‘Cinderella’ retells the story we’ve all imagined

If our obsession with Will and Kate’s royal wedding was anything to go by, we love fairy tales! Which is why there’s much to love about a live-action revival of a 1950’s animated classic.

“Cinderella” screenwriter Chris Weitz and director Kenneth Branagh tastefully transform a tale as old as time into a magical 105-minute picture.

Part of “Cinderella’s” charm lies with its lead, a good and wholehearted heroine that we can emulate. Lily James’s very likable and animated as Ella. She has a happy childhood with her father (Ben Chaplin) and her mother (Hayley Atwell) until her parents pass away. But as the story goes, she’s mistreated by her cruel and jealous stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and two gaudy stepsisters (played by Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger) while she bears a grin, talks to mice and lives by her mother’s maxim, “Have courage and be kind.”

Filmed by Haris Zambarloukos and edited by Martin Walsh, “Cinderella” is visually stunning and shows off Sandy Powell’s costume designs. There’s an ariel shot of Ella’s two stepsisters in bed surrounded by frumpy dresses. James looks gorgeous in blue — spinning in the prince’s arms. And Blanchett makes a pretty picture in a vibrant green dress that would make Scarlett O’Hara jealous (this one’s not made out of curtains).

Who wore it better: Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara or Cate Blanchett as Cinderella's stepmother, the Lady Tremaine?

Who wore it better: Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara or Cate Blanchett as Cinderella’s stepmother? 

Although Weitz and Branagh’s live-action version follows a safe and predictable script, it sweeps us off our feet in the same fashion as Kate Middleton’s real-life “Cinderella” story. 

Prince Charming goes by the name as Kit (Richard Madden), and pretends he’s an apprentice at the castle. Courtesy of her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), Ella attends his ball dressed up as a princess. And they — like Prince William and Kate Middleton — lived happily ever after.

“Cinderella” was directed by Kenneth Branagh and written by Chris Weitz. 


‘Frozen Fever’ follows in footsteps of its predecessors

The Disney-Pixar merger’s become and more apparent with their last couple of theatrical releases. Pixar’s influence can be seen in recent animated shorts like Disney’s Oscar-winning short, “Feast” (which premiered before “Big Hero 6”), and “Frozen Fever” (which premieres before a live-action version of “Cinderella”).

Like “Frozen” and “Brave,” “Frozen Fever” focuses on a sweet familial love — in this case, the bond of sisters. The song, “Making Today A Perfect Day” (written by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck), is Elsa’s answer to Anna’s “Do You Want To Build A Snowman?”

In the short, all our favorite characters return to celebrate Princess Anna’s (Kristen Bell) birthday. Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and Sven guard Olaf (Josh Gad) from eating the cake while Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) accidentally adorns an army of tiny adorable minion-like snowmen, whom Olaf takes under his wing.


“We can’t all go as Elsa from Frozen.”

It’s a charming and irresistible and holds all the right notes, but it also smartly capitalizes on the “Frozen fever” we’ve experienced in supermarkets and toy shops. Even if our eight-year-old doesn’t want to see a live-action version of “Cinderella,” she’s going to want to see “Frozen Fever.”

“Frozen Fever” was directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, and written by Lee, Buck and Marc Smith. 

‘Glee’ exists beyond ‘2009’

Kurt Hummel almost didn’t exist. He wasn’t in “Glee’s” original scripts.

After actor Chris Colfer auditioned for the role of Artie, “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy was inspired to create Hummel.

I was reminded of this when I watched “2009,” the first half of “Glee’s” two-part finale. The story airs like an alternate pilot. This time, Hummel (rather than Lea Michele’s Rachel Berry) is the helm of Murphy’s band of high school misfits.

“I feel like I could die tomorrow and I don’t think anyone would really care. I’m not sure if anyone would really notice,” Hummel says as he picks up an informational pamphlet from the guidance counselor’s office (this one’s called “Ending it All: Pros and Cons”).

It would be a shame if Kurt Hummel didn’t existed because his story’s consistently been one of the most powerful and easily identifiable ones of “Glee.”

More than one out of 20 Americans older than 12 are depressed. And according to the World Health Organization, between 10 to 20 million people attempt suicide every year. It’s also the leading cause of death for people between ages 15 and 34.

Dr. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz estimates that about 5 percent of Americans are gay and that many are still in the closet. “Glee” brought some of these social issues to the primetime screens of American households every week, and might have even inspired some teenagers to come out to their parents — or at least realize that they’re not alone.

“2009” reminds us of why we fell in love with “Glee” when it first aired six years ago. It’s stars are invisible and angry and jealous and vulnerable teenagers filled with dreams and ambitions. While we may not have been a Kurt Hummel, we may have been a Mercedes Jones (Amber Riley), a Tina Cohen-Chang (Jenna Ushkowitz), an Artie Abrams (Kevin McHale), a Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron), a Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith), or an entirely different type of Gleek.

Week after week, they’ve inspired us to keep dreaming — from the walls of McKinley High School to the streets of Broadway.

Sure after six seasons, the plot’s been “watered-down melodramatic slush” recently, but at times, it dealt with real-life issues (from coming out of the closet and peer pressure to teen pregnancies, eating disorders and school shootings). Meanwhile, it’s reminded us that even if we’re different, we’re not alone.

“Glee” was created in 2009 by Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy; and produced by Ryan Murphy Television. “2009” aired on March 20, 2015. 

Deus ex machina drives ‘Furious 7’

“This time it ain’t just about being fast,” says Vin Diesel while reprising his role as Dominic Turetto in “Furious 7.” This film — directed by James Wan and written by Chris Morgan (based on Gary Scott Thompson’s characters) — is about delivering the most unbelievable and manliest action while paying its respect to its deceased franchise star Paul Walker.

Unlike Walker, who ironically died during a joy ride on a 2005 Porsche Carrera GT before finishing the film, “Furious 7’s” characters are protected by the deus ex machina (with an emphasis on “machina”) of screenwriter Morgan. Walker’s character, Brian O’Connor, survives running up a bus that’s falling off a cliff. As he leaps off the bus, Letty’s (Michele Rodriguez) car shows up just in time for O’Connor to grab on.

“Can’t believe we pulled it off,” someone says.

But Wan and Morgan land this ludicrous stunt and much more. Their “machina” are as invincible as their drivers — doubling as guns, shields, hiding places and cushions. O’Connor zigzags under a truck as a plane shoots at him. A car cushions Luke Hobbs’ (Dwayne “the rock” Johnson) landing as he jumps off an exploding building. Tej Parker’s (Ludacris) bulletproof Jeep Wrangler Unlimited shields his crew from bullets. Hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) hides her all-seeing tracking device (the “God’s Eye”) in a Lykan HyperSport.

The expensive vehicles and the death-defying stunts are part of Wan’s dizzying 137-minute non-stop roller-coaster ride without breaks. One minute we’re parachuting off planes from cars. The next, we’re driving off cliffs and crashing through buildings.

Like the actors speeding from one adrenaline-ridden situation to another, we’re trying to mourn Walker’s death. But tough guys don’t cry. Tough guys smile while they spin donuts off the side of cliffs.

Paul Walker

Filmed by Marc Spicer and Stephen F. Windon and edited by Leigh Folsom Boyd, Dylan Highsmith, Kirk M. Morri and Christian Wagner, “Furious 7” has the velocity of an amusement park ride. The camera spins and pans as if we’re on a nauseating tilt-a-whirl. Just as we pause at the top, Wan launches the next action sequence — a pipe wrench fight, a high-speed police chase, a game of keep-away, a game of chicken, a turf war or an explosion.

In the opposing bumper car (a yellow Aston Martin DB9) is Jason Statham, who emerges as shadowy ex-special forces assassin Deckard Shaw — Owen Shaw’s (Luke Evans) older brother. The elder Shaw seeks revenge on Turetto and his “family” for crippling his brother. He goes after Hobbs, Han (Sung Kang), Mia (Jordana Brewster) and other members of Turetto’s family and friends. But family protect their own.

As both defense and revenge, Turetto, O’Connor and the rest of their crew team up with covert special operation leader Frank Petty (Kurt Russell). In exchange for keeping the “God’s Eye” from terrorist Jakande’s (Djimon Hounsou) hands, Petty’s agreed to help them take down Shaw.

Likewise Walker’s family help him finish what he’s started. Walker’s younger brothers, Caleb and Cody, fill in as convincing body doubles. Morgan rewrites the script. Wan directs them. Together (with the help of computer-generated imagery and other machinery), they achieve the work of gods — reviving a dead man and immortalizing him on the silver screen.

“Furious 7” was written by Chris Morgan and directed by James Wan. 

Don’t get to know ‘The Boy Next Door’

While Freud may argue that humans are instinctually driven by impulses of love and death, director Rob Cohen and first-time screenwriter Barbara Curry’s melodramatic romance/horror film, “The Boy Next Door,” is a grotesque mockery of the human condition.

As the title may imply, “The Boy Next Door” tries to be equally flirty and sinister, starting off as a bad harlequin romance which becomes an equally bad thriller.

It’s not hard to guess who this movie’s made for: the soccer moms enamored with E.L. James’ “50 Shades of Grey.” James’ books gave suburban mothers a brief education into the “dark and thrilling” world of BDSM. Likewise, Curry’s script, which draws heavily on Greek myths, attempts to provide an education.

Curry’s script loosely echoes the themes of David Mamet’s “Oleanna.” Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez) is a high school teacher teaching classics as her husband, Garrett (John Corbett), cheats on her with younger women.

In return, she cheats on him with muscles — a 20-year-old orphan who introduces himself as new neighbor Noah Sanborn (Ryan Guzman). This barely of age un-graduate is her student and a repeating senior at Claire and her son’s (Ian Nelson) school, Monroe High.

Unlike Dustin Hoffman’s character in “The Graduate,” Guzman is suave and self-assured as Noah, seeking the companionship of the MILF next door. He appeals to a mother’s sympathies — protecting his asthma-ridden son, fixing her garage door and quoting literature.

But while characters talk about Homer’s “Illiad,” they enact Sophocles “Oedipus Rex.” Like Eve, Claire takes a bite from the apple of temptation in some unnecessarily R-rated sex scenes.

Forbidden fruit is costly, though, and her sin has woven himself into her home and classroom.

Lopez and Guzman, however, haven’t woven themselves in ours. It’s not their fault that the characters they play are vapid caricatures. You can see that Lopez is trying to be serious. But the predictable and easily reproduced script is as forgettable as its tenants — empty bodies easily replaced with dozens of other attractive and sculpted actors. The pervasiveness of bad writing is the most frightening thing of all.

“The Boy Next Door” was directed by Rob Cohen and written by Barbara Curry.