Sunday, June 7, 2015

Bite-Sized Reviews: Cinderella, Interstellar, and More

International flights are lovely places to catch up with recent movie releases, and I found myself watching a few thought-provoking flicks while traveling back to the States this weekend.

Since I don't have the time (or motivation) to write long reviews, I'm going to give a few paragraphs per movie to detail my bite-sized opinions on some recent blockbusters.  Check it out:


Four stars.

One sentence: Ambitious, ambiguous, and messy—it is thought-provoking but the structure is all over the place, and the themes leave some to be desired.

Christopher Nolan is perhaps one of the most ambitious and thought-provoking filmmakers alive, and Interstellar proves to be worthy of his imagination.  But the structure of Interstellar was sorely lacking, having little pacing consistency (jumping from slow-mo to stress-mode in moments) and leaving large portions of interesting footage that was not necessary footage, dragging the movie on...and on...and on.

For all that, it still managed to be a thrill ride, part Inception and part Apollo 13. It accomplished something that few movies do: it gave me genuine doubt that the story would resolve in a satisfying manner, and whether the characters would make it out alive.  And the alien planet scenes were pure and haunting imagination.

I won't spoil the ending for you, but the movie wrapped up making me feel vaguely dissatisfied.  The last thirty minutes of the film stretched my belief rather than my mind, and regardless of whether the physics work out or not, it felt too convenient.  Nolan's themes, too, felt like too many questions with too few answers—and the answers that could be found felt shallow.

Interstellar, however, is ultimately thought-provoking and even haunting.  Regardless of its flaws, it is still a "deep movie," and that makes it worth the ride—and worth a watch.


Four stars.

One sentence: Cinderella is a fairy-tale in the best, most magical sense of the word—something heavy-laden in earnest wonder, even if it stumbles once or twice along the way.

I did not expect to like Cinderella.  I had heard both good things and (relatively) bad things about it, so I went in with an open mind.

And yes, it suffered from a few Disney moments.  The dialogue was occasionally stiff and overwrought (which is more a symptom of the storytelling style than anything,) several places were dry with princess movie cliches, and occasionally it stayed true to the original to the detriment of the script.

But in the context of the story, all that was fairly minor in the face of the movie's one great strength: earnest storytelling.  Lily James plays the titular character with quiet determination and real, honest kindness.  The movie is really earnest and tries to find real beauty without being cliche or cynical.  In a word, it was wholesome.

And wholesomeness is what makes it really good.  The lavish staging and costumes make it visually stunning—the acting is all great, with Cate Blanchett especially standing out by being so spectacularly sinister.  The tweaks to the original story (which I won't spoil) made it much, much stronger.  And the theme—have courage, be kind—is both simple and effective.  The movie does not wring it out or tack it on; it is simply an integral part of the movie, as it should be, with a few startling moments of surprising eloquence.

Yes, Disney princess movies might not be your cup of tea.  But you may find yourself surprised at how good Cinderella actually is.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Three stars.

One sentence: Miles better than The Desolation of Smaug and nearly comparable to An Unexpected Journey, I just hold one thing against it: it cannot hold a candle to the original book or to the trilogy that follows it.

Let's be honest, here.  After the train wreck that was The Desolation of Smaug, I was expecting Battle to be another installment of CGI: The Movie.  So when I finally watched it, I was pleasantly surprised.  The pacing was smooth, and instead of trying to make another Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson opted to film a halfway decent story.  Many of the battle scenes were too long, but the urgency behind them was more like Jackson's Lord of the Rings style, moving the plot along rather than stagnating it.

Unlike Smaug, Battle had an emotional core and a theme: Thorin's internal struggle between his honor and his greed.  But that sword cuts both ways: The Hobbit was no longer about the hobbit.  If there was any main character in Battle, it was Thorin.  Bilbo, still being well-played by the excellent Martin Freeman, would disappear for whole scenes before popping up later on.

But ultimately, as "pretty okay" as Battle was, it makes me ashamed to think that Peter Jackson compromised the emotional and storytelling achievement found in Lord of the Rings.  There is just no comparison.  And in the end, The Battle of Five Armies became just another big-budget action flick: not bad, but not nearly as good as it should have been.


What about you?  What did you think of these movies?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Rachelle O'Neil said...

I like your bite-sized reviews! They give just enough information to help me make decisions about the movies but don't spoil anything. Very good! :)

I haven't seen Interstellar, but, honestly, I just haven't been that interested in seeing it. I'm not too keen on the idea of dramatic space journeys. If it's going to be in space, I want Star Wars/Star Trek-esque. But that's me. :D

I loved Cinderella, though. I think I can agree with your review overall, though I was overall more pleased with it. That may just have to do with the fact that I'm a girl and that I tend to like Disney, though. I found it refreshing and, as you said, wholesome. I haven't seen it since it was in theaters, so my memory's a tad foggy. I think I do remember a few cliches occurring, as you mentioned. But, overall, I thought it was great.

I share your disappointment with the way The Hobbit trilogy turned out. Five Armies was, as you said, better than Desolation, but its pacing felt odd to me. After the way the first two films stretched out, the last one seemed to rush along, even though its length was comparable. It was also rather emotionally devastating for me, so I can't say that I enjoyed it.

Jake said...

Well, I definitely think that Interstellar is worth seeing. It's very dramatic and sometimes stressful, but despite the inconsistent plot-work it has moments of pure brilliance. And the emotional core of the movie is rock-solid: a father's relationship with his daughter.

It's also worth seeing if only for the first thirty minutes. The scenes that take place on earth are positively fantastic - easily my favorite part of the movie. The dialogue is snappy, the storyworld is intriguing, and it raises a lot of questions that keep you watching. It's solid storytelling.

I actually liked the length of Armies better than the length of the first two movies. I felt like those two dragged on the story longer than they needed to, so the pacing of the third movie was refreshing, and was part of the reason why I actually liked it.

Rachelle O'Neil said...

Huh. Well, maybe I'll have to give it a try sometime. :) Snappy dialogue and strong themes/cores are always enjoyable. :D

Keturah Lamb said...

I haven't seen or heard of Interstellar but I see it has Anne Hathaway, so I'll have to check it out ;)

I so want to see Cinderella!

I had the same thoughts on BOTFA. It was ok. Effects and actors were the best part, plot I didn't really like the addition of Tauriel especially since they put romance between her Legalos and Kili. Also didn't like the hint at Aragorn at the end. And there were other things I didn't like :) and did like... :)

Sunny Smith said...

I prefer bite sized reviews, because you get the basic idea without all the extra fluff surrounding it.

I saw Cinderella in theaters and have to say I was underwhelmed. Visually it was stunning, but the actual story was a bit shallow in my opinion. However, I think it accomplished what it was supposed to.

Interstellar sounds good though! I might have to give that one a try!

Keturah Lamb said...

I nominated you for the Liebster blog award :)