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

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

I hate natural causes!

Body Bags (1993) (SPOILERS) I’m not surprised Showtime didn’t pick this up for an anthology series. Perhaps, if John Carpenter had made Coming Home in a Body Bag (the popular Nam movie series referenced in the same year’s True Romance ), we’d have something to talk about. Tho’ probably not, if Carpenter had retained his by this point firmly glued to his side DP Gary Kibbe, ensuring the proceedings are as flat, lifeless and unatmospheric as possible. Carpenter directed two of the segments here, Tobe Hooper the other one. It may sound absurd, given the quality of Hooper’s career, but by this point, even he was calling the shots better than Carpenter.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

Hey, my friend smells amazing!

Luca (2021) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s first gay movie ? Not according to director Enrico Cassarosa (“ This was really never in our plans. This was really about their friendship in that kind of pre-puberty world ”). Perhaps it should have been, as that might have been an excuse – any excuse is worth a shot at this point – for Luca being so insipid and bereft of spark. You know, the way Soul could at least claim it was about something deep and meaningful as a defence for being entirely lacking as a distinctive and creatively engaging story in its own right.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

Why don't we go on a picnic, up the hill?

Invaders from Mars (1986) (SPOILERS) One can wax thematical over the number of remakes of ’50s movies in the ’80s – and ’50s SF movies in particular – and of how they represent ever-present Cold War and nuclear threats, and steadily increasing social and familial paranoias and disintegrating values. Really, though, it’s mostly down to the nostalgia of filmmakers for whom such pictures were formative influences (and studios hoping to make an easy buck on a library property). Tobe Hooper’s version of nostalgia, however, is not so readily discernible as a John Carpenter or a David Cronenberg (not that Cronenberg could foment such vibes, any more than a trip to the dental hygienist). Because his directorial qualities are not so readily discernible. Tobe Hooper movies tend to be a bit shit. Which makes it unsurprising that Invaders from Mars is a bit shit.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.