Movie Review ~ Cinderella (2021)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A modern movie musical take on the classic fairytale of the orphaned girl with an evil stepmother. Our ambitious heroine has big dreams and with the help of her Fab Godmother, she perseveres to make them come true.

Stars: Camila Cabello, Nicholas Galitzine, Billy Porter, Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan, Maddie Baillio, Charlotte Spencer, Minnie Driver, James Acaster, James Corden

Director: Kay Cannon

Rated: PG

Running Length: 113 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  Back in the pre-pandemic days, when a film by-passed theaters and went straight to the home video market (‘straight-to-video’, if you will) that was the sure sign it was a turkey. It was the equivalent of a high-profile movie not screening for critics.  Either the studio was trying to cut their losses and cash in on consumers having to buy their product in order to see it or they simply didn’t find the financing the justify paying the marketing costs to open the film in theaters across the country and foreign territories.  Nowadays however, you can never really tell what a movie skipping a theatrical run could mean so it’s never wise to assume anything.  I’ve seen just as many great films (and not unexpectedly great, either) that didn’t bother to go to theaters because they know that during this uncertain time they’d net more viewers/receipts if the film was released on a streaming/subscription service.

That’s why I didn’t give much thought when I read that Pitch Perfect writer (and writer of #2 and #3) Kay Cannon’s new version of Cinderella that was set to be released by Sony got snapped up by Amazon after its original studio dropped it.  I mean, you can hardly go wrong with Cinderella, one of the all-time-most-loved fairy tales from French writer Charles Perrault that has been made countless times and used as the basis for any number of modern storylines.  Disney made it an animated classic in 1950 and then worked its magic again with a breathtaking live-action remake in 2015.  I’m not entirely precious about the piece so I say, go for it if you think you can put your own spin on it.  Add in some appealing performers and a few modern tunes while you’re at it and you can call it a Cinderella of your own.

Why then, is this Cinderella, such a giant pile of, well, cinders?  I’ll go back to what all of the judges say on every singing competition on television: song choice.  It’s all about the song choice and that’s the first mistake. Cannon’s version of the fairy tale makes a critical error, causing it to run right off the track, never finding its way back.  Opening with a group of well-dressed peasants recruited from the local Orange Theory furiously “and-a-5-6-7ing” their way through Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” (begging the question, why are they a part of the Rhythm Nation?), it’s our introduction to Cannon’s reimagined world where our Cinderella (Camila Cabello) doesn’t want to marry a prince so much as open up her own dress shop.  If only her horrible “Material Girl” stepmother (Idina Menzel, Frozen) and stepsisters (Maddie Baillio & Charlotte Spencer) would let up on her and treat her like an equal.  Also feeling misunderstood is Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine, The Craft: Legacy) who is being forced by his father (Pierce Brosnan, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again) to not only marry but stand firmly in the line of succession, much to the chagrin of his ready and willing younger sister (Tallulah Greive) who is denied that right because of her gender.  The long-suffering Queen (Minnie Driver, GoldenEye) can only look on with silent disapproval…mostly because she doesn’t get a song until so close to the end I was honestly worried Driver was going to be denied the chance to sing.

Instead of the King throwing a ball to find a bride for the Prince, this time around it’s the heir’s idea for the big dance in hopes that he’ll find the mystery woman who so enchanted him when he snuck out of the palace for a day to walk among the common folk.  I can only assume Cannon got an adaptation of Aladdin mixed up with her Cinderella script because this “day with the rabble” development is strangely similar to that film but at least it puts more autonomy in the youngsters of the film and gets us back to Cinderella needing all the furnishings for her big night.  She gets decked out by her Fabulous Godmother (Billy Porter, Like a Boss, in the film so little you’ll be shocked considering how much he shows up in the advertising) and is sent to the ball in a glam gown, glass shoes, and accompanied by three mice turned men, including executive producer James Corden, Into the Woods, who inexplicably shows up for absolutely no reason whatsoever.  I think you know the rest…home before midnight, if the shoe fits you must marry it, etc., etc.

Amongst all the familiar beats are placed a truly bizarre selection of familiar songs (and two new ones) that feel either on the nose or shoehorned in…like the filmmakers took what they were given and asked no questions.  I almost choked on my drink when Queen’s “Somebody to Love” began…how many more times can this be used in a movie for this same purpose?  Is this the honest best they could come up with for a song to use to show that the prince longs for something more?  While Menzel sings the heck out of “Material Girl”, it’s such an obvious number for the Stepmother/sisters that the creativity seems to be countered by a feeling of laziness.  The best part of the movie are the proclamations from the Town Crier (Doc Brown) written by Cannon and composer Keith Harrison Dworkin – fast talking wordplay that has the energy the rest of the film sorely lacks. 

All of this might have worked a tad better with more convincing leads.  I’m not sure if this was meant as some launching pad for Cabello to transition into acting but this is not the type of showcase that bodes well for future projects.  The singing is also underwhelming, with Cabello either slightly under pitch or with a voice so throaty you expect a legion of frogs to be following her around.  I’ve liked her music quite a lot in the past but if this was the first time I heard her I wouldn’t want to investigate further.  As the romantically tortured Prince, Galitzine might make sense as a TV royal but for film he comes up short. Let’s not even go too far into the total lack of chemistry between the lovebirds.  To the great shock of no one, it’s Menzel and Porter who look the most comfortable both selling their songs and interpreting them, but Porter is also given a bit of stinker song to roll with.  At least the gorgeous gown he was given by Ellen Mirojnick (The Greatest Showman) looks stunning.

I wish everyone involved with this had the ambition to be more fun with turning this into a full-on jukebox musical.  If they were going to go for it, just go for it and don’t hold back.  Unwilling to commit to a certain type of sound or mood, the choices are all over the map and that leaves this Cinderella dancing totally on its own and without any partner to come calling.  If you’re looking for a musical update to a chestnut that works like gangbusters, I implore you to check out 2020’s Valley Girl – here’s a film that understood the assignment and went all the way across the finish line with its selection of hits.  This Cinderella can’t scrap together a decent playlist.

Movie Review ~ Pitch Perfect 3


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Following their win at the world championship, the now separated Bellas reunite for one last singing competition at an overseas USO tour, but face a group who uses both instruments and voices.

Stars: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Britanny Snow, Ruby Rose, John Lithgow, Ester Dean, Hailee Steinfeld, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, Kelley Jakle, Hana Mae Lee, Chrissie Fit, Anna Camp, Shelley Regner, DJ Khaled

Director: Trish Sie

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (3.5/10)

Review: In 2012, Pitch Perfect was an unexpected stealth weapon smash for Universal Studios.  Arriving with very little fanfare in the midst of a busy fall season, the movie relied on good word of mouth to keep audiences buying tickets and coming back for seconds.  It helps the movie was genuinely good, introducing actors and characters that were funny and appealing.  Two years later, Pitch Perfect 2 was positioned as an early summer blockbuster and the results weren’t quite as memorable.  A slack script, uninspired direction, and more than a few performances that looked like they were delivered under duress or as a way to pay off their backyard pool.  It was your typical cash-grab sequel that offered no forward motion for its players.

Here we are in the waning weeks of 2017 and Pitch Perfect 3 has arrived, supposedly as a finale of a trilogy planned on the fly.  While it corrects some structural mistakes from the first two films, it winds up suffering more than its predecessors as it falls prey to exhaustion and too-slick filmmaking.  Fans of the series will likely find major joy in the final adventures of the all-female acapella group and welcome their return, but all others might be in for a stressful 90 minutes.

It’s been two years since the Barden Bellas have sung together and the troupe has scattered to live their post-grad lives.  Becca (Anna Kendrick, The Accountant) and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson, Bachelorette) share an apartment in the big city and while Amy spends her days on the street performing as Fat Amy Winehouse, Becca continues to pursue her dream of producing music for the stars.  Trouble is, she’s working with some less than talented characters, a troublesome position for someone clearly far more talented than the clients she serves.  At a supposed reunion of the Bellas organized by senior Emily (Hailee Steinfeld, The Homesman), the ladies express interest in signing together one last time and, wouldn’t you know it, gung-ho former leader Aubrey (Anna Camp, Café Society) remembers that there is a big USO show starting up and her high-ranking military dad might be able to get them a spot.

Flying off to join the troops on a European tour, when they arrive they learn the show is doubling as an audition to open for DJ Khaled (I mean, who wouldn’t want to open for a DJ, right?  Right?) at a big upcoming gig.  It’s not long before the Bellas realize their acapella harmonies don’t stand a chance against the other acts which include a twangy country band, a soul singer, and an all-female rock band (led by the bewitching and underused Ruby Rose) that call themselves Forever Moist (ew).  Jet lag hasn’t even set in before there’s the expected riff off between the groups and the Bellas, with the pre-recorded vocals being mimed pretty poorly by everyone in the movie, this has far less of the off the cuff energy that made the one in the original film so dazzling.

Sadly, there’s more to the movie and it involves John Lithgow (Intestellar) sporting an Australian accent so broad it should come with its own groaning laugh track and an out of left field kidnapping action film plot that feels like screenwriters Kay Cannon (How to Be Single) and Mike White (The D Train) got offered too much money to make a rumored Fat Amy spin-off happen.  Can’t forget to mention that the snide color commentators from the first two films (John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks) are following the ladies around trying to make a documentary (sorry, daccamentary) about their struggles to remain relevant.

Looking less pained than the previous film, Kendrick grooves with the movie and regains her star status after taking a back seat in the more ensemble-y sequel.  Wilson is up to her usual schtick…is anyone else concerned that after all this time she’s still playing second banana in movies?  It’s time for Wilson to take the lead because she has potential that continues to be squandered on lame physical humor.  It’s nice to see Camp back in a larger role after having a glorified cameo in PP2 and Brittany Snow has a few pleasant moments as she allows her prefect outward façade to crack and show the vulnerability below the surface.  Banks (Magic Mike XXL) and Higgins (A Million Ways to Die in the West) have been reduced to grotesque, mean-spirited caricatures that began the series as well-sketched comic critics.  It’s a lowbrow end of the road for those two.

All of these quibbles might not matter because you might not be able to discern much of the action that’s taking place.  Director Trish Sie has shot and edited her film so frenzied that it feels like it was assembled by rabid piranhas.  Forget about the camera zooming back to catch the Bellas performances in widescreen. Nope, Sie favors quick shot close-up cuts and blink and you miss them wide shots.  I’m not convinced the movie wasn’t shot in some warehouse in Pasadena because aside from locales that look like old Euro sets on the Universal backlot, most of the musical numbers have a sameness to them.  Only a nice performance in the Brooklyn aquarium has any special feel to it.

On the positive side, the movie is 20 minutes shorter than the first two films and wisely keeps the men (including Adam DeVine, Skylar Astin, and Ben Platt) out of the mix.  For a series that has nicely sung the merits of female empowerment, it was always strange that men played such a pivotal role up to this point.  I’m even willing to forgive the inclusion of a leering producer with his eye on Becca because he factors so little into her overall arc.

Much like fans of Marvel, DC, and the Star Wars saga, the devotees of the Pitch Perfect series don’t want to hear the negative and that’s OK too.  These three films have brought some musicality back to movie theaters and that’s totally fine in my book…I just wish these last two films had the same spirit of originality that launched the first one into the repeat viewing category.