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Review: Beauty and the Beast

batb poster
via Pop Sugar

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

PG / 129 mins.

Family / Fantasy / Musical

Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans

Director: Bill Condon


When the adaptation of the classic Disney animated musical Beauty and the Beast was first announced I was instantly sold.  Not only was Beauty and the Beast released during Disney’s golden era of musicals, but the remake was set to star Emma Watson as Belle, the musical’s lead lady.  When you add in the fact that it was being directed by Bill Condon (of Dreamgirls and Chicago fame), it did not take much more for the remake to become a must-watch for me.  Now that the movie, a tale as old as time, has finally arrived, I can report that the live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast has met my expectations, delivering an experience more magical than the original.

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via Digital Spy

If you have watched the original, then the remake should have you feeling right at home.  Aside from a few minor changes, the remake walks in lock step with the source material.  The Beast, played by Dan Stevens, is still under a curse that has trapped him in his own castle as a monstrous beast and his friends as a collection of inanimate objects.  He is still in search of someone who will love him before the last petal of his rose withers away.  Belle is still the young woman who, after going to search for her father, finds herself a prisoner in the Beast’s forgotten castle and soon begins to fall in love with the beast himself.  The rest is history.  It is still an endearing tale, only made better by the fact that Belle is not a damsel in distress this time around.  By Emma Watson’s demand, Belle is a more intelligent and capable character.  She is an independent and bookish woman, who will most likely act as an inspiration for a generation of young fans for years to come.

It is obvious that Emma Watson’s performance serves as the seat-filler, but the rest of the performances compliment her well.  Dan Stevens plays a good Beast, who shows both a beastly side as well as a charming side in his performance.  I think both him and Emma worked well together.  Then there are everybody’s favorite talking objects, Lumiere and Cogsworth, played by Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellan respectively.  The two acts as the comic relief throughout the entire movie and share some of the movie’s best moments.  Gaston, the narcissistic and charming antagonist played by Luke Evans, also does a wonderful job with his role.  He is even better than the original in that he starts off as a rather harmless goof and then quickly turns into a terrifying figure blinded by rage in the end.  It is still a fun character arch to watch develop onscreen.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
via Gamespot

Emma Watson not only plays a good Belle, but it also turns out that she has a great voice as well.  Her performances, especially her opening number “Belle,” show off her great musical talent.  There were times where it seemed like her voice was digitally enhanced or modified, but it never felt too egregious.  The rest of the songs are just as great as the original classics.  Some songs have modified lyrics to fit the story while some songs are completely new.  While I don’t know how I feel about the modified lyrics, they never go too overboard with it.  Songs like “Beauty and the Beast” performed by Emma Thompson (who plays Mrs. Potts) and “Be Our Guest” sung by Lumiere and the rest of the castle crew feel livelier this time around and they will surely bring back some nostalgic memories.

The biggest differentiator (if it was not apparent already) is that the remake is live action.  CGI is the name of the game and it is well done in this movie, for the most part.  Lumiere and Cogsworth, as well as the rest of the castle objects, look amazing in CGI.  They are more fluid and move around with ease.  Mrs. Potts might look a bit creepy, though.  (What is even creepier is her Funko Pop figure) Then there is the Beast, who looked a little too rigid.  His movement did not feel natural which was especially evident in scenes like the ballroom dance.  CGI aside, there are some very nice looking shots throughout the movie.  It is a colorful film that is really pleasing to the eye.  There was some great cinematography that brilliantly captured the picturesque beauty of the original.

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via ComicBook.com

While it might not be a popular opinion to most, I think that the adaption easily surmounts the original Beauty and the Beast, despite some of its technical issues regarding the Beast and some pacing issues in its story.  I really enjoyed the original movie, but I do not highly regard it as some do.  In my opinion, the original provides a good backbone while the adaptation takes the story and runs with it, filling it with more energy and magic.  While it might not seem instantly apparent, there are going to be a new generation of kids that look at the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast and they are going to view it as the definitive version.  While this might seem like a bonkers idea, it is not necessarily a terrible thing.

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The Monster that is Aiden Pierce

The story starts with a failed electronic bank heist at the Merlaut Hotel.  Our hackers Aiden Pierce and Damien Brenks are on the job, with Aiden handling the transferring of the funds through his smartphone.  However things go south when the two find out that there is another hacker in the system.  Damien tries to find this hacker, which meanwhile, gives away their position.  Alarmed by the matter, Aiden decides to escape the hotel before anything could get worse.  Unluckily for him, things get much worse than before…

We soon discover that Aiden is a family man.  He is fearful that his family will be put in danger.  So he decides to take his sister Nicole, and her children Lena and Jackson, on a “surprise trip” which is a disguise for their escape of the city.  Things look like they are going smoothly until some hit-men catch up with Aiden.  Maurice Vega, one of these hit-men, has a clear shot and takes out the vehicle causing Aiden and the crew to get into an accident in the tunnels on their way out of the city.  This accident turns out to be tragic for Lena who ends up in a coma, and later passes away.

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This devastates Aiden, as it would any other person.  Aiden has gotten himself into a pretty big mess that ends up catching up to him in the worst way possible, the involvement of his family.  Any normal person would shelf the computer and smartphone and walk away from the hacking game.  Yes, Aiden lost his niece because of what he has done, but he has a clean plate to work with.  He can walk away from it all and start a new life with his family.  A new life free of the misery and hardships that come with his criminal hobby.  Instead, Aiden can’t seem to let go.  The “vigilante” in him comes to the forefront.

This is where we start to see who Aiden really is.  He seems like the kind of guy that cares deeply for his family.  The kind of guy that would do anything in his power to take care of them and to make them feel safe.  So why does he continue to dive deeper in the hole that he has already dug himself?

He decides that it is a better idea to try to find the man responsible for his niece’s death.  He goes on a massive romp through the city, taking out hundreds and hundreds of people along the way.  People who have families.  People who have loved ones that wait for them to come home from a long work day.

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Aiden kills people just like him…all because of his niece?

How does this make sense?  Does he really think that his niece will be at peace with half of Chicago torn up in her uncle’s rage-filled bounty hunt through the city to find her killer.  If anything, Lena would want Aiden to take care of Nicole…to take care of Jackson, a boy who has lost his sister.  Aiden should be consoling the two of them, and through this he could console himself.

Aiden turns out to have different plans and instead of consoling Nicole and Jackson, he ends up driving them away from the city…for good.  They also really see the man that Aiden is.  Aiden, up to this point, has cast a veil over the line of work that he does.  It’s been a secret to his family.  He is a cold-blooded hacker and killer by night and a family man by day.

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There is a pivotal moment later in the story where Aiden has to kill a bunch of people to save Jackson from his captivity by criminals.  This moment reveals the monster inside Aiden in two ways.  First off, he gets his family involved in his line of work.  After seeing his sister die in a car crash, Jackson now has to witness countless murders by the hand of his uncle.  Secondly, we see Aiden contemplate who he really is as he drives Jackson home.  This is the part that gets me the most.  Aiden realizes what he has done, but that is all.  He continues to go on and find the killer.  Once again, he could have stopped what he was doing, and go back where he belongs…with his family.  Instead, he just drags his family deeper into a twisted game of cat and mouse that almost ends up with them dead.

aiden 2I wish that the story of Watch Dogs could have been handled a little better.  Aiden turns out to be a monster, even though I really wanted to be on his side.  By the end, I was frustrated with him, having to see him drive his family to the outer rims of the city.  He has driven away what has meant the most to him.  I’m sure that Lena was happy to see the outcome.  A family in shambles…all because of one man’s ability to not let go…

One man’s love for hacking game….

One man’s monster…

 

Review: Watch Dogs

Chicago is a beautiful city in every respect.  I have only been there once but when I visited the city a couple of years ago, I instantly grew a liking for it.  There is a vibrant culture among it’s residents and the buildings that inhabit the city reflect this image.  Chicago was home to the bootleggers and the mob business way back in the day, which means it was also a city of organized crime.  The city has evolved to be one of America’s greatest cities, and also the first city to incorporate the ctOS city-wide operating system…at least in Watch Dogs‘ fictional reality.

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The concept of a “city-wide operating system” is extremely stupid when you think about it.  In theory, it is a great way to connect a city and make it operate at a level unmatched by other cities.  It could bring people together and make the quality of life for it’s residents better than ever before.  However, there are some major cons that are kind of overlooked in Watch Dogs.   If a hacker were to gain access to this system (which they obviously do), it would just cause problems on top of problems.  Hackers could theoretically bring down a city if they really wanted to.  Yes, you could increase the security software, but that just makes it more of a game for hackers.

Thus, we have a game about a hacker.  His name is Aiden Pearce.  He is a “vigilante” who has a lot on his mind.  The game starts off with a hit that is ordered on Aiden’s family.  They end up killing Aiden’s niece in a bad car accident.  Aiden is struck with emotion.  He wants to gain vengeance on the killer, the people who killed his niece.  He will literally rip up a city to find the people behind the murder.  This would make sense in any other story, but not in the way that Watch Dogs approaches it.

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My main stipulation about the story is why would a man be so devastated by his niece’s death that he has to find the killer so much.   It’s not like they tried to kill him too.  He could have just gone to her funeral, grieved, and then went on with life, just like everybody else that he meets that was close to her.  But nope, Aiden ends up tearing up an entire city because he just “can’t let go”.  This also brings up something else.  What about the families that Aiden affects.  Aiden surely kills a bunch of people that have families.  A bunch of people that live other lives.  A bunch of people that have loved ones waiting for them to come home after a long work day.  It just doesn’t make sense.  It actually makes Aiden seem more like the bad guy.  Because he lost a loved one, everybody else has to lose them too.  Throughout the story, Aiden’s family starts to notice this too, and they see the man that he really is.  He is a cold blooded killer.  A bloodthirsty killer.  Luckily there is a chance for Aiden to redeem himself at the very end.  However it is up to the player to make the choice.

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The story doesn’t make sense half the time with plot holes and contradictions, but it still doens’t take away from the fact that the story is still intriguing in nature.  I am a tech junkie myself and the story explores a lot of topics that relate to the advancement in technology like security and privacy.  Aiden also meets some other hackers along the way.  My favorite character that you meet is T-Bone.  I don’t want to spoil much, but lets just say he has a great attitude about the whole situation that he is put and he has some pretty good moments himself.  The two “main” bad guys in the story are also pretty good.  I ended up hating them by the climax, and that was there intention.

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With the story aside, there is lots of things for Aiden to do in the city of Chicago to bide his time.  The city of Chicago is massive and fully populated with cars, people, and buildings.  Its a living, breathing, open world that makes the game almost feel like a futuristic Grand Theft Auto.  Since you are a hacker with access to the ctOS, you can manipulate the system to your liking.  You can hack street lights to cause traffic jams, you can cause a black-out, you can hack citizens for their bank accounts, and so much more.  You gain more abilities via a skill tree system.  You gain skill points by leveling up and gaining experience by doing different activities and completing missions.

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The game allows you to “profile” the city’s residents to invade into their privacy.  You can reveal people’s dark secrets…some of them being comically dark.  There are also privacy missions that allow you to creep into a person’s home.  These were some of the funnier moments of Watch Dogs.  There are also city games that allow you to test your luck, skill, and more.  There are also contracts that you can take up that can also net you experience and money.  There’s certainly no shortage of things to do in the city of Chicago.

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The combat works pretty well too.  It’s comparable to similar 3rd person games like Grand Theft Auto.  However, there is a pretty big emphasis on stealth.  You are a hacker, which means that you should be able to “hack your way through any situation”. You can manipulate your environment to take out enemies and you can also hack into your enemies grenades and com systems to make the fight turn in your favor.  Unfortunately, most of the times it is just easier to pull out your big gun and just start unloading bullets into your enemies.  This is a shame because I felt wrong in doing so.  I feel like I could have approached the situation in a stealthier way, but it’s just always easier to take out your enemies via the bullet.

There’s also online missions and activities that you can take part in, but I have to say, they were my least favorite parts of the game.  They can turn out to be frustrating and annoying when you first start out.  As you get better at them, they become boring and too easy.  There didn’t seem to be too much middle ground.

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Although there are a ton of ways that Watch Dogs can be improved,  it still turned out to be one of my favorite games of the year so far.  It has lots of intriguing ideas, some farther explored than others.  When they make Watch Dogs 2, I hope that they can nail down the story and make it a little more believable.  Ubisoft has a good franchise on their hands and their first entry in the series was a good step in the right direction.