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

At the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival: Back At It

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot

After a one-year, pandemic-prompted absence, the Tribeca Film Festival returned in 2021 with a hybrid edition of in-person and virtual screenings. As per usual, I procured a press credential, and this time around, most of the press showings were of the at-home variety. So I summoned up some of these festival flicks on my laptop and proceeded to stick my HDMI cable into my trusty television.

When deciding which movies to watch at Tribeca (or any festival), I try to opt for ones that I would be less likely to check out otherwise, and I made even more of a point of doing that this year. All of my selections are films that aren’t playing at a theater near you anytime soon (at least that I’m aware of). I watched from the comfort of domestic furniture, but the festival vibe was present at least a little bit, thanks to some pre-recorded introductions. That’s a small detail, but an important one that I very much appreciated.


‘The Misfits’ Serves Run-of-the-Mill Heist Energy, But Nick Cannon is Kind of Dang Compelling

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The Misfits (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Hermione Corfield, Nick Cannon, Rami Jaber, Jamie Chung, Mike Angelo, Tim Roth

Director: Renny Harlin

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Loose-Lipped Language Here and There

Release Date: June 11, 2021 (Theaters)/June 15, 2021 (On Demand)

The best way I can possibly enjoy The Misfits is by pretending that it’s an unusually elaborate episode of The Masked Singer. How else to explain TMS host Nick Cannon teaming up with Pierce Brosnan for a globetrotting heist? That’s the sort of maniacal thinking that happens around an elaborate display of costumed singing celebrities, not a major action blockbuster directed by Renny Harlin. And after all, like The Masked Singer, The Misfits opens with some tone-setting narration from Cannon. Here’s a sample line from the latter that could very easily be at home on the former: “Funny thing about safety deposit boxes: ain’t nothin’ safe about ’em.” For the uninitiated, it’s not hard to imagine a Safety Deposit Box costume on the next season of The Masked Singer. (In case you haven’t already figured it out, I’m a major Masked Singer devotee.)

Okay, I suppose I should spend at least some of this review describing the actual plot in some detail. Despite what the opening scene might lead us to believe, the focus is not primarily on Cannon, even though his character’s name is Ringo. (And he makes a big deal out of how much he loves his namesake Beatle!) Instead, the main character is Brosnan as some fellow named Richard Pace, who gets wrangled into the whole heist scheme by his estranged daughter Hope (Hermione Corfield). Then he meets up with the rest of the crew, who are just as anti-complementary with each other as the title implies. Then as with a lot of crime flicks, I’m not entirely sure what’s actually going on, although I’m pretty sure Tim Roth is the mark. Also, they head to somewhere in the Middle East that I’m pretty sure is fictional (“Jazeristan”?), and yeah, this isn’t exactly the most sensitive movie. Oh well, at least it’s thoroughly lightweight.

Anyway, my biggest takeaway from The Misfits is that I like Nick Cannon’s energy, and I’m not sure I would’ve said that 10 or 20 years ago, although it was probably true then as well. Or at least it’s now true in retrospect. He’s certainly not immune to the aforementioned insensitivity, but despite some missteps here and there, I feel like I’m in good hands with him if I’m promised a good time. Does that make me a fellow Misfit? I don’t know, probably not. It’s doubtful that I’ll be spending very much mental space on this movie for much longer. But I do also love Ringo (the Beatle), so there is that.

The Misfits is Recommended If You Like: Nick Cannon’s emcee energy, Ocean’s Lite, Fast and Furious Lite

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Heists

Dear ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’: I Feel the Joy!


EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: The Story of Fire Saga (CREDIT: John Wilson/Netflix)

Starring: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan, Dan Stevens, Melissanthi Mahut, Demi Lovato, Graham Norton

Director: David Dobkin

Running Time: 203 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for “Full Nude Sculptures”

Release Date: June 26, 2020 (Netflix)

I have decided to judge the success (or lack thereof) of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga by whether or not it made me want to watch the actual Eurovision competition.

So, did Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga make me want to watch the actual Eurovision competition?

Yes! Very much so!

And that’s significant because previously my interest was in the “Hmm, maybe” vicinity. So that’s got to be an increase of about 50 percent.

I get the sense that a lot of the real-life Eurovision entrants are like Will Ferrell characters, particularly the sincere variety that includes the Icelandic dreamer Lars Erickssong. Or at least I hope that’s the case! Every time I’ve ever heard people talk about Eurovision, they make it sound like the singers are genuine heart-fueled dreamers. So while watching The Story of Fire Saga, I realized, “Oh right, of course, the appeal is obvious.”

Contests like Eurovision can also be counted upon to reveal up-and-coming talented individuals who make you go, “Why am I only now just hearing about you?” That happened for me in Eurovision the movie in the form of Melissanthi Mahut, who plays Greek hopeful Mita. I predict and pray for big things for her in the coming years.

I give Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga 3 Knives out of 4 Elves.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,’ I Can (Mostly) Resist You

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CREDIT: Jonathan Prime/Universal Studios

This review was originally posted on News Cult in July 2018.

Starring: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alexa Davies, Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan, Dominic Cooper, Andy García, Cher, Meryl Streep

Director: Ol Parker

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Some Spicy Dialogue

Release Date: July 20, 2018

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again wants us to care about how a young Donna Sheridan (Lily James) met the three possible fathers of her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). Or really, it just wants us to accept that as the framework around which some beautiful people frolic around a sunny Greek isle while singing the songs of ABBA … again! Audiences who already dig this sort of thing appear generally willing to accept whatever thin framework there is. (The setup in the present day, in which Sophie re-opening her late mom’s hotel is threatened by rain, is even thinner.) So it feels petty of me to call out Here We Go Again for its vaguely drawn backstories. But I wouldn’t call attention to them if the script didn’t also keep doing the same thing. Donna and her suitors keep on talking about the lives they are running away from, and if that motivation is so important, I just want to know the specifics. Or really, I think these characters want to tell us the specifics.

For certain audiences, those shortcomings won’t matter one lick, but for me, Here We Go Again never overcomes the inherent weirdness of a musical. But there is some fun to be had along the way that threatens to sweep up everyone in its path. Certainly, Christine Baranski’s tasty bons mot (“be still my beating vagina”) cannot be beat. Cinematographer Robert Yeoman really lets the colors pop, especially the oranges. And the final number, featuring the entire main cast, including Meryl Streep as a beyond-the-grave Donna and Cher as basically herself, really does manage to be irresistible. I don’t want to be a fuddy-duddy, so I will admit I enjoyed myself, but I must say it all feels rather fluffy and empty.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is Recommended If You Like: Singing and Dancing Along Without Asking Any Questions

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Waterloos

This Is a Movie Review: It’s Chan vs. Brosnan in Revenge Thriller ‘The Foreigner’

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2017.

The Foreigner – It’s Chan vs. Brosnan in Revenge Thriller ‘The Foreigner’

Starring: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan

Director: Martin Campbell

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: R for Frequent Explosions, Booby-Trap Puncture Wounds, and a Bit of Scheme-Based Shagging

Release Date: October 13, 2017

At age 63, Jackie Chan is still allowed to shimmy down roofs, walls, and pipes. And good for him, because while what he pulls off stunt-wise in The Foreigner is nowhere near as relentless as his early films, his twists, spins, and rolls still look like the most natural things in the world for him to be doing. But this revenge thriller places a new skill at the top of Chan’s repertoire: survivalism. As a meek London business businessman, Ngoc Minh Quan’s (Chan) knack for springing camouflaged traps with tree branches and leaves is in the key of a doomsday prepper, but actually they represent the horrors of a native land he would rather forget but will summon if he has to.

Quan’s journey for vengeance is set off by a bomb that detonates in a busy street, killing his daughter Fan (Katie Leung, aka Cho Chang from Harry Potter). But he has had the capacity for a long time to go off on a one-man spree to make terrorists pay. He was a trained killer in his home country (it is a little confusing whether Quan is supposed to be Vietnamese, or ethnically Chinese but born in Vietnam, or something else) who sought a more peaceful life by moving to England, but lost two of his children along the way. To further ramp up the tragic backstory, his wife died while giving birth to Fan. So when Fan dies, it is the classic revenge setup of the man who has nothing left to lose. The Foreigner does not add much to this genre, save for Chan’s heavily haunted performance, his eyelids and hair permanently weighed down by the debris of the blast.

Those responsible for the bombing are certain members of the IRA attempting to stir up trouble, which Quan does not much care about, but the film certainly does. There is a sense of a bigger conflict swallowing up a few small people, similar to Edge of Darkness, director Martin Campbell’s last entry in the revenge field. But where that earlier film had an easily identifiable conspiracy hook, The Foreigner’s political conflicts are much more convoluted. For the uninitiated, it is hard to make heads or tails of what the IRA’s issues with the UK are, and why they should be flaring up now. That confusion is papered over a bit by the compelling presence of Pierce Brosnan as government official Liam Hennessy, whose association with the IRA may not be as reformed as he would like to pretend. The cat-and-mouse struggle between Chan and Brosnan is a high-quality white-knuckle battle between two vets who know exactly what they’re doing. But they are surrounded by a hodgepodge of other goings-on that do not come together for a clear message or purpose.

The Foreigner is Recommended If You Like: Apocalypse Prepping, Rambo, Edge of Darkness

Grade: 3 out of 5 Tree Branch Traps