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Entries in beastly (2)

Friday
Mar132015

Cinderella

Nobody captures magic as well as Disney. For decades, they have delivered some of the most memorable and wonderful films time and again with rarely a stumble, at least when looking at their impressive animated filmography. No matter if you’re a child or an adult, it’s difficult not to gaze at the screen in imaginative awe and be transported to a world unlike anything you’ve ever seen. That’s why one’s hesitance towards taking a much loved animated film and turning it into live action is understandable, but they knock it out of the park with “Cinderella.” Based on the classic fairy tale, but borrowing heavily from the 1950 film, “Cinderella” is enchanting, a wonderful and stylish film with a charming lead and emotional narrative.

And that narrative should be well known by now. Ella (Lily James) is an orphan. She grew up in a warm household with a mother and father that loved her very much. Unfortunately, they are now both dead and she has found herself in the care of her stepmother (Cate Blanchett), an evil woman who treats her terribly, which includes forcing her to clean the fireplace, leading her stepsisters to give her a cruel nickname: Cinderella. Meanwhile, the Prince (Richard Madden) is throwing a ball and the entire kingdom is invited and even though her stepmother initially forbids her from attending, Cinderella is granted the opportunity by her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter). So she jumps in her pumpkin carriage and slips on her glass slippers to meet the Prince.

And we know what happens from there. Certain things are changed from the well-known tale, like Cinderella and the Prince meeting prior to the ball, but the story plays out basically the same. So while there are little surprises in store, the film nevertheless remains mesmerizing. The story is brought to life with imaginative vigor, with a passion that similar animated-to-live-action films like “Beastly” severely lack. Unlike that film, this isn’t a pandering tween adaptation, but rather a loving tribute to one of the greatest and most hopeful stories of all time. Director Kenneth Branagh brings his usual stylistic flare, but downplays it when compared to something like the bombastic “Thor” and allows his actors and the inherent wonder of the story do the heavy lifting.

Even with that, this story hinges on a lead actress able to pull off the title role and create an empathetic character and they couldn’t have cast anyone better than Lily James. Before Cinderella’s mother died, she told her that there were two things she always needed to remember: to have courage and always be kind. They’re words to live by, but they also serve as a foundation for James to craft a character that is impossible not to fall in love with and root for. Not since 2007’s “Enchanted” have I felt such a strange connectedness to such an optimistic person, a perspective that remained unchanged in her even as she faced extreme adversity.

In fact, all of the performances are stellar, as each performer brings exactly what is needed to each respective role, except for, oddly enough, the typically great Cate Blanchett. While the costume design and occasional silliness of prior iterations of the story can be blamed for some of it—she’s naturally decked out in all dark, evil colors and accompanied by a cat whose name is, get this, Lucifer—her exaggerated mannerisms and dramatic tone do little to ground what is otherwise a captivating tale. If the aim was to make her unlikable, then she succeeded, but not because of her actions in the story, as it should be, but rather because her performance really is that annoying.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot of wonder in this version of “Cinderella,” and it’s captured in an extravagance that doesn’t overtake the story, but enhances it. With a beautiful score that complements its already timeless story, “Cinderella” cements itself as a modern day classic, a film that boys and girls of all ages will adore.

Cinderella receives 4/5

Friday
Mar042011

Beastly

Is “tween” a genre yet? If not, it should be. With crap like Twilight and the recent I Am Number Four flooding screens, it seems like a necessity. Those who venture to the theater to see these things need to be prepared for what they’re getting: an angsty, pity me film about alienation and a longing for love. Beastly is the latest of those to pander to the teenage demographic who sees every one of their measly little problems as an impassable hurdle. Still, the subject matter itself is not the problem. It’s the way it is carried out and Beastly is about as overbearing as it can possibly get.

Essentially, the film is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” set in modern times. Alex Pettyfer plays Kyle, a smug, self involved pretty boy who values his looks over everything else. He’s the type of person who strokes his own ego while those around him enable him to do so. He bashes people who look different than him, including Kendra, played by Mary-Kate Olsen, whom he calls a “witch.” Well, as it turns out, she actually is a witch and she puts a spell on him. He suddenly becomes physically hideous and has one year to find someone to fall in love with him or he will be stuck like that forever. Enter Lindy, played by Vanessa Hudgens, who, by one of the most contrived scenarios you can possibly imagine, ends up living with Kyle and accepting him for who he is. Unfortunately, time is winding down and you can’t force love.

Although all films want you to feel a certain way about their characters, Beastly depends on it. Without proper care, the precise emotion you’re supposed to feel towards someone can be lost and that happens here. From the opening shots, where Kyle pretentiously watches himself work out in the mirror, to his subsequent speech where he boasts about his good looks to the student body, you know you’re not supposed to like him. The problem is he may not be a nice person, but his actions border on caricature. Instead of hating him, you just end up laughing at him for being such a pompous ass.

When he finally transforms into the hideous beast, you may find yourself laughing even harder. The make-up job is shoddy at best and includes visual touches like the word “suck” over the character’s left eye, which, in a rare moment of unintentional perception, is indicative of Pettyfer's acting skills. Pettyfer is, quite simply, dull. He has no charisma and no idea how to create a character. All he has going for him is his good looks, which is to say little at all. With this and I Am Number Four, Pettyfer is already responsible for two of the worst movies of the year. If he keeps this pace up, he’ll end up overtaking my entire “worst of” list.

In one of the most unfunny, unromantic, gag inducing films I’ve seen in a long while (that includes explanatory music with lyrics detailing exactly what has been going on up to that point), there is one shining light: Neil Patrick Harris, who plays Kyle’s blind tutor. Among the scoffs and jeers, he manages to deliver a few legitimately funny lines, which proves once and for all that no matter what movie he is in or what character he is playing, Neil Patrick Harris is awesome.

Of course, finding the positives in Beastly is like digging through mounds of manure to find a twenty dollar bill. The few moments of pleasantries don’t make up for the surrounding crap you have to sift through to find it.

Beastly receives 0.5/5