Magic in cinema can take numerous forms; the more overt and the more subtle. Disney has practised  the more overt type since the formation of its studio and is quickly producing updates of their classic titles. Others take the approach, adding a supernatural element without ever fully explaining the workings of it, the mystery adding to the element of magic.  It is the sense of magic and wonder which connects these two films, the live-action remake of Cinderella, and The Age of Adaline. Both are films I would have been quite to avoid during their cinema runs, but hey, when you commit to a 12-hour day in a cinema, you work with what you’ve got.   

Cinderella

Cinderella (Dir: Kenneth Branagh)

The recent strain of fairy-tale remakes has done little to interest me, with most of the ‘revisions’ only serving to diminish iconic characters (Maleficent) or present soulless money-making imitations (Alice in Wonderland). Cinderella, on the surface, has  little to offer. It is a remake of a Disney film whose sexual politics can only seem dated to a modern day audience, and even to a studio who seemed to face such issues with the mega-hit that was Frozen. Yet, within this remake, touches have been made, elements lifted, that allow for Kenneth Branagh’s bright re-telling to charm with ease, despite your best intentions.

The story is very much the same, young beautiful Ella (Lily James), is forced to become a servant for her wickedly cruel step-mother (Cate Blanchett) and her step-sisters (Sophie McShera & Holliday Grainger) following the tragic death of her father (Ben Chaplin). Ella, who was raised to always have courage and be kind, does her best to find joy in her life, but soon finds times too testing to deal with. Fate, however, soon begins to shine on Ella as she is visited by her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), who gives her all she needs to go to the Kingdom-wide Ball (a sort of glamorised 1600s version of ‘The Bachelor’ essentially), where she may just find a little romance in the form of the Prince (Richard Madden).

While the changes may be little, there is enough here to satisfy those who may have shrugged off this remake for demonstrating dated sexual dynamics. For one, Ella and the Prince meet before the ball, with him choosing not to reveal to her that he is the Prince, allowing for something a little more natural to form. There is a better sense of a genuine connection between the two, rather than a rush into marriage after one meeting at a ball. It is still as contrived as hell, but at least there’s some effort to change the dynamic.  ball

What is perhaps less forgiveable is the real focus the film seems to have on developing the stakes at hand for Ella. For what felt like a good hour, the film layers on the tragedy in Ella’s life, that the film becomes a rather depressing ordeal to sit through. James is adorable as the lead, which makes it all the more saddening to see her submitted to the series of unfortunate events that colour her life. Of course, it makes the ending all that more ‘happily ever after’, but for a kids flick, it certainly seems a bit too distressing. A musical sequence may have been welcome, but all are omitted here.

Branagh, however, is a deft hand at the sweeping epic, and delivers it here with certain flourishes and a talent for drawing out energetic performances from his cast, and it all amounts to an experience which is kinda hard not to fall for. It is a brightly lit re-telling that is simple in its pleasures (pretty visuals + pretty people) with little surprises that do just enough to mark this particularly re-telling as a little more worthwhile, and most definitely the best of the recent revisits. Although, granted, that is not saying much. 3/5 

AgeofAdalineThe Age of Adaline (Dir: Lee Toland Krieger)

Ok, this is most definitely a film I would normally never think twice about seeing, despite affection for Lively’s looks, Harrison Ford’s gravitas and the always welcome presence of Ellen Burstyn. The trailer was saccharine, but I could not doubt the intriguing nature of the ridiculous concept at the centre of it all. Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively), a widowed single mother, has a car accident and essentially dies on a bizarrely snowy night in San Francisco. She is brought back from the cusp of death by a bolt of lightening striking her body. That occurred in 1937. Since then, Adaline cannot age, and looks set to remain 29 forever (the horror). Scared of what may happen to her if people were to know of her condition, she lives a life constantly on the move, changing identities every so often in order to stay elusive. That may all change, however, when in present day she meets a young man, Ellis (Michiel Huisman), whom she cannot help but be attracted to. This is soon all complicated by a connection in Adaline’s long and storied past.

Just listen to that concept, it is completely ludicrous, but that doesn’t stop Krieger (whose previous directorial credits include Celeste & Jesse Forever) from taking the material seriously and treating it like the romance of the century. And it’s kinda endearing. It believes and buys in to its own ridiculousness, something which you’ll either enjoy or despise. I for one found it difficult to not get caught up in it too, largely due to the conviction of all involved.

While the first hour occupies itself with the rather bland romance between Adaline and Ellis (which is made bearable due to how pretty the two leads are), it is when the voice-over kicks in and we witness the past of Adaline unfold, I found it rather hard to be disinterested by the mythology of Adaline Bowman. This particularly becomes involving as the second act kicks in and a certain reveal make the plot that much more compelling and ensures that you are hooked to the end (if you can make it that far).

Blake Lively, for all her success, has never quite cracked it as an A-List actress, which seems odd to me. Sure, deciding to star in the likes of Green Lantern probably didn’t help, but she is a perfectly pleasant actress who manages to give Adaline a sense of wisdom that one would expect a person to have who has lived for over 100 years. It isn’t going to win any awards, but Lively turns in an engaging star performance, as her natural grace and stunning beauty radiates the screen. Elsewhere, Huisman is an affable leading man, while Harrison Ford turns in a rather affecting and emotive performance, which is nice to see from a man who tends to phone-in a performance from Adalinetime to time. And big props to the casting directors for selecting Anthony Ingruber to portray a young Ford (see pictured), as it is positively uncanny.

The Age of Adaline will be hard for many people to sit through, as it is oh so sickly sweet, but there is something worth buying in to here. It has a charm; it knows how to frame its stars, even if its locales seem oddly washed away by the dulled out cinematography. I am sure that this is going to be one of the films that will be very hard to defend in future discussions, but I’ll go down as saying that I found enjoyment in its strange concoction of fantasy and romance. 3/5 

 

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