Tag Archives: Cate Blanchett

Of Rags and Riches

New ‘Cinderella’ updates age-old fairytale with modern spectacle

CINDERELLA

Cinderella

Lily James, Cate Blanchett & Richard Madden

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

PG

Downton Abbey launched the acting career of Lily James as the rebellious young Lady Rose, a character who joined the show’s sizeable ensemble in 2012. Now, in her first major movie role, the 25-year-old actress steps outside the Downton manor and into the iconic glass slippers of the most famous rags-to-riches fairy tale of all time.

Actor-turned-director Kenneth Branagh’s lavish, live-action production of Cinderella hews closely to the once-upon-a-time basics of the centuries-old European folk tale, especially the version with which most modern-day viewers are most familiar, Walt Disney’s iconic theatrical cartoon of 1950. But Branagh fills the outlines of Disney’s animated characters with pounding human heartbeats, encourages robust performances from his fine, mostly all-British cast, and wraps it all up in a sumptuous package of colorful, to-die-for costumes, spectacular settings and lush cinematography.

This Cinderella is also built on a deep foundation of tenderness and forgiveness, an antidote to all the cruelty and unfairness that our Cinderella will ultimately face, and overcome. “You have more kindness in your little finger than most people possess in their whole body,” says her dying mother (Hayley Atwell) to the little girl, “Ella” (Eloise Webb), who will grow up to become the “ragged servant girl” eventually transformed—for one literally magical night—into the princess of all princesses.

CINDERELLA

Cate Blanchett (center), Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera

Lily James is as lovely as sunshine as the grown-up Cinderella, whose limitless optimism and kind-heartedness endures even after the arrival of her “evil” new stepmother (Kate Blanchett) and her two mean, dingbat daughters (Sophie McShera, also from Downton Abbey, and Holiday Granger).

You know the rest. But one of the coolest things about Branagh’s movie is how he makes this familiar tale feel so fresh, even though you know exactly where it’s going. He stages it like a full-scale period drama rather than a bedtime story, and there’s an epic splendor to everything—sweeping vistas of coastlines and oceans of the British Isles; vast, ornate castle interiors teeming with extras and activity; the lonely spaces of Cinderella’s attic quarters and kitchen.

CINDERELLA

Richard Madden

The ballroom sequence between Cinderella and the prince (Richard Madden from Game of Thrones) is magnificent; the transformation of the pumpkin into a glistening, golden carriage—courtesy of the fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter)—is a thing of whimsical wonder; the climactic, kingdom-wide search for the foot that perfectly fits the left-behind slipper has intrigue, humor, edge and suspense.

Both James and Madden find characters beyond—and beneath—their starry-eyed storybook romance, and Blanchett maintains a delicious, delicate balance of coldness and camp.

This grand new version of Cinderella may not make you believe in fairytales. But it might make you think, like Cinderella, that with enough “love, kindness and occasionally, a little bit of magic,” the world might, indeed, become a better place.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Fire & Ice

High-flying DreamWorks sequel grows along with its young audience

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Starring the voices of Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, & Cate Blanchett

Directed by Dean DuBois

PG, 102 min.

 

A follow-up to the animated 2010 DreamWorks hit about a young Viking boy and his flying dragon, this soaring sequel has grown along with its audience.

This new Dragon reunites director Dean DuBois with most of the original vocal cast (Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and takes place five years after the events of the first movie, as Vikings have learned to coexist with dragons instead of slay them. Now, as we see in the movie’s high-spirited opening, the feisty fire-breathers have become part of the everyday life of the mythical island of Berk, where they’re used for transportation, recreation, companionship and commerce.

“With Vikings on the backs of dragons,” says Hiccup (Baruchel), the son of the Berk’s burly tribal chief (Butler) grooming him for an eventual leadership role he doesn’t really want, “the world just got a whole lot bigger.”

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

And certainly a bit more complicated and dangerous—at least compared to the first movie. As Hiccup, now a gangly teenager, sails through the skies on his trusty night fury, Toothless, with his female friend, Astrid (Ferrera), he discovers a place where the inhabitants don’t see things—or treat dragons—the way they do back on Berk.

Hiccup’s discovery puts his entire village in peril and leads to yet another, even more startling revelation, an Armageddon-like, fire-and-ice showdown, and a life-changing decision. (I won’t reveal much more, but it’s connected to having Oscar-wining Cate Blanchett aboard as the voice of a new character.)

The first Dragon, praised by both critics and audiences, combined a rollicking, family-friendly story (adapted from Cressida Cowell’s British book series) with marvelously rendered, high-tech animation, plus a cast of colorful, amusing characters—and some dazzling scenes, especially if you saw it in 3-D. Dragon 2 upholds those high standards, even pushing them up a couple of notches. The whole movie looks fantastic—fluid, textured and alive.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2The dragons are things of whimsy, wizardry and wonder, intended to make you think of the bonds between people, nature and animals—at various times they mimic characteristics of puppies, ponies, birds, and butterflies. The returning supporting characters are a gaggle of loveable oddballs (Wiig, Hill, Mintz-Plasse), and a couple of new additions—especially hunky, comically inept Eret, Son of Eret (Game of Thrones actor Kit Harington) and the war-mongering dragon slave master Draco Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou)—both add depth and dimension to a story that’s grown up a bit over the elapsed years, just like many of its young audience members

But the real beauty of the first Dragon, and now this one, is how director DuBois and his team never approached them as purely “kids’ movies.” They always aimed higher than that, without ever losing sight of the children who’d find the most resonance in the fantasy-storybook-adventure elements of the tales. Witty, rousing, heartwarming, sensational-looking, and at times touching, uplifting and even moving, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is another fine feather in DreamWorks’ cinematic cap, and proof that it is, indeed, still possible for Hollywood to make movies that virtually all ages can enjoy, appreciate and admire.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Clooney & Co.

WWII ‘mission’ movie has a modern-day message

Monuments Men

The Monuments Men

Blu-ray $40.99, DVD $30.99 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

 

Co-writer, director and star George Clooney’s tribute to the real-life men and women who put their lives on the line to recover and return the cultural treasures stolen by Nazis during World War II is a rollicking, Hollywood actor-packed mash-up of old-fashioned combat “mission” movie crossed with a modern-day message about the casualties of war that extend far beyond the battlefield. Based on a book of the same name by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter, it comes with behind-the-scenes featurettes on the making of the film, the real Monuments Men, and the cast, which also includes Bill Murray, Matt Damon, John Goodman and Cate Blanchett.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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The Clooney Platoon

Director, star, producer & writer brings true WWII tale to life

George Clooney;Matt Damon;Bill Murray;Bob Balaban;John Goodman

The Monuments Men

Starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray & Cate Blanchett

Directed by George Clooney

Rated PG-13, 118 min.

 

This tale of WWII treasure hunters is “monumental” in more ways than one for George Clooney.

To begin with, he’s the star, the director, the writer and the producer. If the movie flies or if it flops, he’ll take the bows—or the boos. And he’s obviously big on the story, based on a 2009 nonfiction book of the same name by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter.

Historically, the Monuments Men were a group of artists, art historians and museum curators commissioned by the American and British armies during World War II to help protect the historic monuments of Europe from Allied bombing. After the war, they fanned out on an even more daunting five-year mission: to recover, catalog and return millions of precious artifacts—paintings, sculptures, tapestries and religious relics—that had been stolen by the Nazis.

The movie takes a few creative liberties with the facts, but it’s mostly true, and the characters are mostly based on, or inspired by, real people. Clooney and his cast mates (Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville and Jean Dujardin) make a fine-looking international ensemble, even if sometimes the movie’s star power, combined with overly familiar war-movie scenes, sometimes feels like Oceans 11 plus Saving Private Ryan divided by Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Matt Damon;Cate Blanchett

Matt Damon & Cate Blanchett

The bigger problem, though, is how ironically, in the midst of its “bigness,” so much of the movie seems small. Its series of disjointed, scattered moments never really come together into a larger, dramatic whole. The large cast is confined to playing strictly on the surface—we never really learn anything about any of the characters. The humor is flat, the emotion sappy and the drama tepid; although the Monuments Men are supposed to be on the war’s front lines, they rarely seem to be, or behave like, they’re in any real danger.

The film also treads lightly—too lightly, perhaps—on the terrible human toll of the Holocaust, like in a scene in which the men examine the smoldering frame of a Picasso painting that the Nazis destroyed, then turn to find a barrel filled with gold teeth extracted from slaughtered concentration camp prisoners.

Oh…teeth. Now, back to paintings.

The Monuments Men isn’t going to win any awards, but it does shine a high-profile Hollywood light on a little-known chapter of history—and a fact of wartime looting and cultural pillaging that still happens today.

George Clooney

“Was it worth it?” Clooney’s character is asked at the end of the movie. Thirty years from now, his superiors wonder, will people remember, or appreciate, all that went into recovering some 5 million pieces of priceless European civilization?

Thanks to George Clooney’s big, ambitious movie, perhaps now they—we—will. It’s just too bad that, given such a great group of actors and such a monumental story, it doesn’t do a bit of a better job of it.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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