical arm guy.” That is to say, he elevated the material.
Oskar: Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split) for older X23?
Throughout the week that has passed since seeing Logan, I struggled with this question. It’s immediately apparent that they should make a movie about X23, played here by tiny firestarter Dafne Keen, but in order to do so quickly that role would need to be recast. Taylor-Joy is perfect for numerous reasons, including where she’s at in her career, her hands-down acting talent, and her look’s proximity to what X23 has been in comics. I knew that my readers would come through for me on this.
Best of the Week
The best pieces that I had the privilege of editing this week…
Saying Goodbye to the Superhero Celebrity
Matthew Monagle looks at Hugh Jackman’s 17-year run as Wolverine, both on screen and off.
The Need to Know
Brad Gullickson looks back at the heroism of obsession in David Fincher’s Zodiac.
The New Movies of March 2017, in order of anticipation
Rob Hunter’s monthly list ranking the new theatrical releases. The two movies mentioned in the top of this Letter are the bookends. You’ll never guess which ends up at the top.
The Pure Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock
My favorite video essay of the week, as highlighted by our H. Perry Horton.
Before I Fall, The Surprising Star Maker
I’d like to call your attention to my Sundance review of Ry Russo-Young’s Before I Fall, which if the universe is just will be a star-making film for Zoey Deutch. It’s a YA version of Groundhog Day that elevates beyond the twee genre to be a very satisfying meditation on human goodness. See it if you’re not too busy with Wolverine’s bloodletting.
We’re very close to launching our new podcast project, One Perfect Pod. We’re very excited about it and can’t wait to share it with you. For now, you can follow it on Twitter here: @OnePerfectPod. If you’re a member of our site, you’ll soon get a special preview episode that won’t air anywhere but for our members. So become a member.
Until next week…