Did the world really need another remake of a classic, oft-told fairy tale? Apparently we did. I didn’t know it until I saw it, but I did. This one offers up convincing reasons for its existence, fitting itself into a uniquely shaped niche we didn’t know how desperately we wanted filled.
What is it: Live action but not Disney.
Who’s in it? Camila Cabello stars as Cinderella, but the entire cast is stacked: Idina Menzel as the wicked step mother; Pierce Brosnan as the King and Minnie Driver as his Queen; James Corden as the voice of one of Ella’s mouse friends; the venerable Billy Porter as the extra fabulous fairy godmother; and then there’s the lesser known but equally talented Nicholas Galitzine as the Prince. Well done all round.
What does it look like? While the exact time period is hard to pin down, costumer Ellen Mirojnick embraces the sumptuous silhouettes of the roughly Victoria era using rich fabrics and a bejeweled colour palette but she isn’t boxed in by them. Short hemlines and asymmetrical necklines are clearly anachronistic but who cares, everyone looks great, the mood is magical, the gowns sparkle, the choreography is light but on point. What’s not to love?
What does it sound like? Divine. Of course there’s the obligatory radio bop, an original song for the Cinderella soundtrack called Million To One, which we revisit if not repeatedly, then at least frequently. And there’s a couple of songs sung by the town crier that have to be written for the movie as they’re far too specific, referencing not just movie plot points but also random crowd activities. But many of the songs you’ll not only know, but I’m quite certain you’ll sing along to: the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, and perhaps the greatest needle drop in a decade, Salt-n-Pepa’s Whatta Man. Practically perfect in every way.
Who had the balls to make this thing? Kay Cannon of course, as both writer and director. This is only her second film (after Blockers), but she does have some bona fides producing the Pitch Perfect movies. She’s got an eye for style, a keen ear for talent, and she writes a script that actually makes Cinderella relevant again. This Cinderella is going to be content being a wife and princess. She wants more. She wants a career. She wants fulfillment. She wants more comfortable shoes.
Should you watch it? Absolutely, without reservations. This isn’t a major piece of cinema or a must-see blockbuster. It’s just a well-executed musical that’ll put a little lightness in your heart. And who doesn’t need that?
The Prom is a new movie on Netflix based on a Broadway musical of the same name about a handful of Broadway stars looking to clean up their image by taking on a random cause. The cause in question is a prom in Indiana that the PTA would rather cancel than allow a gay student to attend with her girlfriend. It’s a pretty gay musical that Ryan Murphy manages to make bigger, better, and gayer than ever, with boatloads of sequins and buckets of wigs, and the shiniest, sparkliest cast he could assemble.
Dee Dee (Meryl Streep) is a veteran stage actress, a Broadway phenom with a Tony in her purse and an outsized sense of entitlement. When we meet her, she’s starring in the opening night of Eleanor, a musical about Eleanor Roosevelt. Co-starring as FDR is Barry (James Corden), a Broadway mainstay who’s still chasing that first Tony, and hoping this might be it. Unfortunately, a bad review pretty much shuts them down on that first night, and someone has the temerity to point out that it’s not so much that the show is bad as that the two of them are so disliked. They’re narcissists, they’re told, though they’re not convinced that’s such a bad thing. But in the best interest of their careers, they decide to rehab their reputations by support a cause (a cause celebre, they specify) along with Broadway actor “between gigs” Trent (Andrew Rannells) and inveterate chorus girl Angie (Nicole Kidman), who ride the next bus out of town toward homophobic Indiana.
Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman) is the sweet teenage girl who just wants to take her girlfriend to prom. Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) is her closeted girlfriend and the daughter of Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington), the “homosexual prom’s” #1 opponent. Principal Tom (Keegan-Michael Key) does what he can to mitigate the damage but he’s pretty powerless with so much opposition. Plus, now he’s start struck on top of everything else – he’s Dee Dee’s biggest fan.
As our Broadway do-gooders get to know Emma and her situation, what started out as a charitable act of self-interest turns into something a little more genuine, although the unironic, attention-hogging performance of It’s Not About Me had its charms. Both the songs and the film are uneven, but they’re also so much fun, who cares? I didn’t particularly buy Nicole Kidman as a mere chorus girl either, but do you hear me complaining? No. Because singing and dancing have put so much joy in my heart I should feel ashamed to ask for anything more.
The Prom is not a great movie, but it is boisterous, glittery good fun, full of beautiful costumes, beautiful voices, and a totally stacked cast. Ryan Murphy doesn’t do subtle, but he does have an eye for a fantastic musical number and this movie has north of a dozen. Though the feeling may be flitting, you can’t help but feel good while watching it, and what a perfect way to spend an evening near the holidays. The Prom is pure indulgence – tacky, campy, cheesy, and unforgivably feel-good. So feel it.
I knew Cats was bad. It was unanimous and what on this big blue planet is ever unanimous? People love or they hate Rise of Skywalker. They love or they hate The Witcher. They love or they hate Henry Cavill. They love or they hate Popeye’s spicy chicken sandwich. But Cats has united us, just in time for the holidays: everybody hates Cats.
I’ve never seen Cats the musical because in my house growing up, cats (little c) were verboten. My mother was viciously attacked by one as a child and held a deep-seated fear. Although I’m not afraid of them, I’m extremely cautious and skeptical of them. Being very firmly a dog person, I’ve never seen the appeal of a cat: they’re not friendly or loving. It’s not just that they don’t return your affections, they spurn them. Sean, however, grew up in a cat house. And a Cats house as his entire family took in the show when he was a boy, although I dare say they missed the point as they named one of their cats Macavity even though he’s the villain (and all this time I thought they were being clever because Sean’s dad was a dentist. nope) and another Mistoffelees even though their cat was female whereas the Cats cat goes by Mister.
Anyway, we both knew Cats was going to be bad but I thought it might be funny-bad or entertainingly bad or even meme-able bad. Instead I just prayed for a sudden and nasty plague of feline AIDS and tried not to audibly gasp when the movie was once again not over but churning into yet another song about the exact same thing.
The movie (and very likely the show, but I haven’t seen it) is about a “group” of cats called the Jellicles. I don’t know why they’re a group or why they needed to name their group. Are they a gang? A mafia family? Do they commit hate crimes together?
One night a year they all get together to participate in a Suicide Pageant. They each sing a song, and judge Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) decides which one will die. Naturally I assumed Old Deuteronomy was the villain of the film, but not so. Apparently it’s a real honour to be chosen for cat-on-cat euthanasia; all the cats talk about ascending over to the Heaviside Layer like it’s the greatest thing. Which I suppose confirms what I’ve always believed about cats: they’re a miserable bunch, angry at life itself, waiting impatiently for it all to end. Which also describes a Cats audience.
Victoria, the lead cat, newly abandoned and adopted by the Jellicles, undergoes some pretty ambitious white-washing considering its actors are covered in fur. Francesca Hayward, the ballerina who plays her, is Kenyan-born and black, but you wouldn’t know it or even guess it to look at her cat. Although I suppose that’s a fairly minor insult compared to how dirty they did Jennifer Hudson, who plays Grizabella. Grizabella is a down-on-her-luck cat roundly rejected by the asshole Jellicles and by Cats director Tom Hooper who knows she’s a star but decides to bury her in a mound of garbage. Grizabella looks inexplicably terrible, which is particularly sad because when Hudson sings that one Cats song everyone knows (Memory, and damn right she sings it twice), it’s the only time the audience willingly faces the screen. But Hudson is so moved by the lyrics, she’s constantly got lines of snot running from her nose to her mouth, glistening in the movie lights, making sure we gag to the fullest extent of the law. Considering how much money was spent to digitally alter away any trace of male “bulge” you’d think a CGI swipe or two under her nose would have been wise, but no.
Cats is 7 hours long, so maybe think about bringing some knitting or a crossword or a roast beef with you to the theatre. Technically the run time is just under two hours and that’s all that will have passed outside the theatre. But inside it’s a marathon shit show. As I said before, the Cats story takes place over one fateful evening, a time conceit which usually gives a film a nice sense of urgency but in this case it feels like the movie never goes anywhere. We just stand in one spot singing about the same thing over and over until somebody dies. Literally! And there’s a slideshow of celebrity cameos – Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, Ian McKellan – who show up for a song and then disappear again into the night, perhaps to form their own real-life career suicide club for having appeared in 2019’s biggest flop.
And Cats had that distinction before it was even in theatres; even the trailer creeped people out. The cats are weird human-cat hybrid. Human faces and human hands poke out of fur and CGI ears and tails twitch as though they have a life of their own. Everything in the movie is scaled up so the cats appear…well, not quite cat-sized but definitely weird. Everything about this movie is off, never mind the fact that they walk on two feet, except when they don’t. And they’re all naked and barefoot except when they’re not. A couple of them wear sneakers, one wears pants, another a sparkly jacket. Rebel Wilson’s Jennyanydots unzips her fur to reveal another fur pelt wearing a jazzy ensemble…that she’s kept hidden under her skin this whole time? Doesn’t that get hot?
Cats’ greatest sin is of course that it’s boring. It’s got one memorable song and a bunch of filler. The numbers are repetitive. The dancing is a big yawn. Cats, making its London debut in 1981, needed some updating. Perhaps the kindest thing would have been to lose the ballet in favour of something a little more modern. Nobody wants a musical overstuffed with songs that drag without moving the plot forward coupled with dance that struggles to connect with anything current or relevant.
People have hated this movie so universally that director Tom Hooper re-edited it furiously, and a new cut, with yet more CGI effects, is being rushed to theatres as we speak. But unless Star Wars is sold out, you won’t be seeing it, right? Because you value your time and money? And because Cats sits in your belly like a hairball you can’t wait to go home and hack up.
p.s. Since the only good thing about the movie is Jennifer Hudson’s 4 minutes, here she is for free on Youtube singing Memory:
Shocking information of the day: Smallfoot is actually quite charming.
Also shocking: I heard Milli Vanilli on the radio this morning. Unironic, unabashed Milli Vanilli from start to finish. Girl you know it’s true. I told Matt, of course, which obligated us to watch all their (3) videos and tumble down the rabbit hole of shoulder pads and dance moves. Which had us thinking about all our favourite cheesy 90s music, and that moment we discovered what sampling was (looking at you, Will Smith) and that embarrassing time in my life when I’d hear the opening beat and pray to Zeus that it was about to be Vanilla Ice and not that annoying song by Queen & Bowie. Can you imagine? Even being 6 doesn’t excuse that level of ignorance.
But back to the movie.
Migo is a BIGfoot, a happy-go-lucky guy, excited to be the next gong ringer in his bigfoot village above the clouds at the top of the mountain. They’re a rule-abiding, no-question-asking society until one day Migo (Channing Tatum) sees a plane crash (“flying thingie”) and a human (“smallfoot”) tumble out, and all the things he believed to be true were called into question. The Stonekeeper (Common) wears a robe that’s inscribed with all the village laws, and the robe says Smallfoots don’t exist. For once in his life, Migo disobeys the stone laws and gets cast out of town for sticking to his guns. Only the village crackpots\conspiracy theorists believe him, but they turn out to have a beautiful leader, Meechee (Zendaya), so Migo is persuaded to jump either to his death or his edification on behalf of the Smallfoot Evidentiary Society, over the mountain and through the clouds. Down, down he goes. He falls so far he can’t sustain his scream; it falters so he can rest his voice.
Below, he finds the Smallfoot (James Corden) but would you believe that only gets him in a whole whack of trouble?
Smallfoot has some delightful animation. Dozens of Bigfoots mean millions of hairs to animate, but they add up to a metric fucktonne of cuteness. There are some pretty good songs too – the first two numbers are poppy and catchy, the numbers choreographed with maximum fun. They burst with happiness. And then a third song. The opening beat…sounds familiar. Wait, is this about to be Ice Ice Baby, or Under Pressure? You’re wrong either way. James Corden changes up the lyrics so that fans of both are equally appeased\disappointed. But even when the musical numbers dissipate, the action and the story hold up. Our no-nosed yeti friends are a lot of fun, even if they have to learn some hard lessons about truth and who exactly it protects.
Smallfoot makes us wait longer than usual for the requisite fart joke, and it has some beautiful messaging integral to its story. Common tells us “the only thing stronger than fear is curiosity.” Once that curiosity is unleashed, the Bigfoots learn to put a dicey past behind them and overcome their fear to take care of each other despite their differences. I had no expectations for the movie Smallfoot which perhaps made it even sweeter when it turned out to be cute and funny and nearly everything you’d want from a kids movie – plus or minus a few pooping yak jokes.
I’m not a Peter Rabbit purist and I don’t much care that the movie deviates conclusively from Beatrix Potter’s beloved children’s series. I do care, however, that this movie was 90% montage, more the sort of Youtube video my 6 year old nephew might put together than an actual movie made by an actual studio. The soundtrack must be in the neighbourhood of an astounding 37 discs, although who would buy them is a bit of a mystery. Most songs featured are older than the audience will be, lots even born in the previous century. And I realize that Galaxy of the Guardians banks on exactly this formula, and we can sit here and debate just how much the 80s deserve to be revered, but I’m nearly 110% certain that no one will be on the “pro” side of the same debate in honour of Len’s Steal My Sunshine, which cannot be forgotten soon enough and certainly didn’t need a Peter Rabbit remix.
Peter Rabbit and his friends are delightfully rendered in CGI, very sweet and cute looking, with just enough clothing to anthropomorphize but never enough to be very confident something rude’s not going on. But don’t let their looks deceive you: these bunnies are homicidal. They’re ruthless and entitled and they’re pretty shitty neighbours, to be honest. I mean, they have a whole forest they could forage for food, but instead they repeatedly pillage a garden lovingly tended by an old man mourning the death of his beloved wife. And they don’t just want to steal his cucumbers, they want him dead (although where would the garden be without a gardener, huh, bunnies, did you even stop to think of that?). No, the bunnies, who are obviously thoughtless millennials in this incarnation, only think of themselves, and their stealing is somehow justified.
And not to shock you, but they actually do succeed in killing old man McGregor – only to find that his nephew, who inherits the place, is much worse. So they set about murdering him too. Sure, they mistakenly bring a tomato to a dynamite fight once, but the rest of the time they aim to kill. Sean was pretty shocked when they knowingly choke the guy with food he’s known to be deathly allergic to. Too far, he thought, and yet this was only one small battle in a very long war savagely fought. These are no innocent rabbits. Of course, sweet Bea next door is appalled that anyone should deny her fluffy-tailed friends all the produce they can eat and waste, but not so appalled, I noticed, that she would bother to plant a garden herself. But of course, the rabbits aren’t stealing out of hunger, they’re doing it out of spite, and though it’s played incessantly for laughs, I just don’t know why we need these kinds of stakes in a kids’ movie.
To me, the children’s books were warm and gentle and sweet and the movie seems to strive to be the complete opposite: rude and obnoxious and totally devoid of charm.
I spent time this Christmas with three of my nephews, ages 2, 3, and 5. The gifts that Santa left them underneath the Christmas tree looked awfully familiar: there were Ghostbusters, Ninja Turtles, Popples, and Transformers. One toy that I never could have predicted a resurgence for though, were trolls. Trolls were ugly little dolls that were pushed as collectibles for kids but were mostly popular with the blue-haired Bingo ladies, who would stroke their hair for luck before daubing the shit out of their cards. But for some reason Dreamworks thought it appropriate to give these guys another crack at glory (they’ve popped up in almost every decade since they were created in 1959) and they spent six years putting out this mediocre movie.
At first I thought it was as harmless as Sing, a movie that doesn’t exactly break new ground, but has lots of catchy songs and cute, cuddly characters. Trolls is the same, until it isn’t. They live in a magical forest where they sing and dance and hug all day. Sure they have enemies who’d like to eat them, but they escaped the mean Bergen long ago, and what’s the use of dwelling on the past, right? Well, just ask the Bergen, who can only feel happiness by eating a troll. They’re pretty motivated to find those little freaky-haired fuckers and throw a feast to end all feasts. Finger licking genocide!
A particularly raucous, glitter-fueled party alerts the Bergen to the trolls’ location and the head Bergen chef makes off with a fanny pack full of trolls. Their princess, Poppy (Anna Kendrick), feels responsible (because she is) and embarks on a rescue mission with only Branch (Justin Timberlake), the grumpy troll with a dark back story, for help. But when they scale the walls of Bergentown, the movie suddenly turns on its head.
Trolls rescue mission movie basically aborted. Now we’re talking Cinderella, except in our case it’s a Bergen scullery maid named Bridget (Zooey Deschanel), who is in love with King Gristle Jr (Christopher Mintz Plasse). Was Poppy supposed to save her friends from being eaten? Sure, “technically.” What, is that some sort of emergency? Some sort of priority? Can’t Poppy take a break to attend a roller disco if she wants? Jeez guys, you can’t expect her to be a slave for her loyal friends and subjects, whose lives she endangered.
Anyway, I lost track of the plot right around then, but they sang and danced their way toward a happy ending, rest assured. The biggest takeaway from this film was of course Justin Timberlake’s irrepressibly happy song, Can’t Stop The Feeling! My 5 year old nephew claims this as his jam so when it played in the movie he couldn’t help but dance in the aisle.
Which is the only reason I really need to like this movie. Luckily, they have several 5 minute music videos that accomplish as much without all the glittery poop. This song is up for a Golden Globe tonight, up against this song from Moana, which is so infectiously singable, I can’t imagine which will win.
Unless it’s this one (by Stevie Wonder!) from Sing, or the Gold one by Iggy Pop and Danger Mouse that I’ve never heard…
Or, you know, City of Stars, from the La La Land soundtrack, which is just a bit of audible magic. What’s got your vote?
Maggie Smith’s Ms. Shepherd is “NOT a beggar!” although you could hardly blame someone for assuming so – she’s dirty, she lives in a derelict van, and her “self-employment” appears to consist of chalk art on the street, and selling pencils. That van of hers is a neighbourhood nuisance; the people live in fear of when she might exercise her “Christian parking” principles beside their little bit of curb.
Alan Bennett wrote the screenplay,and is also a character in the movie, portrayed by the excellent Alex Jennings. This is based on a mostly true story. This woman, who elicited both sympathy and revulsion in her “neighbours”, was a nutshell that fascinated and
inspired both Alan’s decency, and his creativity, when he moved into Camden in the 1970s.
Bennett is moved to have the mysterious lady in the van move into his driveway to keep her legal, though her obstinacy insists it is she doing the favour for him. She is most ungrateful but Bennett cares for her as best he can (and “caring” he intones, “is about shit”), always battling internally over what’s right and what’s right for him. Bennett-the-screenwriter isn’t shy about telling us what really happened, and what just makes for a nicer story. In fact, Bennett has conveniently split himself in two, the one who goes out and lives, and the one who stays home and writes.
The lady in the van lived outside Bennett’s home for two decades, a noble vagabond in greasy rags, living inside a grubby vehicle – one so convincing that the cast and director turned up one Monday morning to find that real homeless people had broken into it and spent the weekend inside, making use of it as two people might (the van’s contents had to be deep-cleaned before they could be made suitably grimy again for production). They filmed in the very driveway of the very home where Bennett lived at the time.
Smith’s performance is vital and infuriatingly nuanced. You haven’t seen Dame Smith like this before. This film is a feather in her already-decorated cap: not to be missed.
Based on the Stephen Sondheim musical, Into the Woods tells the story of a childless baker and his wife, cursed by a wicked witch to be barren forever but granted the chance to reverse the spell, if only they go into the woods to retrieve some special items for her. Their story intersects with the familiar Grimm Brothers’ tales of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel.
Meryl Streep plays the witch and plays her beautifully. Director Rob Marshall knows she’s the linchpin and grants her the most spectacular entrances and exits. But it’s Emily Blunt in the role of the baker’s wife who feels like the heart of the movie and Blunt really shines. She can make any line sound so natural, and her voice can only surprise you in the best way possible. She was nominated for a Golden Globe and deserves to be, possibly even more so that Streep (!). Anna Kendrick as Cinderella is comparatively disappointing. It’s always difficult for this reviewer to see past her donkey dentures, but her voice is up to the challenge, even I can admit that. But Cinderella just isn’t that exciting to watch (this problem was likely compounded by the inclusion of a preview for the new live-action Cinderella movie to be released in 2015 – my sister and I wrongly imagined some of those scenes as scenes from Into the Woods).
“I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”
There is a lot to recommend in this movie. The ensemble cast is spectacular. After their opening number, “Into the Woods” I felt like I should applaud. And if you had doubts that Chris Pine could sing, let me assure you that he’s learned more than just a thing or two from Shatner along the way. Actually, our group quite enjoyed the scene between Pine’s Prince Charming (recycling his smug asshole look from Horrible Bosses 2) and Rapunzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen, leatherclad) – the two men are singing about their respective woman-induced “Agony”, splashing about homoerotically in a waterfall, trying to out-macho each other, crotch-thursting, popping buttons to reveal increasingly deep vees of smooth, tanned chests, reminding us more of a duet between George Michael and Freddie Mercury than your typical fairy-tale princes. Delightfully tongue-in-cheek, you almost wished more of the movie could feel this way.
The sets are gorgeous, and no matter how many times our characters go into the woods, it never feels like they’re passing the same 5 trees, it’s a truly enchanted forest that creates a storybook look that’s fun to get lost in. And the fabulous Colleen Atwood heightens the visual gorging with a stunning array of costumes, including a suit that transforms a man into a mister wolf. Johnny Depp, playing the wolf, is lurking inside those woods, looking lupine and oily, putting out vibes that should warn us away. Although top-billed, Depp’s in the movie for maybe 5 minutes, but that’s more than enough to turn things pretty sour. How do I say this…I felt like I picked up on certain nuances in his song that I was uncomfortable with. As in: sexual innuendo. As in: the wolf would like to “eat” Little Red Riding Hood in more than one way. He’s an absolute creepster with a real pedophile’s mustache and his singing “Hello, Little Girl” will send shivers up your spine. He tells us there’s a “scrumptious carnality” about to be had, and maybe that works in the Broadway production, but it feels grossly inappropriate in this toned-down Disney version where the actress playing Red is indeed a little girl, much too young to be on the receiving end of this lascivious song. And when she starts responding that what they’re doing is new and scary but also kind of exciting, well…I wanted to slam on the brakes.
The characters wrap up their traditional story lines around the 80 minute mark – but wait! These poor schmucks don’t get their happily-ever-afters. The story continues. And I’m glad that the movie doesn’t end on Cinderella’s wedding day because I would have felt cheated. But 80 minutes of singing and skipping through the woods was about as much as I wanted. So the remaining third of the movie, which gets a hell of a lot darker, felt entirely too much. Streep delivers another great song but I was fed up with the inundation of special effects, my patience was waning, and it just felt like filler. My sister felt that since all the characters start (or continue) making selfish, morally ambiguous choices, she didn’t have anyone to pull for. She’s not wrong. My husband felt that the songs were not particularly catchy or memorable, and he’s not wrong either. I enjoyed the movie, enjoyed it quite a bit, it would be impossible not to given the sheer amount of talent (although I am wondering why all of that talent had to be white), but I’m not feeling it for Best Picture this year. Of course, I’m sure I said the same about Rob Marshall’s Chicago and we all know how that went.