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?
I will give it this: it is the funniest comedy of 2020. Is it (so far) the only comedy of 2020? Basically yes. But as this movie teaches us: sometimes you win just by showing up.
Lars (Will Farrell) has been obsessed with Eurovision since he was a little boy.
[For us non-Europeans, a crash course in Eurovision Song Contest, which is a real thing: it’s an annual international song competition, held every year since 1956, with participants from many of the 50 eligible countries (confusingly, some eligible countries are not European, and one, Scotland, is not even a country). Like the Olympics, each country holds internal trials and sends their best delegation to the competition, where an original song is to be performed on live TV and radio. Then people vote on their favourite. Countries cannot vote for themselves; each country awards two sets of points, one set decided by a panel of music industry experts, and the second decided by viewers voting by phone and text. Occasionally the winner achieves success outside of the broadcast area; Abba won for Sweden and Celine Dion won for Switzerland *record scratch* wait, what? That’s right: for some reason you don’t have to be from the country you’re representing. Some people compete multiple times by singing for different countries. Dion, who is ours (Canadian), was a good horse to bet on, but it does smack of cheating. Although, to be fair, so does every other thing about the contest. Russia won’t vote for queer performers and China won’t even show them. Jordan won’t show Israeli entries because they don’t recognize it as a country, and neither does Lebanon. And it seems that neighbouring countries tend to vote for each other; geographical and even political alliances pop up, and reciprocal votes are exchanged. You could even allocate points to an unpopular performance in order to boost your own relative success. 2020 was to be the show’s 65th anniversary, with this film’s release set to coincide with it. Alas, COVID has other plans, and for the first time, the contest was cancelled)]
Back to Lars (Will Ferrell), a little Icelandic boy who fell in love with Eurovision the day he first heard Abba sing Waterloo, much to his father’s disapproval. Many, many years later, Lars is now a middle-aged man but his dream is the same. His father’s (Pierce Brosnan) stance hasn’t changed, if anything, he’s more critical of his son’s “wasted life.” But his Fire Saga bandmate Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) has more than enough enthusiasm and encouragement to go around, and in their own heads, they’re already stars (the local pub tells an entirely different story, interrupting their original music to request Ja Ja Ding Dong, a silly but exceedingly catchy piece of shit – think of it as Iceland’s Chicken Dance). They’ll never get sent to compete on Eurovision on their own merits, but luckily the elves are on their side and something happens to tie up literally every other singer-songwriter in the country.
Off to Scotland they go: cue some fish out of water humour, some anti-American jabs, an oversexed Russian (Dan Stevens), and some pretty bizarre on-stage theatrics (which apparently are also a real thing – it’s a visual medium, and performers do their utmost to stand out). Iceland is basically the laughing stock of Eurovision.
This is the movie Will Ferrell was born to write. Scratch that: it’s the movie his wife was born for him to write (She’s Swedish – her family introduced him to the contest and he’s followed it rather ardently since 1999). That’s a pretty serious investment. He planted those comedy crops last century – does he harvest the rewards in this movie? Well, not exactly. His family won’t starve to death, but it’s a meager little crop, and a little mealy to boot. Sean thought it was pretty fun, and I won’t deny the film does have its merits. Will Ferrell is a larger than life comedian. His bits are always big so they either fail big or they win big, and with a 2 hour run time, the premise doesn’t quite have enough steam to keep paying out. Still, considering it’s on Netflix, your risk is small. If you’d paid to see this in a theatre, you’d probably leave feeling disappointed, but it’s just good enough for a Netflix view.
This is the second collaboration between director David Dobkin and stars Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams. They had no scenes together in Wedding Crashers, in fact Ferrell had a pretty small part, but it was a wildly and unexpectedly successful movie. Perhaps Will Ferrell in small doses is the key here, and it’s one that’s definitely lacking in this prohibitively-long-titled movie. As troubling is his character is, we’re doomed to follow him around through all his lows and lowers. Rachel McAdams is basically inoffensive. She’s not exactly known for her comedic chops, so she provides an earnest counterpoint to Ferrell’s hammy, over-the-top antics. It’s not a match made in heaven. It’s not even a great match for Iceland, whose couplings tend to be a touch inbred. But like the proud and wonderful Icelandic people, this movie is unabashedly, embracingly weird. And like Iceland’s relationship with Europe, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is not the best that Netflix has to offer, but occasionally it surprises you.
Well it’s 5 years later and these jerks are ready to go again. I mean, it’s been 10 years since the last movie was released, but it’s been 5 movie years, and the gang’s all here, except not.
Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has refurbished her mother’s Greek hotel, finally. Too bad her husband Sky (no I cannot believe that’s his actual name) (Dominic Cooper) isn’t around to see it. Is there trouble in paradise?
No matter. She’s planning a huge party to unveil the new space. Everyone’s invited: the three dads (Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard), Mom’s best friends (Christine Baranski, Julie Walters) – even Grandma (Cher)! But because one party full of old people is pretty lame (could someone tell Sophie that?), the movie is 80% flashback. Meryl Streep’s character is now played by the lush and nubile Lily James, and we get to watch her have all the unprotected, close together sex with three different men (at least!) alluded to in the first movie, which resulted in all the daddy confusion.
If you liked the first movie, you’ll probably find it in your heart to like this one. If you like ABBA but not their overplayed radio hits, which all sound the same, you’re going to love this sequel, which contains all the songs that were too shitty to make the first cut, plus a couple of weak recreations of the title song, which they just can’t get enough of. Plus, who doesn’t love the spangly, bell-bottomed costumes that go along with it? This second movie is even more contrived than the first, amounting to a less satisfying story. Basically, you’ve got a handful of unknown ABBA songs from deep in the back catalogue, and you’ve got to contort the script to make them fit (see ‘Waterloo’ for an excellent example of this).
Everyone else in the world has been swept away by the sheer joy of a second ABBA musical while I’m still not over the first. Call me grumpy cat – I don’t get the appeal.
I love Meryl Streep, and I love her in this. Sean sort of threatened me with re-watching the entire Mission: Impossible franchise in order to “prep” for its 67th installment, so I said: not until you watch Mamma Mia first. Because of course he hasn’t seen it.
Immediately he notices that this is the free-est we’ve ever seen The Streep, and it’s not just the dancing and prancing about. “Unhinged” is what he calls her, but I see it too. She’s fluid and feminine and it makes me realize how comparatively locked down she is in her other roles – even in Ricki and the Flash, which was so terrible you’d at least hope she had fun making it.
The second thing he notices is Preacher. This has just ruined Preacher for Sean. Dominic Cooper is 100% lame in this movie, there’s no getting around it. He plays Amanda Seyfried’s love interest, and Meryl’s soon to be son-in-law, but mostly just a floppy-haired wanker who can’t wipe that shit-eating grin off his face. And Preacher NEVER grins. His character’s name is Sky so it’s official: twat.
Now, Sean is very comfortable in his manhood and he doesn’t hate on musicals as a genre, but ABBA isn’t exactly his bag – although come to find out, it’s a little more his bag than mine (Columbia House sent him a CD once, so he knows that some of the songs are different from some of the other songs, whereas I think they’re basically indistinguishable). Still, he’s a little concerned when they seem to have exhausted the entire ABBA repertoire and the movie’s not half done. Don’t worry, I tell him, they repeat. Not that that’s much comfort. And it doesn’t leave a lot for the sequel, although eagle-eyed Sean did spot a character in the sequel named Fernando (Andy Garcia) (though that song’s about war, and seems hard to place…not that that stopped them using a song about divorce in a wedding scene).
This movie’s 10 years old, and watching it all this time later, I can tell I wanted to like this movie because besides Meryl, I also adore Pierce and Brosnan, but man this is junk. The plot is structured around ABBA songs, so the best they could come up with is that Meryl’s daughter is getting married at their hotel\home in beautiful Greece, and she’s invited three former flames of her mother’s, all possibly her father. Awkward! The director, Phyllida Lloyd, is probably a talented lady, but she’s mostly a theatre director, and you can tell how married she was to the Broadway musical version of this. The acting all feels hammy, the gestures over-the-top, exaggerated for those in the cheap seats. The scenery is beautiful and it’s obvious they shot on location, but that realism makes the theatricality feel cheesy and out of place.
It took this rewatch to realize I really don’t care for this movie, and I’m certainly not anticipating its unnecessary sequel. And it makes Sean a bit nervous to note how little Meryl is featured in its trailer…and the fact that the movie seems to largely focus on a younger version of her character (played by Lily James) does not bode well. If even Meryl didn’t care to revisit Mamma Mia, why the hell should we?
When Richard’s company gets bought out by a bigger company, he and his colleagues see their retirement fund disappear overnight. With the prospect of not being able to support his daughter just off to college, Richard (Pierce Brosnan) and his ex-wife, Kate (Emma Thompson) appeal to the young new director who – surprise! – doesn’t give a shit. So they hatch a little plan to steal their money back in the form of the very large diamond lately dangling from his fiancee’s neck.
Richard and Kate, who haven’t spoken much in years, now find themselves travelling to France together to the perfect cover to their crime: the high-society wedding between the director and his blushing bride. Kate gets relegated to some hen party high-jinks while Richard naps, but her intel is good: a foursome from Texas, business partners the director has not yet met in person, are expected to attend. All they need are two more accomplices. So they call up their good suburban neighbours Pen (Celia Imrie) and Jerry (Timothy Spall) who are for some reason pretty game to join in this merry heist.
Then follow the obligatory jokes about retirement-aged folks planning the perfect crime: weak bladders, low endurance, the need for naps, har har har. If you’ve always wanted to see Emma Thompson in Dallas-era hair and a twangy accent, this is your chance. A couple of James Bond references make the movie a little cheeky and the talent between the four leads means an awful lot of charisma. Emma Thompson shines in everything. But this material is beneath her, beneath them all and they can’t save a clunky, predictable scrip that is frankly a little insulting to anyone over the age of 60. And that’s too bad because I really enjoyed director Joel Hopkins’ Last Chance Harvey, also starring Thompson and Dustin Hoffman who enjoy a late-in-life romance. Watch that one instead.
No Escape: Owen Wilson plays a father who is sent overseas to an unnamed Asian country (the “fourth-world according to fake-wife Lake Bell) to help build their waterworks. Of course, his family’s arrival coincides terribly with a coup within this country, and an uprising of the people, particularly against foreigners who have taken over – you got it, their waterworks. So Owen Wilson has to call on reserves of badassery he didn’t know he had to get his wife and two daughters to safety. And he fails. So thank god for Pierce Brosnan who saves his ass a number of times, but sadly, not innumerably. There is a limit, and it will keep you on the edge of you god damned seat. Actually, that’s the one thing this movie does really, really well: it’s 98% adrenaline rush. The tension is taut, relentless, masterful. There’s only about 1m30s where you breathe comfortably, and that’s only because you know a bad thing is coming and you can just kind of be zen about it.
Sean didn’t really care for it. This might be a knock on Owen Wilson’s manhood (try not to picture me knocking on his semi-erect penis), but Sean just didn’t think this guy was up to the task. He also didn’t think the situation was believable in the first place – that a group of Americans would just be left to fend for themselves, and that IF they were, for some odd reason, that Owen Wilson of all people could keep anyone alive for more than maybe 5 minutes or so. And given some of the choices this guy makes, I have to agree. I was also annoyed by the kids. The truth is, as actors they were pretty impressive. But I find kids in these kinds of thrillers to just be god-awful. They’re always making noise when they shouldn’t, defying direct orders, coming out of hiding places, squawking, refusing to do what’s necessary, complaining about having to go potty, or that they’re hungry, or that their favourite doll got left behind. And if you’ve got a wife who’s kind of whiny too, it’s not long before I’m yelling at the screen: “Leave them behind! You can start a new family later! Second spouses are the best!” And once I start yelling that kind of shit at the screen, game over.
An interesting tidbit: Ruth at Flix Chatter wrote a really interesting piece on the Dowdle brothers, who happen to be the writers\director of this film. She always does a great job, but this interview really caught my eye and if you have any interest at all, I’m sure you’ll feel the same.
We saw this movie at the drive-in, and as always, it’s a double bill. Truth time: the title is a lie. The second movie was actually Self\less, and it was worst than the first. And not just because the hicks in the car beside us, windows rolled down so we could hear them puzzle out each scene incorrectly, spoiled the whole thing by not understanding it in the least but loudly offering their idiotic theories.
Self\less is about a wealthy business magnate played by Ben Kingsley, who is on his deathbed when he gets an anonymous tip: there may be a way out of this death thing. Turns out, if you are brilliant enough and have several hundreds of millions of dollars (let’s dwell on that for a bit: Several. HUNDREDS. Of millions. Of dollars.), you can pay this mad scientist to fake your death and transplant your “self” into a healthy young body grow in a lab. This scientist is just so selfless himself, apart from the payday, that he doesn’t want to deprive the world of the most elite idea makers. The catch? No one can know. You say goodbye to your whole life and live as this other person. So, in effect, the plot has already shot itself in the foot because when Ben Kingsley wakes up in Ryan Reynolds’ body, he can’t just walk back to the Kingsley empire and helm the ship. Kingsley is dead to the world, and Reynolds is a nobody who is frankly ready for retirement, except for getting a few quick pieces of hot ass (and who can blame him?) The other catch? (C’mon, there’s ALWAYS another catch!): a lifetime of pills. The pills keep Ryan Reynolds at bay. Because the scientist lied. This isn’t some body grown in lab, it’s a murdered man whose “self” keeps surfacing, with flashbacks of his life, wife, and daughter. Awkward!
This movie is interesting in theory but decides to spit on the philosophical implications and just go for cheap thrills and action instead.
The movie’s opening line, uttered by Pierce Brosnan: “Anyway, to cut a long story short, I decided to kill myself.”
This is a New Year’s movie for everyone who isn’t as bright-eyed and optimistic about 2015 as your typical holiday movie forces you to be.
As a humiliated ex-talk show host recently disowned by his family because of his conviction of a sex crime with an underage girl, Pierce Brosnan’s character trudges resolutely up a very tall building in order to throw himself off but there encounters a pizza delivery man with cancer (Aaron Paul), an overwrought, emotional wreck (Imogen Poots) and an exhausted caregiver (Toni Collette) all with the same intention – to commit suicide.
Imogen Poots is young and upset but the others see quickly that hers is a temporary problem and they work together to stop her attempt and she pays them back by making everyone agree to stay alive until Valentine’s day. They agree but the next six weeks only make their lives more tumultuous as the press gets ahold of their pact and they get dragged into the worst kind of fame.
This movie has a really strong cast so it’s hard to believe how bad it is. Nick Hornby is often golden at the cinema (About a Boy, High Fidelity), and Johnny Depp snatched up the rights to this novel before it was even published. Having read the book, I knew it didn’t stand up to his other work but still wasn’t prepared to be so underwhelmed by this film. The movie ricochets between total bleakness and ooey gooey moments it doesn’t quite earn. The actors, to their credit, bring some moments of true emotion to this uneven film but aren’t really able to save it, not even the excellent, bar-raising Toni Collette and the surprisingly good Poots, who are over-directed and under-trusted to do what (it felt to me) their instincts were begging to do. Pascal Chaumeil directs this charmlessly and fails to breathe any life into this story that is about so much more than death.
A Christmas Star has some charms, I’ll admit to that.
It’s made entirely in Northern Ireland, a Cinemagic project for young people to get experience in the film industry, the amateurs working alongside industry experts, training up the future of Irish film, which is a cool idea and a bit of a Christmas present in and of itself.
The script borrows heavily for typical holiday fare, so you won’t find originality in between the stilted dialogue, but there is a lot of heart.
The children of a small town take on capitalism when the primary industry – the manufacture of snow globes – is being threatened. Led by Noelle, a little girl born on Christmas day who believes she can “do miracles,” the cast of kids is surprisingly adept. James Stockdale, who plays Noelle’s best friend, is a particular stand-out for me. As you know, I am always happy to see different abilities on-screen, especially when the disability is not treated as a novelty. His character just happens to be different but is still 100% part of the group. He isn’t there to be “the disabled one” and Stockdale is a bona fide actor. Christmas miracle? You tell me.
But it’s not just the cast that’s peppered with youth. Over 40 trainee crew aged 18 – 25 were mentored by industry professionals as they worked together on this film, gaining experience in all areas of filmmaking. Mentors included director Richard Elson (M.I. High, Steffi), award-winning film composer Patrick Doyle (Brave, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), music supervisor Maggie Rodford, (The King’s Speech, Anna Karenina), casting directors Hubbard Casting, (The Commitments, Dracula Untold), camera operator, Ian Fox, (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spider-Man), producer Iain Smith, (Children of Men, Mad Max: Fury Road) and production manager, Terry Bamber (The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Skyfall), who all took time away from their own shooting schedules to mentor the trainees.
Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson show up in small roles to add a little credibility to the ensembles, with sprinkles of star power from the likes of Kylie Minogue.
Cinemagic is an international film and television festival for young people and counts Neeson and Brosnan among its patrons. It’s clearly putting its money where its mouth is in putting on productions like this, and I’ll be glad to see more from them in the future.
A Christmas Star will be playing on television this week:
Thurs 24th Dec 4.25pm: UTV Ireland: A Christmas Star
Fri 25th Dec 10.55am: UTV Ireland: A Christmas Star