[#2016oscardeathrace] Cinderella (2015)

 cinderella2015a

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgard, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter

Screenplay: Chris Weitz

105 mins. Rated PG for mild thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design

 

Disney has always been hit-or-miss on their live-action adaptations of their animated classics. I was less-than-enthused about 2014’s Maleficent, but with Cinderella, and a solid director in Shakespearian artist Kenneth Branagh (Frankenstein, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), it seemed like they had a real chance.

cinderella2015c.png

The new iteration of the classic tale presents more backstory on Ella (Lily James, Wrath of the Titans, Burnt), her wicked Stepmother (Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Carol), and the Prince (Richard Madden, TV’s Game of Thrones, A Promise) she falls for. With the help of her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club, Suffragette), Ella becomes a beautiful princess for a night of magic and dancing with the Prince in his kingdom. When the night ends, the Prince must do anything to find the mysterious beauty he has fallen for.

From a storytelling perspective, the film reminded me a lot of the Halloween remake from some years back (I know, strange comparison), which chose to flesh out backstory to bulk up the characters and story. Both films do succeed in this dangerous endeavor, though Cinderella definitely doesn’t need all the build-up. Screenwriter Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) elected to grab from other versions of the tale to add new layers to the film, and it works.

Lily James and Cate Blanchett absolutely own their performances here, fitting right into the narrative nicely, and they are aided by Madden and thespians like Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Derek Jacobi (Gladiator, Anonymous).

Often, Branagh uses his superior storytelling tactics from his time studying the plays of William Shakespeare to influence his filmmaking style. It worked well in Thor, and it continues to elevate his craft here.

I must point out the masterful costume design, though likely not to win the Oscar this year, still looks astounding, especially in the ball sequence. The set design aids it well.

cinderella2015b.png

Cinderella is one of the better Disney live-action adaptations, and while the film’s pacing comes into question more than once (too much exposition boggs down the film quite a bit), it succeeds in a lot of other ways and is worthy of a viewing.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein, click here.

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, click here.

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

xmenthelaststand2006a

Director: Brett Ratner

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellan, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, Patrick Stewart

Screenplay: Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn

104 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content and language.

 

After X2: X-Men United, the superhero series was invigorated and raring to go again. Bryan Singer left to direct Superman Returns, so Brett Ratner took over the chair and creative control of the franchise. This has often been seen as a bad idea. Brett Ratner, not to be blunt, is terrible.

xmenthelaststand2006c

It’s the story of the mutants dealing with the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, GoldenEye, Taken 3) in the previous film. Logan (Hugh Jackman, The Prestige, Prisoners) appears on the surface to have gotten over her death and has taken on a more important role within the school alongside Ororo Munroe (Halle Berry, TV’s Extant, Cloud Atlas). Meanwhile, Eric Lensherr (Ian McKellan, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Golden Compass) has been recruiting new mutants to join The Brotherhood in the fight against the government, which has created a new treatment or “cure” for mutants. Rogue (Anna Paquin, TV’s True Blood, The Piano) is interested in the cure, but her boyfriend Bobby (Shawn Ashmore, TV’s The Following, Frozen).

There a lot of moving plot points in this movie, but the script is far too weak to fully explore them all. There are multiple times when dialogue is unreal, too much exposition is given (or sometimes, not enough), and characters are doing things that betray their character traits.

The actors are trying to perform to a weak script, and most of them do as well as they can, but Brett Ratner focuses too much on trying to be a spectacle, often sacrificing character moments under piles of action. Now, the action is good, and leads to a solid climax which is handled nicely, but we have a conflict of style. On one hand, we have the previous film, which establishes a seriousness and a stake in what happens. On the other hand, we have a goofy style which pushes against and a more-comic-booky look to the film, something that was handled much better in the prequel X-Men: First Class.

While the climax is handled nicely, Ratner chooses to play down the denouement, which, considering this was supposed to be a closing of the trilogy, is what really kills this movie. We have so many plot threads untreated and ultimately unthreaded that it set the series up for several films of trying to fix the damage, before finally X-Men: Days of Future Past was able to do.

xmenthelaststand2006b

This isn’t the worst X-Men movie of all time. That honor is currently held by X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but that doesn’t mean that this wasn’t an epic letdown from X2, and served to topple the franchise for a couple years.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of X-Men, click here.

For my review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of The Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

X2: X-Men United (2003)

x2xmenunited2003a

Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davison, Anna Paquin

Screenplay: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, David Hayter

134 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action/violence, some sexuality and brief language.

 

X-Men was a very popular comic book adaptation, especially for the time period, when those movies hadn’t really been doing well. I originally wasn’t a major fan of the original X-Men, but I honestly don’t think I got it. I didn’t really know the X-Men mythos, so when X2: X-Men United came into the fold, and I saw the trailer, featuring a creature I would come to know as Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming, TV’s The Good Wife, The Smurfs 2) trying to assassinate the President, that I knew I had to see this movie.

x2xmenunited2003c

X2: X-Men United continues the story six months after the original film, and follows the mutants as they deal with a mutant attack on the President. Logan (Hugh Jackman, The Prestige, Prisoners) is looking for his origins in Alaska. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return) has continued to teach at his school, and spends free time playing chess with imprisoned Magneto (Ian McKellan, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Golden Compass). Meanwhile, William Stryker (Brian Cox, Troy, Her) has taken the attack in the White House personally, and chooses to round up the mutant children at Xavier’s school and keep them imprisoned, and Wolverine finds that he may have more connections to Stryker than he knows.

If X-Men woke up the superhero genre, X2 proved that superhero movies can actually be about something while also being great films in general. Without X2, we may not have had the Marvel Cinematic Universe or any of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series.

It also proved that people can perform as superheroes. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan carry this film and drive its story nicely as two friends with very different compasses who must unite against a common enemy in Brian Cox’s Stryker, who also lends his seasoned expertise to the film. Hugh Jackman has also honed his skills as a performer with Wolverine.

Singer’s directing and the film’s editing give us multiple branched out storylines that all come together very well for a powerful and shocking climax that creates ripples for the series for several films to come.

x2xmenunited2003b

X2: X-Men United was the best film in the series up until this year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, and it has aged very well, becoming one of the most notable superhero films ever.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of X-Men, click here.

For my review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of The Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑