Today’s Streaming Guide focuses on an Oscar nominated period drama that is available for viewing via Hulu:
1998’s Gods and Monsters is responsible for introducing many American filmgoers to the work of Ian McKellen before he became a household name shortly thereafter with the X-Men and Lord of the Rings franchises. He’s cast as director James Whale, most known for his horror classics Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. Set in the 1950s, Whale is aging and medically fragile and under the care of Lynn Redgrave’s nurse. Brendan Fraser (in rare dramatic work) costars as a young gardener who befriends Whale and is the object of his affection.
Monsters deservedly garnered Academy nominations for McKellen and Redgrave and won Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s worthy of a look.
Bill Condon’s The Good Liar gathers British acting royalty, but is not a crowning achievement compared to the career highlights of the principals involved. We have Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Helen Mirren in a twisty con artist tale based on a Nicholas Searle novel.
The film tests the limits of whether having these two leads is good enough. For a decent portion of the running time, the answer is yes. McKellen is Roy Courtnay, who successfully bilks investors out of millions along with partner Vincent (Jim Carter). His latest conquest is The Rich Widow Con and that’s Mirren’s Betty McLeish. Roy’s got patience when it comes to lifting her bank account. He attempts to ingratiate himself to her only grandson (Russell Tovey). Roy soon moves into Betty’s drab home. Past victims of his grifts are on his trail. And there’s a bit of mystery whether their partnership will move beyond platonic.
In its first half, The Good Liar is a concoction as bubbly as the wine Betty enjoys during their first date after meeting online. It is a humorous opening credits touch as they chat on the computer. Roy checks the box for non-smoker as he puffs away on a cigarette. Betty claims not to be a drinker with glass in hand. With these two master thespians bouncing dialogue off one another, it’s often a treat. On the other hand, we aren’t seeing anything unseen in the genre before with the exception of the age of the performers involved.
When flashbacks to Roy and Betty’s pasts come into play later, the pic loses its frothy charms and becomes far more serious and considerably more absurd at the same time. I am not confident that the plot mechanisms that rocket into overdrive in the latter portion hold up on close inspection. It’s telling that some of the reveals aren’t worth racking the brain about. There’s no doubt that McKellen and Mirren’s interplay is fun for awhile. When their story ventures into more weighty subjects, it doesn’t feel earned delving into them.
Pairing Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Helen Mirren together is a potential recipe for awards attention success and that’s happening next weekend with the release of The Good Liar. The thriller comes from Bill Condon, who directed McKellen to one of his two Oscar nods in Gods and Monsters. Mirren has received four Academy recognitions with a win in 2006 for The Queen.
The thriller casts McKellen as a con artist attempting to swindle Mirren’s wealthy widow. Reviews are out and while they’re decent (71% on Rotten Tomatoes), the picture is highly unlikely to be much of a box office success and awards chatter is very quiet. While the two leads are garnering praise for their work, both the lead Actor and Actress categories are already filled with more legitimate contenders.
Bottom line: the truth is that The Good Liar will come up empty-handed come nominations time. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
A sir and a dame team up for the thriller The Good Liar next weekend with hopes to bring in a mature audience. Ian McKellen is the con artist to Helen Mirren’s rich widow. Bill Condon, who directed McKellen to an Oscar nod in 1998’s Gods and Monsters, serves behind the camera. The supporting cast includes Russell Tovey and Jim Carter.
Liar looks to bring in a Downton Abbey crowd looking for something a bit more devilish. Awards buzz would help and Liar appears unlikely to achieve it. Reviews are mixed with a current Rotten Tomatoes rating of 55%. There’s also adult competition in the form of Ford v Ferrari, which should have the pole position for the weekend.
I believe this will fail to achieve a double digits start for the royal talent involved.
The Good Liar opening weekend prediction: $6 million
Michael Gracey’s TheGreatestShowman doesn’t burden itself with much historical accuracy or being a full-fledged look at its title subject. Its pleasures are of the surface level variety. At one point, a stuffy critic begrudgingly tells P.T. Barnum that his show has succeeded in bringing joy to people. So does this musical in many moments.
Hugh Jackman is Barnum, an endless promoter who grew up poor and never forgot how he was treated by New York’s elite. He marries his childhood sweetheart Charity (Michelle Williams), who came up with wreath and privilege. After some career misfortune in the 19th century era Big Apple, Barnum develops his greatest idea: a stage experience featuring society’s freaks. This includes a bearded lady (Keala Settle) with a beautifully booming voice and a dwarf (Sam Humphrey) who dresses as a general. He teams up with playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), who also hails from the aristocracy but feels more at home among these outcasts. Phillip also finds love of the forbidden kind with the show’s trapeze artist (Zendaya).
While Barnum finally finds the financial success he’s longed for, it doesn’t buy him respect and that’s a consistent through line in the screenplay. Both the wealthy class and hecklers who lurk around the theater believe the freak show atmosphere is a disgrace. Barnum tries to combat this by touring with famed European opera star Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson). Both his family and circus employees feel the neglect.
The brisk 105 minute running time features 11 song and dance numbers that move the plot along, often in montage fashion. Even a cursory Wiki read of Barnum’s grand life reveals that Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon’s script aren’t making a biopic. Like the man it’s about, this picture is style over substance. The message of inclusion and acceptance is unmistakable and frequently touching. Most importantly, the musical numbers (from the team behind LaLaLand) produce plentiful happy feels.
With his theater background, Jackman is more than well suited to play the man in the top hat. He’s the focal point in many of the song and dance interludes. Yet it’s “Rewrite the Stars”, a gorgeously choreographed sequence with Efron and Zendaya, that proved most memorable for me.
A stuffy critic could gripe that a rewrite should have explored more of Barnum’s real existence. However, the joyous vibe while I was watching is enough to justify admission here.
Any challenges of adapting one of Disney’s classics that happens to be one of their best mostly fall by the wayside in BeautyandtheBeast. Over a quarter century ago, the 1991 Mouse Factory version earned the status of being the first animated feature to receive a Best Picture nomination. It was deserved and Beauty helped usher in a renaissance for the studio with Broadway level music coupled with its tale as old as time storylines.
Our new Beauty doesn’t rock the boat by any means. Is it a factory made production meant to fog up our nostalgia goggles? Sure. Yet it’s crafted with reverence, the music still holds up, and it looks lovely.
It seems silly to recount the plot that’s been around for our collective childhoods in one form or another, but let’s get through it. We have Belle (a strong Emma Watson) living a rather boring existence in 18th century France with her doting dad (Kevin Kline). She’s being pursued by the chauvinistic Gaston (Luke Evans) who wishes to marry her. Her ho hum existence takes a turn when Dad is captured by the Beast (Dan Stevens), who lives in a dilapidated castle that the other French villagers have long forgotten. He was cursed many moons ago for his inability to love. When Belle travels there and trades her father’s freedom for her own, the strange relationship between the title characters commences.
There really isn’t too much new from this reboot compared to 1991. We have a couple more musical numbers, lest you forget the animated version was a mere 85 minutes. Alan Menken returns to do the music and those magnificent staples like the title track and “Be Our Guest” are happily intact. Bill Condon (whose varied filmography includes Twilight pics and more adult fare like GodsandMonsters and Mr. Holmes) directs with an eye on preserving what we appreciated about what came before.
Like the drawn Beauty, the Beast’s castle is filled with inanimate objects who are quite animated. Ian McKellen is clock Cogsworth, Ewan McGregor voices candelabra Lumiere, and Emma Thompson is Mrs. Potts. She acquits herself just fine in the part, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss Angela Lansbury singing that iconic dancing tune toward the finale. Speaking of animated, Josh Gad has his proper comic relief moments in the role of LeFou, Gaston’s sidekick.
Disney has unleashed a gold mine with this recent strategy of updating their canon with live-action. Some have worked better than others and Beauty falls on the better side because it had incredibly strong material adapt from. The team behind this recognize it and are content knowing they had something there to begin with.
Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast arrives in theaters next weekend and it looks poised for quite a fantastic opening. Bill Condon serves behind the camera (he directed the last two Twilight installments recently) with Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast. Costars include Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Emma Thompson.
The Mouse Factory has had tremendous success with their reboots of their classic animated tales. 2014’s Maleficent took in $241 million stateside. The following year, Cinderella cleared $200 million. Last year’s The Jungle Book scored even more impressively with $364 million.
Beauty stands a great shot at outdoing them all. For starters, the 1991 original is beloved (it was the first animated feature to nab a Best Picture nomination). The Disney marketing machine has been in high gear and turnout among youngsters and females in particular should be substantial. Reviews (while not gushing) have been solid and it stands at 73% on Rotten Tomatoes.
There is little doubt that this will post 2017’s largest opening so far. Just how high can it go? I am predicting it will achieve one of the top ten domestic premieres of all time. My estimate puts it at #10, right in between The Dark Knight Rises and The Dark Knight for a truly beast mode roll out.
Beauty and the Beast opening weekend prediction: $158.8 million
For my The Belko Experiment prediction, click here: