Ocean’s 8


Back in black.

(2018) Action Comedy (Warner Brothers) Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Elliott Gould, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Richard Armitrage, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Dakota Fanning, Sarah Paulson, James Corden, Dana Ivey, Elizabeth Ashley, Marlo Thomas, Charlotte Kirk, Whitney White, Charles Prendergast, Damian Young, Talia Cuomo. Directed by Gary Ross

 

Sure, we need more films with empowered women doing what men do. The Ocean’s trilogy had an A-list all-star cast including George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Bernie Mac and so on and so forth. Why should they have all the fun?

Indeed, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to prove that girls just wanna have fun too but the movie is sorely lacking in the presence of Steven Soderbergh, who wrote snappy dialogue, created a retro mood that recalled the Rat Pack that made the original Ocean’s 11 and let the men loose in Sin City – obviously the cast was having a great time with one another.

Sadly, this heist movie involving the theft of a fabulous Cartier diamond necklace from the equally fabulous Met Gala party annually hosted by Vogue’s Anna Wintour (who cameos as herself, one of a raft of cameos) fails to deliver the goods. As much as the Oceans trilogy felt like all involved were having a great time, this one feels like just another job. The bonding never feels authentic and the chemistry is sorely lacking. Like the distaff version of Ghostbusters back in 2016, the movie feels less of an ensemble and more of a collection of actresses. Don’t get me wrong – some of the sequences here are done with the kind of clever wit that the Oceans films are known for and the movie is entertaining in its own right and it makes some salient points about our celebrity-obsessed culture but it doesn’t hold up to any of its predecessors except maybe the least of the series, Oceans 13.

Part of the problem is that I think the expectations for a distaff version of an established and beloved franchise is that the movie will replicate the feel of the originals and that’s hard enough to do in the first place; throw in that the cast is going to be all-female in a fairly misogynistic society as we have and the movie has two strikes on it before it gets out of the gate. I think that thand their relationships I I think that the biggest mistake that was made here was that short shrift was given to the characters at the expense of a “sisters are doing it for themselves” empowerment narrative and sisters can do it for themselves as Wonder Woman and The Hunger Games have more than proven. It’s a pity that a cast this glittery left me so cold.

REASONS TO SEE: Some of the sequences are marvelous.
REASONS TO AVOID: Lacks the camaraderie of the first three films.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, drug use and sexually suggestive content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Gould is the only actor from the first trilogy to appear in this film, scenes were filmed with Carl Reiner and Matt Damon but were both left on the cutting room floor.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/12/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 69% positive reviews: Metacritic: 61/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bandits
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Bob Fosse: It’s Showtime!

New Releases for the Week of June 8, 2018


OCEANS 8

(Warner Brothers) Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, Elliott Gould, Dakota Fanning, Awkwafina. Directed by Gary Ross

Danny Ocean’s sister is released from jail and looks to prove herself by taking on an Ocean-like heist – robbing the annual Met Gala in New York City. However, she can’t do it alone; she’ll need a team of larcenous ladies. Sound familiar?

See the trailer and video featurettes video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, Dolby, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Heist Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for language, drug use, and some suggestive comments)

First Reformed

(A24) Amanda Seyfried, Ethan Hawke, Cedric the Entertainer, Victoria Hill. A priest in a small congregation in upstate New York discovers he’s been sent to close the parish down following a tragedy. Grappling with worldly concerns as well as a tormented past of his own, he struggles to keep his faith in a world where that is increasingly hard to find.

See the trailer and a video featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: R (for some disturbing violent images)

Hereditary

(A24) Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne, Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro. After the death of a family’s matriarch, they begin to suspect that there are mysteries in their ancestry that might have dire consequences in the here and now. The buzz on this horror film has been HUGE.

See the trailer and video featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity)

Hotel Artemis

(Global Road) Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum. In a future Los Angeles that is being torn apart by riots, a Nurse runs a secret members-only emergency room for criminals.

See the trailer, video featurettes and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence and language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use)

On Chesil Beach

(Bleecker Street) Saoirse Ronan, Emily Watson, Anne-Marie Duff, Billy Howle. A young newlywed couple in 1962 England find that their storybook romance is colliding with the reality of changing sexual mores, class pressure and evolving expectations leading to a fateful wedding night.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: R (for some sexual content and nudity)

Revenge

(Neon/Shudder) Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchéde. The mistress of a French billionaire accompanies him to his remote hunting cabin in the desert prior to a hunting trip with the boys. When the other hunters arrive early, a party spirals out of control and leaves the woman in a fight for survival where there’s only life and death. This played this year’s Florida Film Festival.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for strong bloody gruesome violence, a rape, sexuality, graphic nudity, drug use and language)

The Seagull

(Sony Classics) Elisabeth Ross, Saoirse Ronan, Annette Bening, Corey Stoll. In the early 20th century, an aging actress and her lover visit the estate of her elderly and infirm brother. This is based on Anton Chekhov’s classic play.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for some mature thematic elements, a scene of violence, drug use, and partial nudity)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Kaala
Mary Shelley
Sid and Aya
Zoo

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Bernard and Huey
Breath
Filmworker
Kaala
Here Comes Miss Modern
Let the Sunshine In

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Kaala
Let the Sunshine In

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Breath
Kaala
Sid and Aya

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Hereditary
Hotel Artemis
Oceans 8
On Chesil Beach

New Releases for the Week of April 13, 2018


RAMPAGE

(New Line/Warner Brothers) Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Joe Manganiello, Marley Shelton, P.J. Byrne. Directed by Brad Peyton

A rogue genetic experiment goes way out of control, turning normal animals into giant monsters. A primatologist whose friend – a rare and unusually intelligent white ape – is a victim of the experiment joins forces with a discredited scientist to come up with a cure not just to save humanity but to save his buddy.

See the trailer and video featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D, Dolby 3D, Dolby Atmos, IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, RPX 3D, XD, XD 3D
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for scenes of action, violence and destruction, brief language, and crude gestures)

Aardvark

(Great Point) Zachary Quinto, Jenny Slate, Jon Hamm, Sheila Vand. The brother of a TV star who has issues with his brother’s popularity falls under the care of a therapist who herself begins to develop obsessive behavior towards his brother. Unable to tell fantasy from reality easily, her patient begins to fall in love with a woman – it’s just that he isn’t sure if she is real or not.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic issues, language, some sexuality and violence)

Beirut

(Bleecker Street) Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Mark Pellegrino, Dean Norris. A disgraced diplomat who lost everything during an assignment to Beirut is forced to return to that city in the midst of the Lebanese Civil War in the 1980s to negotiate the safe return of his best friend, a CIA operative. However, everyone around him has their own agenda and there’s no way to know who to trust. You can read my review at the link below.

See the trailer, video featurettes and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Town Square (opened Wednesday)

Rating: R (for language, some violence and a brief nude image)

Krystal

(Great Point/Paladin) Nick Robinson, Rosario Dawson, Grant Gustin, William Fichtner. A young man who’s led a sheltered life falls hard for the most unlikely woman – a junkie/stripper/prostitute named Krystal. From a completely different world that might as well be another planet, he joins Alcoholics Anonymous even though he doesn’t drink just so he can be in the same room as her. Needless to say, his family does not approve William H. Mach directs this and has a supporting role as well.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for language throughout, drug use, some nudity and brief sexuality)

Mercury

(Stone Bench) Galaraj, Ramya Nambeeshan, Prabhudheva, Sanath Reddy. Five childhood friends, all disfigured due to mercury poisoning in the town they grew up in, return for a high school reunion. However in a moment of mischief they disturb something that should have better been left alone. The movie was filmed without dialogue.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror/Thriller
Now Playing: Cinemark Artegon Marketplace

Rating: NR

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero

(Fun Academy) Starring the voices of Helena Bonham Carter, Logan Lerman, Gérard Depardieu, Jordan Beck. A soldier adopts a stray dog near the barracks during the First World War. That dog would go on to become the most decorated canine in American military history.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for war action and some thematic elements)

Truth or Dare

(Blumhouse/Universal) Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Sophia Ali. A group of friends playing what seems to be a harmless game of truth or dare discover that they have stumbled into a supernatural entity which insists the game be played properly. Those who lie or refuse to do the dare are punished – terminally.

See the trailer and video featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and disturbing content, alcohol abuse, some sexuality, language and thematic material)

Where is Kyra?

(Great Point/Paladin) Michelle Pfeiffer, Kiefer Sutherland, Suzanne Shepherd, Sam Robards. An unemployed woman tries to find work and care for her ailing elderly mother as her debts continue to mount up. Desperation drives her to do a dangerous act in order to survive. Find a link to our recent review of this film below.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Krishnarjuna Yudham
Venemo

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

20 Weeks
Back to Burgundy
Baja
Beauty and the Dogs
Big Fish and Begonia
Borg/McEnroe
Final Portrait
Gultoo
Ismael’s Ghosts
Krishnarjuna Yudham
Mister Lonely
October
Venemo
Women of the Venezuelan Chaos

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Flock of Four
Krishnarjuna Yudham
October

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Fanny
Krishnarjuna Yudham
October
Pandas

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Back to Burgundy
Beirut
Borg/McEnroe
Rampage
Truth or Dare
Where is Kyra?

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Florida Film Festival, Orlando FL
Sarasota Film Festival, Sarasota FL

Alice Through the Looking Glass


The Mad Hatter through the looking glass.

The Mad Hatter through the looking glass.

(2016) Fantasy (Disney) Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Rhys Ifans, Matt Lucas, Lindsay Duncan, Leo Bill, Geraldine James, Andrew Scott, Richard Armitage, Ed Speleers, Alan Rickman (voice), Timothy Spall (voice), Paul Whitehouse (voice), Stephen Fry (voice), Michael Sheen (voice), Barbara Windsor (voice). Directed by James Bobin

 

Like most normal movie fans, I don’t mind some eye candy now and again – and I’m not talking about the good looking member of the opposite sex. I mean special effects that transport you to strange exotic places, create unusual and astonishing creatures and in essence bring awe, magic and wonder to the movies. However, like most movie critics, I’m not thrilled with special effects for their own sake.

Tim Burton’s 2010 Disney fantasy Alice in Wonderland was a surprise hit – not a surprise that it was a hit so much but how big a hit it became. Grossing over a billion dollars worldwide, it was natural that the studio was eager for a remake but considering the A-list nature of some of the stars and Burton’s own reluctance to make a sequel (James Bobin of The Muppets Most Wanted eventually got the job) has delayed this to the point where some have forgotten how good the first one was.

And it was rather good. I thought it was one of Burton’s best ever, which has gotten me a lot of razzing in the film buff community I hang out in, but I stick to my assessment – it’s imaginative and fun with less of Burton’s neuroses to make it too dark. I’m guessing that the experience Burton had with Disney didn’t stick too well with him, because he has chosen not to direct the sequel and it suffers from his absence.

Alice (Wasikowska) is now a young woman and not just any young woman, but the captain of a sea ship, the Wonder which was once her late father’s ship. Attacked by pirates, she takes an incredible chance against them and (of course) escapes with a daring maneuver. Point for Alice.

However her former fiancé Lord Hamish (Bill) in a fit of pique has taken over her father’s old company and has ordered the Wonder taken away from Alice and that she be reduced to a clerk in the organization. He sneeringly threatens to take away her mother’s home which he coincidentally owns the mortgage on if she doesn’t accept his terms. Turns out he’s not just a twit but a spiteful one as well.

Searching his office for a clue as to how to get out of the situation, Alice is overheard and with nowhere to escape, discovers that the mirror may provide a useful means of egress. She goes through and ends back up in Underland, the world she fell into years ago and saved when she slew the Jabberwocky (which appears in a flashback here but sans dialogue since the voice of the original was the late Christopher Lee). It seems that a calamity has occurred.

The Mad Hatter (Depp) is in a deep depression. He believes he’s found evidence that his family whom he once thought slain by the Red Queen (Carter) is still alive but nobody will believe him – including Alice. However, she determines that the only way to save the Hatter is to save his family from death and the only way to do that is to go back in time.

However, it turns out that Time is a person (Cohen) who doesn’t much appreciate people meddling with the events of the past. However, Alice steals an orb that will allow her to go back in time and warn the Hatters’ family about their impending demise, but what she doesn’t realize is that the Orb powers the Great Clock which is what regulates Time itself and without it, everything will cease to be.

The plot goes on from there and if you want to find out more, see the bloody movie but let me just say that the problem with this movie is the problem that all time travel movies have – they are generally confusing, contradictory and make the viewer’s head ache if they think about it too much. Given that this is a family film, the wee ones will probably be able to just accept the situation and keep going from there – kids are remarkable that way – but their parents will end up scratching their heads and wondering why they didn’t stay home and paint that spare room.

That’s not to say that this movie is less interesting than watching paint dry, far from it. Once again, some of the images are fantastic, such as Time contemplating an eternity of watches, each representing a human being who is still alive. When their watch stops, so do they and Time collects the stopped watches. Time is a bit of a melancholy fellow.

And Cohen plays Time with great depth and many layers. While I’m not sure why he had to give him a Yiddish/German accent other than that Cohen always plays with accents, nonetheless this is one of Cohen’s less strict comedic parts. There are moments when Cohen gets to cut loose as a comic but he tempers those with moments that really touch the heart.

Wasikowska is plucky not only in character but as an actress; the role, as written, is pretty colorless and she does what she can with it but I would have liked to have seen more depth to her. When her mother’s situation becomes apparent to her, we see her determination to save the day, but nothing of the emotions behind them. Alice is as two-dimensional here as the paper the original story was written on.

And again, this has little to do with the book Charles Dodgson a.k.a. Lewis Carroll wrote, so purists beware. Not that the plot matters overly much; Bobin clearly exists more time and energy in the special effects than he does on character development and plot (perhaps writer Linda Woolverton, who wrote the first Alice might bear some responsibility for this) which frankly is a mistake. As undiscerning as American audiences are, give them characters they care about in an environment that makes them slack-jawed with wonder and they’ll return again and again to see your movie. It really isn’t a very difficult concept to follow.

I was sorely disappointed in this sequel as I loved the first movie so much. This is more or less mediocre, not the crash and burn some critics made it out to be but certainly not a home run either. Audiences have reacted accordingly, with a resounding “not interested.” It will likely recoup its budget and maybe make a little bit more after its home video run, but this Alice isn’t as inviting for a return trip to Wonderland as the last.

REASONS TO GO: Some truly amazing images. Cohen gives his best performance ever.
REASONS TO STAY: Over-emphasis on effects over plot. Time travel is confusing and contradictory.
FAMILY VALUES: Some mild rude language and plenty of fantasy action and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Sacha Baron Cohen’s first appearance in a film distributed by Disney.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/14/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 29% positive reviews. Metacritic: 34/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Snow White and the Huntsman
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Captain America: Civil War

New Releases for the Week of November 6, 2015


SpectreSPECTRE

(MGM/Columbia) Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista. Directed by Sam Mendes

The greatest spy in cinematic history is back fresh off the biggest box office bonanza of the 50-year history and James Bond is ready to tackle his greatest foe. When a cryptic message from the past sends Bond on an unapproved mission to Mexico City, he runs smack dab into a criminal organization that threatens world stability – an organization known as SPECTRE.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-Roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, IMAX
Genre: Spy Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language)

Labyrinth of Lies

(Sony Classics) Alexander Fehling, André Szymanski, Friederike Becht, Johannes Krisch. Twenty years after World War II, a prominent journalist identifies a teacher on the playground of the school in a small village as a former guard at Auschwitz, he runs into a brick wall of apathy. However, a young prosecutor takes on the case and despite official opposition persists in taking on Germany’s war guilt head-on.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for a scene of sexuality)

Miss You Already

(Roadside Attractions) Drew Barrymore, Toni Collette, Dominick Cooper, Paddy Considine. They are the best of friends and have been since childhood; one a free spirit, the other more grounded. Even as their lives change in meaningful ways – one marries a band roadie, gets pregnant and eventually settles down when her husband develops a successful business, the other becomes an environmental activist and moves in with a colleague. When one develops breast cancer and the other becomes pregnant, their friendship is tested in fundamental ways. Watch for a review here in Cinema365 tomorrow.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content, sexual material and some language)

The Peanuts Movie

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Noah Schnapp, Alexander Garfin, Kristin Chenoweth, Hadley Belle Miller. Good ol’ Charlie Brown begins a quest to meet the new girl who just moved into his neighborhood, while his beloved beagle Snoopy – the greatest flying ace of them all – takes on his nemesis the Red Baron. This will be the first Peanuts feature film to be filmed in computer animation, and the first feature to be released theatrically in 35 years starring the Charles Schultz creations.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, a featurette and B-Roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: G

Suffragette

(Focus) Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham Carter. In the Great Britain of the early 20th century, a courageous young woman – a working wife and mother – joins other women who believe as she does to stand up and fight for the right of women to vote. Reviled by the establishment and even by those who know her, she nonetheless soldiers on and obtains a place in history at great cost to her personal life.

See the trailer, clips, an interview, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for some intense violence, thematic elements, brief strong language and partial nudity)

Toast


Helena Bonham Carter's Mad Men audition didn't go as planned.

Helena Bonham Carter’s Mad Men audition didn’t go as planned.

(2010) Biographical Drama (W2 Media) Freddie Highmore, Helena Bonham Carter, Ken Stott, Oscar Kennedy, Victoria Hamilton, Matthew McNulty, Colin Prockter, Frasier Huckle, Kia Pegg, Rielly Newbold, Roger Walker, Rob Jarvis, Amy Marston, Selina Cadell, Louise Mardenborough, Corinne Wicks, Marion Bailey, Tracey Wilkinson, Claire Higgins. Directed by S.J. Clarkson

There is an old saying that says that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Personally, I don’t buy it; the way to a man’s heart is through a place lower in the anatomy, if you get my drift. Still, if you can keep a man well-fed, you have a decent shot at keeping a man once you’ve got him.

For young Nigel Slater (Kennedy), life in the late 50s/early 60s in England is blissful although flavorless. His Dad (Stott) is a factory manager with a grumpy temperament; his mom (Hamilton) sweet as can be although she has one flaw – she can’t cook to save her life. Everything she makes is boiled in a can (a pre-microwave era of making prepared foods) and when the contents of those cans came out overcooked, it would be toast for supper, something Nigel actually looked forward to.

As it turned out, his mum had another flaw – severe asthma and eventually it would take her life. Although Nigel misses her terribly, life continues on pretty much as before with dad being not much better at cooking than his late wife was.

Into their lives comes housekeeper Mrs. Potter (Bonham-Carter) who is in fact a brilliant cook – she seduces the Slaters with heavenly meringues and savory roasts. But the now-teenage Nigel (Highmore) has taken an interest in cooking himself and is jealous of the attention his father is paying Mrs. Potter – and yes, there IS a Mr. Potter. Eventually the Slaters pull up stakes and move out to the country, Mrs. Potter in tow and Nigel competes with Mrs. Potter for Mr. Slater, with Mrs. Potter having the upper hand. Nigel has also discovered his sexuality – and he is very much interested in boys, although he is too shy to approach any. What will his dad make of that?

This was originally made for British television and was a monster hit in the ratings there. Why they chose to release it in the U.S. is something of a mystery; Slater, a well-known food critic in Great Britain, is virtually unknown here across the pond.

That doesn’t mean that this isn’t worth watching. Even if you don’t know who Nigel would become, his story is still interesting and bittersweet. It’s also nice to see Britain in the ’60s, in some ways the apex of modern British culture (some might argue that the 80s were and I wouldn’t disagree) and the filmmakers capture the period beautifully here, even more so than Mad Men.

Bonham-Carter is an underrated actress who often appears in supporting roles in big movies yet almost always steals attention in a good way – see her Harry Potter appearances or Big Fish if you disagree. While I get the sense that the filmmakers aren’t quite sure what they make of the Mrs. Potter character, whether she’s an adulterous manipulative homewrecker or a woman trying her best to please a family that’s been through hell. Nigel is much more clear; he thinks she’s the former and loathes the woman although we can’t always see why. In many ways, we begin to root against the main character which is rather odd because Bonham-Carter isn’t the focus; Nigel is and the more he hates Mrs. Potter, the more we see him as a spoiled officious twit.

The movie is a bit overbearing in places and makes a lot of its points with a sledge hammer when a Q-tip would have done. I could have used some subtitles in places as some of the rural accents were a bit difficult to decipher.

There was some entertainment to be had here and there are some funny moments but by and large I found that the filmmakers didn’t appear to have the courage of their convictions. The real Mrs. Potter’s daughters (Nigel’s stepsisters) have excoriated the movie (and Slater’s autobiography which inspired it) for the portrayal both of Mr. Slater and Mrs. Potter (her name was even changed for the movie) and while they have a bit of an ulterior motive, just the way these portrayals are made in the film tell me that they are a bit skewed by Nigel’s own prejudices in the matter which is only to be expected. We all see things through our own lens of self-interest.

WHY RENT THIS: Bonham-Carter is always fascinating onscreen. Captures period nicely.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Doesn’t use Bonham-Carter’s character well. A bit heavy-handed.
FAMILY VALUES: Some foul language, period smoking and sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The chef at the Savoy Hotel who appears in the final scene is the real Nigel Slater.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental only), Amazon (unavailable), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (unavailable), Flixster (unavailable), Target Ticket (unavailable)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: No Reservations
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Get Hard

Cinderella (2015)


Cinderella in pumpkin coach with fairy godmother.

Cinderella in pumpkin coach with fairy godmother.

(2015) Fantasy (Disney) Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Nonso Anozie, Stellan Skarsgard, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon, Jana Perez, Alex Macqueen, Tom Edden, Gareth Mason, Paul Hunter, Eloise Webb, Joshua McGuire, Matthew Steer, Mimi Ndiweni, Laura Elsworthy, Ella Smith. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

We all grow up with fairy tales. We’re familiar with all the ones in which courageous and kind young women overcome poverty and the machinations of villains to triumph over adversity and win the love of handsome young princes who whisk them away to a happy ending of wealth and privilege. Most little girls grow up wondering what type of prince is going to sweep them off their feet.

Like most fairy tale heroines, Ella (Webb) wasn’t really thinking in those terms, at least not right away. She was too busy living an idyllic childhood on a country estate with a loving mother (Atwell) and a doting father (Chaplin) who’s often away on business. She doesn’t have many human friends but she has companions in a trio of mice that she feeds and also the farm’s goose. It’s a lovely, sun-dappled existence.

But all good things must come to an end and Ella’s golden childhood does when her mother takes ill and dies, lingering long enough to make her daughter promise to have courage and be kind in life. She takes comfort in that she still has her father but life isn’t quite as golden, not nearly as idyllic. Thinking that Ella needs a mother around her, her father decides to remarry, bringing into the household Lady Tremaine (Blanchett), the widow of an old friend of his, and her two spoiled, cruel and stupid daughters Drisella (McShera) and Anastasia (Grainger). None of the three are very pleasant but Ella treats them with kindness.

Then on a business trip her father also takes ill and dies, leaving Ella alone with these three monstrous females. Reduced to being essentially a servant in her own home, the newly rechristened Cinderella (James) – so named because of the embers staining her cheeks – tries to cope with being an orphan and being so cruelly used.

After a chance meeting with young Kip (Madden), who claims to be an apprentice in the castle of the King, in a forest during a hunt, Cinderella has hope that things might get better for her. What she doesn’t know is that Kip is actually the Prince who is apprentice to be the next King and with his father (Jacobi) in poor health, the pressure for him to marry is becoming intense. Traditionally, the royal family throws a ball at the castle in which all the eligible princesses from around the world are invited so that the prince of the castle might choose from one a bride to become the future Queen, but he has fallen deeply in love with Cinderella, although he doesn’t know her identity or her station in life. Desperate to see her again, he manages to convince his father to allow all the women of the kingdom to come to the ball as well, while the Grand Duke (Skarsgard) manipulates behind the scenes a match with the lovely Princess Chelina of Zaragosa (Perez).

Of course, everyone in the land is all aflutter over the prospects of attending a royal ball and Lady Tremaine knows that to get out of the financial bind she is now in due to her husband’s death that marrying off one of her daughters to the Prince would solve everything. Cinderella in the meantime longs to attend the ball so that she might see Kip again, whom she is quite taken by. She even finds an old dress that was once worn by her mother to wear, but the spiteful stepmother tears the dress and forbids her from attending, fearing the competition to her daughters.

Distraught, Cinderella sobs in the garden, realizing that her life will never change but her breakdown is interrupted by the appearance of an old crone begging for something to eat and drink which the compassionate Cinderella gives her. Turns out the old crone is her Fairy Godmother (Carter) who says “Hell YES you’re going to the ball,” or words to that effect. She conjures up a fabulous coach out of a pumpkin, footmen out of a pair of lizards and a driver from the goose. She also transforms her mother’s now ripped and ragged old dress into a beautiful gown and a pair of glass slippers – which are surprisingly comfortable – for her to wear. All the better to win the heart of a prince, although she has until midnight before the enchantments wear off.

For hordes of little girls, the princess fantasy is one that is central to their lives, the belief that a better life and a handsome princess who will adore them and see to their every happiness is just around the corner. How healthy this fantasy is can be debated as to whether it raises unrealistic expectations – not every handsome man is a prince, after all, and maybe the expectation that their own personal happiness is wrapped up in finding one. But that’s a debate for another time or place.

Branagh has always been a terrific director but as of late he has moved from Shakespeare and art house films to big budget event movies and this one continues in the series of live action reimaginings of classic Disney animated features. Inevitably, Cinderella will be compared to its 1950 predecessor but surprisingly it doesn’t fall as short as you think it might have.

The costumes and set design are lush and detailed, from the gilt on the pumpkin coach to the sumptuous ball gowns to the rustic charms of Cinderella’s home. This really looks like you’ve always imagined the fairy tale to be and I wouldn’t be surprised if down the road it got Oscar consideration for costume design and/or production design.

The acting is another matter. James is certainly as beautiful as a fairy tale princess, but her smile seems forced at times and her acting seems a tad stilted. Julia Roberts was a more believable fairy tale princess in Pretty Woman, that most modern of fairy tales, and more relatable. Not that Cinderella has to be a hooker mind you, but there was more genuineness coming from Roberts, although to compare James whose career is fairly nascent with one of the most glittering stars in the Hollywood firmament may be a trifle unfair.

One of the main attractions of the movie is that it is a retro fairy tale, which in this case is a good thing. This isn’t a re-working or a re-imagining; this is Cinderella exactly the way you remember it and the way your little girls envisioned it. This is the kind of movie that puts to the lie the old adage that “they don’t make ’em like this anymore,” because clearly they can and occasionally they do.

REASONS TO GO: Lush costumes and sets. Beautifully shot. Retro in a good way.
REASONS TO STAY: James’ performance a bit forced. Princess porn.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for most audiences except the very wee and impressionable.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: James and McShera both appear in the hit PBS series Downton Abbey although their roles are reversed; in the show, James plays an aristocrat and McShera a servant.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/29/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Maleficent
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Divergent Series: Insurgent