Saturday, February 13, 2016

Oscar Movie with Abe: Cinderella

Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Released March 13, 2015

Usually, the unveiling of the Oscar nominees offers up a handful of films to see that wouldn’t otherwise be on this reviewer’s screening list. Yet this year, there’s just one film that doesn’t fall into the category of animated, foreign, or documentary that was honored with an Oscar bid, and that’s this, the umpteenth retelling of a familiar fable that ranks as a new adaptation no one was asking for. Unsurprisingly, it’s the costumes that were cited by Oscar voters, and it turns out that the movie, while unnecessary, isn’t all that bad either.

It’s important to start with an endearing Cinderella, and her origin story always varies a bit. In this case, her father came back from his travels with a new wife and two stepdaughters, and died soon after, leaving poor Ella to tend for her abusive new family members. Lily James, who plays Rose on “Downton Abbey,” is a fitting choice to play the very likeable and sweet Cinderella, and Cate Blanchett, who had a very busy year, is more than ready to chew scenery as the unapologetically evil stepmother who delights at treating her stepdaughter horribly.

Not much of this story is new, but there are still elements that work better than others. Helena Bonham Carter is a standout as the fairy godmother who doesn’t have an excellent handle on what she’s doing or on her sanity, and her few scenes are very entertaining. Richard Madden’s prince is charming as can be expected, and the chemistry he shares with James is definitely felt. Interestingly, this version of the story feels rather truncated, as not much happens between Cinderella’s first and only trip to the ball and the subsequent search for the wearer of the glass slipper who is nearly not found due to collusion between the stepmother and Stellan Skarsgard’s Grand Duke. But, of course, in the end, all works out well as it does with every fairy tale.

The costumes by Sandy Powell are, naturally, the main reason to see the film. Given the minimal plot involved, the visuals represent a large portion of the content of the film, and they are certainly dazzling. Ultimately, the appeal of this film should come down to whether this is an enticing story, since this version contains no musical numbers or grand effects. It’s a perfectly adequate and passable retelling with decent performances that makes for good if unmemorable entertainment.


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