Movie Reviews: Cinderella, The Spongebob Movie and Get Hard
This week it's Cinderella , The SPongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water and Get Hard
(Family: Starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Ben Chaplin, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger. Dir. Kenneth Branagh). Cert G
Cinderella is a tale beloved of scores of generations of little girls who have grown up hoping for a white knight and a fairytale ending.
Let's face it, though; while they still love princesses, today's little girls are a different beast than in generations past. Scrolling through iPads and affecting the jaded ennui of teenagers, little ones are smarter and more savvy than we ever were.
They've also grown up with a new wave of fairytale princesses, like the ballsy warrior Merida in Brave or the feisty Anna and Elsa in Frozen. These new heroines don't suffer fools, which if you really think about it was always the girl born-Ella-who-became-Cinderella's big problem all along.
The tale of Cinderella has been given a cinematic rinse time and again, so to see it pop up again in 2015 is a curiosity.
But this is a wallet-buster of a movie and likely to be Disney's great hope for the year. It's pretty obvious that the studio is chasing those faithful Frozen audiences. This time around they've decided not to tamper with a classic, and it's at once the film's biggest strength and its greatest weakness.
"Be courageous and kind," says Ella's mother on her deathbed, which probably goes some way to explaining why she's such a pushover.
Within minutes of the arrival of her stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and stepsisters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger), Ella has given up her room to her new sisters and been forced into the attic, paving the way for a life of domestic drudgery.
The new-wave Disney princesses would be having none of it, but here you begin to realise that Cinderella, for all her kindness and cheeriness, is a bit of a sap.
Lily James was always a cloying, ebullient presence in Downton Abbey, so perhaps the domain of the Disney princess really is her natural home. She is so sweet you'd break a tooth on her, while her prince (Game Of Thrones' Richard Madden) is a perfect fit for her. Yes, he's a bit of a sap too. With not a decent line in the whole film, Madden is simply set dressing here.
Playing the stepmother, Blanchett is Cinderella's real redeeming feature. With the right amount of chilling sangfroid, she is utterly compelling and spiky.
Not quite the role she was born to play, but Blanchett certainly has the face - all angles and side-eye - that's perfect for the part. Grainger and McShera are vastly under-used in their roles of the ugly stepsisters.
Usually, their characters exist to provide welcome comic relief, but they haven't much of a script to play with here.
Director Branagh has tackled literary adaptations before, and he's definitely a purist. He can do lavish spectacle, but he's played it all too safe this time around. This is going through the motions to almost bewildering effect.
His Cinderella stays so faithful to the 1950s animation of the story that it's already dated and quaint. There is no wriggle-room for sassiness or clever references or even a dash of 21st Century spikiness. Put against the children's films of previous years with their smart scripts and breakneck razzle-dazzle, Cinderella falls flat.
We all grew up in thrall of the flaxen-haired Cinderella with her sunny disposition, fancy frocks and glass footwear.
But that was then and this is now. We've copped on, and our kids have better cinematic role models to look up to. If you have a child who's as innocent as the day is long - and congratulations on that - this may well be right up their street.
The rest of us, meanwhile, will be eye-rolling into our pick 'n' mix throughout. **
The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water
(Family: Starring Antonio Banderas, Tim Conway, Eric Bauza, Paul Tibbitt, Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass. Dir. Paul Tibbitt). Cert G
from one family favourite to another, though it's fair to say that Cinderella never boasted the crossover appeal of Spongebob Squarepants.
If memory serves, Spongebob Squarepants was beloved of the student stoner set back in the day, who found much to laugh about the fact that the action was set in a place called Bikini Bottom.
2004's Spongebob movie fully capitalised on the idea that the cartoon was one thing for kids and quite another for adults. At the very least, it was one of the few movies to use David Hasselhoff's leg hair as a plot device.
The 2015 version kicks off with an impressively epic swashbuckling scene (here, Antonio Banderas plays a panto villain pirate to fairly questionable effect), though it's not long before we're back into surreal, "pineapple under the sea" territory. Midway through the film, however, things take a different turn as our beloved characters expand into three-dimensional CG. This is as jarring as it is intriguing, especially for those who watched Spongebob in the wee hours of the morning.
The story unfolds thus: our subterranean pals Spongebob (Tom Kenny), Mr Krab (Clandy Brown), Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) and Squidward (Rodger Bumpass) are protecting the Krabby Patty recipe - the secret to the Krusty Krab's success - from rival restaurant owner Plankton.
As the recipe vanishes, Bikini Bottom descends into savage chaos. Spongebob believes that his adversary Plankton is innocent in this regard, so amid the post-apocalyptic scenes the two team up to get to track it down.
It's riotous, kinetic, bright and campy enough to keep most kids on the edge of their seats, though some of the more knowing references to the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Douglas Adams will be lost on them. Other side-references, from food trucks to The Fisher King, will also go over their heads.
The film's energy is unrelenting, its pace barely giving up for the whole 92 minutes. So many projects walk a knife-edge between entertaining kids and keeping their parents amused, and Sponge Out Of Water manages this daredevil feat with impressive vim. ***
(Comedy: Starring Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Craig T Nelson, Alison Brie, Ariana Neal, John Mayer. Dir. Etan Cohen). Cert TBC
Get Hard is the sort of movie that really makes you wonder just who is pulling the strings in Hollywood.
How this plot got past the financiers is anyone's guess: millionaire fraudster James King (Ferrell) is heading to jail after a bust, so he enlists the help of Darnell Lewis (Hart) to give him some pointers on how to best survive behind bars in San Quentin.
The only flaw in his plan is that this is a classic case of mistaken identity:
Darnell is not a criminal, as James thinks he is, rather the owner of a car wash. We never quite find out just why Darnell, a usually upright kind of guy, would get involved in such a ruse. High jinks and hilarity ensue - or at least that's the plan.
Get Hard is a vehicle for Ferrell and Hart's comedic chops. Unfortunately, the movie industry is replete with these films; tawdry triumphs of commerce over substance. Luckily, Hart and Farrell are likeable enough to make this film just about watchable.
There's a social commentary in there somewhere, and possibly the whisperings of a soul. Good luck if you can find either. **