NEW YORK (CNS) — Cinderella (Disney) injects vibrant new life into a venerable fairy tale. The result is an exuberant live-action retelling of the oft-filmed fable, the most famous screen version of which is Disney’s classic 1950 animated feature.
Opting for fidelity and sincerity rather than a revisionist approach, director Kenneth Branagh sticks to the basic story, displaying genuine affection for its iconic characters. Familiar yet fresh, his delightful take, suitable for the entire family, nicely brings to the forefront dual lessons about compassion and forgiveness.
There’s a lot of death in the Cinderella story, but here that aspect of the tale is treated gently. Ella (Lily James) tends to her dying mother (Hayley Atwell), whose final request to her is, “Always have courage and be kind.” This becomes Ella’s life motto — and not a bad one at that. Her sunny nature and goodwill inspire all creatures, great (fellow humans) and small (white mice).
When her beloved father (Ben Chaplin) remarries, Ella’s patience is put to the test, but she never gives in to the dark side. The same, alas, cannot be said for Ella’s new stepmother, Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), or her shrieking stepsisters, Drizella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger).
The ladies are ghastly in every respect, from their poor manners to their garish outfits. And anyone who calls her cat Lucifer, as Lady Tremaine does, is just about bound to be wicked.
The standard narrative unfolds: Father dies, and Ella is reduced to waiting on her obnoxious relations in the manner of a servant. Covered in ashes from cleaning the fireplace, she’s derisively dubbed Cinderella.
Riding her horse through the forest one day, Cinderella encounters Kit (Richard Madden), aka Prince Charming. They meet cute but confused, she unaware of his royal status, he not catching her name. Cinderella retreats, and the prince, his heart aflame, vows to find the enchanting maiden.
A royal ball is arranged, with an invitation to all eligible ladies in the kingdom, titled or not. Lady Tremaine forbids Cinderella to attend, tearing her dress to pieces.
Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), naturally, has other ideas. The transformation of pumpkin, mice, lizards and a goose into a golden coach, white horses, footmen and driver, respectively, is one of the highlights of the film.
The other standout is Cinderella’s shimmering blue dress. Not since Scarlett O’Hara made an outfit from old curtains in Gone with the Wind has a skirt stolen the show to such an extent, swishing and swirling across the dance floor as though possessing a mind of its own.
While there are a few twists in store, a happy ending is assured, and the final message won’t leave a dry eye in the house.
Preceding Cinderella is a short animated film, Frozen Fever, featuring characters from the blockbuster 2013 movie Frozen. It’s Princess Anna’s (voice of Kristen Bell) birthday, and her sister, Queen Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel), is planning a party — despite feeling unwell. Given Elsa’s frost-producing proclivities, as highlighted in the original, however, her sneezes bring predictably chilly consequences.
The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
NEW YORK (CNS) — The crime drama Run All Night (Warner Bros.) can be viewed as a Catholic-inflected redemption story.
Even as it showcases some fundamentally positive values, though, director Jaume Collet-Serra and screenwriter Brad Ingelsby’s acrid film garners such a high body count and traverses so gritty an urban landscape that their tale of conversion winds up being too sordid for the casual moviegoer.
Liam Neeson stars as burned-out New York hit man Jimmy Conlon. While he may have escaped legal retribution for the long-ago string of rub-outs that gained him the tabloid nickname The Gravedigger, Jimmy is a remorse-driven drinker dependent for survival on the charity of his lifelong friend and underworld patron Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris).
The casualties of Jimmy’s killing spree, undertaken at Shawn’s direction, include his relationship with his law-abiding son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) from whose family — Genesis Rodriguez plays Mike’s wife Gabriela — Jimmy is completely estranged. Yet when Mike, a limo driver, is targeted for death after accidentally witnesses a multiple murder carried out by Shawn’s headstrong son and heir Danny (Boyd Holbrook), the lad has no choice but to turn to Jimmy for protection.
With both crooked cops under Shawn’s control and the city’s honest chief of homicide, Det. John Harding (Vincent D’Onofrio), on their trail, Mike and Jimmy go on the run. The chase becomes even more challenging for the duo once Shawn adds ruthless gun-for-hire Andrew Price (rapper Common) to the array of adversaries hunting them.
Initially resigned to his own damnation — he and Shawn talk in oblique terms of their shared eternal doom — Jimmy eventually comes to yearn for some measure of personal salvation. He’s also shown to be at pains to keep Mike on the right side of the law and, in particular, to prevent him from spilling blood.
Along with the odd religious detail, such as a crucifix or a portrait of St. John Paul II hanging in the background, a consistent theme of confession, though it’s rendered in purely secular terms, reinforces the vaguely Catholic context of the proceedings. As for the possible aesthetic rewards awaiting those adult patrons for whom this frequently visceral odyssey is suitable, the yield on that score is more routine than abundant.
The film contains much harsh and sometimes bloody violence, drug use, a few vulgar sexual references, about a dozen instances of profanity and twice that number each of rough and crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
Copyright (c) 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops