Movie Review: Danes seek retribution from German teens in “Land of Mine”

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They surrendered to the Germans in mere hours, but when the Nazis planned to round up all of the country’s Jews, they organized and ferried them all to safety in Sweden.

That’s all that most people know about Denmark’s involvement in World War II.

“Land of Mine” offers a different view. It’s a military melodrama set in the days just after the war, when Danes forced the Germans trapped in their country to clear all the land mines from the beaches Hitler wanted to become “Fortress Europe.”

And since the last troops to occupy this generally passive country were the boys, Hitler Youth turned into troopers in the last year  of the war, the Danes were sending children out to defuse mines, risking death or maiming in the process.

“If you’re old enough to go to war, you’re old enough to clean up your own mess,” is what the burly Sgt. Rasmussen (Roland Møller) is told by his superiors.

But as he and we can see, when you’re sending “little boys,” barely-teen-aged kids to do this, there’s something else to the psychology of it. Rasmussen, a paratrooper who served with the army in exile out of Britain, may “remember what they did to us.” But if the young Germans are being made to atone for their sins, Danish shame over their initial lack of resistance is one of the sins they’re digging up.

Martin Zandvliet’s film has an overly familiar story arc in which every possible outcome of a scene is telegraphed well in advance.

Rasmussen is harsh, cold and uncaring — working his charges half-to-death as they poke at the ground, remove and count mines one at a time, going for days without food on their remote Danish beach. We can see he will soften. Eventually.

Every mine-sweeping outing is fraught with peril, as kids from that shortest-attention-span age must perform a rote task with the utmost care, or kill themselves in the process.

Writer-director Zandvliet (“A Funny Man”) builds a sharp barracks pecking order among the boy soldiers, showing German discipline (they’re reluctant to escape their “duty”) and German ingenuity (methodical inventions for for efficient mine-clearing).

There are predicable moments of peril for a local child and a local dog, with the boys showing their humanity and Rasmussen recognizing it (or losing his own).

Møller and assorted kids (Louis Hofmann,  Oskar Bökelmann) give sympathetic/empathetic performances.

But every story beat seems preordained, a variation of something we’ve seen in a dozen earlier WWII POW movies, right down to the football (soccer) game. That doesn’t mean that every death isn’t a shock, every sudden explosion a jolt.

The simplistic predictability of it is all that mutes the impact of this story of war guilt and survivor’s guilt, at least to viewers outside of Denmark. I can imagine it as having more a cathartic effect there.

And the humanity of the performances and pathos of the tale shine through the tropes and cliches to make this smart movie with the dumb-pun for a title a worthy enterprise and well worth your time.

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MPAA Rating:R for violence, some grisly images, and language

Cast:Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Josef Basman, Oskar Bökelmann

Credits:Written and directed by Martin Zandvliet. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Running time: 1:40

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Movie Review: Picking off gringos isn’t much fun in “The Belko Experiment”

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What more can be done with the “Ten Little Indians” formula — packing people into a “trapped” scenario, and picking them off, one-by-one?

“The Belko Experiment” proves that the answer is “nothing,” if you don’t count “We can always make it more gory/graphic.”

The plot, invented by Poe and perfected by Agatha Christie, hurls disparate characters into a desperate situation, and lets them show their true colors as each is slaughtered in turn.

Belko Industries is a multi-national recruiting non-profit (?) set up in a gigantic, remote high-rise in suburban Bogota, Colombia. One day Michael (John Gallagher, Jr.), the boss (Tony Goldwyn) and everybody else drives onto the property to find armed uniformed soldiers checking everybody in.

Not everybody. Just the foreigners. The locals are sent home.

Eighty folks — from creepy managers (John C. McGinley) to grunt maintenance engineers (Michael Rooker) and new employees (Melonie Diaz) — are in the building when the PA system alarms everyone.

They are ordered to “murder any two of your fellow employees,” or else. And before the shock is shaken off, metal shutters slam down over every exit, the clock “expires” and several of their number die — their heads exploding.

belko3Must be that “tracker” the company implanted in their necks, reasons Michael. He freaks out, which his office romance (Adria Arjona) finds unmanly and his boss uncalled for.

“I don’t believe there’s any cause for panic,” he says. Not that anyone believes him.

They’re given a couple of hours to pile up 30 bodies, and that’s time enough for the factions to form. Murderous management is out for itself, office drones try not to become their prey, the competent engineer wanders off in search of solutions and the stoners, led by Marty (Sean Gunn) head up to the roof to light a “j” and cope.

James Gunn, Sean’s brother, gave us “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and his script has Michael as the voice of humanity and reason. Even if they do what the “voice” orders, they’re doomed (no witnesses will be allowed to escape). Why kill each other?

Not that anybody else listens.

Goldwyn is reliably venal and self-serving (think back to his “Ghost” villainy). McGinley properly unhinged.

The trouble is, nobody else engenders sympathy or registers. They’re just victims waiting to happen. And once you’ve seen one head explode, you’ve seen enough. Ugh.

Too little is made of the workplace satire that was this story’s selling point. Anybody who works for a living in America knows “corporate” would just as soon kill them, if it helps the bottom line. There are no heroic “undercover” bosses — just automatons looking to get theirs, at your expense if need-be.

“Wolf Creek” director Greg McLean efficiently runs through the deaths, but where’s the terror, puzzle-solving logic or anything else to hold our interest? It’s just unpleasant, nothing more.

And there’s this pet peeve I have about any movie with people “trapped” and doomed, unable to call for help. They never figure out the obvious.

Set a fire.

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MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence throughout, language including sexual references, and some drug use

Cast: John Gallagher, Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Michael Rooker

Credits:Directed by Greg McLean, script by James Gunn. A Blumhouse/Orion release.

Running time: 1:28

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Movie Review: Pena and Shepard go for goofy and gory when the “Chips” are down

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The only way to approach that ’70s TV series “ChiPs” as a movie was as a goof, so at least Dax Shepard’s riff on it had the right idea.

This is “The Brady Bunch” on bikes, with blood and guts and gunplay and sex addiction and the language of mental health counseling kneaded into the “relationships” shown on screen. It’s R-rated, giving a “Hangover” hook to potential moviegoers who remember the mild-mannered, toothy TV series, endlessly re-run on cable.

Michael Peña is game for taking on Erik Estrada’s iconic role, as “Ponch” Poncherello.

And Shepard, a real gearhead (See his “Hit and Run” for proof), is at home on a motorcycle and knows how to shoot and edit a chase on wheels.

But “CHIPS” has a sourness about it from its graphic violence, and a clunky way with its gags. A telling example? The motorcycle cops Ponch and Jon (Shepard) chase down a speeding scofflaw in a Ferrari.

He’s played by Hollywood’s Green Car poster boy Ed Begley, Jr. Nothing is made of that. They let him play “himself” in a gas-guzzling/polluting and pricey sports car, there’s a joke. Without that? Nada.

Peña is a Miami FBI agent re-assigned to LA, undercover to help nail rogue cops who are running a bike-riding armored car theft ring. This agent is a trigger happy sex addict, something his rageaholic boss (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) is all too happy to point out.

Shepard is “the oldest rookie” in California Highway Patrol (CHP, “CHiPs”) history, an amiable goofball who has aged out of the motocross/X-Games stardom that broke and re-broke his body and ended his marriage (to Shepard’s real-life wife, Kristen Bell).

Jon Baker can’t shoot straight, shares entirely too much personal information with everybody he meets (“You’re three-beers too intimate!”), but he can ride a bike “like a mother—–r.” Which is the only thing he has on his new “partner,” Francis Llewelyn Poncherello.

The dirty cops are killing each other over these heists as Ponch and Baker haphazardly investigate and reluctantly bond their way to glory.

Shepard, who wrote and directed this, struggles to find laughs in the language of self-help, with Baker poking Ponch for his sexual problems and “deflecting” way of dealing with them. He and Peña are likable enough, on their own, but they don’t click as a couple.

The ways Shepard tries to write-around Ponch’s delusional “sex symbol” shtick don’t click. Wasting Maya Rudolph as Baker’s police academy examiner doesn’t pay dividends.

The one nod to the ’70s origins of the project is the soundtrack, with Toto, Supertramp, Nazareth and The O’Jays played for (barely) comic effect.

The violence is “Oh no they didn’t” over-the-top, funny only up to a point.

And the heavy (Vincent D’Onofrio) seems to be parked in a different movie.

But the bike chases are crisp and cleverly-cut together — cameras on the handlebars or attached to the chassis, Shepard obviously on the bike in all but the most difficult stunts.

It’s coherent enough to suggest competence, but Shepard plainly would have been better served sending the script out for doctoring, or contenting himself with acting and maybe second-unit (action sequence) directing.

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MPAA Rating:R for crude sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use.

Cast: Michael Peña, Dax Shepard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Kristen Bell, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jane Kazmarek, Maya Rudolph

Credits:Written and directed by Dax Shepard. A Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 1:40

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Movie Review: “Power Rangers” pack more pep than punch

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Nostalgia can be a hard sell beyond the demographic parameters of its generation. So, full disclosure here, the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” were never my thing, any more than “Transformers” or even “G.I.Joe” were.

Whatever their virtues or appeal, they’re all lumped into an entertainment-that-sells-toys lump of ’80s-90s kids TV shlock that I made a point to channel surf right by.

But I can appreciate, at least, the brio that cast and crew brought to “Power Rangers,” the movie reboot of the silly suited Japanese TV import about teens turned superheroes to save the Earth from alien villainy.

It’s smartly cast, and shot and edited with real verve, with moments of banter and diversity and just enough teen angst (bullies don’t stand a chance in this world) to render it relevant and of-our-moment.

“Do you feel weird?”

“Weirder than usual?”

It’s still two hours and four minutes I will never, ever get back, utter piffle, from its Cenozoic Era opening to the closing credits of what Lionsgate hopes will become a franchise.

The set-up? Teen misfits gather and stumble into their calling. They include the adrenaline junky high school quarterback (Aussie Dacre Montgomery) whose latest prank, staged with gusto (and a car chase) got him injured, house arrest and an ankle bracelet. There’s leggy Kimberly (Naomi Scott), ostracized by her  clique and in Saturday “Breakfast Club” detention because of cell phone harassment. Nerdy “I’m on the spectrum” Billy (RJ Cyler of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) is the one who drags everybody to this mine in Angel Falls where his dad used to work. And that’s where they pick up Asian (Ludi Lin) and Latina (Becky G.) teens who fill out their quintet.

Magic coins open up a buried spaceship, where obnoxiously adorable robot Alpha (Bill Hader selling his voice) and ancient alien do-gooder Zordan (Bryan Cranston? Seriously?) give the kids their marching orders.

And those are to foil Rita Repulsive (Elizabeth Banks. Of course. ), who takes a licking and keeps on quipping.

Director Dean Israelite of “Project Almanac” uses extreme close-ups in chases and brawls, all to great effect. The effects are shiny and just cheesy enough to summon memories of the TV show. The Ranger uniforms? Updated.rangers2.jpgBut that story does nothing but remind you of how often we’ve seen this “Teens Get Superpowers” drivel. It was old news when “Chronicle” took it on and made the point that Generation Distracted maybe wasn’t the best choice for omnipotence.

The players, attractive as they are, register more as “types” filling out an EEO chart than distinct people, save for the first three introduced. The dialogue devolves into variations of “I got this.”

And when it’s over, if you don’t feel all warm and fuzzy about it, you must not have grown up with the dippy TV show theme-song memorized.

1half-star

MPAA Rating:PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, language, and for some crude humor

Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G., Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston and the voice of Bill Hader

Credits:Directed by Dean Israelite, script by John Gatins, based on the Shaim Saban TV series. A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 2:04

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Movie Review: “Life” comes and goes, but “Alien” endures

Ryan Reynolds

Top flight effects make the actors weightless, but the pull of over-familiarity drags “Life” back to Earth, a shiny serving of sci-fi horror that never escapes the pull of “Alien.”

It’s a sometimes harrowing B-movie that has fatalism and inevitability, but substitutes icky, grisly, squirm-inducing deaths for frights.

In the very near future, a truly international crew of the International Space Station receives a delivery from Mars, soil samples brought by the Pilgrim spacecraft. They have experiments to carry out and protocols to follow. Can’t have anything they discover making its way to Earth, after all.

But from  the exobiologist first, breathless, “I have a good feeling about this,” we have a bad feeling about that.

As Dr. Derry (Ariyn Bakare) coaxes a cell from the soil back to life, the film finishes off quick-sketches of the crew. Derry is a paraplegic scientist, Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) is a sassy, swaggering cynic and engineer/astronaut. David Jordan (Jake Gylenhaal) is a sensitive pilot who “can’t stand what we do to each other down there (on Earth).” He prefers space, where no one can hear your angst.

The British medical officer (Rebecca Ferguson) is the best-versed on the mission’s many “firewalls” against contamination. Olga Dihovichnaya is the intrepid Russian mission commander and Hiroyuki Sanada is the Japanese scientist whose wife has given birth while he was in orbit.

“Life” dashes from “proof positive” of the first life discovered outside of Earth to “How smart is this thing?” to “It’s hard to watch people die” in short order. But as quickly as it disposes of plot necessities, it never develops a sense of urgency.

Director Daniel Espinosa (“Safe House,””Child 44”) and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick may be recycling “Alien” story beats and situations. That’s fine. “Alien” is almost 40 years old. Effects have improved by leaps and bounds.

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But they didn’t absorb the steps and ingredients that create dread, suspense and shock. The critter is seen, in full, removing fear of the unseen unknown. The crew doesn’t so much underestimate it (They’re scientists, not working class space crew as in “Alien.”) as simply have little aboard that will help them deal with this “thing,” which the children of Earth have named “Calvin.”

Still, the performances are sharp, with the actors getting across fear, intense cold and a range of emotions, from desperate panic to noble sacrifice.

It’s just that “Life” is more inevitable than surprising. And that’s no way for a movie to live.

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MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some sci-fi violence and terror
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Ariyn Bakare, Olga DihovichnayaHiroyuki Sanada

Credits: Directed by Daniel Espinosa, script by  Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

A Sony/Columbia release.

Running time: 1:40

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Movie Review: Iceland’s a pretty place for the World’s End in “Bokeh”

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When Rod Serling wanted to sell his concept for “The Twilight Zone” to CBS, he gambled his hopes on a can’t-miss concept —  The Last (Person) on Earth.

That TV pilot, “Where is Everybody?” starred Earl Holliman as a man who wakes up in a small town, where coffee’s brewing at the diner, he can smells eggs on the griddle, but all his shouts back to the kitchen go unanswered. As does the payphone he hears ringing.

His world has been emptied in a flash. It’s ch”It Follows”illing, and it has been ever since, in endless variations on other “Twilight Zones,” in zombie apocalypse movies, “I Am Legend,” and so on.

But imagine that scenario in one of the most scenic places on Earth. That’s “Bokeh,” an indie film starring Maika Monroe of “It Follows” and Matt O’Leary (of such indie films as “Drones” and “Brick”). They play a hip young couple, enjoying a stay in Iceland.

And one morning, they wake up and the hotel’s promised continental breakfast isn’t there. The cafes, pubs and restaurants they’ve frequented are open, but nobody’s taken the chairs off the tables from the clean-up the night before.

The streets of Rekjavik are empty. Cars sit abandoned in the streets.

Our first thought is theirs. Where’s Kirk Cameron? “Is this The Rapture?”

No replies to their emails, no news on TV (other channels are still on, as is Iceland’s aut0-pilot geothermal power grid), there’s no one in sight.

What follows is a generic, scenic but generally humdrum take on the stress this situation puts on their relationship. Sure, there are no lines at the glaciers, the waterfalls, the market they raid for food, the hot springs where they’re now free to skinny dip. But loneliness is a heavy weight, and fear of utter solitude (an accident, or suicidal despair killing one and leaving the other alone) frazzles each’s nerves.

There are hints of the ironic comic possibilities in the material, something Rod Serling went on to explore in later “Twilight Zones” — the bookworm who has “Time Enough at Last” to read once his pesky boss, and every other nuisance person in his life and the world disappears. Those turn up in Riley’s logical/serio-comic reasoning. No, there’s no more waiting in lines. Ever.

“If it were a plague, where are all the bodies?” he asks, “If it’s aliens, where are the ships?”

But as they struggle with existential angst of it all, the morality of what they do next (Were they “chosen?”), the grim consequences of the fact that no one they know and love is still on Earth and the theological possibilities of this dilemma, Riley looks for distractions — finishing the vacation, for instance, seeing the sights.

But “You can’t just change the scenery and expect me to smile,” Jenai (Monroe) complains.

Writer-directors Geoffrey Orthwein and Andrew Sullivan had a solid concept and a great setting, but not much else. And it’s not like they invented the genre.

At least the players give us a little to latch onto, coping as reasonably and realistically with this unexplained catastrophe (the title, “Bokeh,” is a photography term having to do with blurred images) as one might expect. Monroe delivers a somewhat interesting breakdown, and O’Leary gets across Riley’s sense of responsibility, even though we get the impression they haven’t dated all that long.

It’s lovely, but bleak. And like the world they’re no longer condemned to tour while standing in line, it’s just too empty to be rewarding, or much fun.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, limited nudity

Cast: Maika Monroe, Matt O’Leary

Credits:Written and directed by Geoffrey Orthwein, Andrew Sullivan. A Screen Media release.

Running time: 1:31

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Mark Hamill — Nefta, Tunisia, Mar. 22, 1976

Courtesy @hamillhimself  twitter.com

 

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Box Office: “Beast” devours “Kong,” lacerates “Logan” — a $175 million opening weekend

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As undeniably cynical as it was for Disney to further monetize it’s 1991 cartoon “Beauty and the Beast,” you cannot fault the financials.

Reviews were a LOT more mixed for the live action (with lots of animation) remake. And it’s not like people don’t know the story, the songs by heart, thanks to the film and the stage musical based on it.

beauty1Deadline.com is reporting a $169-175 million opening weekend for the new “Beast,” a pre-summer record, a stunning take for a movie that has zero surprises, despite Disney’s announcement “Whoa, we’ve got a GAY character in here.”

Filmgoing audiences are all about comfort food films these days, proven brands with built-in expectations and no jarring surprises. “Logan,” “Kong,” now “Beast” have dominated this winter — before them “Star Wars.” Maybe it’s the times we live in.

“Beast” will pass “Logan” as the biggest hit of the new year by say, Wednesday.

“The Belko Experiment” bombed, “The Shack” lures in a few more of the faithful, “Before I Fall” has another week in the top ten.

“Kong: Skull Island” managed another $26 million this weekend, “Get Out” has cleared $130 million (a rare surprise and non-franchise blockbuster), “John Wick” Chapter Two” is closing in on $100 million.

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Movie Review: Superfluous or not, “Beauty and the Beast” still works

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It’s unnecessary. The animated “Beauty and the Beast” that led to the stage musical and now a (more or less) live action adaptation is a cultural touchstone, the pinnacle of the animated musical art and a work which “live action version” cannot improve upon.

Putting that slip of a thing Emma Watson in the lead, with her thin voice to match, and then surrounding her with similar strangers-to-musicals (save for the great Audra McDonald) isn’t really an improvement, either. Nobody’s lining up to hear Luke Evans, Ewan McGregor, Oscar winners Emma Thompson and Kevin Kline perform show tunes, and with good reason.

But “Beauty” still has those unforgettable Alan Menken/Howard Ashman (and Tim Rice) songs, deft mini-masterpieces of the art form. They’re malleable enough to endure any number of stage revivals of the show that owned Broadway for years and in many ways rescued the American musical. And damned if that third act waltz of this “tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme” doesn’t get me, every time.

Watson’s version of Belle is as bookish and plucky as ever, more a “future is female” icon. She’s still rejected by her “provincial” French village.

“Teaching another girl to read. As if ONE isn’t enough!”

Dad’s still a dotty tinkerer, played her by the great Kevin Kline, who has no real moment to shine.

And the boorish soldier Gaston (Luke Evans) still sets his cap for her and only her. His soldiering sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad) still crushes on Gaston, a bit more obviously this time around (amusingly). If you know the show (And really, how can you have avoided it?), the one number that is improved on from the animated original is “Gaston,” which borrows from both animated and stage versions to create a raucous romp through the town tavern, with Gad crooning and Evans vamping his various manly attributes.

“In a spitting match nobody spits like Gaston…I’m especially good at EXPECT-orating!”

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Evans doesn’t have the plummy/hammy voice that made Richard White’s burly animated version so over-the-top back in 1991, but he and Gad pull it off.

Belle’s “crazy” father Maurice gets trapped by the Beast, she rides to his rescue and sacrifices herself as prisoner in his place. And the Beast, cursed and condemned to a crumbling castle where he is hairy and hideous and his staff has been transformed into furniture and cookware, can only be saved if he and that staff can convince the once-vain prince to love him.

They added songs, bits of back-story. The Beast sings a song of longing. The “curse” scene is made more vivid, the prince is seen as an unhappy child, and we learn the fate of Belle’s mother.

They made the film longer, and “announced” there was a gay character — as if we’d missed it the first or second time. And for all the “live action version” hype, it’s a strikingly digital enterprise, with animated sets and set-piece fights and digital wolves to go with the digital title character. No. Not “Beauty.”

The filmmakers tried to top “Be Our Guest,” and don’t.

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But Watson is a wonderfully affecting actress, and Stevens, the bland pretty boy beau of “Downton Abbey,” is unrecognizable under all that animation. The same goes for everybody else transformed from actor into animated “thing.” Stanley Tucci, the singing McDonald and Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts) you may recognize. Ewan “Lumiere” McGregor? Not at all.

It still all comes back to those wonderful tunes, songs that tell the story of a smart girl being trapped in “this provincial life,” of Gaston’s ego, a service staff with no one to serve and a love story where two people have to learn to look “beneath the surface” to find true beauty and true love.

This “Beast” will never replace the original, but that’s not really the idea. It’s a nostalgia trip for a generation that grew up on the animated film, a reminder that for a fairy-tale, it’s packed with adult themes and lessons to live by.

I can’t say I loved it, as it drags and drags and only occasionally springs to life. But this “tale as old as time” resonates as well as it ever has, and its songs still stick with you long after the closing credits.

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MPAA Rating:PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images

Cast: Emma Watson, Luke Evans, Dan Stevens, Kevin Kline, Audra McDonald, Josh Gad, Stanley Tucci

Credits:Directed by Bill Condon, script by Stephen Chbosky (screenplay), Evan Spiliotopoulos. A Walt Disney release.

Running time: 2:09

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Movie Review: Paxton makes one last indie thriller, “Mean Dreams,” worth seeing

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The late Bill Paxton got his start in no-budget thrillers. He figured out, early on, how to give you fair value, even playing a heavy in a genre picture.

He managed that one last time with “Mean Dreams,” an abused teens-on-the-lam road picture that packages drug money, dirty cops, and an abused girl the smitten, overmatched and neglected boy on the run with her.

Paxton plays Deputy Carroway, who has taken a job in a corner of farm country just as fall hits Canada. And even his sympathetic promises to his pretty daughter (Sophie Nelisse of “The Book Thief”) have a flinty aftertaste.

“I’ll get us outta here as quick as I can.”

But maybe Casey isn’t keen on cutting out. She’s stumbled into the sensitive kid working the ranch next door. Jonas (Josh Wiggins of “Max”) works like a dog for his disapproving dad, endures his hostile, shut-in mother and has grown up too sweet to kill a snake. Casey meets him just as he’s let one loose in the woods, well away from the livestock.

“You know people can see three miles over flat land?” she offers, making small talk.

“That’s pretty far,” he says.

“Not far enough.”

Casey has a secret, and seeing the over-familiar way the new deputy Single Dad purrs, “Baby girl” at her, the latch lock she installs on her bedroom door, we wonder.

Not to worry. Jonas is so taken with this first-ever potential “girlfriend” that he gives her a walkie-talkie. You know, so they can stay in touch at all hours. Cell phones don’t exist in this world, so the most obvious piece of movie foreshadowing ever is necessary.

The deputy and his daughter’s suitor tangle, and instantly we see how over-matched Jonas is. He’s witnessed the abuse, but he can’t convince his father (Joe Cobden) or the sheriff (Colm Feore) that “he’s a bad guy.”

So he hides out in the covered back of a pickup, and finds out the hard way.

After some creaky and predictable touches in the opening act, the Kevin Coughlin/Ryan Grassby script finds better footing in the middle acts — with Jonas dragging Casey on the run with him on impulse.

Naive kids, under threat of deadly violence, trying to make their way to “the ocean” without a clue or a cell phone to guide them. Teenagers stumbling through a remote part of the world, with Casey’s dog in tow, unable to get far enough off the grid that law enforcement can’t find them in a heartbeat.

Director Nathan Morlando makes the most of Canadian autumn — lovely scenery, rural grit, just enough unscrupulous people to help or hinder the young couple.

mean2There’s some chemistry between the leads, none of it sexual. They’re just embattled young people clinging to each other to get out of a jam, without a real sense of how to do it. You’d swear their moves were choreographed based on what they’ve seen on Canadian TV. They’re almost totally unprepared.

But Paxton makes a marvelous menace. The picture’s biggest failing is losing sight of him for the middle acts, and its second biggest failing is giving the equally valuable Colm Feore too little to do. We know, by his casting, that this sheriff is key to the plot.

Actually, Paxton and Feore suggest a more interesting tack for the picture to take. Their story has more tension and offers the promise of more down-and-dirty-and-violent rewards.

But both of them, no strangers to indie film, showed up. Their presence got “Mean Dreams” financed and made. And both of them, especially the gone-too-soon good ol’boy from Fort Worth, know how to deliver fair value and chills in even limp, under-developed thrillers like this. Give him one or two good lines, and Paxton was always golden.

“It’s a mean world, and the angels left us to fend for ourselves.”

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MPAA Rating: R for some violence and language

Cast: Sophie Nelisse, Josh Wiggins, Bill Paxton, Colm Feore

Credits:Directed by Nathan Morlando, script by Kevin Coughlin, Ryan Grassby . A Vertical Entertainment release.

Running time: 1:48

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