We review this week’s new cinema releases, including CINDERELLA and THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA…
MOVIES.IE’S ONE TO WATCH! CINDERELLA (USA/PG/113mins)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell, Helena Bonham Carter.
THE PLOT: Sticking close to the 1950 animated version of the classic fairytale, we first meet the young Ella (Eloise Webb) living the life of a Edouard Manet painting – namely, Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe – mixed with Beatrix Potter’s dreams. This is a fairytale childhood, and therefore, tragedy is just around the corner. When Ella’s mother is taken fatally ill, she advises her young daughter to “Have courage, and be kind”. It’s a mantra that the teenage Ella (James) clings to when her loving father (Chaplin) marries the hard-nosed widow Lady Tremaine (Blanchett, cackling like Sybil Fawlty, so, we know she’s evil). When her father fails to return from a business trip, Ella soon finds herself becoming servant and slave to her wicked stepmother and her rude and uncouth daughters, Drisella (McShera) and Anatasia (Grainger). Banished to the attic, Ella tries to have courage and be kind, but her struggle to remain so is interrupted when she happens upon a young man on a stag hunt. Convincing this stranger to call off the hunt, Cinderella (a name given to her by her stepsisters after a night sleeping too close to the fire) fails to recognise that the man she is so readily admonishing is none other than the Prince. And once departed, he is determined to find this mysterious girl again…
THE VERDICT: Shot in sweeping, swooning, glorious 2D, there’s something very familiar and comforting about Kenneth Branagh’s live-action take on the well-worn European folk tale that has been around at least as long as Rhodopis, the Greek slave girl, married the king of Egypt way back in 7 BC. Despite its long history, and its many, many tellings, for most people, Cinderella will always be the 1950s Walt Disney animated outing, and it’s undoubtedly the blueprint that our Ken is working from here. Which is all hokey-kokey with me, given just how classic a tale of oppresion and final act revenge Cinderella happens to be. And how much of an emotional punch can be wrung from this delicious tale of domestic abuse and very delayed gratification. That’s not to put too arty a point on what is, bottom line, just a great big Cinemascopic kiss of a movie, from Blanchett’s wicked-but-troubled stepmother to Madden’s shining and shy Prince and lead Lily James’ wry beauty (somehow managing to suggest Cinderella may be good as gold but she’s also capable of being bold as brass). Think the truly enchanting Enchanted without the post-modern irony. Sentimental, sugar-coated and soaked overnight in schmaltz, Cinderella is a triumph not because it tries to subvert its classic fairytale roots but because it embraces them. Spectacularly.
Review by Paul Byrne
THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA (Japan/PG/137mins) Directed by Isao Takahata. Starring the voices of Chloe Grace Moretz, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Darren Criss, Lucy Liu, Beau Bridges, James Marsden, Oliver Platt, Dean Cain, George Segal. THE PLOT: It’s 10th century Japan, and humble bamboo cutter Sanuki finds a new-born baby, arriving in a shaft of light. Within hours of bringing the little girl home to his wife, the baby grows before their very eyes. It doesn’t take long before their little girl is busy playing with the local kids, one of them, Sutemaru, quickly become her favourite. When Sanuki also finds gold and fine clothes in the bamboo shoots, he vows that their little girl will live like a princess – and he soon whisks the entire family away to live in the city, in their shiny new mansion, complete with servants and a nanny to teach their little girl how to become a true aristocrat. Now officially named Princess Kaguya, news of the young girl’s beauty soon spreads through the entire country. As the suitors come knocking on her door, Kaguya continues to pine for the simple, carefree life she led back in the forrest… THE VERDICT: It seems pretty fair that veteran Japanese animator Isao Takahata should be described by his Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki as “a real slugabed sloth”. It has been 15 years since his last feature, after all. The two old friends put Ghibli on the map 25 years ago, with the double-bill of Miyazaki’s MY NEIGHBOUR TORTORO and Takahata’s GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES The plan here was to have them repeat that trick, with THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA originally planned to open alongside THE WIND RISES, supposedly Miyazaki’s swan song. Despite a five-year headstart on Miyazaki, Takahata missed the deadline. By a year. As is so very often the case with such artists, it’s been very much worth the wait, THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA abounding and astounding with its lightness of touch, as Takahata employs water colours, seemingly hasty brushstrokes, woodblock and scroll art to tell this very ancient folk tale, the oldest recorded in Japan’s history. There’s a handmade quality to this stunning film that allows this slightly long and sometimes slightly bonkers old tale about a princess who was so much happier as a pauper. PRINCESS MONONOKO meets THE PRINCESS DIARIES, with just a hint of Princess Jasmine, THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA is truly beautiful and deeply beguiling, and surprisingly funny too. And it comes with a valuable lesson too – be careful what your parents wish for you. RATING: 4/5 Review by Paul Byrne
GET HARD (USA/16/100mins) Directed by Etan Cohen. Starring Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Alison Brie, TI, Jon Mayer THE PLOT: James King (Will Ferrell) has it all; a beautiful fiancée (Alison Brie), a wonderful home and a job that he is good at. Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart) runs a car wash and dreams of being able to provide a better life for his wife and young daughter. When King is framed for fraud, however, he turns to Darnell – believing the poorer man spent time in prison – to help him prepare for his stint on the inside. Little does King realise, that while Darnell is turning his home into a makeshift prison, he is winging it, and has never been to prison, or even committed a crime. THE VERDICT: It seems there have been a slew of mediocre bromantic comedies lately, and although GET HARD seems like it would be just another in this line of disappointments, it is surprisingly funny. The manic tendencies of Kevin Hart have been calmed down slightly, and pairing him with the comedically clever Will Ferrell is a touch of brilliance, as the two actors work well together to elevate the film and set it apart from those that have gone before. Will Ferrell is as over the top and hilarious as we have come to expect from the actor, but he carefully manages his performance to be low energy, as he is technically playing the straight man to Hart’s manic comedian. There are times at the start of the film where it seems Ferrell is erring a little to much on the side of caution, but he opens up when the film gives him space, and is as madcap and funny as ever. As mentioned, Kevin Hart is not as shouty and obnoxious as he has been in the past, even managing to give Darnell a touch of honest sincerity. Elsewhere, it’s great to see Alison Brie play a selfish, gold digging bitch as it is such a change for the Community actress. Rapper TI turns up as Darnell’s cousin, and Jon Mayer makes a cameo at a party. Jay Martel, Ian Roberts and Etan Cohen’s screenplay has a basis in reality, but soon swaps this for the ridiculous, and the comedically brilliant. It would be easy for the film to be racist or homophobic, but there is a careful balance created to show Darnell and Ferrell as reasonable men in an extraordinary situation. There are plenty of physical gags, and tons of dick jokes, but in the context of the film, these go from being cheap laughs to being a natural part of the fabric of the film. First time director Etan Cohen has not only toned Kevin Hart down, but has made a well paced and funny film, that manages not to offend any one group of society, while being offensively funny. Cohen obviously allowed Ferrell and Hart the space to ad-lib, and the chemistry between the two actors is great. There are times when the pacing drops and legal wrangling gets in the way, but the film recovers well, and manages to be amusing right to the end, even if some of the jokes don’t always land. In all, GET HARD is silly, over the top and fantastically funny. Ferrell and Hart are a strong double act and Cohen’s film is well paced, for the most part. There are some jokes that don’t land, and some dodgy pacing in the middle, but GET HARD is one of the best bromantic comedies we have had the pleasure of seeing on screen in a while. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE OUT OF WATER (USA | India | Malaysia | Canada | Australia/G/92mins) Directed by Paul Tibbitt. Starring Antonio Banderas, Tom Kenny, Mr. Lawrence, Matt Berry, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Mr. Lawrence, Jill Talley, Clancy Brown, Carolyn Lawrence THE PLOT: When the secret formula for the Krabby Patty is stolen, all eyes in Bikini Bottom turn to the evil Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) , but SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) knows his nemesis is innocent, and sets out to reclaim the formula before the town descends into chaos. What SpongeBob doesn’t know, however, is that the dread pirate Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas) is behind the theft, and to reclaim the formula, the gang will have to go where they have rarely gone before; dry land. THE VERDICT: Eleven years after the first SpongeBob movie, our favourite underwater sponge is back on our screens, and the good news is that the film is as whacky and weird as you could hope. Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Mr. Lawrence, Jill Talley, Clancy Brown, Carolyn Lawrence and Sirena Irwin are all back as the voices of our favourite characters, and they do a wonderful job with the film, keeping the comedic timing tight and a sense of wonder and fun about the characters. Antonio Banderas is on wonderfully camp form as the pirate Burger Beard and is not above slapstick, silliness and mugging for the camera, and this is what makes his character work. Matt Berry also makes an appearance as the voice of a magic dolphin, in a piece of casting genius. Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel’s screenplay is in keeping with the world of the SPONGEBOB TV series – Plankton wants the formula for the Krabby Patty, and is willing to do the most harebrained things to get it – but then extends this into a world of wonder and sheer mayhem that includes journeys into SpongeBob’s brain, dinosaurs and time travel. The dialogue is succinct and funny, with recurring gags from the TV show cropping up – ‘My legs!’ – and references to cult classics of the past, including Sean Connery’s ZARDOZ. Director Paul Tibbitt keeps the film moving at a breakneck speed, which means the laughs keep coming, although sometimes the jokes don’t land until after a scene has ended. Tibbett also keeps the energy of the film high, the characters as we remember them, but open to being embraced by a new generation of fans. No mean feat. In all, THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE OUT OF WATER is as zany, madcap, fast paced, funny and sweet as we could hope from a SpongeBob film. Antonio Banderas and Matt Berry’s cameos are fantastic and the story is just outlandish enough to keep in with the SPONGEBOB TV show, but there are times when the film is simply too fast, leaving the audience scrambling to keep up with some of the more throwaway gags. Still, it’s great to have SPONGEBOB back, and on fantastic form. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
SEVENTH SON (USA | UK | Canada | China/12A/102mins) Directed by Sergei Bodrov. Starring Ben Barnes, Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Olivia Williams, Alicia Vikander. THE PLOT: Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) is the seventh son of a seventh son, and is apprenticed to Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges), who spends his life fighting evil. Tom’s first challenge arises when the evil witch Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) escapes from her prison of 10 years, bent on revenge and turning the world to ash. THE VERDICT: The first reuniting of Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges after THE BIG LEBOWSKI should be cause for celebration, but this CG heavy and story light affair is more of a disappointment than a triumph. Jeff Bridges, in his third fantasy outing of recent years, chews his way through SEVENTH SON, and not just through the scenery. His performance feels as though bridges was channelling Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey, but somehow decided to give his performance while consistently chewing gum. As such, much of his dialogue is unintelligible and, while he is always a strong presence on screen, appears to be held back by the action heavy plot. Julianne Moore also suffers in her first role since STILL ALICE; Mother Malkin is beautiful and evil, but never given the chance to be beautifully evil enough. Instead, she seems much more of a pest than someone who could actually plunge the world into darkness. Perhaps evil lessons from Disney villains would have helped? Ben Barnes does not make much of an impression on screen, and neither does the normally great Alicia Vikander, who flits in and out of the action seemingly at random. The story is based on the novel The Spook’s Apprentice, by Joseph Delaney, and is written for the screen by Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight. The film jumps from set piece to set piece with little let up for the story to come through. Everything, it seems, is headed toward a confrontation between Bridges and Moore, and the road of the film is paved with bad dialogue, characters falling in love at will and clunky exposition. Director Sergei Bodrov does little to allow the characters to develop on screen, and seems never sure who the focus of the film is. Sure, the title would imply that it is Ben Barnes’ character, but the film flits between Moore and Bridges’ camps with little concern for the heart of the film, and who the audience should root for. The pacing is lickety split, thankfully, and the film careens between set pieces at a rate of knots. The film is heavy with CGI and rendered dark and gloomy by the 3D, so although Julianne Moore’s hair is beautifully contrasted against her black costumes, there is very little of beauty in this film. In all, SEVENTH SON is a sloppily scripted film, which seems to try to make up for its missteps with breakneck pacing. Moore is not evil enough, Bridges unintelligible and the rest of the cast seem insipid and paper thin. This may be a camp film, but there is very little fun in it. RATING: 2/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
WILD TALES (Argentina | Spain/15A/122mins) Directed by Damián Szifrón. Starring Ricardo Darín, Erica Rivas. THE PLOT: Writer/Director Damián Szifrón pulls six short stories together as a feature; all distressing, all funny and all about revenge… THE VERDICT: WILD TALES is an odd sort of film, and one that is both darkly comic and utterly engrossing. The tales are of love, hatred and most of all revenge, and while some of them feel familiar at times, there is a feeling of freshness about the entire film. The cast do well in their short roles, managing to convey a wealth of emotion and back story in a short space of time. Erica Rivas stands out as a scorned bride pushed to the limits of her sanity, Ricardo Darín is wonderful as a man who is driven to extreme measures when his car is towed, and Rita Cortese is hilarious as an unscrupulous cook. WILD TALES has a feeling of HOLY MOTORS about it, but is not as inaccessible as some found Leos Carax’s film. There is a playfulness to the stories, and although all are incredibly dark and involve violence or death to some extent, all are completely over the top and at times, hilarious. Of course, some stories work better than others, and as a general rule, the shorter the tale is, the better it is. One story in particular feels out of pace with the tone of the rest and, as such, drags the pacing of the entire film down. Damián Szifrón directs each story well, keeping motivations simple and clear. We learn more about some characters than others, but since this is part of the experience of the film, this doesn’t feel as though it is a fault. As mentioned, there are times when the pacing of the film suffers, due to some stories being more on tone and better paced than others, but Szifrón always manages to claw the film back as a whole, reminding audiences that life is tragic and funny. In all, WILD TALES is an anthology of weird, violent and funny stories about revenge. The tone is perfectly off-kilter and, although some of the tales work better than others, the film as a whole is funny, well observed and just the right amount of over the top. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes