Saturday, March 4, 2017

Movie Review: Cinderella (2015)

Hey, everyone! Sorry for the lack of posts over the past week. I know I said on Twitter that I'd be taking a brief hiatus while I moved my blog over to WordPress--with a fancy new domain name and everything!--but the process is turning out to be a bit more slow-going than I anticipated. Moral of the story: sometimes you actually do have to read the terms of service, because there may just be a clause stating that the web hosting service you just signed up for doesn't allow profanity. So then after you decide that going clean and family-friendly ain't happening, you cancel your subscription but decide to keep the domain name that came with it, switch over to a new web host, decide that getting G-Suite with the package might be a good idea so you can have a domain name email to start a mailing list with, but because the domain name is provided by a different web hosting service the process just became way more complicated and in the end you kind of want to light your computer on fire.

So yeah, I figured I'd take a break from all that for a while and finish the movie review I started writing almost a week ago. This will probably be my last post as a Blogger blogger, so you'd think I'd be a little more sentimental; after all, I've been blogging here since May, 2014. And maybe I am, just a little bit, but the way I see it, making the jump over to self-hosting and WordPress represents me turning over a new leaf as a writer. I'm trying to be a bit more serious about it these days, especially now that recent events in my life have afforded me more time to devote to my writing and blogging. I'd like to try my luck at putting myself out there as an author, as well as possibly making a bit of money off of my writing. I want to devote more time and effort into building this blog into something I can be proud of, give it all the sweet lovin' it deserves. I want to self-publish the fantasy short story collection I've been working on, I want to crank out all those steamy romance novel ideas I've had--or that my alter-ego has had--I want to do a lot of things as a writer, and to do that I need to make some changes and have a fresh start. I'm pretty excited about it, but a little nervous, too. But you can rest assured, no matter where this writing journey takes me, All Write-y Then will still be the same... just a lot better.

But you came here for a review, right?

So, originally I was going to write review of Snow White and the Huntsman, since I've been meaning to tear into that movie for a while now, and then follow it up with a review of The Huntsman: Winter's War, because why the hell not. But as I was doing chores the other day I was scrolling through what free movies were on demand--I tend to need some audiovisual stimulation when I do housework--and found the Disney remake of Cinderella.

Yes, that one; the one with Robb Stark, Lady Rose, Lucrezia Borgia, and Bellatrix Lestrange. I actually meant to review this when I first saw it over a year ago, but somehow I never got around to it. Well, I'm getting around to it now.

(WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the whole movie. And a warning for the usual foul language, although I'm only bothering with that because this is supposed to be a kids' movie and I don't do kid-friendly reviews. Oh, and some spoilers for Game of Thrones through season three because... reasons).

The movie opens with a "once upon a time" voice over narration--because of course it does--which takes us through Ella's childhood. Her parents adore her and everything is sunny and perfect and wonderful, because it wouldn't be a true Disney fairy tale if things didn't start out sunny and perfect and wonderful before things go things go horribly wrong. See: literally every Disney movie ever.

Also in true Disney Princess fashion, Cinderella is one with nature and talks to animals; in the 1950 animated version, she was even more special, in that the animals--well, the mice, anyway--talked back. Here? They don't. Because I guess that doesn't work in a live-action movie? I don't know. The movie is pretty inconsistent with how human-like her mouse friends behave. We see young Ella cheerfully feeding and talking to the family animals; her mom tells her that she believes that the animals understand, and that people can understand them if they only have the patience to listen, which is how we "learn to take care of them". I think I get what she's trying to say, but Ella seems to take it way too literally, even as an adult.

So is she the mouse-whisperer or not?
All of this is a clumsy lead-in to Ella's mom telling us about guardian angels fairy godmothers, who watch over everyone, but apparently can't be fucked to step in and help except when you need a fancy dress to go to a party that your meany-head stepmom won't let you go to, and not when said meany-head is actively making your life a living hell. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Ella asks what else she believes in. And what does Mom believe in? Everything.

*dryly* Really. You believe in everything. So you believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster? You believe in Santa Claus? You believe most of the world's leaders are lizard people? You believe aliens built the pyramids?

Didn't think I'd be using this again...
There's being "open-minded", and then there's this. Mom's pretty flipping gullible. Or full of shit.

Anyway, everything's sunshine and rainbows. Then, everything changes when the Fire Nation attacked when Ella's mom dies from Mysterious Fainting Disease (tm). It's probably tuberculosis, because that's what everyone died from back then (that and syphilis). Because cliches are the glue holding this movie together, she clings to life long enough to give Ella some inspirational final words of advice: "have courage and be kind". Remember these words, kiddos, because the film is going to spend the next hour-and-a-half pounding it into your skull.

Ella grows up, and becomes one of those weird people who walks around while reading a book. That's pretty much the most fake and affected way to show that a character's a bookworm. She seems nice and a regular ball of sunshine, but also a total homebody who does nothing but stay at home and read to her father all day. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Oh, and get used to that blue dress she's wearing, because she apparently wears it EVERY DAMN DAY.

Ella might be content with life as it is, but Dad thinks it's time for a change. No, this doesn't involve announcing that it's high time his grown daughter find a husband, which you'd think would be a priority for a wealthy merchant in whenever-the-hell-this-takes-place with no other children. Instead, he plans to get married himself, to the recently widowed and utterly fabulous Lady Tremaine. Why is it that Disney villains are always so chic? Unfortunately, her fashion sense didn't get passed on to her daughters, Anastasia and Drisella (A&D for short), two nasty bitches who think they're the hottest shit ever. They're still more fashionable than Ella, though, who's STILL WEARING THE SAME DAMN DRESS.

I'm sorry, but little things like that bother me. I get they're trying to make her look humble and down-to-earth compared to her vain step-family, but literally everyone in this movie gets to change their clothes except for her! And this is before the family becomes destitute and she's forced into a life of servitude.

Ella's dad leaves for another long business trip, and you don't need to have watched Game of Thrones to know that the way he says "I'll always come home" means he's not going to. So Ella is sad--does she always get this weepy when he leaves, or is it because the script knows she'll never see him again?--and her stepmother steps in to "comfort" her. A&D are arguing in the background, when Lady Tremaine mentions that they're having trouble adjusting to their smaller bedroom and Ella immediately offers to let them have her room. Which is nice of her and all, until Stepmom gleefully insists she sleep in the attic while she redecorates the house. And Ella just goes with it without a word. Uh, Ella? Your mom said "have courage and be kind," not "keep quiet and be a doormat."

We're meant to see this as her making the best of a shitty situation, though, I guess, and to her credit she does just that. Also, apparently Ella does do more than read and talk to animals all the time; she's friendly with the servants and helps out by bringing eggs to the kitchen and such. She's so pure of heart it almost makes me want to barf, yet I can't help but like her. Damn you Disney and your obnoxiously heart-warming and sympathetic protagonists!

Time passes, and Ella gets word that her father has gotten sick and died on the road. The stepbitches are idiots who immediately complain that they won't be getting presents, but Lady Tremaine knows better: their primary source of income is gone, and how are they going to live? The solution, of course, doesn't include selling their finery, moving into a smaller house, finding work, taking control of her husband's merchant business, or immediately trying to find rich husbands for her daughters or herself. Nope! They're vain and evil, so just fire the staff and have Ella do literally all the work for both the huge house and sizable grounds, because it's her home and she loves it and she'd probably do what she could to take care of it anyway if she wasn't being forced to. All they're doing is helpfully providing "distraction" from her grief by giving her endless work to do.

Girl, come on. Stand up for yourself! This isn't Ever After, where the heroine did do all the work out of genuine love for her family home and wasn't the only servant (correct me if I'm wrong about this, it's been a while since I've seen that movie). Being kind doesn't mean working yourself to the bone for people who walk all over you and treat you like shit, and having courage doesn't mean having to take everything life throws at you lying down. For fuck's sake.

But, I digress. After a particularly shitty morning when the Stepbitches (I think that's a much better nickname than A&D, don't you?) nickname her "Cinderella" for being covered in soot from sleeping by the fire and Stepmom has pretty much stopped pretending she's not evil, Ella's just about had it. She goes for a melodramatic horseback ride--I assumed she didn't intend to run away because she didn't pack anything, but then again she never changes her clothes anyway--and comes across a stag that's being hunted in the forest. And who should be hunting the stag but da King in da Norf the prince!

But obviously he can't just tell her that he's the prince, because where would be the fun in that? Well, when you're living in a kingdom where all the women are lining up to get a piece of that royal ass, I guess you want to ensure that your true love who you just met actually loves you for you. So they have a dizzying circle-each-other-on-horses conversation, and Ella admonishes him for hunting the stag, because she looked into his eyes and thought that "he had a lot left to do with his life". I take it she's a vegetarian. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The prince finds this amusing, because she's clearly Not Like Other Girls. Ella asks who he is, and at first he laughs in disbelief that she doesn't know, but says his name is "Kit", that he lives at the palace, and his father is teaching him is trade. So of course Ella's first assumption is that he's an apprentice!

Yeah, just a really, really fancily dressed apprentice with plenty of leisure time for hunting. Oh, and with a royal guard played by... Xaro Xhoan Daxos? Ok, new headcanon: the Wonderful World of Disney is the afterlife for dead Game of Thrones characters.

But seriously, this scene just makes Ella look pretty stupid, especially when Captain Xaro starts saying "your Highness" and Prince Robb immediately shouts over him "Kit! It's Kit!" She's... totally going to be surprised when she finds out he's the prince, isn't she?

Moving on, Kit heads back to the palace to tell Dad about the mystery girl he met in the woods. Apparently the the king is slowly dying from a mysterious illness as well (TB or syphilis, take your pick), although he looks perfectly fine. The king hangs a lampshade on the fact that Kit only met her once, but his son insists that she's deep and special. I don't know what "much more to her" he saw other than the fact that she's anti-hunting, but whatever. They have a good-natured argument over marrying for advantage vs. marrying for love, and you know which side Disney wants us to be on. You know, Kit, I believe I recall a story of another king who married for love and not advantage.

Enter the Grand Duke (of what, we're not told), who for some reason is pissy over Kit not killing the stag. IDK. I'm guessing this guy is supposed to be like the Hand of the King or something, but whatever he is he's apparently an important guy whose opinion is supposed to hold a lot of weight... even though no one really listens to him. Anyway, the GD is very much pro-arranged marriage, which leads to a discussion of the upcoming ball, which is where the prince traditionally picks a bride from among the princesses invited from the surrounding kingdoms. Kit proposes that they extend an invitation to all the maidens in the kingdom, and the GD and the king are both on board. How no one sees through this obvious ploy to see the mystery girl again and probably marry her is anyone's guess.

So Ella's at the market one day and *GASP* she has a friend? Who isn't a mouse? We're never told who this girl is, and I don't remember if we saw her before, but I guess we're supposed to assume she was one of the former servants Lady Tremaine fired. The two stop to listen when a royal proclamation is read: that all maidens in the kingdom are invited to a ball, at which the prince will choose a bride. All the ladies are excited about this, and I'm sitting here stroking my chin over the conspicuous absence of any mention that the prince is still expected to choose a royal bride. Did they let Kit write this proclamation?

Ella runs home to share the news, and is excited at the prospect of seeing Kit the apprentice again. Uh, the proclamation said all maidens in the kingdom were invited. I'm sure there will be plenty of gentlemen there as well, but she's under the impression that he's a mere apprentice, not some lordly courtier; why would she assume he'd be invited?

Whatever. Stepmom immediately starts scheming for one of the stepbitches to marry the prince. The night of the ball, Ella helps them to get ready and then works on getting ready herself, fixing up an old dress of her mother's. Too bad for her that she forgot her Stepmom is EVIL. As soon as she sees the dress, she tears the sleeve, not even trying to come up with some excuse as to why she can't go. The leave and Ella runs outside, crying and apologizing to her dead mother for not having courage. Then she runs across the yard to go cry elsewhere and WHOA THERE'S A CREEPY OLD LADY JUST STANDING THERE.

Ella barely even acts surprised when she sees her. I'd probably be screaming and asking how the fuck she got there. This is, of course, another opportunity to showcase how kind and selfless Ella is, when the old lady asks for some milk. To the surprise of no one, she turns out to be Ella's fairy godmother! What follows is a drawn-out comedy filler scene where the FG tries to turn a pumpkin into a coach inside a tiny greenhouse. Is it just me, or is Lady Tremaine starting to look like the only semi-intelligent character in this movie?

But wait, Ella still needs a new dress! Ella asks if FG can just fix the one she has on, since it was her mother's and it would be like taking a part of her with her to the ball. FG gives her a sympathetic look and says she'll just fancy up the plain dress a bit... so of course it ends up looking completely different. Way to respect her wishes. Ella's just thrilled about it, though. The fairy godmother does do one smart thing: casting a spell so that her stepfamily won't recognize her.

At the ball, Lady Tremaine makes her dramatic entrance and the stepbitches make fools of themselves. Kit restlessly watches as a bunch of princesses are introduced, and the king finally guesses that he's hoping the mystery girl will show up. And then she does! Ella, of course, is shocked that Kit's the prince. They share the first dance together, then he takes her on a mini-tour of the palace gardens and pushes her on a swing. It's all very cute and does show that they have some chemistry but... sorry, I'm just never going to buy into the whole love at first sight thing.

Meanwhile, Lady Tremaine is skulking around and eavesdrops on the Grand Duke talking about how the prince is going to marry the Princess Shelina of Wherever. So much for all her plans.

Suddenly, it's cliche o'clock! The clock strikes twelve just as Ella's about to tell Kit her name--because earlier in the woods she just said "never mind what they call me", I guess because she was still upset about the whole mean nickname thing. She runs off, but not before bumping into the king, who she has enough time to stop and tell what a nice boy his son is. Apparently when the FG said the spell would break at midnight, what she meant was a quarter after. Nice of her to make sure Ella had a safety net in case she lost track of time because of luuurve.
I have to admit, I do like the king's characterization in this movie. We don't see much of him, but he has a good relationship with his son and comes across as a gentle and reasonable authority figure in general. It's sure as hell an improvement over the king in the animated version, who was a terrifying, paranoid whacko. I get his obsession with having an heir, but come on, dude was fucking nuts.

Anywho, Ella runs, the guards chase her, she loses her shoe, and her dress, coach, and all her animal friends turn back into their original forms. Except the other glass slipper, of course. Maybe it's because they were literally made out of magic instead of being transformed from her old shoes? I wondered why the FG had her take her shoes off instead of just transforming them like everything else, but maybe she wanted Ella to have a souvenir?

She has to hurry home, because apparently the stepbitches' carriage is hot on her heels. They all meet up in the kitchen, the stepbitches going on and on about the mystery princess and Lady Tremaine bemoaning the fact that the ball was all for show, since the prince has to marry a princess anyway. Ella's not particularly bothered by it, though--Kit already told her about the pseudo-arranged marriage, but you'd think she'd still be a little saddened by it since she's supposed to have fallen in love with him--and goes to her room to write about the ball in her diary. Oh, she has a diary, by the way. Way to establish that bit of her characterization so late in the movie.

And undisclosed amount of time passes, and by now the king is dying for real, and we get to have another sentimental deathbed parent-child heart-to-heart talk. He tells Kit to not worry about marrying for advantage after all, and to just follow his heart.

So he dies and Kit becomes king. "After the time for mourning had passed," says the narrator--however long that was--Ella's at the market again, this time with the stepbitches. There's another announcement: the king asks that the girl to whom the glass slipper belongs come to the palace, so that he can marry her. Excited, Ella rides back home and runs to her room to find the other shoe that she'd hidden away. But it turns out that *GASP* Lady Tremaine has it! Lady Tremaine... who wasn't making any effort to hide, but Ella somehow didn't see even though she was standing directly across from her and wearing a bright fucking green dress.

So stepmom's got the slipper and... hang on, just how does she have it? I don't care how she found it, I want to know how she knew to look for it in the first place! For starters, when did we ever see her act like she suspected that Ella was the mystery princess? But more importantly, this announcement in the market is the first time anyone's heard this royal proclamation, right? And it's kind of implied Ella went home immediately after hearing it. And we never saw stepmom at the market with them. So logically I can only come up with these possible solutions:

1.) Lady Tremaine was there, just in another shop at the time, but heard the announcement and teleported back home to beat Ella there.
2.) One of her daughters texted her the news
3.) fucking time travel

Ha, yeah right, like Disney would ever combine Cinderella with time travel, that would be stu- wait...

I kid, I kid, Cinderella III is actually pretty good for a direct-to-video sequel. Cinderella II, however...

Ok, back to the movie. Lady Tremaine goes off on a weird backstory tangent that's probably supposed to make her look more sympathetic, but handily undermines herself by coming this close to outright calling herself evil before cutting herself off, because the scriptwriter probably wasn't sure where they were going with that bit of dialogue and forgot to go back and add something later. She tries to blackmail Ella: she can marry the king, so long as she makes her the head of the royal household, which would somehow allow her to "manage that boy" and essentially rule the kingdom herself. Ok, I take back what I said earlier about Lady Tremaine being one of the more intelligent characters, because that plan is fucking dumb. Maybe I just don't understand how politics works in this kingdom, but I'm pretty sure the "head of household" is just in charge of, well, the royal household. They're not the Hand of the King, they're in charge of the palace and its servants and stuff! How does having that job put you in a position to "manage" the king???

Ella refuses and Stepmom gets mad and smashes the glass slipper. After coming so close to calling herself evil, she locks Ella in her room and takes a piece of the slipper to the Grand Duke, telling him she found it on her servant girl. The GD thanks her for saving the kingdom the embarrassment of a lowly commoner marrying the king. Why he thinks this would matter at all to the king I have no idea, because Kit seems to have been under the impression that Ella was a commoner from the start, but whatever. Lady Tremaine tries blackmail again, with more success: she'll keep quiet about the embarrassing situation, so long as the GD makes her a countess and arranges good marriages for her daughters. Again, I don't know anything about the politics of this kingdom, but how can the Grand Duke make her a countess? Doesn't the king need to be the one to ennoble someone? How do you think that conversation would go between the GD and the king?

Grand Duke: Your majesty, this woman has done a great service to our land. You should make her a countess!
Kit: What did she do?
GD: She saved you from marrying a commoner! How embarrassing, amirite?
Kit: So?
GD: Sooo... how embarrassing, amirite?
Kit: And?

But, the Grand Duke agrees so the plot can continue. Kit is wondering why the mystery girl hasn't come to claim her shoe, and worries that someone/something might be preventing her from doing so. He orders the GD to go forth and try the slipper on every maiden in the kingdom. I like it that they upgraded him from prince to king in this movie, if only because it makes him look better for not going out to personally search for Ella himself, since he's busy doing king stuff. 

Funny montage time! The GD and Captain Xaro hit the road to find the girl the shoe belongs to. Naturally, the very last house is Ella's, and the stepbitches are eagerly awaiting their turn to try it on. Ella's still in her room, singing and humming to herself. The narrator tells us that she's sad, of course, but she's so glass-half-full that she'll eventually get over it and have some new happy memories to look back on. Not a bad message, really.

The GD is about to leave, when Ella's mouse friends open the window and allow everyone outside the hear her singing. Captain Xaro asks if there are any other maidens in the house, and when Lady Tremaine tries to refuse, surprise surprise, it turns out Kit wasn't busy doing king stuff after all! He was just on the road with the shoe entourage disguised as a guard because... reasons. Hey, uh, don't you have a kingdom to rule? Maybe someone does need to "manage" him after all...

So Ella comes downstairs to meet him, nervous because he's finally seeing her as she truly is, without the help of magic... even though he saw her like that when they first met? I guess it means that he didn't know she was her stepfamily's slave until now. She puts on the shoe and finally tells him her name: Cinderella.

Yes, she tells him that her name is, not Ella, but the cruel nickname her mean stepsisters gave her. Is this supposed to be some big moment of self-acceptance, one which was never built up to for the whole movie and doesn't fit with the plot at all? Is she supposed to look all defiant and cool by re-appropriating something that was meant as an insult? Because it just seems more likely to me that the poor girl has merely become so resigned to her fate that she truly sees herself more as "Cinderella" than "Ella" now, which is just sad.

But this is supposed to be a happy ending, so I don't think Disney realized the more depressing implications of this. Or maybe it was just a script mistake/Lily James flubbing her line and no one caught it. Whatever, what matters is the happily ever after! Ella forgives her stepbitches, Lady Tremaine and the Grand Duke leave the kingdom for good (why?), and Kit and Ella get married. The end.

If this review seems excessively nitpicky, it's really because there wasn't a whole lot to this movie to seriously critique. It's fluff, pure and simple. Cute fluff, visually stunning and well-acted fluff, but a big serving of cotton candy all the same. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but considering Disney likes to aggressively promote their recent live action remakes as these big, epic cinematic experiences, it's slightly disappointing that this movie didn't have a bit more substance. As a whole, it's not bad; it gets a bit dull at times and the jokes fall kind of flat for anyone over the age of ten, but for the most part it's a light, fun, easy watch. Definitely a good movie to have on in the background while doing stuff.


So after Beauty and the Beast and Mulan, what live action Disney remake do you think is next? Because you know they're not going to stop milking that cash cow. My money's on The Little Mermaid (the Boyfriend says Aladdin). 

Well, I guess it's time to say goodbye to Blogger. My blog should be up and running at next week. I've got something a little different planned for my first post. See you on Monday, book bitches. 

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