Thursday, August 25, 2022
Tuesday, August 16, 2022
Cummings is both quite handsome and surprisingly good in what winds up being a complex role. His character is (generally) competent, intense, and sensitive, and though there are some quirky walls put up, likeable. Forster died of brain cancer not long after this movie was shot, but if he was sickly, you'd never know it from his performance, which is strong as usual. The snow, all of it real, I assume, adds so much to the atmosphere. Highly recommended.
Thursday, November 18, 2021
Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Once again, I fell prey to the lure of a well-made preview. The new musical version of Cinderella from Amazon Studios looked like it would be great fun from the two-minute trailer I saw online. Billy Porter as the fairy godmother? A village of people singing and dancing to "Rhythm Natio"”? Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver as the King and Queen? (And speaking of Queen, "Somebody to Love" is sung by the Prince and his buddies.) Yes please, I thought. But no, all hopes were dashed upon seeing the other 110 minutes of the movie. Director and writer Kay Cannon had notable ambitions in creating a female empowerment pop-musical fairy tale film, and a couple of sequences shine, but it fails to come together to make a satisfying whole.
In this iteration of the old standard tale, Cinderella (singer Camila Cabello) is an aspiring dress designer whose dreams are stymied by her wicked stepmother (Idina Menzel) who insists she stay in the basement, smeared by cinders. Meanwhile, the Prince (Nicholas Galitzine) is being pressured by his parents to pick a bride--ideally a good political choice to keep the kingdom on its feet--but he is still into partying with his bros and is in no hurry to settle down. His folks decide to host a ball, invite the whole village, and make the Prince pick a wife. A Fairy Godmother (Billy Porter, who is the best thing about the movie but who is only in it for about ten minutes) transforms Cinderella into… and so on. The biggest change in the story, and one I wholeheartedly applaud, is that Cinderella's real desire isn't for a man, but for a dress business, which could be enabled not by the Prince but by a wealthy village woman.
The problem here isn't the basic story or dialogue, it's pretty much everything else. Mostly, the songs here are pre-existing pop songs, and while I enjoy seeing familiar music pop up in unusual settings, here the songs seem to be shoehorned in, sometimes to make up for lack of plot or character development. It's kind of thrilling to see Janet Jackson’s "Rhythm Nation" as a village-wide dance number, but sadly, the lyrics mean absolutely nothing in context. These townsfolk are not fighting injustice or trying to improve their society, or joining together in any way. They're just doing a nicely choreographed production number--that is, by the way, poorly and unimaginatively shot, as are most of the big numbers in the movie. I could pick apart every other production number, but you get the drift. There are a couple of new songs written for the movie, but they aren't especially memorable.
As for the performances, there’s not a lot to say. Most everyone is OK and not much more. Camila Cabello is a popular singer, but her rough voice didn't fit the songs here. For me, her acting was better than her singing, but she fails to make the character much different from any other Cinderella figure of film or TV. Nicholas Galitzine is pleasant looking at the prince, but not especially hunky, despite the horde of women who sing the Salt-N-Pepa song "Whatta Man" at him. Better are the adults: Idina Menzel gets to sing "Material Girl" and makes the wicked stepmother a bit more than the usual stereotype. Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver are quite good as the King and Queen. Most of the singing sounds overly processed, but I guess that’s the trend these days. Overall, a nice idea for an update, but not one I can recommend.
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
This delightful movie was a Covid orphan, eventually seeing the light of day on Hulu. Imagine a long Saturday Night Live sketch that's a cross between Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Austin Powers. Two lifelong friends (Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo) go on a resort vacation in Florida and have wildly improbable comic adventures. A friend noted that, as in the Pee-Wee movie, Barb and Star live in the real world, but it's a world where surreal things happen and no one blinks an eye. For example, when they arrive at the resort at Vista Del Mar, the entire staff (of seemingly hundreds) drops what they're doing and welcomes them with a huge production number--think "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast. Our two average-looking 40-something women end up in a 3-way with hunky Jamie Dornan. And a mythical water goddess named Trish saves the day. The Austin Powers influence has to do with the movie's over-the-top villain, also played by Wiig in Dr. Evil mode.
It's kind of a musical; in addition to the Disney-like welcome song, and a lounge pianist singing "I Love Boobies," Jamie Dornan (pictured above) has a great beachside number. It's colorful, sexy, surreal, and makes very litle sense, so it's quite likable if you're in the mood for total silliness. The one flaw is that the movie's high point of delirious silliness comes right off the bat, with a 12-year-old paperboy riding a bike and singing along with Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb. Nothing else in the movie made me laugh quite as hard as this. Still, highly recommended.
Tuesday, August 3, 2021
Friday, July 23, 2021
The Kid Detective (2020): I think Evan Morgan, the director and screenwriter here, had a nice idea--what happens to Encyclopedia Brown when he grows up?--but it seems he wasn't sure how to approach the material. What probably should have been mostly comic (or maybe even incorporated some fantasy elements) becomes a mostly serious mystery, but writing-wise, Morgan doesn't have good mystery chops, so it's mostly the story of the main character (well played by Adam Brody, pictured below), kid genius detective turned adult loser, but sadly we don't get to delve too deeply into his psychological depths (or even shallows).
The films opens in the past with a young girl accepting a ride from someone that it seems she knows, then vanishing. The kid detective (well played in his youth by Jesse Noah Gruman), who had dazzled his small town with his sleuthing abilities, fails to find her. Though he keeps his occupation over the next twenty years or so, his reputation is tarnished--though I love the detail that an ice cream shop owner keeps, somewhat reluctanly, giving him free ice cream even though he is now 32. Things change when a high school student (Sophie Nelisse) stops by to ask him to solve the brutal murder of her boyfriend. As any thoughtful viewer will figure out early on, this case will eventually cross paths with the missing girl case of the past. The details of the mystery story are a bit sloppy and not terribly involving, so the pleasures here are mostly in the acting. Brody is very good, being both sympathetic and being someone you'd like to give a swift kick to. Nelisse is charming, Wendy Crewson as Brody's mom is fine, and the lesser-known Canadian actors fill out their roles well. It does have a satisfying ending, even if some of the details along the way remain murky.