Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again


They’re with the band.

(2018) Musical (UniversalLily James, Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper, Andy Garcia, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgǻrd, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Cher, Alexa Davies, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Meryl Streep, Josh Dylan, Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, Omid Djalili, Anastasia Hille, Anna Antoniades, Maria Vacratsis, Naoko Mori. Directed by Ol Parker

 

I have to confess that I’ve always had a soft spot for the music of ABBA, the Swedish pop group that lit up the charts in the 70s and 80s. Mamma Mia, the musical that utilized the band’s extensive catalogue of hits to celebrate a young girl’s wedding as she tries to figure out which of three possibilities is her biological father. It was a major hit – in 2008. Ten years almost to the day, the sequel arrives.

In it, Sophie (Seyfried), the bride from the first film, is trying to renovate her mother’s Greek Island hotel. Her mamma Donna (Streep) has passed away and poor Sophie is trying to balance mourning for her mom, getting the hotel ready for opening night and dealing with a rocky relationship (she’s separated from husband Sky (Cooper) although she is pregnant). With nearly everyone from the first film returning, along with Cher as Donna’s estranged mom and Andy Garcia as the hotel’s manager, there is a familiarity about the terrain. There are also flashbacks showing Donna’s shenanigans leading to her coming to the Greek islands and getting involved with three different men. The luminescent Lily James plays the younger Donna and she does a terrific job, but she’s no Meryl Streep and the film feels her absence keenly. Streep does return for the most haunting scene in the film as a benevolent ghost observing her granddaughter’s christening.

The plot is essentially an excuse for the musical numbers which I suppose could be said for some classic musicals as well, but here it seems especially glaring. Part of the reason is that the bulk of ABBA’s better-known hits were used in the first film and much of the soundtrack here is made up of album tracks and B-sides so the movie loses much of the familiarity factor that made the first film charming.

Streep’s scene and Cher’s two musical numbers are both the showstoppers here; most of the other numbers are forgettable and kind of repetitive. Also, the beautiful Greek island location of the first film has been swapped out for Croatia in the second; not quite the same. I just didn’t get the same warm fuzzies I got from the first film, more’s the pity. There’s definitely a market for this and I know my wife and son thoroughly enjoyed this way more than I did; however, I found it to be only minimally entertaining at best.

REASONS TO SEE: Streep and Cher are big highlights
REASONS TO AVOID: The plot is terribly flimsy. Streep’s absence is keenly felt throughout.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mildly sexually suggestive material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Streep is distantly related to both Cher (15th cousin) who plays her mother, and James (9th cousin) who plays her younger self.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, HBO Go, Movies Anywhere Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/16/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews: Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Jersey Boys
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT:
Little Monsters

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote


An iconic figure, his faithful manservant and Terry Gilliam’s 25-year-odyssey.

(2018) Adventure (Screen Media) Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Joana Ribeiro, Stellan Skarsgård, Olga Kurylenko, Jordi Mollá, Óscar Jaenada, Jason Watkins, Paloma Bloyd, Hovik Keuchkerian, Matilde Fluixa, Joe Manjón, Antonio Gil, Rodrigo Poison, Sergi López, Rossy de Palma, Bruno Schiappa, Hipolito Boro, Jorge Calvo, Will Keen, Viveka Rytzner. Directed by Terry Gilliam

 

Few films have as checkered a past as The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Visionary director and ex-Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam has been trying to get this film made since 1989. Unable to secure financing until 1998, he began filming only to have the production shut down after only a week following health problems for star Jean Rochefort’s health issues, a devastating flood which swept away nearly all the production’s equipment and assorted financial issues. Since then Gilliam has been continuing to get production restarted, adding some fairly big name actors to the cast but ultimately was unable to secure financing until 2017 when cameras finally rolled once again. Incredibly, production was eventually completed.

Now we see the finished product and was it worth 25 years of Gilliam’s life? Well, I suppose you’d have to ask him that. The story involved a jaded Hollywood commercial director named Toby (Driver) who as a student filmmaker commandeered a Spanish village and made a black and white film called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, transforming Javier (Pryce), an ordinary cobbler into believing he was actually Don Quixote, and Angelica (Ribeiro), a 15-year-old waitress into thinking she could be a star. The villagers, needless to say, don’t remember Toby fondly.

When Toby returns to the village of Los Suenos (“The Dreams”) years later while filming an insurance company commercial involving the Man of La Mancha, he is brought face to face with the results of his student film. The now-mad Javier mistakes Toby for Sancho Panza and off they go into the Spanish countryside where Toby nearly burns the village down, is arrested by the local constabulary, watches Don Quixote tilt at windmills and ends up at a lavish party thrown by a Russian Oligarch (Mollá) who now “owns” Angelica and assisted by Toby’s boss (Skarsgård) and his oversexed wife Jacqui (Kurylenko). Can Toby find a way back to reality through the cobbler’s madness or will he eventually get sucked in, Javier’s vision preferable to the real world?

This is not an easy movie to analyze; there are a ton of things going on and many layers to unravel. Toby could be considered a young Terry Gilliam, a bright and inventive creative mind worn down by dealing with the machine of commercial filmmaking. Quixote is the ideal he is striving to achieve. Or he can be construed as purity while Toby is the corrupted but not irretrievable. Quixote longs to re-create the Age of Chivalry; a return to an idealized past maybe? While Toby is the strictures of the present. I could go on and on…and already have.

There is a lot to think about here which is never a bad thing in a movie. My beef with The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is that it needed more Terry Gilliam; this feels stripped down and less imaginative than his other efforts. I think this would have benefited from a much larger budget to give Gilliam’s imagination full flower and perhaps that is why it has taken so long to make this; unless it’s a superhero film or a science fiction epic, Hollywood is loathe to give those mega-budgets out to just anyone, particularly to people like Gilliam whose movies don’t always make money.

Pryce is delightful as Quixote; his madness is at least sweet and essentially harmless unless he perceives you to be non-chivalrous. In that case things could get testy. Driver is a versatile actor who can do just about any kind of character; Toby is essentially a self-absorbed twerp who at any given moment thinks he’s the smartest person in the room. Beyond the student film, we don’t get a whole lot of background on Toby and the movie might have benefited from connecting the dots between student filmmaker to jaded commercial filmmaker. The mostly European cast does solid work throughout the film. There aren’t a lot of dazzling special effects shots here and the film could have used them.

Maybe I expected more from the film since it took so long to make it to the screen, and because Gilliam is such a visually arresting filmmaker. I get the sense that this isn’t the film he wanted to make but it was the film he could afford to make. Perhaps that’s true of most filmmakers.

REASONS TO SEE: Like any Terry Gilliam movie, this is chock full of imagination. Skewers the film industry with a rapier wit.
REASONS TO AVOID: The movie could have used a little more whimsy.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some profanity, sexuality, violence and disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Since 1989, Gilliam has made numerous attempts to get this film off the ground, most notably in 2000 when it became “the most cursed film in history” as documented by Lost in La Mancha. Over the years Gilliam has cast a number of actors as Quixote besides Pryce; Michael Palin, John Hurt, Jean Rochefort and Robert Duvall, two of whom have since passed away.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/10/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews: Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy

New Releases for the Week of July 20, 2018


MAMMA MIA: HERE WE GO AGAIN

(Universal) Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Lily James, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Dominic Cooper, Christine Baranski, Cher, Julie Walters. Directed by Ol Parker

As darling Sophie has become pregnant, she is naturally curious about her mother’s experiences with pregnancy and motherhood. Given the magic of the Greek islands and the music of ABBA, breaking into song is inevitable, which in Pierce Brosnan’s case may well be a violation of the Geneva Convention.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a video featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, DBOX, Dolby, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some suggestive material)

The Equalizer 2

(Columbia) Denzel Washington, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Pedro Pascal. Robert McCall makes a living driving a cab but it is his passion to help bring justice for those who deserve it but have been denied it. When one of his closest friends is murdered, it might be justice but there will be more than a hint of vengeance involved.

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

Release Formats: Standard, DBOX, Dolby, IMAX, RPX
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for brutal violence throughout, language, and some drug content)

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms

(Eleven Arts) Starring the voices of Manaka Iwami, Miyu Irino, Yuki Kaji, Hiroaki Hirata. An immortal girl befriends a mortal boy, a forbidden act among those who live forever. She will protect and nurture that friendship through the years and whatever the cost.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animé
Now Playing: Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: NR

Three Identical Strangers

(Neon) David Kellman, Robert Shafran, Eddy Galland, Ron Guttman. It started out as twins, separated at birth, reuniting. From there the story gets weirder. If you want to read the review, you can always check it out on the link below under Scheduled for Review but trust Cinema365 – the less you know going in, the more you’ll like the movie.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: PG-13 (for some mature thematic material)

Unfriended: Dark Web

(BH Tilt) Rebecca Rittenhouse, Betty Gabriel, Chelsea Alden, Andrew Lees. When a teen comes into the possession of a new laptop, he doesn’t realize that the previous owner has been watching him and will do anything to get the machine back. When the teen discovers some files that indicate that the laptop is connected to the Dark Web, he understands why.

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

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

Rating: R (for some disturbing violence, language and sexual references)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Broken Star
Dhadak
I Love You, Hater

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Custody
Dhadak
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
Eating Animals
Lover
My Story

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Aatagadharaa Siva
Dhadak
My Story
Occupation
Vijetha

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Dhadak
I Love You, Hater
Lover
 

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
Eating Animals
The Equalizer 2
Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again
Three Identical Strangers
Unfriended: Dark Web

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Mindie Film Festival, Miami FL

Borg vs. McEnroe


Competition can turn enemies into friends and friends into brothers.

(2017) Biographical Sports Drama (Neon) Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård, Tuva Novotny, Leo Borg, Marcus Mossberg, Jackson Gann, Scott Arthur, Ian Blackman, Robert Emms, David Bamber, Mats Blomgren, Julia Marko Nord, Jane Perry, Demetri Goritsas, Roy McCrerey, Bjôrn Granath, Jason Forbes, Tom Datnow, Colin Stinton, Janis Ahern. Directed by Janus Metz

Rivalries are often the most fascinating stories in sports; the Yankees-Red Sox, Ali-Frazier, Seabiscuit-War Admiral, Palmer-Nicklaus. These sorts of stories tend to capture the imagination of the public, whether in the United States or elsewhere; there are always rivalries to fuel the fervor of the sporting public.

In the 80s, one such rivalry occurred in tennis. Bjorn Borg (Gudnason) was the top player in the game. He had won four straight Wimbledon championships and was about to try for an unprecedented fifth. His emotionless demeanor and absolute control earned him nicknames like “Ice Borg” and “The Swedish Machine.”

The polar opposite is John McEnroe (LaBeouf), a temperamental American who argues calls with umpires and often unleashing profanity-laced tirades against officials on the court and off, earning him the current titleholder of the Bad Boy of Tennis like none had achieved before or, to date, since. His game was a charging net game; Borg’s was more geared towards the baseline. They were both great competitors but they had little else in common; McEnroe dug the spotlight whereas Borg was tired of living in the media glare. Borg was cheered by millions; McEnroe was mainly booed. Borg had a stable fiancée (Novotny) while McEnroe played the field. It was truly a rivalry made it heaven.

And yet in many ways the two were not all that different. As a young man (Borg), Bjorn had a great difficulty controlling his anger. That is, until he meets trainer Lennart Bergelin (Skarsgård). He teaches Borg to harness his rage and channel it constructively, to hide his emotions in order to get in the heads of his opponents. Bergelin is the reason Bjorn Borg became Bjorn Borg.

The most prestigious tournament in tennis is Wimbledon and Borg is determined to make history. Standing in his way is McEnroe, who is just as determined to make history of his own. The year is 1980 and the two are on a collision course to play one of the greatest matches in the history of the sport. To this day many believe it is the greatest tennis match ever played.

The story is indeed a compelling one but I wish it would have been handled a little differently. This Swedish-Danish co-production focuses on Borg which would normally be fine but let’s face it – McEnroe is by far the most interesting character. Gudnason bears a striking resemblance to the tennis great and does a superb job channeling him but let’s face it – the man was kind of boring. I understand that Borg remains a revered figure in Scandinavia but I think the movie would have benefited by a little more McEnroe.

Metz utilizes a lot of flashbacks to tell his story and to be honest after awhile they begin to get annoying. The flow of the film becomes choppy and frustrating at times. What’s worse is that the tennis sequences are pretty poorly shot. The angles are all wrong and we don’t get a sense of the ebb and flow of the game. To be fair Metz does a good job of getting the tension up but when the tennis sequences in a tennis movie are sub-par, that’s troubling.

All in all this is a decent enough movie but it could have been better. It could have used a little of the humor displayed in I, Tonya to name one. As it is this is mainly going to appeal to Swedes and older tennis fans for the most part.

REASONS TO GO: The rivalry is a compelling one. Gudnason does a strong job as Borg.
REASONS TO STAY: The flashbacks get to be annoying. The tennis sequences are poorly done.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity and some nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The actor who plays Borg as a young boy is Borg’s real life son Leo.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/14/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews: Metacritic: 63/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Battle of the Sexes
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Straight Into a Storm

New Releases for the Week of July 1, 2016


The BFGTHE BFG

(Disney) Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Bill Hader, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Matt Frewer. Directed by Steven Spielberg

A precocious 10-year-old girl in Victorian London meets a terrifying 24-foot-tall giant, who turns out to be not quite so terrifying at all. Gentle and sweet, the giant befriends the young girl and shows her around Giant Country and Dream Country, where the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) harvests dreams to give to human children. Unfortunately, other giants turn out to be not so friendly, and it will be up to the two of them to convince Queen Victoria that Giants do exist and that they have put the human world in grave peril.

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

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

Rating: PG (for action/peril, some scary moments and brief rude humor)

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

(The Orchard) Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House. Ricky is a defiant kid who has been raised in the foster care system of New Zealand and weaned on hip-hop is deposited into the home of Aunt Bella and Uncle Hec, where he might actually have a chance to lose the attitude. However, unexpected events force Hec and Ricky to flee into the bush, resulting in a national manhunt. The two loners, who have relied only on themselves all their lives, are now forced to rely on each other as a family or go out in a blaze of glory. This Florida Film Festival favorite will be reviewed on Cinema365 tomorrow.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including violent content, and for some language)

The Legend of Tarzan

(Warner Brothers) Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Margot Robbie. The legendary Tarzan has left the jungles for a gentrified life as John Clayton, Lord Greystoke with his beloved wife Jane at his side. Appointed by Parliament as a trade emissary to the Congo, what he doesn’t realize is that he is being manipulated as a pawn in a game being played by greedy men. However, what they don’t realize is the force of nature they have unleashed on Africa.

See the trailer, interviews, a clip, a promo and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence, some sensuality and brief rude dialogue)

Marauders

(Lionsgate) Bruce Willis, Christopher Meloni, Dave Bautista, Adrian Grenier. After a bank is robbed by a group of brutal thieves, the evidence initially points to the owner and some of his high-powered clients. But as a group of FBI agents dig deeper into the case and more heists continue with the death toll rising, what seemed simple at first has become a heck of a lot more complicated – and further reaching.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for strong violence, language, brief drug use and nudity)

Our Kind of Traitor

(Roadside Attractions) Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, Damian Lewis, Naomie Harris. An ordinary English couple befriends a flamboyant and charismatic Russian while on vacation in Morocco. It soon turns out that their new friend is a money launderer for the Russian mob and he wants to co-operate with MI-6 in return for the guaranteed safety of his family. This brings the couple into a world of shadows and intrigue that they may not emerge from alive. From the novel by best-selling author John Le Carré.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

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

The Purge: Election Year

(Universal/Blumhouse) Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Edwin Hodge, Mykelti Williamson. Two years after Leo Barnes survived the Purge and stopped himself from committing an act of vengeance he might have regretted for the rest of his life, he has become head of security for a Senator who is running for President and if elected, promises to put an end to the Purge. This does not sit well with the powers-that-be and on this year’s Purge night, the two of them are betrayed and forced out into the streets where they are targets. This Purge may well be Leo’s last.

See the trailer, clips, a promo and a faux election video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

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

Rating: R (for disturbing bloody violence and strong language)

Swiss Army Man

(A24) Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Richard Gross. Stranded on a deserted island, a man has given up all hope until a corpse washes up on shore. Curious, he discovers that the corpse has a life of its own and the two become fast friends. This inventive fantasy has gotten rave reviews for its imagination and heart and marks the feature debut of music video co-directors DANIELS. Looks to be the kind of movie that lovers of Michel Gondry might appreciate.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, Cobb Plaza Cinema Café, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language and sexual material)

Avengers: Age of Ultron


Hawkeye takes the heat.

Hawkeye takes the heat.

(2015) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Andy Serkis, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Linda Cardellini, Stellan Skarsgard, Claudia Kim, Thomas Kretschmann, Julie Delpy. Directed by Joss Whedon

As Uncle Ben from the Spider-Man series was wont to say, with great power comes great responsibility. It also makes sense that with great power comes great ego. When you have god-like powers (or are an actual god), the tendency would be to think that your powers make you right. When you get a roomful of such beings who may disagree on certain things, how possible is it for them to work together?

Avengers: Age of Ultron picks up from the pieces of HYDRA’s infiltration of SHIELD as shown in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and continued in the television show Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD as the Avengers are mopping up certain HYDRA bases trying to find Loki’s scepter which Thor (Hemsworth) is eager to restore back to its place in Asgard.

Despite heavy resistance from HYDRA and their leader Baron von Strucker (Kretschmann), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Evans) leads the Avengers to their goal and retrieves the scepter as well as capturing von Strucker. Von Strucker has been using the scepter to experiment on humans, bestowing on twins Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff (Taylor-Johnson) and the Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Olsen) superpowers; in Quicksilver’s case super speed, in the Witch’s case the ability to enter minds and to shoot red hex blasts from her hands. She implants a suggestion in Iron Man/Tony Stark (Downey) to sow discord among the Avengers, somewhat successfully. After all, the conflict was essentially already there.

Stark uses the scepter to kick start an artificial intelligence he calls Ultron which is meant to be a program that protects the planet from alien invaders, an event from Marvel’s The Avengers that so traumatized Stark that it has literally become his greatest fear that the next time invaders come he won’t be able to stop them. However, Ultron (Spader) decides to make himself a body and after quick consideration comes to the conclusion that the best way to protect planet Earth is to remove the human beings from it and to start anew, preferably with metal constructs as the dominant species. That Stark doesn’t tell his fellow Avengers what he’s up to (although The Hulk/Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) assists him reluctantly) further stirs the pot.

As you might guess, this doesn’t sit too well with the Avengers who go out to stop Ultron, who has recruited the twins to his side. They get wind that Ultron is visiting Ulysses Klaw (Serkis), an arms dealer in the African nation of Wakanda to retrieve as much vibranium as he can get his metal hands on and each are given a kind of dream courtesy of the Scarlet Witch that stops them in their tracks and further makes the team wonder if they can function properly. Afterwards, with their gaudy New York headquarters compromised, they retreat to a farm owned by Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Renner) and his wife (Cardellini) to lick their wounds. Thor heads off to find out the meaning of his dream, enlisting old friend Erik Selvig (Skarsgard) to help him.

In the meantime romance begins to blossom between Banner and the Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Johansson), and Nick Fury (Jackson) arrives to give the team a pep talk. Thus they head out to stop Ultron, even though it might cost them their lives. And Ultron plans an extinction level event to take out the entire planet. Can the Avengers stop a being that may be smarter and stronger than they are collectively?

Believe it or not, that’s just the bare bones outline of what’s going on in this movie; there are tons of subplots going on as well. Along the way we get more insight into the characters of Hawkeye and the Black Widow (which are welcome) and extended battle sequences which after awhile, truthfully, begins to feel repetitive.

Whedon was able to weave all the different characters together in the first Avengers movie in a way that brought disparate elements into a congenial whole. He is less successful at it this time, which I think has more to do with an attempt to tell a story with so many moving parts, meant to not only influence events in Phase II of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but also lead directly into the next Phase. In many ways, this is the worst review I’ve ever written; there’s so much Marvel-centric jargon here that it’s nearly impossible to really sum up the movie without going into detailed background, so much so that to really do it justice the review would end up being novel-length. Therein lies the rub for the movie; whereas Marvel’s The Avengers didn’t require a lot of explanation, this one does.

Still, the battle sequences are plenty amazing and while there are so much of them that after awhile there may be some overload particularly among audiences who aren’t young and male, they are all impressive enough to make for wonderful summer entertainment. I’m also liking Whedon’s attempts to illustrate the team’s dysfunction, their self-doubts and the realization that even if they succeed the collateral damage may be unfathomable. Whedon goes well out of his way to depict these warriors as human beings chock full of frailty; it doesn’t always work but at least it makes the movie more interesting than just a mere smashfest.

This sounds very much like a negative review and maybe it is; after all, Marvel has been setting the bar high with their cinematic universe and the last two films in the series have been absolutely outstanding, year-end top 10-worthy features. This doesn’t quite reach that bar but maybe it doesn’t have to. For those looking for ideal summer blockbuster entertainment, this more than fits the bill. It’s the kind of movie made for hot days, cool theaters and freshly popped popcorn. It’s the kind of movie that you’ll want to see with friends and go out for pizza afterwards. And yeah, it may not be the best Marvel film ever but it isn’t the worst either and it more than gets the job done.

REASONS TO GO: Plenty of superhero goodness. Looks at the inherent dysfunction of a team of powerful beings.
REASONS TO STAY: Feels less focused than the previous Avengers.
FAMILY VALUES: All sorts of comic book violence and mayhem, and a couple of suggestive comments.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Juggling all the characters in this film was so grueling and exhausting that Whedon elected not to direct the next Avengers movie, scheduled for 2018. Instead, Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s The Russo Brothers will take on the next two-part Avengers: Infinity Wars.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/16/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spider-Man 3
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: My Life in China

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