Modern Jukebox Musical Update of ‘Cinderella’ is Here to Sweep You Off Your Feet

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Cinderella (2021) (CREDIT: Kerry Brown/Amazon)

Starring: Camila Cabello, Nicholas Galitzine, Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver, Tallulah Greive, Billy Porter, Maddie Baillio, Charlotte Spencer

Director: Kay Cannon

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: PG for Some Slightly Off-Color Dialogue

Release Date: September 3, 2021 (Amazon Prime Video and Limited Theaters)

How can it ever be allowed that movies don’t first open in the theater? Look, I know we’re in a precarious situation right now in which theatrical releases don’t always look like a safe or financially viable option, but there are certain flicks that just demand to be seen on the big screen. Personally, I believe that’s true of all films, but it’s especially in the case of this jukebox musical version of Cinderella, written and directed by Pitch Perfect vet Kay Cannon. This is exactly the sort of movie that should have people getting up and singing and dancing in the aisles! Sure, you can also do that in your living room, but we know that’s not the same as losing yourself in a dark room full of strangers. This is a piece of art that begins with a mashup of Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” and Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be,” and I’m sorry, but if that’s the message you’re delivering, then you can’t keep me confined to non-theatrical viewing options.

So here’s the journey that Cinderella 2021 took to finally arrive in front of our eyeballs: in pre-pandemic days, Sony scheduled it for a February 2019 theatrical release, but then in May 2021, they cut a deal with Amazon to have it go straight to Prime Video. May of this year! A time when things looked promising! Anyway, I suppose that Cinderella can still be enjoyed at home. I enjoyed it that way, after all! Just gather around the kids and a bunch of your friends and maybe make a party out of it. It’s the rare modern retelling of a classic story that’s neither too surface-level nor too overly specific. The setting is still “Generic Medieval English Village,” but the dialogue is a close-enough facsimile to the 21st century to have enough upside.

The message boils down to the fairly straightforward “Maybe we don’t have to fulfill the roles that society has prescribed to us,” but the details are well-considered. Camila Cabello is the plucky Ella (the “Cinder” nickname comes from her stepsisters associating her with cinder blocks), who doesn’t just want to wear pretty dresses and marry a prince – she wants to run her own dressmaking business and marry that prince only if he’ll support her career aspirations. And she’s not the only character who’s granted a thoughtful reconsideration. Her stepmother Vivian (Idina Menzel) isn’t cruel because she’s evil, but rather because her own dashed dreams have driven her towards cynicism.

We also get to know more about Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) and his family: the King who’s boxed in by tradition (Pierce Brosnan), the Queen who’s wondering where the passion in her marriage went (Minnie Driver), and the Princess who just wants to be taken seriously (Tallulah Grieve). And of course we can’t forget Fab G, the fairy godparent brought to typically fabulous life by Billy Porter. If anybody can be anything, why wouldn’t that character be played by one of the most effervescent entertainers alive today? Similarly, whenever Cinderella 2021 operates by the logic of “If a new Cinderella can be whatever we want, then let’s do whatever we want,” it just transports you away.

Cinderella 2021 is Recommended If You Like: Galavant, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Billy Porter Realness, The delightful TBS sitcom Miracle Workers

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Dresses

‘Frozen II’ Only Makes Sense If You’re From Arendelle

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CREDIT: Disney

In Frozen II, Elsa hears a mysterious voice calling out to her from the forest. There’s some gee-gaw mystical explanation by the end about what that’s all about, but its ultimate purpose seems to be making her realize that she ought to be living on her own out in the forest. It’s hard not to read queer subtext into that, if you’re at all open to the possibility that there could be queer subtext in an animated Disney movie. So that’s how that goes, and meanwhile, there’s plenty more going on elsewhere, as Elsa and Anna stumble across some soldiers who have been fighting each other for decades while also trying to understand the important messages their parents have left for them. Plus, Kristoff attempts to propose to Anna while she keeps misinterpreting him in maddeningly over-the-top fashion, Olaf keeps telling us that water remembers, when ALL OF A SUDDEN, I’m so overwhelmed that I’m now doing a Phil Donahue impression (or at least an impression of Darrell Hammond’s Donahue impression). Arendelle is a busy place. Sometimes it’s exhausting.

I give Frozen II One Million Voices out of a Million and a Half Water Memories.

Adam Sandler is Unbound in the Almost Unbearably Intense ‘Uncut Gems’

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CREDIT: A24

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin Garnett, Julia Fox, Lakeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Abel Tesfaye, Judd Hirsch, Mike Francesa

Director: Ben and Josh Safdie

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rating: R for Shouted Overlapping Profanity, the Violence of High-Stakes Gambling, and a Few Sexy Times

Release Date: December 13, 2019 (Limited)

I know some people who don’t love sports but are able to appreciate athletics when it’s in a movie because you really get to see the emotions and stories behind the games. That has perhaps never been more viscerally true than it is in the climax of Uncut Gems, which hinges on a specific stat line in the deciding game in the 2012 NBA Eastern Conference semifinals between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. There are millions of dollars at stake in high-profile events like these, and writing-directing brother Josh and Benny Safdie were astute enough to realize that they could craft a particularly gripping narrative out of one story behind those millions. To wit: New York City diamond district jeweler Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) has placed a bet on the performance of Boston’s star baller Kevin Garnett, and it is no exaggeration to say that it is probably the most significant bet he has ever placed in his life.

The thrill of Sandler working with auteurist directors is that they don’t ask him to change his persona. Rather, they push him to be the most fascinating version of himself. As is the case with Barry Egan in Punch-Drunk Love or Danny Meyerowitz in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Howard fits squarely within the classic Sandler mold. He’s an unapologetically shouty, emotionally sloppy man-child, but with a dash more (or rather, a hundred dashes more) of recklessness than usual. He’s got hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt all around town, particularly with his brother-in-law (Eric Bogosian), who’s hired a couple of heavies to hound him. But he’s recently come into possession of an extremely valuable precious stone from Ethiopia that could be worth millions. His mixture of predicament and great fortune leads him to broker a potential deal with a precious metal-hungry Garnett, while also dealing with a malfunctioning door buzzer, getting locked while naked in his car trunk, and a wife (Idina Menzel) who can barely stand him. He does also have a much younger girlfriend (Julia Fox) who’s crazy about him, but not in a way that’s particularly healthy for either of them. Anyway, even with all that boiling in the stew, Howard actually has a few opportunities to clear his debt, but he just can’t help himself as he keeps doubling down and going for an even bigger score.

Uncut Gems is a natural companion piece with the Safdies’ last film, 2017’s Good Time, which starred Robert Pattinson and Ben Safdie as a couple of low-level bank-robbing brothers. Uncut Gems matches Good Time for claustrophobia and raises the stakes in terms of catastrophic decision-making, but it allows for the possibility of hope that a happy ending is somehow possible. A lot of that is thanks to Sandler, who when he is actually invested in a performance is so immensely likeable (and is still fairly likeable even when he’s being lazy). It’s not hard to root for Howard. That of course leads to the question, should we really be rooting for him? If all his high-risk decisions work out (and logic dictates that they certainly can), then he’ll never learn to live more reasonably. But at a certain point, with the whirlwind that his life causes everyone around him, I just want it to end. If it all goes wrong for Howard, it also goes wrong for so many people who don’t deserve it. There a few possibilities for how this can all end, all of which are guaranteed to leave you with a ton of adrenaline pumping.

Uncut Gems is Recommended If You Like: Good Time, the NBA playoffs, Colonoscopies set to synth music

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 African Jews