Kenneth Branagh gives the well know story of “Cinderella” the “Downton Abby” treatment with grand results in the new live action Disney movie. Lily James–already likeable as Lady Rose on “Downton Abbey” makes a fine Cinderalla. We begin with her carefree childhood turning dark with the death of her loving mother who on her deathbed tells her daughter to “have courage and be kind.” She needs it when her father married the wickedly beautiful Cate Blanchett who takes the mean stepmother role to a new level. “Downton Abbey” fans will also enjoy Sophie McShera–who plays Daisy on PBS–as one of the comic ugly step sisters. Cinderella’s father dies and her step mother turns her into a servant. But Helena Bonham Carter saves the day as Cinderella’s fairy Godmother. The segment turning mice into stallions and a pumpkin into a golden coach looks dazzling. The entire movie enchants with beautiful visuals and nice touches. I went expecting another Disney money grab. Instead I got an evening of enchantment and even a message for us men in the audience: be true to yourself and marry for love not money. Does it deliver what it promises? Great fun. Is it entertaining? Looks beautiful although it runs a tad long. Is it worth the price of admission? “Cinderella” has a ready-made audience and will probably do huge business. Those who go will receive a surprisingly great movie.
Liam Neeson continues his run of tough guy movies in “Run All Night.” This time he begins the movie as a washed up former hit man working odd jobs for crime boss Ed Harris. He takes quite a bit of guff from Harris’ son played by Boyd Holbrook. The plot starts cooking when the son brings in a drug lord who wants to use Harris’ shipping interests to import hard drugs. The father turns the drug lords down immediately putting his son in danger. A shoot out follows coincidentally witnesses by Neeson’s son played by Joel Kinnaman. To save his son, Neeson kills Harris’ son and the grudge match begins. The rest of “Run All Night” boils down to a long chase with violent shoot outs including bad cops and the always interesting Vincent D’Onofrio. The audience roared when Nick Nolte popped in for a cameo I think because at least he was unexpected. Everything else in “Run all Night” comes out of the usual playbook. Does it deliver what it promises? Crime drama with lots of violence. Is it entertaining? Nothing new. Is it worth the price of admission? Nah.
Fans of the original will find plenty to like in “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” The sequel delivers new adventures for the pack of British retirees who move to India to retire. Originally they come to “The Exotic Marigold Hotel” and turn a dump into a going concern. Maggie Smith sets the tone as a voice of reason now working as the hotel manager. She continues to tutor Dev Patel—the likeable kid who runs the place. In the sequel Dev and Maggie travel to California to sell a chain on the idea of their expansion. Back we go to India where Dev has pre-marriage jitters and problems with his plans to expand his business. The cast of veterans looks like they just wandered off the set of “Downton Abby” and that’s a good thing. They include all-stars Judi Dench and Bill Nighy who can’t quite manage to get together even as we in the audience want them to. I really like the actress Penelope Wilton who plays Mrs. Crawley on “Downton Abby.” She’s testier and meaner here and that’s fun to see. Richard Gere turns up as a hotel mystery shopper and looks a little out-of-place but he really is so that’s ok. “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” keeps a slow steady pace and wraps up its many plot lines in a satisfying manner. Not a great movie but rather a lovely one. Does it deliver what it promises? Grown up movie. Is it entertaining? Delightful. Is it worth the price of admission? Yes and even more so with an AARP discount.
Will Smith and Margo Robbie look fabulous together in the crime caper comedy “Focus”. She begins the movie trying to scam him only to learn he’s wise to her. Soon the older scam artist takes the younger student under his wing and into his bed. Act one brings Smith and Robbie to New Orleans for the Superbowl as part of a team of small time crooks, pick pockets, and thieves. The big game leads to a great scene as Smith loses one bet after another doubling up to seven figures and a hilarious pay off. The story breaks and brings the characters together a few years later for a race car scam in South America. Robbie made a deep impression as the street smart wife in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” She’s very beautiful in “Focus” and has great chemistry with Will Smith. The mid-point of the movie almost fools the viewer but by the time “Focus” gets going good we know we’re being conned. I doubt anyone will believe any of this for a moment. Does it deliver what it promises? Comedy crime caper. Is it entertaining? Fun but not convincing. Is it worth the price of admission? Maybe for a so so not bad mindless time.
Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass play a couple of doctors working on a serum to bring back to life patients who die on the operating table. They do it to a dog. It works. Olivia has an accident, so he does it to her. But somehow she’s different. “The Lazarus Effect” follows the cheap horror formula–one set with a couple of exteriors. Lots of dark hallways and a few bad dreams. Needles and knives–the better to impale you. Plus a small cast. Does it deliver what it promises? Same old same old. Is it entertaining? Reminds me of “The Re-Animator” just not nearly as good. Is it worth the price of admission? Skip it unless you are desperate to see Olivia Wilde in anything.
Anna Kendrick continues to amaze with her singing ability. In “The Last Five Years” she begins this love/marriage/break up story singing about the break up of her marriage. Anna’s story goes in reverse while her lover played and sung by Jason Robert Brown tells his story forward. The idea began as an off-Broadway musical and it adapts well to this small musical film. When their story meets in the middle and they marry, I felt a well of emotion that surprised me. And when the story ends, I left with a sense of grief and caring for the couple. It’s a nice change to leave a movie filled with emotion. Does it deliver what it promises? Unusual musical about the beginning and end of love and marriage. Is it entertaining? Very powerful. Is it worth the price of admission? Yes and you will have to hunt to find this one so remember the title “the Last Five Years. “
Most of the cast of the original sort of funny raunchfest “Hot Tub Time Machine” return for this sequel in which Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, and Clark Duke try to return to the past but wind up in the future in order to prevent someone from shooting Rob in a very uncomfortable section of his anatomy. If you go don’t bother trying to make sense of the plot because it’s got more holes than a pound of swiss cheese. The jokes mainly involve flatulence illicit sex body parts poop and bodily fluids. Plot twists, penis jokes and raunchy material comes at a clip. The effect isn’t particularly fun although Robinson is especially likeable and a couple of time I couldn’t help but laugh. Does it deliver what it promises? Raunchy comedy about time travel to the future and past. Is it entertaining? Dirty but sometimes funny. Is it worth the price of admission? You go at your own risk.
Does anybody really expect “Fifty Shades of Grey” to be a great movie? I doubt it. “Fifty Shades” arrives in time for Valentine’s Day. Based on the book about a young virgin just out of college who meets and captivates or at least interests a late 20′s Billionaire named Christian Grey. They meet cute when she shows up at his office to interview him for the school paper. He responds by coming to her college campus and — well gee I guess there’s no other way to state it — stalking her. Soon he flies her to the big city for dinner in his apartment. As part of the visit he gives her a peek at his Red Room of Pain. Christian is into S and M — as long as he’s the dominator and his partner is a submissive. What follows is dating and sex and negotiation about a contract spelling out what he can and can’t do to her if she’ll only let me practice his kinky stuff on her. Jamie Dornan looks good in a Canadian kind of way. Dakota Johnson starts the movie de-glamorized and actually is kind of funny as the star stuck young girl. As she grows into her desire for Christian she gets more done up and as an actress she’s not bad. Even thought she spends half the movie without any clothes, I came away remember her beautiful eyes. “Fifty Shades” however rarely rises above feeling just a little creepy. Once the couple start having sex the scenes are quite soft and go to great lengths to avoid any full frontal shots. I’ve seen more in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. The film has a female director Sam Taylor-Johnston and a female script writer Kelly Marcel–so I guess you can’t call it sexist. What you probably will call it is extremely disappointing. The book ends with a cliff hanger. The book’s ending stuck onto this movie drew howls from a preview audience. I here they have two more of these in the works. I think I’ll pass. Does it deliver what it promises? Soft porn movie of spicy book. Is it entertaining? Slow and not too exciting. Is it worth the price of admission? For those who read the book and can’t keep themselves away but for others Nah.
SpongeBob and his friends have a fine time in this funny fun adventure as told to us by a very funny Antonio Banderas. The plot revolves around Krabby Patties and a secret recipe which must be chased and retrieved several times. The high point comes when SpongeBob and his pals overdose on cotton candy and yell and scream like a bunch of five year olds on too much sugar. The movie is great fun and puts us in touch with our inner five year old. Now pardon me as I plan to raid the pantry for sweets. Does it deliver what it promises? Great fun kids movie which adults can enjoy. Is it entertaining? A scream. Is it worth the price of admission? For kids and grown up kids.
“Jupiter Ascending” sure feels a lot of “Star Wars” except it switches Dar Vader “Luke I AM yourfather” for Mila Kunis “I am NOT your mother!” Mila—of the beautiful skin and piercing eyes— plays a housemaid living in a house full of Russian immigrant housemaids. But really she’s a princess. (Pardon me, but didn’t Anne Hathaway already do this?) Anyway, a bunch of spacemen come to fetch her while doctors are about to harvest her eggs. Yeech. The bad guys who want to kill her are defeated by good guy Channing Tatum who informs Mila that she is a space princess and is destined to rule the earth. Channing must save her from Oscar nominee Eddie Redmayne who wants to kill her because either she’s his mother or his sister or his second cousin. Eddie and company want to harvest the earth of us humans when we overpopulate the place. He plans to make us some kind of face cream that delays the effects of aging. “Jupiter Ascending” has a lot of chase scenes and in the nick of time moments. Too many, I’d say, probably because the filmmakers needed a way to advance the story. Does it deliver what it promises? Space adventure a la “Star Wars” just not nearly as good. Is it entertaining? Long and often boring. Is it worth the price of admission? I think I’ll take the bus.