Friday, March 20, 2015

"Cinderella" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Cinderella" and DVDs "Miss Meadows," and "The Two Faces of January." The Book  of the Week is "Tinseltown," where the author tries to solve the 1920's unsolved murder of director William Desmond Taylor.  I also bring you up to date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project: "Lola Montes."]

A new take on the classic fairy tale.

All of the usual stuff from the fairy tale is here:  wicked Stepmother (Cate Blanchett), mean stepsisters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera who "Downton Abbey" fans will recognize as scullery maid Daisy), a Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), glass slippers and adorable animals.  But under the steady hand of director Kenneth Branagh and screenplay by Chris Weitz, a new, updated and sensitive story emerges.

Cinderella, whose real name is Ella (Lily James, also from "Downton Abbey") is "just a girl," but a girl with a big heart who loved her parents and loves the home she was brought up in.  She is also feisty and brave.  The Prince (Richard Madden) is also a good guy who loves his Dad and doesn't assume Cinderella necessarily wants to marry him.

How can you go wrong with Kenneth Branagh as director, veteran actors Derek Jacobi and Cate Blanchett as the King and Wicked Stepmother respectively and the appealing charm of our Cinderella and Prince Charming, Richard Madden, who "Game of Thrones" fans will recognize as Robb Stark.  Add to that a bunch of adorable mice, the gorgeous English countryside and you have this absolutely delightful updated version of the classic tale.

All of the characters have a back story.  We learn how Cinderella ended up alone with the wicked Stepmother and stepsisters and why she didn't leave when they mistreated her. We learn how she went from Ella to Cinderella. We learn more about Prince Charming (he's not just a pretty face), and we learn why the Stepmother is so wicked, well, sort of.

And the actors play their parts well.  Blanchett is villainous in her over-the-top clothes, the sisters are snarky and stupid, the Prince is indeed charming and Cinderella is warm, virtuous and luminous.

Three-time Oscar winner Sandy Powell does a great job on the costumes, especially Blanchett's and may well be on her way to another Oscar.

And feminists.  No need to worry.  Our Cinderella is not waiting around for her Prince to come. If he hadn't, this plucky opinionated Cinderella would have figured something out.

And, too, how can you go wrong when the message of the film is "Have courage and be kind?"  I'm teary just writing this.

You and the kiddies will also be treated to a cartoon prior to the film.  Reminded me of my youth.  We always had cartoons, right?  This one is capitalizing on the "Frozen" fever and is in fact called "Frozen Fever," where our heroine catches a cold.

Rosy the Reviewer says...children and adults alike will love this film that is sure to become another Disney classic.



***DVDS***
You Might Have Missed
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)



Miss Meadows (2014)


Miss Meadows is a prim and proper school teacher.  Who would believe she is also a vigilante?
 
Katie Holmes stars as Miss Meadows, whose angelic face, prim clothes and tap shoes belies the fact she is deadly.
 
We first see Miss Meadows tap dancing down the street.  Yes, you heard me.  She wears tap shoes everywhere and has no problem breaking into a "shuffle off to Buffalo" step or a shim sham at a moment's notice.  As she walks down, or should I say, taps down the sidewalk in a pristine neighborhood, she is accosted by a thug who pulls a gun on her and orders her to get into his truck.  Nope.  Our Miss Meadows pulls a gun out of her itty bitty purse and wastes him and continues tip-tapping down the street. 
 
And so begins our story of "sweet" Miss Meadows with the baby voice and the white gloves deftly written and directed by Karen Leigh Hopkins.
 
The score promises a comedy albeit from the start of the film, a dark one.
 
When Miss Meadows returns home she talks to her mother (Jean Smart), calling her "Mother dear" and you get a hint of what drives Miss Meadows when her mother calls humanity a "rotting cesspool of mediocrity and decay."
 
Miss Meadows is a substitute teacher in an elementary school.  She asks the children to write get well cards for their teacher and when she goes to the hospital to deliver them, discovers the teacher has died. Later when she tells the class, one of the little girls tells Miss Meadows she thinks the world is a bad place to which Miss Meadows replies that it's their responsibility to make the world a better place and how she does this is ridding the world of bad guys, from a pedophile priest to a mass murderer in a hot dog fast food establishment.
 
Miss Meadows may not like criminals, but she is an animal lover and when she stops her car on a bridge to save a little toad, a police officer (James Badge Dale) pulls up.  They "meet cute," she corrects his English, says her trademark "toodle loo" and drives off in her 1950's Nash.  He is smitten despite the fact that on a date, Miss Meadows starts doing a tap dance routine on the grass.  If I had been he, I would have taken that as a clue to take a hike.
 
Our conflict arises when the cop realizes a vigilante is in the neighborhood and he begins to suspect Miss Meadows.
 
We eventually learn why Miss Meadows is on this mission, which is anti-climactic.  The main reason to see this film is Miss Meadows herself, who is charming, quirky and deadly if she encounters you doing something bad.
 
But don't get me wrong.  This is not a drama.  This is a comedy!
 
This is a curious choice of role for Holmes, but she is probably still trying to shake her good girl image and expand her acting range, which she does here.  I think she is underrated as an actress but appears to be making up for those lost years with Mr. Cruise.  She is also a dancer in real life, so the tap dancing angle lets her show off some of her skills.
 
Mary Kay Place has a small role as Miss Meadows' neighbor.
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...a strange little 88 minutes, but I like strange.
 
 

Two con-men, one an amateur, one a professional, meet in Greece and it ain't pretty.

Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and Colette (Kirsten Dunst) are living the high life on vacation in Athens in 1962.  They meet Rydal (Oscar Isaac, whose career has taken off since his performance in the critically acclaimed "Inside Llewyn Davis"), an American tour guide who lives his own version of the high life by scamming tourist. He befriends Chester and Colette.  Chester is a sort of father figure to Rydal and Rydal is attracted to Colette. Everything is hunky dory until a stranger turns up at Chester's door. All of a sudden we have a body. Rydal encounters Chester trying to dispose of the body and Chester begs for his help, thus beginning a Hitchcockian series of events where nothing goes right.

This film just reeked of "The Talented Mr. Ripley," from its story to its cinematography, and sure enough, this is an adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel, who wrote Ripley and this one.  Adapted and directed by Hossein Amini, who here makes his directorial debut, it's a fast-moving, tense thriller, a tale of two con-men facing off, making one frustratingly wrong decision after frustratingly wrong decision.

This is a psychological thriller featuring jealousy, deception and double-crossing with many twists and turns.  Unfortunately, the plot fails a bit two thirds of the way through.

Mortensen, Dunst and Oscar are a wonderful ensemble as they pull us into their nightmarish triangle and as Chester and Rydal test the pseudo father-son relationship.  The score is lush and dramatic and the Greek and Turkish locations are beautiful to look at.
Rosy the Reviewer says...If you liked "The Talented Mr. Ripley" or are a fan of Highsmith or Hitchcock, you will like this film.
 





 
 


***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

 

271 to go!
 
Have YOU seen this one?


 
Lola Montes (1955)



The life of the famous femme fatale, Lola Montes.
 
Martine Carol, French sex symbol of the 1950's, plays Lola (a little bit of underacting might have been in order here), who made a name for herself as a showgirl and courtesan in the 19th century. Carol reminded me a bit of Vivian Leigh. The film is part circus act, which is what she was reduced to at the end of her life, and part series of flashbacks as it tells her story. Sumptuous color reminds me of what big film productions of the 1950's used to be like.  A young Peter Ustinov plays the ringmaster and a young Oskar Werner plays a student who helps her escape Bavaria, right before he rose to international fame in "Jules et Jim."

Why it's a Must See[Max] "Ophuls's film, his last (and only one in color) is no conventional biopic.  Instead, he mounts a lavish baroque extravaganza, part circus, part pageant, packed with flashbacks, and sends his famously mobile camera scaling around the elaborate décor...[this film], a classic film maudit, was butchered by its distributors and long available only in a truncated version, but a recent restoration allows us to appreciate Ophuls's swan song in its full poignant splendor."
---1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

This appears to be a cautionary tale on what can happen to you if you have too many lovers.  The ending is quite sobering.  Made me think of the film "Freaks (1932)."  Ah, the high standards we were held to in the 1950's!

Rosy the Reviewer says...an enjoyable film for those who like sumptuous 50's biopics like "Moulin Rouge (the 1952 version)" and "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing." 
(In French with English subtitles)


 
 

 
 

***Book of the Week***

 

An Edgar Award finalist for Best Fact Crime, author Mann weighs in on who really killed director William Desmond Taylor, a famous unsolved 1920's murder.

William Desmond Taylor was a successful director with secrets and was found murdered in his apartment in the early morning hours. Despite witnesses to a man leaving his apartment, the murder has never been solved.  However, Mann, using never-before-seen FBI files and other sources, Mann names the killer.

Many scandals rocked Hollywood in the 1920's and the film industry strove to cover them up.  Adolph Zukor, the head of Paramount, was especially concerned.  Add actress Mary Miles Minter's unrequited love for Taylor and her domineering mother's disapproval, actress Mabel Normand, Taylor's valet (with a past) who found the body and actress Margaret Gibson, who would do anything to make it, even hang around with gangsters, and we have a cast of suspects.

Mann weaves a fascinating tale of Hollywood in the 1920's and "By jove, I think he's [solved] it."

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are interested in the history of the movies and true crime, you will enjoy this book. 

Thanks for Reading!


That's it for this week.


See you Tuesday for

"Sisters"

 

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