Movie Review: “Cinderella”

Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgard, Derek Jacobi
Kenneth Branagh

It seems laughably apologetic to give a studio credit for not royally screwing something up – hey now, that wasn’t completely awful! Well done, gents – but to be fair, there are a number of ways that the live action “Cinderella” could have gone horribly wrong. It could have been directed by one of those ‘that guy’ directors, rather than Kenneth Branagh, who made sure the movie had style and class, by jove. The script, by Chris Weitz (“About a Boy”), could have painted with a broad brush, rendering the wicked Tremaine women cardboard cutouts, and the prince a brain-dead trophy husband. “Cinderella” does none of these things, but more importantly, the movie reinforces the idea that kindness is always the better option, even when it’s not the easiest one. This may still be a fairy tale, but that is a great message for young girls and boys, and even better, the story is crafted in such a way that makes Cinderella not so much a lottery winner as a young woman making smart choices, honoring her family, and taking responsibility for her fate, by being kind. I can’t stress that last part enough.

Ella (Lily James) lives a simple but happy life with her loving, modest parents. Following the death of her mother (Hayley Atwell), though, Ella’s life takes a dreadful turn when her father (Ben Chaplin) marries the widow Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), and must share the house with her and her awful daughters, Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera). The aspiring social climbers treat Ella like a servant when her father travels, and when Ella receives word that her father has fallen ill and died on his most recent trip, Ella – now dubbed Cinderella by the stepsisters when they see her with soot on her face (cinders on Ella, ha ha) – rides to the forest to escape her misery.

While in the forest, she happens upon a group of royalty hunting an elk, and she shames one of them, a handsome young man named Kit (Richard Madden), for doing so, unaware that Kit is a prince and heir to the throne. The two do that period’s version of the Meet Cute (circling each other on horses, apparently) and are clearly attracted to each other – both mind and body – but Ella doesn’t tell Kit her name or anything about her, out of fear that he will be disappointed once he discovers that she’s a commoner. On the contrary, Kit is so smitten with Ella that he refuses the king’s (Derek Jacobi) insistence that he marry “up” (read: a princess in a larger empire) in order to grow their kingdom. Kit decides to throw a royal ball and opens it to the public with the hope that Ella will attend. Ella plans to, but the Tremaine women see to it that she cannot. Good thing Ella has a fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) to save the day, especially considering that up to that moment, she didn’t know she had one.

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The Light from the TV Shows: “Game of Thrones” begins anew (and so does “The Killing”)

As we enter into the final quarter of the traditional broadcast TV season, where many of the mid-season entries are already beginning to wrap up their runs (“Alcatraz,” for example, aired its two-hour finale on Monday) and most of the series that kicked off way back in the fall are in that depressing twilight period just prior to their last run of new episodes before season’s end, many of your favorite premium cable programs are taking advantage of the semi-lull by coming back with a vengeance.

This past Sunday, of course, AMC brought us the return of “Mad Men,” which you probably already knew, since it managed to pull in 3.5 million viewers, a none-too-shabby increase of 21 percent over the series’ previous season premiere. This Sunday, the network has another series coming back, though it’s probably safe to presume that the numbers won’t be nearly as impressive for this one. But, look, if your excuse for not liking “The Killing” is that they didn’t resolve Rosie Larsen’s murder by the end of the season, go peddle your wares somewhere else, because I’m tired of hearing people whine about that. So what if it hasn’t been resolved yet? A show’s allowed to keep its viewers in suspense, isn’t it? If you didn’t like it because you thought it was boring, that’s one thing. If you’re really complaining because the producers promised “a very, very satisfying ending to Season 1” and reneged on that promise, though, I say that you may be well within your rights to be frustrated, but don’t say, “Ugh, they lied, therefore the show sucks,” because that’s just lame.

I do think AMC must be resigned to the return of “The Killing” being slaughtered both by the critics and in the ratings, however, since even though it’s coming back this Sunday night at 8 PM for a two-hour season premiere, the homepage of the network’s press resource center is still busy trumpeting last week’s return of “Mad Men.” For my part, while I do think the series dragged quite a bit in places and reached the point of ridiculousness with how many times Sarah Linden bailed on her planned departure (if I was Ray McDeere, I probably would’ve broken off my engagement to Sarah somewhere around Episode 1.3), I was perpetually gripped whenever Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton were portraying parental grief, and I am steadfast in my disagreement with anyone who says that Episode 1.11 (“Missing”) was an unnecessary detour away from the case, because that may have been my favorite episode since the pilot. If you didn’t like that episode, you probably also watched “Twin Peaks” and complained about how they spent too much time focusing on Audrey Horne when they could’ve been figuring out who killed Laura Palmer…and I’m here to tell you that you can never spend too much time focusing on Audrey Horne.

Quick sidebar: if you didn’t watch “Twin Peaks,” this is Audrey Horne:

This concludes your moment of Sherilyn Fenn zen. We now return to our regularly scheduled column…provided we can all get our concentration back.

Oh, right, now I remember where I was…

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