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Entries in Helena Bonham Carter (5)

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

Wednesday
Dec192012

Les Misérables

The worst type of movie is the one that fails to live up to expectations. Usually when this happens, the movie itself is far below what it could and should have been. Usually, the standalone trailer is astonishing, managing to hit a range of emotions in a short two minutes, while the movie itself, when fleshed out to feature length, completely misses the mark. Rarely, however, does a movie fail to live up to expectations and is still as good as Les Misérables. It would be somewhat of a stretch to call it one of the greatest musicals ever made—it’s not even one of the best movies of this year—but its narrative grandiosity, lush visuals, assured direction and phenomenal performances from a terrific ensemble cast make it more than your ordinary film musical. Les Misérables deftly crafts unparalleled moments of beauty and awe, conveying true emotion around themes of love, loss and hardship that will cause all but the most hardened viewers to sympathize with, and maybe even cry for, those fighting onscreen.

Based on the Victor Hugo novel from 1862 (and adapted into a stage musical in 1980), Les Misérables follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a Frenchman who has spent many years as a prisoner and slave for stealing bread, overseen by policeman Javert (Russell Crowe). When the film begins, he is finally released from his imprisonment, but is put on parole for the rest of his life. If he breaks it, he will be hunted down and captured. Rather than heed that warning, he breaks parole anyway and starts a new life as a wealthy factory owner and mayor of the town he has chosen to settle in. One day, he runs into Fantine (Anne Hathaway), an ex-employee of his who was fired from his factory and is now selling herself to make ends meet and support her young daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen). After tragedy strikes Fantine, Jean decides to adopt Cosette and raise her as his own, all while he hides from Javert’s relentless pursuit. Many years pass and Cosette (now played by Amanda Seyfried), is all grown up and they’re about to find themselves in the middle of a revolution.

Les Misérables isn’t like your typical musical. It’s not full of flamboyant choreography or energetic numbers that are cut to resemble a music video. Instead, it’s very reserved. The camera more often than not settles on close-ups and rolls without cutting, the performers singing their numbers in one take. This lends terrific weight to a film that relies almost entirely on the emotional fragility of its viewers. When the actors sing these songs, pouring their hearts and souls into them, and you are so close that you see every twitch in their skin and tear forming in their eyes, it’s impossible not to feel something. In particular, Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” is heartbreaking and, perhaps due to this single moment in a nearly three hour long film, likely to win her an Oscar.

Much of the emotional impact comes from the fact that, unlike most movie musicals that pre-record their songs before shooting, the actors are singing the songs in real time, much like Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. There’s no lip-synching present here and the turmoil of the characters comes through tenfold because they’re singing in character, not in some studio behind a microphone. It’s a tactic that is brilliantly used by director Tom Hooper, who, if 2010’s remarkable The King’s Speech is any indication, knows how to maximize the effect his movies have on an audience.

Despite the tragic story that unfolds and the many deaths that accompany it, Les Misérables has some lighthearted moments that come mostly from Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier. Their presence is ever welcome in the sea of sadness, but there’s too little of them and they end up overshadowing some of the other, bleaker moments, if for no other reason than because they’re more upbeat. This discrepancy between these two different styles is indicative of the film as a whole, in that certain sections aren’t as interesting as others. Very few movies of this length have the ability to maintain viewer attention and with a gap of songs that range from breathtaking to flat out boring, Les Misérables doesn’t pull it off.

It’s still a wonder to behold, though, and its final scene, despite some lags in the narrative, packs a punch that wasn’t paralleled in any other movie this year. There has been a lot of hyperbole when expressing opinions of it in recent months, however. Some are saying it’s one of the best musicals (or even crazier, one of the best movies) ever while others are saying it’s overwrought, overlong and manipulative. Neither of those extremes are accurate. Les Misérables is neither great nor terrible, but it’s effective and rousing and, provided you can sit still for almost three hours, absolutely worth a watch.

Les Misérables receives 4/5

Friday
May112012

Dark Shadows

At this point, the result of a collaboration between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp isn’t so much an acquired taste as it is one that you’ve already come to enjoy, but has a sour aftertaste. Many would argue that after a string of solid movies for the duo, including Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow, they’ve hit a lull and in recent years have been unable to recapture the magic that existed so long ago. I would argue, however, that they’re still as wonderful as ever. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street should have been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, Corpse Bride was a wonderfully macabre, but ultimately satisfying adventure into the abyss of death and Alice in Wonderland, though certainly flawed, was a quirky and visually interesting take on the classic story. Only once with the ill advised Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have they failed to entertain. Their latest collaboration, an adaptation of the campy soap opera from the 60s titled Dark Shadows, is a minor entry in both of their mostly impressive careers, but it’s funny, fun, different and it boasts some terrific performances.

Dark Shadows is set in the 18th century and follows a young Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) as he and his family sail off to America. Once there, he becomes somewhat of a playboy, living with untold riches and striking up a physical relationship with Angelique (Eva Green), a worker in the home he so affectionately calls Collinwood Manor. However, a physical relationship is all he’s interested in because his love belongs to someone else. This breaks Angelique’s heart, which is something Barnabas may have tried to avoid had he known she was a witch, so she puts a curse on him that kills his entire family, including the woman he loves, and turns him into a vampire. With the help of the townsfolk, she eventually captures him, places him in a chained up coffin and buries him in the ground to live in darkness for all eternity. Two hundred years later, a construction crew stumbles onto his grave and accidentally lets him out, so he makes his way back to Collinwood Manor to meet the newest members of his family, including Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), her brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), his son David (Gulliver McGrath) and their live-in psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). It’s not too long before Angelique hears of Barnabas’ escape, so she sets out to either win him over or destroy him for good.

Dark Shadows coasts by on a one joke premise: that an 18th century man has stumbled into a 20th century world that he doesn’t understand. Frankly, it’s a story that could have been told in any genre and without the fantasy/horror elements, of which seem to exist solely to create a somewhat believable way to make the set up happen. Such arbitraries hardly matter, however, when you have actors who are up to the task of taking an already witty script and making it even more enjoyable. Depp brings his A-game, which he always does to a Tim Burton production, and it’s endlessly entertaining to watch his 18th century look, mannerisms and rhetoric contrast with a time when hippies ruled and metal was emerging (which leads to a great cameo by one of the all time metal greats, Alice Cooper). Because he has laid in darkness for 200 years, Barnabas has not seen the world progress and still holds onto archaic trains of thought, most humorously when he attributes everything he doesn’t understand to Satan. Even his notion of sexuality is stuck in the past; he covets women based on their child bearing hips rather than modern characteristics men typically look for.

Dark Shadows is not a particularly serious movie, as one should be able to tell by now. Despite its (sometimes downplayed) haunting, gothic visual style that Burton has an affinity for, there are more laughs than anything else, a notion that most viewers would find hard to argue with after the montage set to The Carpenter’s “Top of the World.” It’s not the most polished film Burton has ever done and sports some noticeably amateurish flaws, including one particular shot where the eyelines don’t match up, but it’s nevertheless a surprising delight. Its trailers were worthy of groans, but what doesn’t work in short form works wonderfully in context, similar to 2009’s surprise hit, The Blind Side. It’s not the most subtle film in the world (the connection between one of the characters and Barnabas’ deceased love is plainly obvious), but Dark Shadows is goofy in all the right ways.

Dark Shadows receives 3.5/5

Friday
Dec172010

The King's Speech

When December approaches, critics begin to put together their best of the year lists. I personally start early to ensure that I’ll have it done by my own set deadline. But just as I’ve become comfortable with my list, a new movie is screened that puts a kink in my plans. It sets me back, but I’m happy to oblige for a film that is truly worthy. The King’s Speech is this year’s setback.

The film takes place in the mid-30’s and follows the rise of King George VI (Colin Firth) as King of England after the death of his father. At a troubled time in world history, during the ascension of the Nazi threat, King George VI is forced to take to the airwaves and deliver necessary wartime speeches, but there’s a problem. He has a terrible speech impediment that is enhanced when he reads. Wishing to help, his wife, Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), seeks out the help of local speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) who makes it his goal to work with the new monarch and help him become the voice of England.

The King’s Speech is masterful, a rousing drama that is as captivating in the first frame as it is the last. I hesitate to label it a British period piece because I fear readers may immediately write it off as a bore, but don’t be fooled. This is as good a movie as has been released all year. It features dazzling cinematography, a wonderful screenplay that flows with the greatest of ease and three central performances that are all, in their own way, worthy of accolades. This is a multi-Oscar contender and whatever it wins, it deserves.

The eye-catching shot composition is the first thing you’ll notice as you sit through this wonderful movie. As some incredibly smart people once told me, every shot should tell a story and in that regard, The King’s Speech tells many great ones. The contrast between backgrounds that rest behind certain characters tells much about them. In one early scene, King George VI sits on a couch that is pushed against a wall that is seemingly old, dilapidated and unpleasant on the eye. Its decaying outer skin, however, is the only part you can see. You can’t see the steadfast support beams dutifully holding up the building. Just like that wall, people look at the new king and see only what he has on the outside, bumbling articulation and excessive anxiety. They don’t see the strong, passionate man underneath. It’s a striking metaphor and the movie is filled with them.

If there’s one complaint I can levy towards many films these days, it is for their superfluous nature, throwing scenes in where they are not needed. The King’s Speech avoids this issue entirely. Its pacing is pitch perfect and its nearly two hour long runtime goes by in the blink of an eye. While the scenes not involving the witty back and forth between King George VI and Lionel are less interesting by comparison, they’re still wholly compelling. Not a single one feels unnecessary or out of place.

Of course, even the greatest films have small problems, but any that existed in this one went under my radar until the very end. To say why would be spoiling it (though this is based on real events so you should know it already), so let’s just say that the fact that the country was about to head off to war seemed less important to the characters than the king’s diction, which caused some strange discomfort inside me.

But this story isn’t about the war; it's about the courage and determination of King George VI. It’s hard to fault it for picking a focus and staying on it because every facet of The King’s Speech is meticulously crafted. From the funniest of jokes to the soberest of drama, this is an all around marvelous movie. It may be set in the 30's, but it doesn't get bogged down in old timey rhetoric and even if you are someone who has yet to enjoy a period piece, I guarantee you’ll enjoy this one.

The King’s Speech receives 5/5

Friday
Mar052010

Alice in Wonderland

When director Tim Burton and Golden Globe award winner Johnny Depp team up for a film, the result is always magical. From 1990's Edward Scissorhands to the 2007 masterpiece Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the two have been more or less successful in every picture they've made together. Now uniting again for the seventh time, Depp and Burton have created an enchanting tale in Alice in Wonderland. Working more as a sequel to the title story (following the 1951 Disney animated feature closer than any other) rather than another iteration in itself, the film creates a fantastical world that feels alive and is brimming with imagination. It is a must see.

The film begins in the real world with Alice as a young girl (played by Mairi Ella Challen at this age). She tells her father that she thinks she's going mad because of a recurring dream she is having, but he tells her that some of the best people are mad. Flash forward thirteen years later and Alice is a young adult (played by Mia Wasikowska) and on her way to a party where she is asked for her hand in marriage by a gentleman she does not love. As he asks her, in front of seemingly hundreds of people no less, she spots a white rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) and she chases after it, only to fall down a hole into Wonderland. She quickly meets a colorful cast of characters including Tweedledee and Tweedledum (both played by Matt Lucas), Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), and of course, the Mad Hatter (played by Johnny Depp). She swears she's never been there before despite their insistence that she has. They believe she has come back to stop the evil Red Queen (played by Helena Bonham Carter) and take down her jabberwocky, a giant mythical beast, thus giving power of the land back to her sister, the kind White Queen (played by Anne Hathaway).

Alice in Wonderland is a timeless story and no matter whether you've read its source material, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," or seen one of the dozens of adaptations of it (including a 1976 porn version that, unfortunately, I've yet to get my hands on), you should be familiar with the gist of it, but you've never seen it like this. Alice's trip down the rabbit hole begins much like it usually does, with Alice growing taller and shrinking smaller before finally making it through the tiny door too little for her to crawl through, but Burton takes the rest of the film down a completely different path, one met with an unabashed amount of wonderment and a strong sense of peril, two things its previous Disney counterpart was missing.

That 1951 animated movie looked good, but was bogged down by poor musical numbers and a story that went nowhere. Alice's adventure never took a deeper meaning other than her desire to live in a more illusory world where she wouldn't succumb to boredom. This modern update--or more accurately labeled sequel--thankfully does more and you do feel like Alice has a purpose in this world. (Not to mention it does away with the singing.)

Still, I will admit that much like previous iterations, the story isn't as interesting as simply looking at the lush visuals on display. You may brush the story off as nonsense, but you'll still sit there in bewilderment at the film's artistry. It's bedazzling in a way that makes you feel like a kid again because the world you're looking at could only be realized by someone with a childlike sensibility, of which Burton, however dark it may be, has in spades. Every frame fills each corner of the screen with something remarkable to look at and the 3D makes it pop. The extra dimension gives added depth to an already stunning landscape, rarely resorting to the annoying things-flying-at-your-face gimmick too many 3D films employ.

Each character in the movie is wonderfully well rounded with distinct personalities and Burton juggles them perfectly, giving you enough time to meet and like (or hate) them. Depp, as great as an actor as he is, does not overpower the film because he's working with solid material (unlike Public Enemies where he was forced to work with mediocrity) and the actors around him do more than a capable job of playing against him. Wasikowska, who plays the titular character, does a particularly excellent job in her first starring role. I see big things on her horizon and much how Edward Scissorhands catapulted Depp into the spotlight, I expect Wasikowska to start gaining exposure after her star turn in this.

As better as this is when compared to the 1951 Disney animated version, it could have followed its footsteps in one regard. In that film, Alice quickly lands in Wonderland and when she finds her way out, the movie ends almost immediately. It never bothers with real world back story. This does a bit too much. I could have done without the real world affairs and found the whole engagement story to be a distraction. Although I like how she relates the people she knows in the real world to the zany creatures in Wonderland, it adds nothing in the way of depth.

That quibble aside, Alice in Wonderland is a real treat and will best be enjoyed by those still with the ability to dream and believe in the impossible.

Alice in Wonderland receives 4.5/5