Beauty and the Beast: A Traditional Tale

A few years ago I watched the play The Cripple of Inishmaan with a friend in London. The play starred Daniel Radcliffe, who most people will know as the titular character in the Harry Potter film series.  In The Cripple of Inishmaan, Harry Potter was nowhere to be seen and Radcliffe gave a very good performance.

Radcliffe’s co-worker in Harry Potter was Emma Watson who played Harry’s friend Hermione Granger. Watson now appears in a Disney re-creation of Beauty and the Beast, due for release in cinemas on 14 April. During the film, in which Watson sings beautifully, I found myself constantly comparing Belle to the young, wild-haired girl of Hogwarts. As Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Watson speaks with the same perfect elocution as she did in Harry Potter, and shows the same half smile as young Hermione did.

How interesting then that in this film the character Belle has a coming-of-age experience (not from Hermione you understand!), maturing from a young girl into a woman, but still retaining certain essential characteristics. This version of the story explains that both Belle and the Beast (Dan Stevens) are who they are because of their parentage; Beast self-centred and angry, Belle considerate and creative. And it is Belle who helps Beast become his better self, in a story that prizes love and goodness above selfishness and evil.

Beast’s servants – all turned into talking furniture because of a curse – and the townsfolk of Belle’s village, provide the humour in the story. They also prevent Beauty and the Beast from becoming an all-out good versus evil story by showing that we are all capable of good or evil depending on circumstances and force of character.

The special effects, costumes and setting are good to watch and the music is enchanting. But there was something of a ‘same-old, same-old’ feeling in this fairly faithful rendition of the original story. After Shrek, which turned fairy tales on their heads, declaring them a ‘load o’ …’, it’s hard to go back to the traditional stories.

T2 Trainspotting: A True Sequel

Trainspotting the movie was screened in 1996. Twenty-odd years later, in 2017, T2 Trainspotting was released starring the same character actors Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner and Johnny Lee Miller. The story in this second film is a true sequel, set realistically 20 years after the first one. It explains why Renton (Ewan McGregor) ran off with the money he did all those years ago, depicts Simon’s (Johnny Lee Miller) and Begbie’s (Robert Carlyle) reactions to that event and to Renton’s return to Edinburgh, and how the comical-looking Spud (Ewen Bremner) comes to write ‘wee stories’ that evolve into the book Trainspotting (written by Irvine Welsh). Important themes in the first story are flagged in the second, many giving plausible reasons for why the characters turn out the way they do; things such as the scene with Begbie’s drunken father, and character deaths (baby Dawn and Tommy) in the first story. In this regard the sequel is clever and very satisfying. It ties up loose ends in a neat conclusion.

The present-day story in the sequel is also believable, depicting the characters speaking in Scottish accents and experiencing some of the same old struggles with politics, money, crime, drugs, environment and relationships, albeit in a changed Scotland. I read the book Trainspotting last year and struggled through the Scottish dialect and stream-of-consciousness-type writing. But this style, combined with a mix of hilarity and serious issues, made for a compelling story, and the style is well-replicated in T2 Trainspotting. True to the book, the characters’ vocabulary in this film is swimming in expletives – but only at the beginning. The opening lines are used to set the scene and then the swearing thins out, making for more palatable viewing.

I did find the reliance on the past in T2 Trainspotting a bit irritating and got bored with the ‘good ol’ days’ theme. The film is not a standalone and viewers would need to know the original story to fully appreciate the second. The film is entertaining, though, and is very well acted.

T2 Trainspotting opens at cinemas in South Africa on Friday 24 February 2017.

Streep is brilliantly awful in August: Osage County

A review by Brenda Daniels

August: Osage County is a story about relationships. Relationships within a family and a group of close friends. It is set during a stiflingly hot August in Oklahoma. A hot, dark, airless house. A story of three parakeets, subtropical birds used to heat, who died in the house. Both house and birds are symbols of heat, a theme that pervades throughout the action.

The film, based on a play by the same name, stars Meryl Streep as Violet Weston, the powerful, unlikeable matriarch of the Weston family who is dying of cancer. Right near the beginning of the story Violet’s husband, Beverly (Sam Shepard), goes missing and is found dead, having committed suicide.

This precipitates a gathering of the family – three daughters and their families/partners – and close friends. The rest of the film depicts the characters’ faulty inter-relatedness and their dysfunctional lives.

Streep is brilliantly awful as the mother, wife and friend who proves to be the antithesis of what her role demands. She is harsh, confrontational, abusive and mean – the product of a hard life – exhibiting a toughness that has helped her survive thus far.

She turns that toughness onto her family, testing each one in turn to see if they can “stand the heat”.

All three daughters, Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) suffer their mother’s cruel tongue, but it’s Barbara who seems to be the strongest and therefore most able to withstand the barrage of abuse.

Roberts is good in this serious role, although there are times when her angry outbursts seem too staged.

As the action progresses family secrets spill out and each character’s struggles are revealed. This kept me engrossed and thinking right to the very end and beyond. More than that, it was the multi-layered, complex characters and how they related to one another that held my attention.

A meaty, thought-provoking film, August: Osage County releases at Ster Kinekor Classic Theatres countrywide in South Africa on Friday 14 March. It carries an age restriction of 16L.

Julia Roberts at the Torronto Film Festival opening of the film, 2013 (Source: Creative Commons)

Julia Roberts at the Torronto Film Festival opening of the film, 2013 (Source: Creative Commons)

A stage enactment of August: Osage County (Source: Creative Commons)

A stage enactment of August: Osage County (Source: Creative Commons)