Kevin: When Disney announced it was doing a live-action version of their animated classic “Beauty and the Beast,” many people assumed it would be a soulless and pointless cash grab. Then the film – out yesterday on digital and DVD/Blu-ray – was finally released and it turned out they were right, but at least it succeeded in grabbing a lot of cash, more than $1 billion worldwide to be exact. One of the few bright spots of the movie is the performance of former “Downton Abbey” and current “Legion” star Dan Stevens as the titular Beast, but if you want a much better showcase for his talents, you should catch the criminally underseen thriller “The Guest”:
In “The Guest” Stevens plays David (no last name given), who shows up at the doorstep of a grieving mother claiming to be an old platoon mate of her recently killed-in-action son. David quickly ingratiates himself in the family (including “It Follows” star Maika Monroe) and tries to help each of them in various ways, but his version of “help” often comes with some violence attached. It’s best to know as little as possible going in, but just imagine David as the more sinister version of how Captain America could have turned out.
When it debuted in September 2014 “The Guest” made just $332,000 in the U.S., or roughly what “Beauty and the Beast” earned in its first 45 minutes of release (I should note that I completely pulled that stat out of my ass). I was one of the lucky few to catch it in theaters, and it quickly became my favorite movie of that year due to its perfect blend of suspense, laughs, and action. Director Adam Wingard (who also directed the equally clever thriller “You’re Next” and will soon be helming the “Godzilla vs. Kong” face-off) keeps you off balance from the very beginning, and you truly don’t know where the film is going. He also gives the film a cool ‘80s vibe that’s subtle rather than hacky (think the opposite of Robert Rodriguez), including a great soundtrack and John Carpenter-esque score.
The movie’s juggling of multiple tones wouldn’t work without the right actor in the lead, and as someone who had never seen “Downton Abbey” it was hard for me to imagine anyone else in the role afterward. Stevens is at times charming, menacing, funny, intimidating, and a convincing ass-kicker. And even when he is doing really bad shit to characters you like you still find yourself kind of rooting for him.
Now as far as “Beauty and the Beast,” I guess I should say something about it since I just watched it, because that’s the kind of thing you do when you’re married. Although I should note that my wife started fast-forwarding through some of the musical numbers when we realized this thing was two hours long, more than half an hour longer than the original. Trust me when I say that they didn’t use that extra 30 minutes to do anything to justify its existence.
For one thing, while Stevens makes a fairly memorable Beast, on the “Beauty” side Emma Watson continues to prove that she is really, really not a good actress. Look I think we all agree that it’s great that the “Harry Potter” actress sidestepped the kid-star curse and grew up to be a successful and well-adjusted young woman, but the only two emotions she is able to portray here are “perturbed by everyone she encounters” and “mildly amused at the animated shit going on in front of her.” And despite the obvious additions the outspokenly feminist Watson made to make Belle more independent and less of a typical Disney princess, the actress apparently didn’t object to being described as “beautiful” by everyone throughout the film.
(The movie is also really inconsistent on this; Belle at times is portrayed as some kind of outcast because she likes books and teaching girls to read, but the movie starts with what feels like a 20-minute-long musical number where the entire village sings her praises, while the region’s most eligible bachelor Gaston is willing to commit murder just to put a ring on it.)
And in addition to the obvious message that you can make someone fall in love with you if you kidnap them and then later show a modicum of human decency, “Beauty and the Beast” also teaches that you should always be kind to ugly people because they could put a curse on you or be secretly hot, like that time Tyra Banks put on a Klump-style fat suit on her show:
Either way, instead of watching a longer and inferior copy of an already great cartoon, put on the 1991 version for the kids and let the adults see something even more rare than a magic castle and a talking teapot: a truly original Hollywood film like “The Guest.”