Their Finest: Britain, World War II, and Alphabet Soup

** (out of 4)

WARNING: Spoilers ahead.

If there’s just one thing Danish-born director Lone Scherfig wants you to take away from Their Finest, her new movie about a (fictitious) woman named Catrin (Gemma Arterton) who scripts a “morale-boosting” film for the British public during World War II, it’s that movies, above all else, are an escape. You get a first inkling of this notion when Catrin’s screenwriting colleague, a sharp, somewhat arrogant man named Tom (Sam Clafin), abruptly bursts into a nostalgic monologue on how life, unlike film, doesn’t have “structure” or “purpose.” The events that follow – right after the two of them first kiss, he dies in front of her eyes when a large crate falls on him – only hammer the point in further. And by the end, as we see moviegoers cry in a theater and a final image of Catrin happily working at her screenwriter desk, the self-serving, Sullivan’s Travels-esque message of the story has been all but firmly implanted in your brain: life is cruel, and the world of cinema is the best way to deal with the pain.

How ironic, then, that Their Finest itself turns out to be anything but a pleasant, painkilling escape. Continue reading

Beauty and the Beast (2017): Disney and the Dud

* ½ (out of 4)

When I last visited my relatives in China, I was asked by a group of them to play something on the piano. Since I had not touched a keyboard in several months, I decided to play Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor, a piece that I thought would sound impressive enough to save face. I hadn’t even gotten halfway through the large, banging chords of the climax before all my relatives started breaking out into exclamations — and by the time I was done, I found myself inundated with compliments on my playing. Never mind that my “interpretation” had no expression, or that I had obviously messed up some notes. To them, loud and big were sure signs of greatness.

On a visceral level, the new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast often feels like it’s trying to do what I did then: dupe its audience into admiration by assailing it with noise. Continue reading