Skip to main content

I can't drive. I'm a goose.

Cinderella
(2015)

I guess you can’t really complain about a new version of Disney’s animated Cinderella, but live action this time, doing exactly what everyone expected of a new version of Disney’s animated Cinderella, but live action this time. I mean, it could have been fun, vibrant, witty, clever, different, twisted, edgy –  any of those things, or even just one –  rather than entirely obvious, without even the slightest glimmer of creativity. But then it might have run the risk of not being what audiences wanted (or were made to want, since the Mouse House is astutely serving up yesterday’s leftovers, with a sprig of garnish and advertised as Today’s Special).


It’s difficult to foresee how this wave of live action Disneys will go, as Alice in Wonderland – loathed as it was, but enormously successful, post-converted to 3D as it was – didn’t necessarily head down the typical route, taking an adult Alice and returning her to the location of her childhood adventures. In essence at least, this Cinderella sounds like it also had something else going on, since original director Mark Romanek – who has a contract whereby he can only ever work on pictures for so long before he is thrown off them by studios unimpressed with his vision and potential for lining their coffers – was driving towards something darker. What Disney has ended up with is reflective of the 1950 film in as much as it’s inoffensively unmemorable (except that at least that was an animation, so more striking for all that it wasn’t one of the studio’s best).


They surely must have desired it exactly that tepid, since Chris Weitz, who ensured the adaptation of The Golden Compass had nothing very engaging going for it either, penned the screenplay. And, adding to the monumental averageness of the enterprise, the impossible miracle (tragedy) of Kenneth Branagh’s incarnation as a name director saw him take the helm.


He flirted with this back in the early ‘90s, post Henry V acclaim, when he took on a rightly-derided big screen Frankenstein (itself coming off the back of Coppola’s Dracula). Sir Ken has never been any great shakes as a director. He’s very much from the Chris Carter school of the craft, whereby anything really incontinent or overt, regardless of affinity with the material, is fair game, hence his penchant for relentlessly swirling camera moves to the point of nausea, and a fascination with Dutch angles that would put Sidney J Furie to shame. Somehow, after mounting a limp remake of Sleuth, he got the Thor gig and brought Marvel a hit with its cod-Shakespearean Asgard – and Dutch angles aplenty.  And presto, Ken’s fairy godmother has sprung it so he now regularly pops up on director casting lists, be it Jack Ryan or Disney classics.


Cinderella might have done with a bit more of “classic” Ken, the Ken with his delirious camera, as it’s impossibly staid and formal. There’s one moment, as Cinders (Lily James) flees the castle, where he throws in a skewed view, but just the one – that I remember –  so perhaps he was on strict rations. It’s all incredibly unadventurous, from the casting (James is okay, Richard Madden is okay, notably more likable than in Game of Thrones, Cate Blanchett is okay, although by her standards she’s on autopilot, Helena Bonham Carter is on autopilot, by way of channelling Joanna Lumley) to the set design, to the sickly mantra (“Have courage, and be kind… and all will be well”; I much prefer her mother’s early pronouncement “I believe in everything”, a good example to set for the kids and one in the eye for Dawkins-types everywhere).


There’s even scant regard for the vaguest drama; everything happens to Cinderella, even her hardships, incredibly easily and with very little effort. Forget about dwelling upon loss etc. The Fairy Godmother’s voiceover nudges the proceedings along throughout, as if the makers are afraid of what might happen if she wasn’t there to state the bleeding obvious and proffer a comfort blanket.


There are a few bright spots. Ben Chaplin brings a tangibly different energy to Cinderella’s father, Nonso Anozie has a considerable fun as the Captain of the Guards, Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera are suitably bitchy as the stepsisters, and Derek Jacobi is dependably and winningly Derek Jacobi as the King. Stellan Skarsgard, as the Grand Duke, repeatedly seems on the edge of going the full Gert Froebe but unfortunately always brings it back down again (in contrast, Rob Brydon is dreadful in a brief cameo; hopefully he can at least use the anecdote for his next outing with Steve Coogan). The transforming (reverting) coach and crew scene is jolly, but you’d hope it would be, as transforming things are the major attraction of doing this live. Well, that and selling tickets to Disneyworld. And all the princess costumes the little darlings will be begging their parents to buy them.


I’m not averse to a solid Disney fairy tale; in the last decade both Enchanted and Frozen delivered the goods for both the studio’s live action and animation divisions. But this new range, bright (money-making) idea as it may be, has left me unconvinced. Maleficent was unmitigated stodge, but an enormous hit regardless. The upcoming The Jungle Book looks as if it has no reason to be other than the technology that brought it into being.


Warner Bros’ recent Pan illustrated how easy it is to put a foot wrong with this kind of fare (and one wonders how well Universal’s The Huntsman prequel will do bereft of Snow White; Alice Through the Looking Glass likewise, now the 3D boom has lost its initial must-see lustre). I suspect next year’s Beauty and the Beast (from Bill Condon) will be every bit the hit that’s hoped for.


And I don’t doubt that Burton’s Dumbo will turn out to be as competently unnecessary with a dash of whacky as all his remakes. Pinocchio (with Downey Jr)? Well, anything to wash away the taste of the Bengigni version. Another Peter Pan? Why not, someone has to make a live action version that’s both a hit and also good eventually. A couple on the Disney list (The Sword in the Stone, The Black Cauldron) actually have potential, but Cinderella merely confirms that, unlike several of their other franchises (Marvel, Lucasfilm) Disney really only has an eye on how much lucre they’re going to reel in with these retreads, and negligible interest in artistic merit.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

Never mind. You may be losing a carriage, but he’ll be gaining a bomb.

The Avengers 5.13: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station
Continuing a strong mid-season run, Brian Clemens rejigs one of the dissenting (and departing) Roger Marshall's scripts (hence "Brian Sheriff") and follows in the steps of the previous season's The Girl from Auntie by adding a topical-twist title (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum came out a year earlier). If this is one of those stories where you know from the first who's doing what to whom, the actual mechanism for the doing is a strong and engaging one, and it's pepped considerably by a supporting cast including one John Laurie (2.11: Death of a Great Dane, 3.2: Brief for Murder).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

That living fossil ate my best friend!

The Meg (2018)
(SPOILERS) There’s a good chance that, unless you go in armed with ludicrously high expectations for the degree to which it's going to take the piss out of its premise, you'll have a good time with The Meg. This is unabashedly B-moviemaking, and if a finger of fault can be pointed, it's that director Jon Turteltaub, besides being a strictly functional filmmaker, does nothing to give it any personality beyond employing the services of the Stat. Obviously, though, the mere presence of the gravelly-larynxed one goes a long way to plugging the holes in any leaky vessel.

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
(SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison.

Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War, Infinity Wars I & II, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions (Iron Man II), but there are points in Age of Ultron where it becomes distractingly so. …

You just threw a donut in the hot zone!

Den of Thieves (2018)
(SPOILERS) I'd heard this was a shameless Heat rip-off, and the presence of Gerard Butler seemed to confirm it would be passable-at-best B-heist hokum, so maybe it was just middling expectations, even having heard how enthused certain pockets of the Internet were, but Den of Thieves is a surprisingly very satisfying entry in the genre. I can't even fault it for attempting to Keyser Soze the whole shebang at the last moment – add a head in a box and you have three 1995 classics in one movie – even if that particular conceit doesn’t quite come together.