Review: Cinderella

Prince Charming and Ella in Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella.
Prince Charming and Ella in Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella.

Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella is Enchanting!
Rating: ****

Critics around the world have been praising Kenneth Branagh for bringing Cinderella and Walt Disney Animation back to its roots. There was a time when animation supported storytelling. It was merely a prop. In Cinderella, you can make out what is real and what is animated. It’s just that you will not care for it as the story sweeps you away. Thankfully, Chris Weitz’s screenplay doesn’t alter the original story. Branagh’s execution however makes Cinderella, a wonderful cinematic experience; in other words, a fairy tale.

Watching Branagh’s version gave me fleeting memories of Disney’s 1950 adaptation, which I watched in third grade. The screening was arranged at our school library and we were given two periods off in the afternoon to watch it. As kids, we were ready for anything that took 90 minutes off school time. I was forced to sit behind due to my rather round head (not anymore). I remember Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo and Sing, Sweet Nightingale, the latter was known by us kids as the “soap bubble song”.

The 2015 version is not a musical, but it does have a handful of melodies, all composed to perfection by Branagh’s long-time collaborator, Patrick Doyle. Fairy tale adaptations much like classic literature adaptations are losing their share of the audience. The cinema hall I was at had just twenty or lesser viewers apart from Yours Truly.

Cate Blanchett rocks the house as the wicked stepmother bringing to the table a range of snobby retorts and coldness, while Lily James slips comfortably into the shoes of the “courageous but kind” Ella aka Cinderella. The film has a notable cast that include Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgård, Sophie McShera and Derek Jacobi. I for one was thrilled to see McShera and James in roles that are the exact opposite to their roles on Downton Abbey.

With Cinderella, I seem to have regained trust in Branagh’s capabilities as a director. His last two films – Thor and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – were disappointing. Branagh needs to treat every project the way he has treated this. He needs to, as Ella rightly put it “have courage and be kind.”


Review: My Week With Marilyn

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe.

Every goddess has a human side. This is Marilyn’s.

Rating: **

Simon Curtis’ My Week With Marilyn has a twenty-something British fellow named Colin Clark (played by the smile-free Eddie Redmayne) spending quality time with Marilyn Monroe on the sets of The Prince and The Showgirl. Initial thoughts are generated on whether Curtis’ film is just another Notting Hill set in 1956 for it involves an ordinary man and an extraordinary star. But, the film doesn’t follow up on it and Monroe becomes more human in this film. Curtis doesn’t make use of the cast ensemble either. He ensures that Michelle Williams alone touches base. This being done, screenwriter Adrian Hodges weaves scenes around her. It’s sad that actors such as Judi Dench and Toby Jones have been underused. Kenneth Branagh plays Sir Laurence Olivier, a hothead who claims to be the greatest actor ever.

This assessment of Olivier cemented by Kenneth Branagh is intermittently amusing. Those familiar with the 1957 film know that Olivier was still strikingly handsome. Yet, the physical differences between Olivier and Branagh may seem alien. Branagh’s soft face becomes a blur when compared to Olivier’s sculptured masculinity.

Olivier’s then wife, Vivian Leigh (played by Julia Ormond) succumbs to Marilyn’s beauty onscreen and feels that her husband will be no match to that. Olivier confirms that he will never be, as he strongly feels that Marilyn is a true actress. When confronted by Colin to reveal this piece of truth to Marilyn, he holds back his tongue with a retort “what I said now doesn’t leave this room.”

Of course, he never thought Colin Clark would write a memoir which would contain those forbidden words.

The tragic Monroe is obviously dramatic, but the intimations of disaster don’t fit a movie that works so hard to be easily likable. Everything onscreen looks good and period-appropriate, if also too manicured, as if the past had been digitally spruced up. Curtis enlivens the movie with Zoe Wanamaker’s darkly comic turn as Monroe’s acting coach, Paula Strasberg while Emma Watson has a thankless part as Lucy, the girl from the costume department.

Lucy and Colin go out on a date and when Colin unbuttons her blouse, she holds back. When asked why, she says she’s not ready. Women back then held back their virginity. Men however are still the same. Message received Mr. Curtis!

My Week With Marilyn is a period piece that fails to stand near to 2010’s Oscar winner, The King’s Speech. The film is a platform for Michelle Williams to showcase her skills and she does it well. That’s it! Show’s over folks!