As a children’s film, Kenneth Branaugh’s live action Cinderella is probably worth a visit for the high production values, lush sets, gorgeous costumes, and magical CGI. For adults, however, the movie offers nothing more than Disney’s take on the story from 1950 with no noteworthy changes that might offer a new perspective on the same old story.
Sure, the colors are vibrant, the scenery is gorgeous, and the stars are pleasant to look at in Zhang Zhiliang romantic wuxia epic…but why introduce a powerful kick-ass female lead if love is just going to drag her down?
Palace intrigue and bureaucratic reform in 15th Century Korea are deftly handled in The Face Reader. Kang-ho Song as always is fun to watch as the titular character, who winds his way from poverty and disgrace to the heights of power and back again. Director Jae-rim Han keeps the story simple enough for non-Korean audiences to follow this Korean period drama, which makes it a good introduction to the genre.
The comic book origins of the story are never more apparent than in the clashing final confrontation scenes of Secretly, Greatly, Chul-soo Jang’s action-comedy-drama about North Korean super spies. The different cinematic requirements of drama and action are kept in check until the final 20 minutes, when they stumble over each other, making for a relatively disappointing finish to an otherwise entertaining film.
If one could enjoy a movie for mood and setting alone, Inherent Vice may be the masterpiece of the year. It is America of of 1970 that director P.T. Anderson is laying out, that time of hazy drugs and confused meanings when the entire country seemed to have completely lost the post-war plot. That the rootlessness of the times overwhelms the characters is understandable, but at 2 1/2 hours, viewers may become restless at the meandering developments that always seem to be leading somewhere, but which never reach any specific conclusion.
Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner presents as close to a 360 view of a character as I think one can have on film without employing a cat scan. It is outstanding, if a bit long. I am not certain who is going to be nominated next month for best actor for the Academy Awards, but if Timothy Spall isn’t at least in the mix, I am not certain what an actor has to do to get there. I guess maybe he could talk more and grunt less, but my goodness, he takes to the role of the English painter JMW Turner with zeal.
The film is a domestic and social portrait of one of the pivotal artists in history during the last 25 years of his life. Turner kept sketchbooks but he was not a diarist, so we don’t have any deep insights into what he was thinking at any particular time. The movie is true to that mystery. The social scenes in the movie are probably drawn the letters and diaries of others who met him. But even without the deep psychological study, Leigh has produced one of the most advanced profiles of an artist and his times that I have seen.
The Imitation Game is framed as a story relayed by Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) to a detective (Rory Kinnear) to prove that he is human. I guess that would explain why the events presented in the bio-pic stray so far from actual events. Thinking machines can do many things, but deception, self-aggrandizement, and distortion aren’t among them just yet. When machines can take facts and think to themselves, “you know it would make a better story if we reordered them and maybe introduced a tragic flaw” then we will know that our days are numbered. Based on that standard, we’re safe or a few more decades. We want machines to solve problems that are too complex for us to solve, not machines that can do things we’re perfectly efficient performing. We can take comfort in the fact that we can still beat machines when it comes to story telling. But I am not so smug in my comfort as to let screenwriter Graham Moore and director Morten Tyldum off the hook for this parody of the life of Alan Turing.
There was a time when inserting an army into a film meant hiring and outfitting a large cast. CGI has made raising one no more costly than shooting any other scene, so our fantasy worlds have been filled with siege engines, legions, giant trolly things and whatnot for quite some time. Simple magic is no longer enough, and its existence in film has become tied to armies and epic saga, even in the fairy tales. Sure, we would like to update and recast these stories for modern times, but that hasn’t meant making them more psychologically challenging or complex. Instead that has meant Tolkienizing everything. Jack the Giant Slayer, Maleficent, Oz the Great and Powerful all have their pitched battle scenes. It’s not enough for Jack to get one giant mad at him any longer. We need thousands of giants wearing armor trying to take over the earth. I bring this up because I was very nervous after watching the trailer for Into the Woods, with its crumbling castle, that somehow, someone would think that in moving Sondheim’s musical modernization of Grimm to the screen, it would be a good idea to add a battery of trebuchets because they are cheap.
The setting for much of Tim Burton’s Big Eyes is late 1950’s early 1960s San Francisco. Bruno Delbonnel and supporting crew have done an excellent job capturing the city. I don’t think that period has been captured on film so splendidly since Vertigo. It is bright, incredibly hip, vibrant and cool at the same time and there are constant reminders that on a sunny day, there is probably no more gorgeous city on earth for a view of the world. I often found myself wondering where they found or created such pristine examples of 1950s storefronts and neighborhoods. I know a little of how the magic works, but I was impressed by the exterior vistas and the mid-century interiors of the movie. If Margaret and Walter Keane (Amy Adams and Christoph Walz) weren’t such a tense couple going through marital troubles, I probably would have wanted to move right in with them. Unfortunately, I seldom am willing to recommend a film based on technical production quality alone. I found the picture as a whole to be just so-so. There just isn’t enough of a story here to be interesting.