The Disney live-action adaptation of the Disney animation depends on computer-generated imagery. Most viewers do not know Jean Cocteau's 1946 version or Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve's original story, but they surely know Disney's animated version or the recent stage play.

For fans of sparkles and reveals, the other versions may not matter. Fans of Alan Menken's music may not care about the source material either. In being its own version, this one tries very hard by adding a bit of new music and by casting stars recognizable by voice or bearing.

Emma Watson, Hermione in the Harry Potter franchise, plays Belle, the Beauty, rather woodenly. St. Louisan Kevin Kline ploddingly plays the watch-maker, Belle's protective father. Emma Thompson plays and voices the tea pot with Ian McKellan's voice as the clock and Ewan McGregor's as the candelabrum. Playing the unbelievable Beast is Dan Stevens, familiar from his two years on Downtown Abbey.

And playing the arrogant, evil, narcissistic Gaston, terribly reminiscent of D.J. Trump, is Luke Evans. Gaston's dog's body is Josh Gad, and of all the actors, it is Gad who finds nuance in his role. 

The story includes a castle, thrust into darkness by a curse, and a beastly prince, who must be loved by a beautiful woman in order to have the curse lifted. Belle is that woman, but Gaston, confidence man, insists she is his. Also cursed are the tea pot, the wardrobe, whose songs are resounded by Audra McDonald, and the candelabrum. 

Tobias A. Schliessler's cinematography, aided by drones, shines forth from on high whether over dances or the land. Jacqueline Durran's fairy-dusted costumes are fabulous. But, most of all for the fairy tale, the moral holds true that love transcends looks.  

 

 A legal letter arrives for Tony Webster with an irresistible enticement to reexamine his past relationship with teenage schoolmate Adrian and Veronica, first his and then Adrian's girlfriend. Adrian's diary has been left to Tony, though subsequently withheld from him by Veronica's mother Sarah, now deceased and the diary back in play. It holds details connected with a suicide. 

A self-absorbed, vaguely content Englishman in his 70s, Tony manages his small, vintage Leica camera shop. A Lecia was his first gift from Veronica and serves as a poignant metaphor for his imperfect snapshot of their past about which Adrian's newly surfaced diary reveals painful truths. 

East Indian director Ritesh Batra clearly appreciates older characters, as demonstrated in his 2013 feature debut The Lunchbox, starring Irrfan Khan as an accountant on the verge of retirement. In The Sense of an Ending Batra allows Jim Broadbent, the elder Tony, the time to register awareness and calmly, even slowly react. It's in these emotional junctures that subdued but monumental jolts occur. As the mature Veronica, Tony's first love, Charlotte Rampling is, as always, the most captivating sphinx who says very little verbally and communicates volumes nonverbally. 

Based on Julian Barnes' novel that won the prestigious 2011 Man Booker Prize, The Sense of an Ending has altered the novel's heavy reliance on an internalized recollection. For its cinematic adaptation, Nick Payne juxtaposes and intertwines Tony Webster's young and older selves, sometimes surprisingly as when he places the adult Tony in the car with teenage Tony's friends. In addition, Tony's ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) and his pregnant daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery) figure more prominently in the film. The changes work well, layering the narrative and suggesting with imagery how easily we alter events to fill in partial information or to fit subjective projections, especially those flattering to ourselves. 

A film intriguing in its own right, the most provocative element is the story's invitation to question our own certainties about past events. Knowing how faulty convictions can be, The Sense of an Ending opens up Tony's and, by extension, all certitude, thereby enriching its theoretical as well as its emotional appeal. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Theatre.

 

It's wrong to complain about a movie for not being what you want, but it's hard to desist with The Ottoman Lieutenant. The film is set during a provocative time in history, 1914, in Turkey. Yet, The Ottoman Lieutenant offers little understanding of the time or the place nor of history.

The Ottoman Lieutenant is busy being a romance. One spunky nurse, Lillie, her parents unhappy with her chosen profession, attends a lecture conducted by a medical missionary stationed in Anatolia, Turkey. Have Lillie offer her dead brother's truck to Dr. Jude for medical supplies; have him say no, can't get the truck to Turkey; have her say, pluckily, I'll bring it.

Have Turkish authorities say, "Little Missy, you can't do that. You'll need a military escort." Ta-da: Ismail appears, kitted in uniform and exuding hormones. Violins up, audience in swoon.

For awhile, it's possible to dismiss the cliched dialogue by Jeff Stockwell, who also wrote the astonishingly good The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys. It's also possible to accept as part of the plot tossed-off references to Christians and Muslims, to soldiers and spies, to doctors doing good--or doing ether. Talkin' 'bout you, Dr. Woodruff, played feebly by Ben Kingsley. 

Michael Huisman from Game of Thrones plays Ismail to Hera Hilmar's determined nurse. Josh Hartnett, who has yet to prove that he can act, proves again that he can't as the dashing doc.

Daniel Aranyó's stunning cinematography of Turkey holds attention when the story does not, and Katerina Koutská's set direction, especially in Lille's Philadelphia dining room, grabs eyes. But, overall, The Ottoman Lieutenant adds little to history while shooting at historical romance. Would there have been better balance between the two.  

 

 

The film The Last Word invites each viewer to attempt, as much as possible, to look at one's own life from a more objective perspective. On the whole, it succeeds nicely, using abrasive, outspoken businesswoman Harriet Lauler as the catalyst. She's 81 when, jolted by a newspaper's striking obituary, she decides hers should be written now, before her passing.   

Hiring the paper's obit writer Anne, Harriet's first run at gathering praiseworthy recollections by her friends doesn't yield her desired results. In fact, it's thoroughly disappointing. So Harriet sets out to reshape details of her life. She gets wise-beyond-her-years young black girl Brenda as her "intern" (a patronizing plot point), talks her way into a DJ job, and reaches out to her ex-husband and her alienated daughter. Before long, Harriet's direct, no-nonsense style becomes appealing, refreshing, and even admirable. She often says what we'd all sometimes like to say though politeness dictates against it.

How the viewer feels about The Last Word really depends on embracing this brusque, blunt woman. Few actors besides Shirley MacLaine could sell this combination of hard hearted and yet not mean spirited. A consummate performer, MacLaine knows when to hold still, when to play for nonverbal impact and how to modulate her voice from outraged to surprised. As a woman previously running her advertising company, it's easy to understand her need for strength that segued into aggression. As the obituary writer, Amanda Seyfried does a magnificent job, holding her own in humorous and somber scenes with Harriet, and Ann'Jewel Lee as Brenda all but steals the film. Anne Heche also does a good job as her estranged daughter Elizabeth while Philip Baker Hall brings his mature sweetness to the husband. 

Director Mark Pellington knows how to pace a scene, to trust his actors, and let character unfold. Writer Stuart Ross Fink writes interaction that captures the personality without overdoing the point. The magic of a three-dimensional person emerges, one with experience, defenses, and the ability to still learn. Moreover, it's encouraging to see interesting women make pointed observations about values and the need to fail spectacularly to learn and live, to have not a "nice day," but, as Harriet encourages, an honest, direct, true day. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Theatre.

 

 

A United Kingdom makes the most of a titbit of history. Aspects of this true story connect to all sorts of history well known, yet little of its history is known. This is a connect-the-dots history. The time is 1947.

The places are foggy London and dusty Africa in the country now known as Botswana. The crown prince, Seretse Khama, has been studying in London to be the next king of his country when he falls in love with a woman. He's very African black, and she's very British white. His family, headed by the uncle who raised him, does not want her; and her family does not want him. Nothing dissuades them, but a lot, including England and Winston Churchill, can stop them from assuming their crowns.

Much of A United Kingdom must include exposition about protectorates and regents, about mineral rights and abdication, about banishment and acceptance. Bits of information, which fill in where needed without stopping action but with encouraging further study, manifests the skill of scriptwriter Guy Hibbert (he also wrote Eye in the Sky). 

Maybe because of their Britishness, the lovers do not seem head over heels despite the montage given over to courtship. That the romance does not take over testifies to the skill of actors Rosamund Pike of Gone Girl as Ruth Williams and Daniel Oyelowo as Khama. He is especially effective in negotiating and delivering Khama's ultimata. Also populating the history lesson are Jack Davenport as a very officious British official; Jessica Oyelowo, Daniel's wife, as the official's wife; and Tom Felton, Draco in Harry Potter films, another tight official. Laura Carmichael, Lady Edith on Downton Abbey, plays Ruth's sister. Director Amma Asante, as skillful here as in Belle, keeps A United Kingdom moving slowly through the vicissitudes of history, connecting the many dots.

 

 

Stay Involved on Social Media