Sunday, April 19, 2015

Unfriended (2015) review


The recent advancements in technology over the past few years have allowed us to further connect with people in ways we never could before, especially with the creation of social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. However, this isn’t always a good thing. If I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it now; sometimes the internet can tend to be really negative. I’ve seen that plenty of times when it comes to film discussions but then you also have something much, much worse like cyber-bullying. As if bullying wasn’t bad enough, now bullies are able to torment their victims online, in many cases anonymously meaning that the bullying victim could potentially have no way of finding who’s doing it to them. This whole practice sets up the plot of Blumhouse Productions’ newest film, ‘Unfriended’, in which an extreme act of cyber-bullying comes back to haunt a bunch of teenagers who were at the forefront of it all. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m really not the biggest fan of horror films. I don’t really go see horror films in the theater unless the premise intrigues me. Hence why last year, around this exact time in fact, I went to go see the film ‘Oculus’ which, if you recall, I wasn’t the biggest fan of (though I do promise that I’ll give that film a second chance in the future). So ‘Unfriended’ was another case of a horror film that actually did interest me based on its premise; either that or I’ve been inundated with its ads online for the past month, which sort of made me obligated to check it out.

It is established that, a year before the events of the film, a high-school student named Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), committed suicide after being mercilessly tormented by her peers after an embarrassing video of her passed out drunk at a party was posted online. Exactly one year after this, a bunch of her former classmates; Blaire (Shelley Hennig), Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), Jess (Renee Olstead), Ken (Jacob Wysocki), and Adam (Will Peltz), have a group chat on Skype. Everything seems to be going well until they realize that there’s another person in the chat with them; ‘billie227’. They soon realize that this anonymous account belonged to Laura and despite all of their efforts, they have no way of getting rid of this mystery caller. Soon enough, the caller starts to become much more threatening towards them, demanding them to tell it who was responsible for posting the video of Laura and threatening to kill them if they sign out of Skype. As time goes on, and the mysterious force begins to take them out one by one, the friends’ dark secrets begin to be uncovered. Not only do these reveals test their friendship, but it’s shown that they actually played a major part in Laura’s harassment, including the fact that one of them was the one responsible for posting the embarrassing video of her in the first place.

So the idea behind this movie is that it all takes place on Blaire’s computer screen as the main characters are chatting on Skype. As gimmicky as that sounds, and let’s be honest it sort of does, it is actually done to pretty great effect here. It’s not like it all takes place on Skype, which definitely could’ve become really boring after a while. Throughout the film, we see Blaire do other things on her computer, like watch videos online, send messages to her boyfriend Mitch and later ‘Laura’, and so on. And because it centers on Blaire more than the other main characters, we do definitely see the whole situation from her point of view, like how sometimes she re-types some of her responses to people online. The film also does a good job establishing a sense of ‘realism’ (you know, as ‘realistic’ as a horror film can get) through the way the Skype conversation is presented. Having used Skype many times before to record podcasts with my group ‘The Feature Presentation’, we have experienced problems such as lag and audio/video cut-offs. In any other movie, the ‘call’ that the characters are in probably would’ve looked ‘perfect’ without any issues arising with the technology. But that’s not the case here, as we do frequently see the video lag and cut off video and audio at times. Technically speaking, this is sort of along the lines of being a ‘found-footage’ film. As such, it actually does do something new with the genre, which I think we can all agree has been generally overdone in the past few years.

I loved the ways that ‘Laura’ messed with her victims, like in one scene she has them play the game ‘Never Have I Ever’ and as the game goes on, some of their dirty secrets are brought up, from rumors that they’ve spread about each other to affairs that they’ve had behind their friends’ backs. Heck, at one point, as they start to argue, ‘Laura’ starts playing a song about liars that can’t be turned off, which I thought was pretty funny. The film does highlight why cyber-bullying is a bad thing, but that also results in some of the film’s shortcomings. Because the thing is, being that this film is about a bunch of teens who are being targeted by a supernatural force because of their participation in the bullying that one girl had to deal with, the main characters aren’t exactly likable. But then again, they’re basically just your standard horror film character stereotypes so we don’t really care about them anyway. This is one case where you do actually find yourself rooting for the killer. But ultimately, we don’t ever really learn anything about this ‘killer’ either. I mean I know the film is implying that it’s Laura but at no point do we ever get an official answer on that or how this is all being done. Heck, at one point, I thought it was going to be that the killer was revealed to be Laura’s uncle, who’s mentioned at one point in the film during a conversation between Blaire and Mitch. I’m not spoiling anything when I say that it isn’t.

In the end, I guess you can say that I admire this movie more for its execution than I do in regards to the writing. Because while this film does show why cyber-bullying is just bad on all accounts, this also means that the main characters, who are all horror stereotypes, are unlikable because they played a part in the cyber-bullying of their classmate Laura, who ended up killing herself because of it. And as much as this is a case where, given the situation, you’re actually rooting for the killer due to what happened to her, we never get a clear idea of who this killer is supposed to be or how this is even happening in the first place. Without the whole ‘online/Skype’ angle, this would’ve just been your run-of-the-mill clichéd teen horror flick. It still is, but because of the inventive direction they took with telling the story, as well as its solid establishment of realism primarily though portraying the typical Skype conversation, it’s not as big of an issue here compared to a film like ‘Annabelle’ or ‘Ouija’. Of course keep in mind I’m not a fan of horror films so these aren’t the kind of movies I usually see. But even with that said, I did like ‘Unfriended’. I may not have been ‘scared’ by it, per se, but I will give it credit for actually doing a really good job in terms of suspense and paranoia through its solid execution of its online-themed set-up. As far as horror films go, I can’t say that this is an absolute ‘must-see’ but given some of the other horror films that have come out over the past few years, this one does have more to offer.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, April 13, 2015

Marvel's Daredevil (2015): Season Review

(WARNING: Potentially Minor Spoilers Ahead! Don’t worry, I won’t give away ‘too much’)

In 2003, Marvel made its first major attempt to bring the character of Daredevil to the big screen. But ultimately, the 2003 film ‘Daredevil’ starring Ben Affleck in the title role of Matt Murdock AKA Daredevil, ‘The Man without Fear’, ended up becoming one of the most hated superhero films of the pre-MCU superhero film era… at least amongst the people of the internet. A few weeks ago, I went on record stating that I didn’t ‘hate’ the film. I’m not saying that it was a ‘great’ superhero film, far from it in fact, but ultimately 2003’s ‘Daredevil’ was just a case of a film that got neutered by the studio to appeal to a larger audience despite the fact that Daredevil is considered to be one of Marvel’s darker lead characters. If anything, it wasn’t 100% the fault of either Affleck or director Mark Steven Johnson. Because of the mixed-to-negative reaction, plans for a sequel fell by the wayside and Fox’s attempts to reboot the franchise ultimately didn’t pan out either. So, in 2012, the rights to the character of Daredevil returned to Marvel Studios and as a result, now we have the ‘Daredevil’ TV series, the first in a new group of shows that Marvel will produce with Netflix over the next few years centered around the characters collectively known as ‘The Defenders’. This new ‘Daredevil’ immediately makes one hell of a great impression, much more so than its 2003 film predecessor, thanks to its perfect execution of tone and atmosphere as well as a terrific cast highlighted by one of the best screen villains of recent memory.

As a kid, Hell’s Kitchen native Matt Murdock was blinded by radioactive material after he helped save a man from getting hit by a car. But while he does end up losing his vision, Matt’s other senses become more heightened and after his father, wrestler ‘Battlin’ Jack Murdock, is killed after not throwing a fight, he begins to hone his newfound abilities with an old martial artist named Stick (Scott Glenn). Years later, Matt (Charlie Cox) and his best friend Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) open up a new law firm. At night, Matt becomes ‘The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen’, a vigilante who deals with the rampant crime of the area. Matt and Foggy soon take on their first client, a young woman named Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) who finds herself caught in the middle of a pension embezzlement scheme that is going on at the company she works for. While Matt and Foggy help protect her from being prosecuted, this soon leads Matt, through his vigilante persona, to investigate further into the matter. As he deals with the various criminal gangs of Hell’s Kitchen, from the Russian mob to the Yakuza, he soon ends up crossing paths with the one who’s really behind it all, businessman Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) who has plans for Hell’s Kitchen that Matt, Karen, Foggy, and many others soon find themselves roped into. 

Right off the bat, I can tell you that this is nothing like the 2003 ‘Daredevil’ in that it’s not a toned-down PG-13 affair; this show is rated TV-MA for a reason. It’s much darker in tone and far more violent than anything we’ve seen from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But at the same time, it’s not 100% dark to the point where it starts to become way too unpleasant to watch. Amidst all of the violence and darkness of the plot, the series still manages to lighten things up at just the right times, namely through the solid camaraderie between Matt and Foggy. I’ve talked before about my apprehension towards DC’s alleged ‘no joke’ mandate for their upcoming slate of films and if that ends up being the case, then DC should really take notes because this show, along with Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy, are prime examples of how you can do a more serious superhero film/TV series without being ‘too grim’, which I feel that DC went a little too far with when they made ‘Man of Steel’. Along with that, the show does a nice job in terms of pacing as it doesn’t rush into things too fast. It takes its time in order to develop the plot and characters. I guess you can say that’s the advantage that TV shows have over films in that they’re not constricted by having to get everything across in just around two hours.

The action sequences are quite excellent, with probably the best of the bunch being the one near the end of Episode 2, when Daredevil fights off a Russian gang in order to save a young boy that they’ve kidnapped. The whole fight sequence is done in a single long take which, if I’m right, we’ve never really seen before from superhero films. And keeping in line with the show’s darker tone and TV-MA rating, they’re much more brutal than what we’ve seen from the MCU films. When characters are injured, you hear the bones crack when they’re hit, giving you a clear idea of what just happened to them. You see the bloodshed whenever someone gets stabbed or slashed. And boy let me tell you, some of the deaths in this show are brutal, particularly in Episodes 3 and 4, without giving away any of the details about how they happen. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see action sequences as brutal as these in the MCU films but that’s okay because I prefer the films stay that way anyway. But suffice it to say if you are looking for a darker/more violent superhero property then you’ll definitely gravitate towards this series. I’m not one of those people who feel that a lot of these superhero films are all just the same but at the same time I will admit that this series does provide a nice bit of variety when compared to most superhero films due to it being much more adult.

With no offense to Ben Affleck, Charlie Cox immediately establishes himself as the superior Daredevil. In the role of the first major anti-hero of the MCU, Cox does a great job at capturing Matt Murdock’s moral turmoil as he constantly tries to justify to both those around him and even himself that what he’s doing is right. Backing Cox up are Woll and Henson as Karen Page and Foggy Nelson, two roles that, in this series, are expanded upon much more than what one might expect from this kind of show. If this show had gone another way, these two characters probably would’ve been nothing more than just the helpless damsel in distress and the goofy sidekick, respectively. But thankfully that’s not the case here as Karen and Foggy are just as fleshed out in terms of character development as much as Matt. Karen, as soon as she gets caught up in the main conflict of the series, gets involved with it just as much as Matt, without the whole ‘vigilante’ thing of course. And while Foggy definitely is the primary source of comic relief for the series, that’s not all there is to his character. One of the most crucial episodes of the series is Episode 10, aptly titled ‘Nelson v. Murdock’, in which a big reveal (don’t worry, no spoilers) at the end of the previous episode results in Foggy and Matt coming to odds over recent events. Overall, the series has a rock solid cast from top to bottom.

Ultimately, however, the biggest stand-out of the cast is easily Vincent D’Onofrio, who’s perfectly cast in the role of Wilson Fisk AKA Kingpin in the comics. In fact, I’m just going to say it; he’s the best villain that Marvel Studios has had to date, even better than everyone’s favorite villain Loki. Fisk, as D’Onofrio portrays him, is a truly fascinating main villain and is set up pretty well in that regard. Heck, he doesn’t even appear on screen until the end of the third episode, though he does make a brief vocal appearance in the first episode. A lot of times, he’s very soft-spoken but when he gets angry, that’s where you really don’t want to mess with him. That soft-spoken nature, along with the numerous times he tells people that sometimes he feels ‘alone’, definitely must’ve come from the character’s troubled past. And that troubled past is the focal point of what is, in my opinion, the best episode of this season, Episode 8, in which we see how Fisk truly became the person he is today. In some ways, there are times where we even pity Fisk, like when he tries to navigate through a relationship with his girlfriend Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer) and we see how much that relationship affects him. The end result is an extremely well-layered main villain and I hope that Fisk might get the chance to appear in a future MCU film.

At this point in time, I’d argue that Marvel is now officially on DC’s level when it comes to Grade-A superhero TV series. After a rocky start, one that I still stand behind as being better than what most give it credit for, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ has now really stood out as far as these shows go thanks in no small part to the big HYDRA reveal of ‘Winter Soldier’. Earlier this year, we then got a kick-ass period comic book show with a terrific female lead in the form of ‘Agent Carter’. And now, we can officially add ‘Daredevil’ to this mix of great Marvel shows. Unlike the last major adaptation of ‘Daredevil’, this version stays much more true to its comic book roots and, unlike its MCU film brethren, isn’t afraid to be more brutal in terms of violence and darker in tone. Thankfully, unlike something like ‘Man of Steel’, this show doesn’t go 100% dark and effectively lightens up the darker ordeals of the story at just the right moments. It’s all topped off by a terrific ensemble cast highlighted by Charlie Cox’s definitive portrayal of Daredevil and Vincent D’Onofrio’s outstanding turn as the Kingpin, a villain so great he even gives Loki a run for his money as the MCU’s greatest antagonist to date. Marvel Studios is off to a great start with these Netflix-produced TV shows and hopefully we’ll get to see another season of this fantastic TV show (not counting the definite future appearances of Daredevil in the other series).

Season Rating: 5/5!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Furious 7 (2015) review

In some ways, it’s still hard to believe that the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise has now been going on for more than a decade. At first, it was just a simple street-racing franchise that, while consistently commercially successful, never were big hits with critics. But then, to everyone’s surprise, it suddenly became one of the biggest film franchises in recent years. Having not been a ‘fan’ of the series in its early years, the fourth film, 2009’s ‘Fast and Furious’, was the one that first got me interested in the series, even though in retrospect I realize I’m kind of in the minority when it comes to liking that film. Ultimately though, the series really started to shine with the fifth entry, 2011’s ‘Fast Five’, the first entry in the series to, to everyone’s surprise, do really well with critics. There were many reasons for this upgrade in quality. There was the return of many of the series’ former leads, resulting in the series’ first true ‘ensemble’ cast. There was the overall shift in regards to the series’ plots from street-racing to heists. And of course, there was the very welcome addition of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in the role of DSS agent Luke Hobbs. Just like that, the franchise became relevant again, soon followed by an equally awesome, and arguably better, follow-up in 2013 in the form of ‘Fast and Furious 6’, the first entry in the series that I was genuinely looking forward to. There’s no better way to say it; those last three movies made me a ‘F&F’ fan.

Now Dom and his crew (or, to use a more proper term, ‘family’) are back for the seventh entry (yes, seventh) of the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise, ‘Furious 7’. This time, however, the film is under a different director (a first since 2003’s ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’). James Wan, who has mainly been known for his work on horror films like ‘Saw’, ‘Insidious’, and ‘The Conjuring’, takes over directing duties from Justin Lin, who had directed every entry of the series since 2006’s ‘Tokyo Drift’, for this new film. But of course, as we all know, that isn’t the biggest headline surrounding the film. Sadly, a more tragic one is. On November 30, 2013, while on break from shooting the film, series lead Paul Walker was killed in a single-car accident. Filming was only half-done at the time of his death so the production was temporarily put on hold so that the filmmakers could figure out a way to finish the film without Walker. As a result, ‘Furious 7’ now serves as not only a tribute to one of the series’ biggest stars, but also as the final film for Walker’s character Brian O’Connor. Needless to say, the film really delivers on representing Walker’s legacy with the franchise. But of course, this is also a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie and even with the change in directors, ‘Furious 7’ still succeeds in being a dumb and over-the-top but ultimately fun as hell action film that knows exactly what it is and doesn’t try to be something it’s not.

At the end of ‘Fast and Furious 6’, former street racer/criminal Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew; Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), Dom’s girlfriend Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), Tej Parker (Ludacris), and Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) had finally returned home to the States after helping DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) take down Owen Shaw and his crew in London. However, not long after, they soon find themselves being hunted by Shaw’s older brother Deckard (Jason Statham), who seeks revenge against Dom and co. for what they did to his brother. As it was revealed in the post-credits scene for ‘Furious 6’, Deckard was the one responsible for the death of Han (Sung Kang) in ‘Tokyo Drift’ which, for those who are new to the franchise, is actually this new film’s immediate predecessor being that it takes place after the events of the fourth, fifth, and sixth films. He follows that up by injuring Hobbs and nearly killing Dom, Mia, and Brian when their house is destroyed by a bomb. Not wanting to have to deal with another funeral for one of their family members, Dom and his crew team up with the government, specifically agent ‘Mr. Nobody’ (Kurt Russell), to find a computer program known as ‘God’s Eye’, developed by hacker Megan Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), that would allow them to track anyone on Earth through digital devices. In return, the gov’t will allow Dom and the crew to use it to track down Shaw.

I mean, at this point, you should definitely know what you’re getting yourselves into when you watch these movies; this is the seventh entry in the franchise after all. You don’t watch them for the plot, that’s for sure. In fact, the MacGuffin they’re after in this film is actually unnecessary to their goal (I’ll explain why in a little bit). But of course, that’s not what these movies are all about. By now, the filmmakers have become very much aware of what these movies are; dumb fun, and they just roll with it. ‘Furious 7’ is no exception. Despite the fact that he’s not really as experienced in regards to directing action compared to someone like Justin Lin, James Wan does a really good job for his first major action film. The action sequences are just as crazy and physics/logic-defying as ever. This is a film where cars drop out of a plane, one super-fancy and super-rare car jumps between skyscrapers, and the characters constantly find themselves doing death-defying stunts. Of course, pretty much all of these stunts would be implausible in real life but who cares? And like I said before, at this point who even cares about the plot? It just serves as a way for Dom and crew to keep doing these awesome stunts. But even with the minimalist plot, one common theme that has basically been the defining trait of the whole franchise since the very beginning is the concept of family, which is even more relevant in this one given the death of Walker.

Without spoiling anything major, he is given a really fitting and touching send-off that is guaranteed to make even the toughest folks cry. The camaraderie amongst the main leads, from Walker to Diesel to Rodriguez to Johnson (by the way, some fans may be a little disappointed to know that Hobbs’ role in this film is much more diminished then it was in 5 and 6 given that he’s taken out of commission early on by Shaw for most of the film) to Gibson to Ludacris and so on and so on. And in my opinion, this is the greatest strength of the franchise; the fact that the relationships between the main characters feels very much genuine. Like with the last film, this entry also benefits from some fun additions to the cast, from Russell to Emmanuel to Djimon Hounsou, the latter of whom plays a mercenary who Dom and crew keep running into. As the main villain, Statham definitely brings the right intimidating presence in the role but ultimately he’s rather underused in some cases. Remember that whole thing I said earlier about the whole MacGuffin of the film being unnecessary? Well that’s because Shaw literally shows up for every major set piece in the film. So really Dom and crew didn’t even need that program to find Shaw because he always manages to find them first. He may be the older brother of Owen Shaw, but in the end the younger brother is still the best ‘F&F’ villain to date.

‘Furious 7’ probably won’t convert over anyone who isn’t a fan of the franchise. Like its predecessors, it’s over-the-top, stupid, and full of logic-bending, physics-messing, and death-defying stunts. But that’s why they’re so damn entertaining to watch and ‘Furious 7’ is once again proof of that. Yeah the plot is pretty weak, with the whole MacGuffin that the team is looking for being ultimately pointless in the grand scheme of things, but as I’ve said plenty of times in this review, who seriously goes into a film like this looking for top-quality writing? ‘Furious 7’ is just loads of fun while also maintaining the strengths of the most recent entries of the franchise, namely the great camaraderie of its cast and perhaps most importantly its keen sense of fun. I’ll admit that part of me kind of misses Justin Lin’s presence behind the camera but overall James Wan does do a really solid job for what was his first major foray into the action genre. And of course, I guarantee you that you’re going to be crying when this film ends as the characters, the franchise, and ultimately all of us say goodbye to Paul Walker. Regardless of what you thought of him as an actor, it’s clear that he was, above all else, a good man and he will be sorely missed. ‘Furious 7’ not only succeeds at being what the ‘Fast and Furious’ movies have become in the last few years but by also serving as a touching tribute to Walker’s legacy.

Rating: 4/5


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

2015 Preview: April

Welcome back to Rhode Island Movie Corner’s year-long preview of the films that will be hitting theaters in 2015. This is Part 4 of 12 and today we’re looking at the upcoming releases for the month of April. While the summer movie season technically starts in May, many people believe that it’s slowly beginning to move back a month or two considering the fact that a lot of big-name blockbusters are starting to get released in the months of March and April. However, to be perfectly honest, this month’s lineup is a little light in terms of new releases. There’s literally only one major wide release each for the first two weeks of the month. But that’s not going to stop us from taking a look at what’s coming out this month, so let’s get started as we look into the films of April 2015.

APRIL 3- Only one wide release this week, but it’s a big one with a lot of buzz surrounding it. Unfortunately, not all of it for the right reasons.

*James Wan (‘The Conjuring’, ‘Saw’, ‘Insidious’) takes over directing duties from Justin Lin for ‘Furious 7’, the seventh entry in the highly successful ‘Fast and the Furious’ franchise. In this film, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew find themselves being hunted by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the brother of ‘Fast and Furious 6’ villain Owen Shaw, who seeks revenge for his brother’s death. The main cast of the series (Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, among others) reprise their roles from the previous films, joined in this film by Lucas Black (reprising his role as Sean Boswell from the third entry, ‘Tokyo Drift’), Nathalie Emmanuel, Ronda Rousey, and Kurt Russell, among others.

Of course, as you all know, this film was marred by tragedy in November 2013, when star Paul Walker died in a car crash while on break from shooting this film. Since then, production was put on a short hiatus before filming resumed, with this film now set to retire his character Brian O’Connor.

APRIL 10- Yet again, only one wide release but I’ll also throw in another noteworthy film coming out this weekend.

*The newest adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, ‘The Longest Ride’ stars Britt Robertson and Scott Eastwood as a college student and ex-champion bull rider, respectively, who fall in love and end up helping an older man (Alan Alda) when he ends up in a car accident. Their lives become connected to the man when he starts to reminisce about his wife.

*Also hitting theaters this weekend (though not listed as a ‘wide’ release on Box Office Mojo) is ‘Ex-Machina’, the directorial debut of writer Alex Garland (‘Dredd’, ’28 Days Later’). The film centers around a computer programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) who is selected to come to the reclusive mountain home of a famous tech CEO (Oscar Issac). While there, he is informed that he going to perform a ‘Turing Test’ on a humanoid android A.I. named Ava (Alicia Vikander).

APRIL 17- Seems like this was the prime spot this month as four (!) new wide releases debut.

*Based on the novel of the same name by Tom Rob Smith, ‘Child 44’ stars Tom Hardy as an MGB agent in the Stalin-era of the Soviet Union who investigates into a series of child murders. The film also stars Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Jason Clarke, and Gary Oldman.

*Disneynature’s newest film, ‘Monkey Kingdom’, centers on a family of monkeys who must find a new home when their old home is overrun by another tribe of monkeys. The film is narrated by Tina Fey.

*Kevin James reprises his role of mall cop Paul Blart in ‘Paul Blart Mall Cop 2’, the sequel to 2009’s surprise commercial hit ‘Paul Blart Mall Cop’. In this film, Blart and his daughter Maya take a vacation to Las Vegas where Blart once again finds himself in the middle of a takeover situation, this time of the hotel that he and his daughter are staying at.

*The newest horror film from Blumhouse Productions (their second in three months following February’s ‘The Lazarus Effect’), ‘Unfriended’ takes place a year after a high school student named Laura Barns killed herself after being mercilessly mocked online over a video of her passed out while at a party. When six of her former classmates have a Skype conversation on the anniversary of her death, they soon find themselves having to deal with a mysterious 7th person who joins the conversation on Laura’s old account. This mysterious stranger then proceeds to threaten them with death if any of them log out of Skype.

APRIL 24- And finally we have a pair of dramas to close out the month.

*Blake Lively stars in ‘The Age of Adaline’ in which she plays a woman who, following a car accident, ends up being stricken with ‘immortality’, never aging past 27 for eight decades. The film also stars Ellen Burstyn and Harrison Ford.

*Finally there’s ‘Little Boy’, in which a young boy tries to find a way to end World War II so that his father can come home. The film stars Kevin James, Emily Watson, and Tom Wilkinson.

And those are the films set to come in April 2015. Thanks for reading and check back next month for Part 5 of this year-long preview as we officially start off the summer movie season with the films of May.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

'The Fast and the Furious' (2001-2013) Series Retrospective

Despite the tragic death of series star Paul Walker in a car crash back in November 2013, ‘Furious 7’, the seventh (yes, seventh) film in the ‘Fast and the Furious’ series hits theaters this week. Seriously, who would’ve ever thought that a film series that’s primarily about driving cars and ridiculous stunts would be successful enough to produce seven films? Most film franchises never get that far and even if they did, the films would really start to get bad after a while. But it’s surprisingly the opposite case with ‘The Fast and the Furious’ films; they’ve actually gotten better as the series has gone on. I’ll admit that I never really paid much attention to the franchise during its early years. The only major element of it that was I familiar with at the time was the multiple arcade game spin-offs, including the original ‘Fast and the Furious’ arcade game and its many follow-ups, including one for ‘Tokyo Drift’ and two ‘Super Bikes’ games that in hindsight don’t really connect to the series that much at all; hell, the second game doesn’t even carry the film series license. But anyway, I digress. I remember that it was after watching the Super Bowl commercial for the fourth film that I actually started to become interested in the franchise. I didn’t see the fourth film in theaters but I did watch it on HBO and since then… I have to admit I’ve actually become a fairly big fan of the franchise. So today, in honor of the seventh film’s release and in memory of Paul Walker, I’m looking back upon this beast of a franchise, from its humbler beginnings to its more recent bigger-scaled efforts. It’s time to ‘Ride or Die’ as we look at the ‘Fast and the Furious’ films.


As someone who was first introduced to the franchise through its later installments, I must say that it’s fairly interesting to see how far ‘Fast and Furious’ has come since it first started 14 years ago. Like with the ‘Harry Potter’ franchise, this is definitely a case where the series definitely got better over time. That isn’t to say that ‘The Fast and the Furious’ isn’t entertaining; it has a nice energetic pace that perfectly matches the, for lack of a better term, fast nature of the story and a lot of the car stunt sequences are pretty good. But with that said, you still have to admit that the film is a definite case of style over substance. Sure, this film’s not completely brain-less as there are some actual/legitimate bits of character development here, namely between the main characters, street racer/criminal Dominic Toretto and undercover cop Brian O’Connor, and Vin Diesel and Paul Walker work off each other really well. But suffice it to say this is not a movie that you go into expecting great writing. In fact, as many people have already pointed out, this is basically just the street racing clone of ‘Point Break’. Despite this, the first ‘Fast and the Furious’ film is still a fairly entertaining popcorn flick even if, in some cases, it’s become a little dated. Ultimately, though, it would take some time (about a decade to be specific) before this series really started to shine.

Rating: 3.5/5

2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003)

First I’ll give you a few seconds to laugh at that hilariously ridiculous title… done? Okay, moving on… so now we come to the second film in the series, this one being directed by John Singleton, who had previously been nominated for two Oscars for his work on his 1991 film ‘Boyz n the Hood’. As for ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’, however, unfortunately it ends up being the weakest entry in the franchise. Now despite what I just said, that doesn’t mean the film isn’t entertaining, because it is. Once again, a lot of the car stunts are really cool, especially the first highway chase and the scene near the end involving a whole mob of cars coming out of one warehouse. Leads Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson have nice camaraderie with one another, with Gibson in particular being a real stand-out due to his great comedic ability which was put to even greater use in future films. Ultimately though, ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ suffers from some fairly mediocre writing. Now to be fair, these films have never been known for their writing anyway but here it ends up being rather dull and generic, with a mediocre anti-climax and a generic villain. Plus, something I didn’t mention in my review of the first film is that both of these films have some rather poor/obvious CGI used during some of the racing scenes, namely during close-up shots of the drivers. Thankfully, this was improved upon in future installments. ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’, ultimately, is my least favorite entry in the franchise. I don’t think it’s bad, but like I said earlier, we still haven’t gotten to the series’ best installments yet.

Rating: 3/5


Extra Large Movie Poster Image for The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

After the first film which featured all four of the series’ main group of leads and the second film which only featured one of them, now we have ‘Tokyo Drift’, the only entry in the ‘Fast and Furious’ series not to have any of the main leads of the series appear in a major role, save for a pretty awesome cameo by Vin Diesel at the end. Because of this, ‘Tokyo Drift’ has basically been regarded as the most forgotten entry in the series, made even more evident by the fact that it’s the lowest-grossing entry of the series at the box office. But… it’s actually the most underrated of the series and, dare I say, I have to agree with my friend Augie in that I think this is even better than the first film. Sure, this film may not have Vin Diesel or Paul Walker but its cast gets through it pretty darn well without them. Plus, like with ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’, this film does give us another standout character that would later become a major character in future films, in this case Han (Sung Kang), despite the fact that he actually dies during the events of this film. So why does he come back in later films? Well that’s because, despite the fact that this was the third film released chronologically, it actually takes place after the events of the fourth, fifth, and sixth films, hence why Han appears in those films. ‘Furious 7’ will be the first film in the series set after the events of this film. Yeah… wrap your head around that one.

So what’s the main reason as to why this film works so well? It’s because of director Justin Lin, this being the first entry in the series that he directed. He gives the series a much needed boost in quality in terms of direction while also giving the series an edge that, in some cases, the last two films sort of lacked. This film also has the added benefit of being set in a cool locale, Tokyo, meaning that this film does manage to stand out even without the main leads in it thanks to its great visual look. The whole concept of ‘drifting’, which is pretty cool, really lends itself well to the fun action sequences that you’ve now come to expect from this franchise. So overall, ‘Tokyo Drift’ is the one entry in the series that really deserves more attention than it currently gets. If anything, you shouldn’t ignore this entry in the series just because Vin Diesel and Paul Walker aren’t in it. Sure, it may not necessarily be one of the series’ best, but it’s still really entertaining. This was the first entry of the series that really showed promise that the series could improve and you can thank Justin Lin for that as he managed to make an incredibly memorable ‘Fast and Furious’ film without any of the series’ main leads. But this would set the stage for those leads to make one heck of a return to the franchise they helped start in the first place.

Rating: 3.5/5


After nearly a decade since the first film’s release back in 2001, the main four leads of the franchise; Diesel, Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordana Brewster all reunited for a new film in the franchise, ‘Fast and Furious’, the second entry in the series to be directed by Justin Lin. But unlike the following two entries in this series, ‘Fast and Furious’ has been the least successful of the series in terms of critical response despite its commercial success at the box office. It only has a 27% score on Rotten Tomatoes… but overall I disagree with that rating. This is my third favorite entry in the series to date and I as noted in the intro, this was the first ‘Fast and Furious’ film that I ever saw, albeit on TV, not in theaters. This of course was after I had watched the Super Bowl commercial for the film, the first time that I really began to show interest in the franchise having initially not paid any attention towards it during its initial run. Overall I view it as being similar to the first film but with much stronger direction. Like I said before, Justin Lin gave the series new life and now with this fourth film, it has really started to shine thanks to the return of the main cast after they didn’t play a major part in the second and third films. So with that said, why then is this one not as liked by a lot of people? Well, from what I can tell, it’s because they feel the movie is ‘too serious’ for a ‘Fast and Furious’ film. And for the record I do see where they’re coming from.

The plot of this film revolves around Dom returning home to LA after learning that his girlfriend Letty (Rodriguez) has been ‘murdered’ (I use the term loosely because, well, you’ll see why when I start talking about the sixth film), looking for revenge against those who were responsible. This results in him crossing paths once again with Brian, who’s going after the same people for the FBI. Last year’s ‘Need for Speed’ was a similar situation, being more serious than both it needed to be and quite frankly what it was capable of being given its premise of street racing. But here, I didn’t mind too much when the film got serious because I do feel that there was some legitimate motivation for Dom and Brian to stop the villains unlike with previous villains in the franchise. Besides, there’s still a lot of awesome car stunts, from the opening tanker sequence in the Dominican Republic to the final chase scene taking place in the underground tunnels between Mexico and the U.S., though in the case of the latter, I am aware that there was definitely a lot of CGI used in that sequence, even though for the most part it at least looks a little better than it did in the first two films. Regardless, this is still a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie; it’s silly and over the top but still really fun to watch. Now that the main cast was back, it was time for the series to go off in a new direction which ended up taking us all very much by surprise.

Rating: 4/5

FAST FIVE (2011)

I think it’s safe to say that we were all surprised when we saw that this film, the fifth entry in a series that was more successful with audiences than it was with critics, was actually getting really great reviews from critics. It has a 77% rating on RT, way higher than any of the previous four films (which were rated 53%, 36% twice, and 27%, respectively). And suffice it to say… they’re right. At the time of its release, ‘Fast Five’ immediately made a name for itself as the best entry in the series. It achieved that by making the radical move of straying from the formula that had defined the series since the beginning though ultimately it ended up being the right move. Instead of its focus being on street racing, ‘Fast Five’ opts for a heist storyline a la ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ and ‘The Italian Job’. Seriously, there’s only one ‘street race’ in this entire film and they don’t even show it happening; they cut away from it before it starts. The second major change is that, unlike the previous films which only centered around 2-4 characters at a time, this is the first in the series to have a true ensemble as the film reunites Dom and Brian with nearly all of their primary allies from the previous films; Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Han, Gisele (Gal Gadot), Tej (Ludacris), etc… And third, and most importantly, there’s ‘The Rock’.

Yes folks, the addition of Dwayne Johnson in the role of DSS agent Luke Hobbs, who’s out to catch Dom and his crew, is quite frankly the best thing that could have ever happened to this series. Johnson really stands out amongst the members of the cast in what is simply a stand-out role. But with that said, this is probably the first entry in the series where the cast in general really shines. A key theme of the whole series has been ‘family’ and you really do see that with this cast as proven by their excellent camaraderie with each other. The action sequences are much more fluid than earlier films and of course, we got more fun and, in some cases, insane action sequences to enjoy. There’s the opening scene where Brian and Mia break Dom out of a prison bus, there’s the first fight between Dom and Hobbs, and who can forget the scene where Dom and Brian literally drag a frigging safe through the streets of Rio. And yes, at this point, the series has really begun to defy all sorts of physics but with Lin’s solid direction, a terrific cast, and most importantly a real sense of fun, ‘Fast Five’ easily stands out amongst the six ‘Fast and Furious’ films that have come out. Again, who would’ve ever thought that at the time of its release, the fifth film in this series would ultimately end up being the best up to that point?

Rating: 4.5/5


For my original review of the film posted on May 23, 2013, click the link provided below;

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that this series has now realized exactly what it is; it knows it’s silly and over-the-top and it doesn’t care. It just rolls with it and doesn’t try to be something it’s not. That’s the best way I can describe ‘Fast and Furious 6’; it’s ridiculous, fast-paced, and it keeps defying physics with every action sequence it does. Plus, this film pulls quite the heck of a retcon by having it be revealed that Letty survived the events of the fourth film, albeit being affected with amnesia in the process. But it’s still just so damn entertaining to watch. The same positives that I noted for ‘Fast Five’ are once again present here; a terrific ensemble cast that has terrific camaraderie, another batch of awesome action sequences (the tank chase, that fancy flip car, the whole finale on the world’s longest runway involving a crashing plane, etc…), and so on and so on. But at the same time, there are some things in this film that I feel actually do improve on the previous film. For one thing, this film has quite frankly the best villain of the series to date in the form of Luke Evans’ Owen Shaw. His whole philosophy of regarding the members of his crew as ‘expendable’ is a cool contrast to the ‘family’ dynamic of Dom’s crew. Another great addition to the cast is Gina Carano as Hobbs’ assistant Riley. Her fight scenes with Rodriguez are some of the most badass moments in the entire film. Because of ‘Fast Five’, this was the first entry in the series that I was really anticipating and sure enough it did not disappoint in the slightest. In fact, this in, is my opinion, the best ‘Fast and Furious’ film to date.

Rating: 4.5/5

Ranking time!

6. 2 Fast 2 Furious

5. The Fast and the Furious

4. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

3. Fast and Furious

2. Fast Five

1. Fast and Furious 6

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Daredevil (2003) review

In preparation for Marvel Studios’ upcoming Netflix-released TV series ‘Daredevil’, I decided to take a look back upon the last major book-to-screen adaptation of the blind lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen known as ‘The Man without Fear’; Matt Murdock AKA Daredevil. That was in the form of 2003’s ‘Daredevil’, which starred Ben Affleck in the title role 10 years before he would be cast in another superhero flick, this time as Batman in the upcoming ‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’. But as for ‘Daredevil’, well, this is easily one of the most infamous entries of the modern pre-MCU era of superhero films. Early on, the reaction towards the film was mixed but in the years since its release the internet, being its usual ‘generally negative’ self, has been much harsher towards this film and Affleck has basically become the big scapegoat in regards to the general dislike of the film. This was the reason why the internet was so up in arms over him being cast of Batman, after all. Well, after re-watching his first foray into the superhero film genre, I’ll say this; Affleck is not the one to blame for this film’s shortcomings. Now let me be clear; I’m not saying that ‘Daredevil’ is one of the best superhero films ever; far from it, to be perfectly honest. Compared to many of its fellow superhero films, ‘Daredevil’ is a fairly average entry in the genre that definitely feels like it fell victim to a lot of studio mandates. But at the same time, this really isn’t as bad as the internet has put it out to be.

As a kid growing up in Hell’s Kitchen in New York, Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) was taught by his father, former boxer Jack Murdock (David Keith), the importance of ‘doing good in school’ so that he could succeed in life. Matt does listen to his dad but one day, after witnessing his father act as an enforcer for a local mob boss (something he thought that his father had moved away from), he gets into an accident where he is blinded by toxic waste. But despite the loss of his vision, his other senses become enhanced. Matt uses his newfound abilities to train himself in martial arts while also helping his father get back into boxing. But soon after his father’s career gets back on track, he is murdered by the mob after refusing to throw a fixed fight. As a result, Matt vows to avenge his father’s death by helping those who have been wronged by others. Years later, Matt is now an accomplished lawyer, owning a firm that he runs along with his best friend Foggy Nelson (Jon Favreau). At night, he becomes the vigilante crime-fighter Daredevil, going after criminals that haven’t properly given the payback they deserve. As Matt continues his campaign of justice against the criminals of New York, he soon meets Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner), the daughter of a businessman who becomes a target of crime boss Wilson Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan) AKA The Kingpin, and finds himself getting involved in this whole situation.

If Affleck isn’t the big scapegoat for this film’s problems, then director Mark Steven Johnson is, who would later go on to direct another much-maligned superhero film; 2007’s ‘Ghost Rider’. However, like Affleck, it’s not 100% his fault either for the problems of this film. I mean sure, they could’ve gone with a better writer than Johnson (who wrote the screenplay) but this is a clear case of a film that got changed around during post-production so that it could be marketed towards a wider audience. I may not be a big comic book reader but I can tell that Daredevil is meant to be one of the darker/more mature characters in the Marvel lineup. And as proven from the advertisements for the new ‘Daredevil’ series, that’s clearly the route that they are taking with that show. But as for the film version of ‘Daredevil’, it’s an obviously toned down PG-13 rated affair that can best be described as a ‘Hollywood’ film. By that I mean a film that has that ‘Hollywood popcorn flick’ aura about it that’s heavy on both the soundtrack and the melodrama, the latter of which is even more evident due to the fact that Stan Lee felt that the film was too ‘tragic’. Most of the action sequences feel rather generic and even the final fight between Daredevil and Kingpin is a little anti-climactic. I’m aware of this film’s ‘Director’s Cut’ which adds in a whole half hour of new footage, including a whole sub-plot with a character played by Coolio. From what I hear, this version is a definite improvement over the theatrical cut that’s both darker and much more in line with the character’s portrayal in the comics. However, at the time I am writing this, I have not yet seen that version of the film.

So with all of that said, why then do I not hate this film like most people on the internet? Well, because I did actually find the film to be fairly entertaining even if it wasn’t as strong in terms of execution compared to films like ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, or any of the MCU films. I was never really bored by it at any point even with all of the clichés in this film that come from the script. There are some generally cool things about this film, the biggest one being how they portray Daredevil’s powers. Being blind, Matt Murdock has this sonar sense that allows him to ‘see’ what’s around him through the use of sound. The visual effects/overall design for this element of the film is arguably the standout aspect of the film. And despite all of the overly-dramatic melodrama, there is one scene that I feel does work really well thanks to the use of this effect. It’s the scene where Matt and Elektra are on the roof before it starts to rain. Matt brought her up here because he knows that when it rains, each raindrop produces a sound when it comes into contact with a surface. Because of this, whenever it rains, it’s basically the closest that Matt will ever get to, in a way, be able to see again. This allows him to finally see Elektra for the first time. This was a really well-done scene, arguably the best scene in the entire film. And yes I know it’s quite derivative of the upside-down kiss scene from the first ‘Spider-Man’ but it’s still a well-handled scene that does a great job at showcasing how Matt is dealing with his disability.

So now let’s talk about the ol’ scapegoat, Ben Affleck… he’s actually not that bad in this film. Obviously I know plenty of you will disagree with me on that, but hear me out. Was he the best choice for the role at the time? Probably not, as Guy Pearce (who would later go on to be the villain in ‘Iron Man 3’) and Matt Damon (who declined the role as he didn’t have faith in either the script or the director (Ben probably should’ve listened to his pal Matt on that one)) were some of the other major candidates for the role. That and of course he doesn’t really have the best material to work off of either. But I do think that Affleck deserves credit for doing the best that he could with that material in what is pretty much a highly complicated role. Same goes for Jennifer Garner as Elektra. They both sort of get screwed over by the material but the two of them do have a pretty solid romantic chemistry (they are married in real life, after all). The two villains of the film do come off a little better in terms of their performances. Michael Clarke Duncan definitely has quite the presence in the role of the Kingpin. Obviously he’s not the ‘spitting image’ of the Kingpin from the comics given the fact that Kingpin is usually, well, white but I’m not going to go any further into this other than saying that Duncan was a good choice for the role regardless of the fact that he doesn’t necessarily resemble Kingpin. As for Colin Farrell as the extremely accurate assassin Bullseye, there is a fun layer of campiness that comes from his turn here. I’m not saying that it’s a ‘great’ performance but it looks like Farrell was at least having fun in the role.

‘Daredevil’ is not one of the best superhero films of all time. For the most part, it’s a fairly average entry in the genre that was toned down by the studio to appeal to a larger audience despite the fact that its main superhero is one of the darker characters of the Marvel Universe. And it’s basically the very definition of a ‘Hollywood’ film with its emphasis on its soundtrack and its various writing clichés that make the film far more ‘tragic’ then it needed to be. And yet, despite all of this, I still generally like it. It’s nowhere near as re-watchable as any of the MCU films but I never found it to be boring and despite what the internet may say about his performance, Ben Affleck isn’t that bad as Daredevil. I believe that, had the studio not been so picky about toning the film down and a better director/writer had been chosen to work on the film, this could’ve turned out much better and Affleck would’ve really shined here in the time before he really made it big through his directing work. Ultimately though, Affleck isn’t the one to blame for how this film turned out. You see, the thing about the internet when it comes to films is that it loves to target certain controversial aspects of films, even if they aren’t the primary problem of the film (see ‘Phantom Menace’ (Jar Jar Binks/Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker) and ‘Spider-Man 3’ (‘Emo Peter’) for further proof of that). Sure, as is, the first major ‘Daredevil’ film is only an average superhero film but it’s far from being the worst of the genre. Believe me folks, of the many superhero films that I’ve seen over the years, I’ve seen worse than this one.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Cinderella (2015) Review (300th Post!!)

While Disney’s recent live-action fantasy films have gotten a generally mixed reception from critics, they’ve definitely been much more successful with audiences which if you ask me is what matters the most at the end of the day. I for one have generally liked them. I’ll admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ but on the other hand I absolutely loved ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’, to the point where I even listed it as my favorite film of that year. Last year gave us ‘Maleficent’, a retelling of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ from the perspective of its main antagonist. While some may have issues with the fact that the film portrays her more as the protagonist, I did still enjoy it, mainly for Angelina Jolie’s outstanding performance in the role of Maleficent. And now Disney returns with their latest re-imagining, this time revisiting one of the most iconic films in their lineup, ‘Cinderella’. Unlike the previous three major fantasy films, which were a sequel, prequel, and re-telling, respectively, this new ‘Cinderella’, directed by Kenneth Branagh (‘Thor’), instead opts to basically just tell the same story as its animated predecessor. Some may find this to be unnecessary but ultimately this new ‘Cinderella’ does end up being an excellent adaptation of this classic story. That is thanks to not only beautiful production design, classy direction, and a top-notch cast, but also a clear sense of appreciation for the original film while in some ways also updating it for a new generation.

After the death of her mother (Hayley Atwell), young Ella’s (Lily James) father (Ben Chaplin) remarries to Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), who also has been recently widowed after the death of her husband, who was an old friend of Ella’s father. Unfortunately, not long after this, he dies while on a business trip, leaving Ella in the care of her new stepmother, who ends up revealing her true wicked nature as Ella becomes a horribly mistreated servant to both her stepmother and stepsisters, Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drizella (Sophie McShera), who nickname her ‘Cinderella’ due to the fact that her face was covered in soot one morning after sleeping by the fireplace. One day, while riding in the woods, Ella comes across a nice young man (Richard Madden) named ‘Kit’ who claims to be an apprentice living in the nearby kingdom. In reality, however, he is actually the Prince, who’s being pressured by his dying father (Derek Jacobi) to find a bride, specifically a princess, at an upcoming ball. But because ‘Kit’ is so entranced by Ella, he convinces his father to allow every maiden in the kingdom to attend in the hopes of seeing her again. On the night of the ball, Ella is eager to go but is forbidden by her stepmother to do so because she doesn’t want her to ‘disgrace’ her and her daughters. But with the help of her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), Ella’s fortunes soon begin to change.

This basically is the same general story as the original ‘Cinderella’, save for a few differences that actually do kind of improve on certain elements of that film. For one thing, Cinderella and the Prince do meet before the ball so it isn’t as ‘rushed’ of a romance as it was in the original film. We see Ella with her original parents more than we did in the original and while we don’t get the full details of it all, we even get a little more insight into Lady Tremaine’s back-story, giving us an idea as to why she acts the way she does towards Cinderella. Ultimately though, this film really benefits from just having an overall positive tone. After all, the film begins with Cinderella’s mother giving her the advice to ‘have courage and be kind’ and let’s be honest folks, in the cynical world that we live in today, that is some genuinely good advice to follow. From a technical standpoint, this film is an absolute visual delight thanks to the terrific production design, from the incredible costume design by Sandy Powell to the visually splendid set design. But at the same time, this film also has quite a lot of heart to it as well due to the aforementioned feel-good atmosphere. Branagh’s solid direction shows nothing but respect to the original film while also doing just enough to make it so that it isn’t just a ‘carbon copy’ of the original, which admittedly hasn’t aged very well in some aspects, namely in regards to the main character.

I mean I think it’s safe to say that Cinderella is a rather controversial member of the Disney Princess lineup. This is mainly due to the fact that in the original film, she is viewed by some people as being a rather passive protagonist who doesn’t really do much until she’s rescued in the end by the Prince. However, at the same time, she should be also given a lot of credit for her inner strength, positive attitude and perhaps most of all her ability to put up with all of the s*** that she’s put through by her Stepmother and Stepsister. This new film in some ways may follow the same route as the original but I don’t think that this Cinderella is passive at all. Her kindness really shines through the toughest of times and at one point she even tells Lady Tremaine that she’ll do whatever she can to ‘protect’ the prince, even if it comes at her expense. This results in, in my opinion, a very strong female heroine who is defined not by her actions but because of her overall character and Lily James does a phenomenal job in conveying Ella’s charm, likability, and most importantly, her inner strength and beauty. Because the relationship between Ella and the Prince is expanded upon here, their chemistry feels very genuine and Richard Madden definitely brings the right amount of, for lack of a better term, charm to the role. And of course, Cate Blanchett absolutely owns the role of Lady Tremaine, who’s definitely one of the greatest Disney villains of all time due to how she manages to gain so much control over Cinderella’s life without any special powers, while Helena Bonham Carter is a definite scene-stealer as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother.

‘Cinderella’ may be one of the most iconic Disney films of all time but at the same time it may not exactly be the most ‘pro-feminist’ story out there. And while the same could be argued about this new version of the story as well in certain areas, I don’t think that it’s as prevalent here as it may have been in the original film. The Cinderella in this is not just some damsel in distress who doesn’t do much. This one is more involved in determining her own fate and even if she may still not be the most proactive female protagonist ever, her likability and sweet persona more than make up for it. All in all, director Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Cinderella’ really stands out amongst Disney’s recent fantasy re-imaginings, even if it’s not doing much different when compared to the original animated film. The production design is worth the ticket price alone but the film also succeeds in terms of its heart, showing much appreciation towards its animated predecessor while also maintaining an overall ‘feel-good’ atmosphere even with all that Cinderella goes through while living with her stepfamily. And really, as someone who’s finding that he’s really starting to favor films like this over ones that are much bleaker in tone, I really believe that this film is a must-see, especially if you’re someone who is looking to cheer themselves up. I guarantee you that this film really will put a genuine smile on your face by the end of it. There’s no better way of saying it; this film is pure cinematic magic (pun totally intended) that is absolutely gorgeous both inside and out.

Rating: 5/5!

(P.S. This film is paired in its theatrical release with the short film ‘Frozen Fever’, a follow-up to Disney’s hit animated film ‘Frozen’. Because it’s just a short film, I’m not going to go into too much detail about it. However, what I will say is that if you are a fan of ‘Frozen’ (I know I am), then you’re definitely going to love this short as it brings back all of your favorite characters as well as yet another catchy song a la ‘Let it Go’ in the form of ‘Making Today a Perfect Day’.)