Friday, March 20, 2015

Cate the Great in CINDERELLA

Such silky bitchiness.  Such delicious comic timing.  Let's face it.  Disney's new live-action CINDERELLA is mainly for the little ones.  But the Cate Blanchett performance as the StepMommie Dearest who makes Ella's life a hell of "toil and ash" makes the movie fun for the big ones to sit through also.  And she looks fabulous in high-glam storybook fashions.
Ella is a very good girl.  Her very good mother teaches her to "have courage and be kind."  Mother dies  young, leaving little Ella to be raised by her also very good and loving father.  He's sweet, but not quite worldly.  He can't see that the elegant Lady Tremaine weds him for his money more so than for love.  She wants financial security and material goods for herself and her dimwitted daughters, whom she obviously finds tiresome.
Lady Tremaine married for love the first time around.  Life disappointed her.  Now she wants money and position.  She marries Ella's father and practically turns their home into a casino with gambling and liquor for the guests.  After Ella's father dies unexpectedly (and also fairly young), StepMama is free to abuse Ella, now pretty much turned into the household domestic and called Cinder-Ella by the "mean girl" stepsisters.
You know the rest of the story.  Cinderella remains true to what she promised her late mother.  She's courageous and kind.  And she talks to animals.  And she has a fairy godmother.  She meets a handsome Prince. She's the belle of a ball.  That's all lovely to look and most entertaining but, believe me,  it's Cate Blanchett's delivery of a simple line like "Do shut up" that really gives this movie a kick.  Blanchett's mean and manipulative stepmother is the shot of brandy that cuts through all the whipped cream of the story.  She is to Cinderella what Eleanor Parker as The Baroness was to The Sound of Music.  It's fitting that Lady Tremaine fancies wearing jungle cat prints.  Her claws are out.
There's a wonderful choreography to Blanchett's physicality as the stepmother.  Like the description of Cyd Charisse's vamp in "The Girl Hunt" jazz ballet of Vincente Minnelli's The Band Wagon, she comes at you in sections.  Shoulders first, head follows with a tilt and a sly smile.  Blanchett calls to mind sensational sophisticated catty women in a Hollywood classic directed by Minnelli or George Cukor.  Did you ever see Cukor's under-appreciated 1950s musical comedy, Les Girls?  There's a touch of the Kay Kendall in Cate Blanchett's performance as Lady Tremaine.  Think of Kendall, decked out on all her finery, taking the stand in the courtroom section of Cukor's musical.  If only director Kenneth Branagh, a competent actor/director, was a master at giving such a leading lady the quality of close-ups she deserves in a role like this.  Cukor and Minnelli and other Hollywood greats had that talent.
In Lady Tremaine's final scene on the staircase, Branagh should've given her a close-up as she stood and watched her plans crumble.  Other than that, everything is fine.  As I wrote, this is mainly for the kids.  They will love kooky Fairy Godmother turning a pumpkin into a coach and animals into coachmen.  Helena Bonham Carter is a hoot as that magical character.  She's a blonde Fairy Godmother.
Disney now has a blonde obsession that, frankly, is wearing thin.  Elsa in Frozen, Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother, most of the anchors and contributors on ABC's Good Morning America and the lead female on Sunday night's Once Upon a Time (Disney is the parent company of ABC).  Blondes.  Branagh's Cinderella is racially diverse, a quality of films he's directed, but the constant Disney highlighting of the slim blonde as the "It" girl is annoying.  Nevertheless, Lily James is quite charming and well-cast as Cinderella.
Known to TV viewers as a member of the Downton Abbey cast, Lily James is not a blonde herself, but she had to be one to play Cinderella.  She's blonde, slim-waisted and wears a blue dress.  Just like Elsa in Frozen.  There's the other Disney obsession.  The studio loves putting a cinch-waisted blonde in a blue dress.  Notice that Cinderella has the same shade of blue that Elsa wears in Frozen and in the new animated short, Frozen Fever.  It's all about getting the blue dress.  Disney has become the Linda Tripp of entertainment.  But, back to the hair.   Why can't Disney mix it up and, at least, give us a brunette Cinderella like actresses in modern, sophisticated spins on the Cinderella story -- like Claudette Colbert in the 1939 screwball comedy, Midnight...Audrey Hepburn in Billy Wilder's 1954 romantic comedy, Sabrina...and Liza Minnelli who was a Cinderella waitress to a tipsy, wisecracking millionaire Prince Charming called Arthur in 1981.

On the Kenneth Branagh diversity in this Cinderella, I loved the casting of British actor Nonso Anozie as the Prince's captain and best friend.  He certainly can fill out a royal blue captain's outfit.

He is one great big tall cup o' hot cocoa.

The Cinderella message to "have courage and be kind" is good for kids.  The fantasy sequences with Fairy Godmother are fun and the royal ball is a visual treat.  Brava to Cate Blanchett for giving this fantasy movie the lemon zest that it needed.

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