Movie Review: Cinderella

Lily James and Richard Madden in Kenneth Branagh's live-action rendition of "Cinderella"

Lily James and Richard Madden in Kenneth Branagh’s live-action rendition of “Cinderella”

Since 2010, with the release of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Disney is remaking their classic films for the new generation. But, they don’t quite live up to their original source material. Last year’s Maleficent was a prime example losing of its focus. Even though it wasn’t bad, not to mention Angelina Jolie’s devilishly evil performance as the title role, it didn’t live up to the hype. Now in 2015, we get a new live-action rendition of the 1950 Disney classic Cinderella. What a delightful surprise! Director Kenneth Branagh (Thor) and screenwriter Chris Weitz capture the fairy tale with a few twists while keeping it old-fashioned and beautiful without overstuffing with CGI effects.

Because I hardly remember the Disney version (I might have seen it when I was really little), doesn’t mean I’m not familiar with the story. Following the death of her parents (Hayley Atwell and Ben Chaplin), Ella (Lily James, Downton Abbey) is forced to live with her evil stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and her stepsisters Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger). She endures the abuse from them (not to mention giving the name Cinderella) and she spends most of her time doing her chores around the house. She starts to lose hope until Kit, a prince (Richard Madden, Game of Thrones), announces to the public that he is holding a ball at his palace so he can have an ideal mate. This gives Cinderella the opportunity to meet the love of her dreams and fall in love. She loses her glass slipper at the palace, and…you know what happens next.

I didn’t expect Cinderella to be something spectacular. It’s not like Snow White and the Huntsman or Maleficent where it’s a much darker take on the source material. This is a much more faithful take on a whimsically beloved fairy tale. The cinematography is simply gorgeous, and the sets and costumes are ravishing. With a gifted cast including Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter (genuinely amusing as the Fairy Godmother), I cannot picture a better actress to play Cinderella other than Lily James. Not only is she drop-dead gorgeous, she also gives a lot of heart from the very beginning. A lot of people have been wondering if her waist was computer-generated while wearing the dress. Because the skirt is so big, her waist is actually that small. Lily James had to have a diet in order to fit in that dress. Gosh, does it look so good on her!?

Featuring a wonderful score by Patrick Doyle, Cinderella perfectly blends wit and emotion with the theme, as said by Cinderella’s mother early in the film, “Have courage and be kind.” This is the first great movie of 2015.

4/4

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Movie Review: Chappie

Chappie is hanging out with the wrong group in Neill Blomkamp's latest.

Chappie is hanging out with the wrong group in Neill Blomkamp’s latest.

In 2009, South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp got international fame with District 9. It was a different take on the sci-fi genre. It cost around $30 million, and it got nominated for Best Picture, but lost to The Hurt Locker. Four years later, he made the mildly disastrous Elysium. Even though there were great ideas about the futuristic society and a solid performance by Matt Damon, it didn’t make up for its underdeveloped script, choppy action, and wasted talent from a gifted cast. Not to mention Jodie Foster’s awful performance and Sharlto Copley playing one of the most over-the-top villains I’ve ever seen. Now, Blomkamp has created his new disaster with Chappie. He comes up with some great ideas concerning humanity, but this is a wasted opportunity.

In the not-too-distant future, crime in Johannesburg, South Africa is at an all-time high. The government has come up with a solution: making a robot police force. Engineers have started making their own line of droids leading to the success. One day, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) creates an AI that can have the ability to feel and think like humans. As he is about to test his new creation, a group of gangsters, led by Ninja and Yolandi (from the South African hip-hop group Die Antwoord), steal the droid from Deon. They become the “parents” of the droid who is given the name “Chappie”. Yolandi teaches him how to speak, but Ninja teaches him how to become violent, and become involved in his heists.

Meanwhile, Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) realizes Chappie is a threat to humanity. He decides to shut him down with his creation, the MOOSE. This leads to an action climax as obnoxiously derivative as the rest of the movie.

For a move that costs $50 million, Chappie has a good use of visual effects. There is a possibility that Sharlto Copley would become the next Andy Serkis. He does excellent work bringing the mannerisms of the title character to life. If you make a movie that the audience doesn’t care about the characters whatsoever, there is definitely a problem. Not only that, the characters also come out as unlikeable. Not even with Hugh Jackman’s mullet makes his evil presence look startling, especially when he causes chaos throughout Johannesburg by shutting down every droid in one cringe-worthy scene. The two members of Die Antwoord, who are talented artists, are overplayed to the point where I almost had a headache. With a lot of talent from the cast wasted, the movie goes all over the place.

There are points in Chappie in which it seems to rip-off other sci-fi films. For instance, there is a subplot similar to E.T. involving a helmet that can be used to transfer someone’s consciousness to a robot. This is one of the most unpleasant movie-going experience I’ve ever had. I’m glad it’s over.

I hope Neill Blomkamp does something different after rebooting the Alien franchise.

1/4

Movie Review: Focus

Will Smith is about to pull his big con in "Focus", the latest from the creators of "Crazy, Stupid, Love."

Will Smith is about to pull his big con in “Focus”, the latest “rom-com-con” movie from Glenn Ficara and John Requa, the creators of “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”

In 2007, Entertainment Weekly listed Will Smith as one of the smartest celebrities in Hollywood.¬†From The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to Independence Day to Men in Black, how can anyone not love this guy? He’s one of those actors who can be really funny at one point, and very charming the next. In his latest film, Focus, he plays Nicky Spurgeon, a veteran con artist (a perfect role for him) who teaches an amateur Jess (the lovely Margot Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street) the art of conning. They go from New Orleans to Buenos Aires to pull their cons. They quickly become attracted to each other, but there is a problem: Are they really in love or is their relationship part of the con?

Nicky’s scheme is about to become dangerous than he actually thought.

Despite losing its steam near the end and the formulaic story, Focus is a good little film that is funny, steamy, and tense. Will Smith and Margot Robbie have great chemistry together. And it’s fun to watch them pull these cons, especially in one insane scene during a football game at the Superdome in New Orleans. There are enough twists and turns and exquisite cinematography to carry through. Focus might not become a classic, but I’m glad I saw it.

3/4