THE LITTLE MERMAID: 3 STARS
Disney takes you back under the sea with “The Little Mermaid,” the latest of their photo-realistic, live action remakes of classic animated movies. Based on the 1837 Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name, the new film places the titular mermaid in an undersea world that brings to mind your work computer’s aquarium screensaver.
Singer-songwriter and actress Halle Bailey stars as Ariel, the mermaid daughter of the Kingdom of Atlantica’s ruler King Triton (Javier Bardem). She is a free spirit, fascinated by the human world. Unlike his daughter, the overprotective King is no fan of humans and has forbidden her from visiting the “above world.”
But, like the song says, she “wants to be where the people are,” despite her father’s warnings.
“I want to see them dancing,” she sings. “Walking around on those… what do you call them? Oh feet!”
Her dry land dreams are fulfilled when she rescues the human Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) from drowning. She is immediately smitten, and determined to live above sea level.
“This obsession with humans has got to stop,” scolds King Triton.
“I just want to know more about them,” she says.
Following her heart, Ariel makes a deal with Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), an evil sea witch with glow-in-the-dark phosphorescent tentacles, who grants the mermaid’s wish to be with Eric in trade for her “siren song,” i.e. her voice.
“Here’s the deal,” she says. “I’ll whip up a little potion to make you human for three days. Before the sun sets on the third day, you and Princey must share a kiss, and not just any kiss. The kiss of true love. If you do, you will remain human permanently. But if you don’t, you’ll turn back into a mermaid and you belong to me.”
Ursula’s “premium package” comes at a high cost, however. A steep price tag that could cost King Triton his crown and Ariel her life.
You can’t shake the feeling, while watching the new “The Little Mermaid,” that it is competing with itself.
The 2023 photo-realistic animation is very good, presenting beautiful, fluid images, buoyed by theatrical flourishes from director Rob Marshall and strong performances from Halle Bailey and Melissa McCarthy. The new songs, by Alan Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda, are good too, particularly the fun “Scuttlebutt.”
But it feels like something is missing. That’s the magic that made the ink and paint “Little Mermaid” an enduring classic.
There is plenty of razzmatazz. Marshall, a veteran of big musical extravaganzas like “Chicago” and “Into the Woods,” is at his best when applying a Broadway style gloss to the musical numbers. “Under the Sea,” a holdover from the first film, is a knockout. The psychedelic underwater cinematography will give your eyeballs a workout and it has a good beat and you can dance to it.
But for every Ziegfeld Follies style dancing sea slug number—super cool—there is yet another movie-stopping scene of Ursula’s endless exposition where she explains her nefarious plot or a padded action scene. Those slow spots give the storytelling a choppiness that would capsize a lesser vessel, but Bailey’s strong, emotional vocals and star-making performance coupled with a fun turn from Daveed Diggs as the “educated crustation” Sebastian keep the ship from sinking.
“The Little Mermaid’s” message of a young person giving up their voice so they could be heard, is unchanged, and is still powerful, but feels waterlogged by comparison to the original.
YOU HURT MY FEELINGS: 3 ½ STARS
“You Hurt My Feelings,” a new Julia Louis-Dreyfus relationship dramedy now playing in theatres, is about the little lies we tell one another that can balloon into much bigger deals.
Louis-Dreyfus is Beth, a memoirist and writing teacher, struggling with the reactions to her second book. As a first reader, her therapist husband Don (Tobias Menzies) has studied each of the drafts of the book, and always told her how much he loves the writing.
Her agent Sylvia (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), however, thinks the novel needs to touch on more hot button topics and needs a complete rewrite.
“There’s lots of new voices,” she says. “Refugees, cancer, murder, abuse.”
Feeling she is an “old voice” in a rapidly changing world, Beth is devastated.
Meanwhile Don is having trouble connecting with his patients and their 23-year-old son Elliott (Owen Teague) is having a crisis of confidence.
Into this maelstrom of self-doubt comes a cutting remark that sends Beth into a deeper funk. By accident she overhears Don talking to a friend about her book, and he doesn’t like it. “It’s no good,” he says.
“I’m never going to be able to look him in the face again,” Beth says.
Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, “You Hurt My Feelings” has a very “Seinfeld-ian” co-dependency premise. It often feels like nothing is happening—”A show about nothing!”—but within the carefully observed interactions are thought-provoking ideas about how relationships work.
So often, relationship dramas are about infidelity. This one is about a fidelity of a sort, the kind broken with good intentions.
It’s about the fine line between lying and encouraging, sparing someone’s feelings vs. being supportive. Don explains to Beth that he didn’t lie exactly, but that he was trying to be encouraging, even though he didn’t love the book. It isn’t until Beth realizes that she has done the same thing in her relationships with her son and sister (Michaela Watkins) that she begins to understand her husband’s sentiments.
Holofcener keeps the story low-key, focusing on the intersection of honesty and ego between longtime relations. It’s a small, but very human story of the way we interact, brought to vivid life by a tremendous cast, led by a terrific Louis-Dreyfus. She is fragile and raucous, anxious and hilarious, but always relatable.
“You Hurt My feelings” is a small movie about big topics like honesty, insecurity and how we protect the ones we love, for better and for worse.
MISSION KANDAHAR: 3 STARS
Gerard Butler is no stranger to action. On film he’s battled more terrorists than you can shake a stick at, and he once even took on a network of powerful of satellites gone amok.
His latest, “Mission Kandahar” (titled simply “Kandahar” in the United States), now playing in theatres, brings the action earthbound in a story based on the true experiences of screenwriter and former military intelligence officer, Mitchell LaFortune in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Snowden leaks.
Butler is Tom Harris, a divorced MI5 military intelligence officer working undercover in Afghanistan circa 2021. He is a “total chameleon,” a man who disappears into the job as he poses as technician hired by their government to lay internet cable in the desert, all the while while gathering intelligence on the Taliban.
Just as he is about to end his mission, and head home to England to visit his daughter, an intelligence leak reveals his identity, location and mission goals.
“Our cover is blown,” he says. “We leave in fifteen minutes.”
Exposed and in danger, he and his loyal Afghan interpreter and fixer (Navid Negahban) are trapped in hostile territory.
“No one is coming to rescue us,” Harris says, as he takes matters into his own hands to get the two of them across the 640 kilometers to an extraction point at an old CIA base in Kandahar Province before elite enemy forces can stop them. “The distance is not the main issue. It’s what’s in between.”
Butler, like Liam Neeson, makes very specific kinds of action films. With “Mission Kandahar” he filters the very real issue of securing safety for the Afghan citizens who worked alongside U.S. and NATO personnel for twenty years, through the lens of a Butler action flick. That means some defying-all-odds action, a loved one waiting at home for him to return, stereotypical baddies and lots of things that go boom. And, of course, there’s The Presence, the bulky Butler leading the action.
Often entertaining—see “Plane”—Butler’s movies exist in a world mostly untouched by reality, as though the golden era of direct-to-DVD action flicks never went away.
For better and for worse, “Mission Kandahar” fits that mold. The story’s real-life backdrop provides a canvas, but melodrama and action are the movie’s reality.