Truth

Director: James Vanderbilt (2016)

Best switch channels than tune into this ham fisted drama about the fall of real life TV journalists.

A self serving and poorly constructed script plus an over wrought tone destroys the solid work of stars Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett.

He plays venerable journalist and avuncular TV anchorman Dan Rather, a surrogate father to his producer Mary Mapes.

Under ratings pressure she breaks a big story about the military service record of the young George W. Bush who is seeking a second Presidential term.

But when the story unravels due to a dodgy dossier, unreliable witnesses and thin evidence, the journalists become the story and must fight to save their careers.

Mary is a driven, intelligent, and contradictory but is an unsympathetic figure who prefers to cry conspiracy than recognise her own weaknesses.

Thinly written supporting characters have barely there interactions before being forgotten about.

The film touches on several styles and genres, wildly snatching at a tone to give meaning to the dull drama playing out.

In the style of a heist movie, a crack team of journalists is assembled but given absolutely nothing to do before quietly slipping out of the movie.

It then becomes a busily plodding procedural movie with moments of courtroom and sporting drama.

Despite protestations of political impartiality, rival TV networks seem to fighting a proxy election campaign with the CBS employees firmly in the Democratic Party anti-Bush camp.

The script makes grandiose claims about the power of journalists to influence elections but with a week being a long time in politics, the decade old story has little contemporary resonance now Bush is long out of high office.

There is none of the relevancy of the recent Best Picture Oscar winning Spotlight (2016). It also lacks that films extraordinarily rigorous storytelling.

In bizarre scenes devoid of irony, ordinary citizens are seen gazing in wonder at Dan read the news. They’re primates reaching out to the monolith in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

Truth is a hymn to the memory of Rather whose name means little to a UK audience. It also a lament for the good old days when the news wasn’t subject to a political agenda prescribed by wealthy owners. (Ha!)

 

 

Carol

Director. Todd Haynes (2015)

There’s tremendous quality to admire in this intelligent, assured and elegant period piece.

A shame it lacks the drama the tremendous acting, design and writing promise but don’t deliver.

It’s based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith who also wrote The Talented Mr Ripley (1999).

Cate Blanchett was award nominated for that film and certainly will be again her immaculate performance here.

In the title role she’s a moneyed, married mother who begins an affair with shop girl Therese.

Rooney Mara’s quiet reserve essays a delicate flowering of awareness.

It’s her finest performance to date and hopefully it will be recognised as such by the Academy.

They take a road trip with a camera in one suitcase and a gun in another.

This leads to a showdown with Carol’s seemingly decent husband, played by the dependable Kyle Chandler.

The presence of the gun acknowledges the problem with a script which doesn’t have a lot going on once the couple consummate their relationship.

So the gun is clumsily thrown in to add a frisson of drama where none exists.

As the romance develops and what obstacles exist seem to melt away, we realise we’re witnessing a beautifully played and sumptuous soap opera.

Cinderella

Director: Kenneth Branagh (2015)

There are no surprises in this sweet, stately and straight-forward fairytale which Disney intends to be universally accepted the definitive version.

A non-revisionist extension of the Disney brand, it begins with once upon a time and ends happily ever after.

Unlike Disney’s earlier folklore forage this year Into The Woods or last year’s Maleficent which added a different perspective to European fairytales, Cinderella adds nothing new. Renaming Prince Charming as Kit is as far as reinvention goes.

Instead it’s determinedly old-fashioned, resolutely traditional telling of the tale; majestic, confident, warm and enchanting. At it’s centre is a message of how important it is to have courage and be kind.

With the magical assistance of her fairy godmother, the put-upon Cinderella is saved from an unjust life of drudgery by her handsome Prince Charming.

From cast to costumes to carriages, it is astonishingly beautiful, taking sumptuous pleasure in the smallest detail and director Brannagh keeps the pace steady enough to enjoy them.

Following the death of her wealthy father, Cinderella (Lily James) is left at the mercy of her icy stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and spoilt step-sisters Anastasia and Drizella (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera).

Tremaine is a black-hearted widow who is deeply disappointed with life, as wasp-tongued as Cinders is wasp-waisted,

Our heroine is forced to sleep in attic and performs all the household chores. Her only friends are four animated cute and charming mice.

While out riding she meets the dashing Prince Kit (Richard Madden) and both pretend to be other than they are. Both are smitten but called away to their duties.

The dying King (Derek Jacobi) orders Kit to find a wife to provide an heir and protect the future of the Kingdom. So Kit holds a fabulous ball and demands attendance of all the maidens in the land, noble or common.

Barred from attending by her step-mother, Cinder’s fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) appears.

She turns a pumpkin into a carriage, mice into horses and lizards into footmen. Cinders dons a pair of glass slippers and is off to the ball – but of course only until midnight when the magic will wear off.

Meeting each other on the dance floor, Kit and Cinderella are a handsome pair, not wildly exciting but pleasant with graceful dance moves – expect copycat routines on the next series of Strictly Come Dancing.

Cinderella’s race to return home is the most fun part of the film. It’s an exciting, energetic and humorous race against time.

Bonham Carter has fun as the fairy godmother and Jacobi adds acting gravitas as the King.

Rob Brydon appears briefly and manages to be funny and outstay his welcome, neatly encapsulating his entire career in a cameo.

Production Designer Dante Ferretti provides an astonishing wealth of detail amid glorious sets, extravagant furnishings giving texture to the fairytale world.

Costume Designer Sandy Powell dresses the cast in fabulous clothes and uniforms. Their heightened colours offer a promise of magic.

With many gasps, groans, giggles and growls padding out the vocal performances, the dialogue is far less imaginative than the design. It’s regularly abandoned in favour of the music of composer Patrick Boyle.

While his orchestral score swells and falls like Cinderella’s corseted bosom, Branagh delivers a series of sweeping camera moves that reveal yet more opulent design.

Dubbing for international markets seem to at the forefront of the film’s construction which opens and begins with a voice over.

The actors finish their lines with open mouths and the editing and direction provide an unusual amount of speaking off-camera. It’s a wonder they didn’t go full Leone and put cigars in everyones mouths to disguise the lip movement.

Disney of course have their own 1950 animated version which the script acknowledges with a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo as the Fairy Godmother casts her spells.

But this is not just a movie, it’s an irresistible cavalry charge of cultural colonisation. The House of Mouse have mobilised their creative heavy armaments to annex the world of Cinderella and indisputably incorporate it as part of the Disney Empire. Having claimed forever the rich, fertile and lucrative source material, they’ll sweat the asset in due course.

It’s no surprise Cinderella’s mice play a pivotal role in the finale.

Preceded by a short featuring the characters from Frozen which is either utterly amazing or annoyingly entertaining depending on your view of that massively successful film.

The end of Cinderella shows the newly wed royal couple being presented on a snowy balcony to an adoring public with snow-clad mountains in the background.

Unless I’ve missed a memo and this is old news, it seems as if Disney are tying the two films together in a continuous universe, not unlike Disney’s rmega-franchises; Marvel and Star Wars, with Kit and Cinderella the parents of Elsa and Anna.

This lends Frozen some of Cinderella’s folklore resonance and makes the more staid Cinderella more palatable to the little ones.

As strong and monumental as this film is, even in playful homage it’s always dangerous to reference your cinematic betters – as Cinderella does with a throwaway ‘As you wish.’

How To Train Your Dragon 2

Director: Dean DeBlois (2014)

This animated family-friendly sequel soars and roars in a fabulous flight of fantasy.

It’s a handsomely designed adventure with extraordinary animation that conjures up magical images – especially of dragons flying en masse.

The coming-of-age story of Hiccup and his fight to save his village is well-crafted and exciting but a lack of laughs is a major flaw.

Brave and resourceful viking Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is 20 and his home of Berk is living in harmony with the dragons. His dad, chief Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) expects him to take the throne but Hiccup is unsure about ruling or his own future.

So, armed with a fiery sword, he flies off on his dragon Toothless to discover himself and explore the northern lands.

There he meets mysterious Valka (Cate Blanchett) who warns him of warlord Drago’s plan to enslave all dragons. Meanwhile Hiccup’s adventurous girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) and her friends are captured by Drago and his pirate fleet.

The ensuing battle between dragons, vikings, pirates and bewilderbeasts – giant alpha dragons with mind-control powers – is spectacular but ends in the death of a loved one.

Hiccup must try to defeat Drago’s army, rescue the dragons, free his village and generally live up to his father’s expectations.

Dragon 2 is good natured and tender at times but the few jokes are mostly gentle slapstick, such as people falling into snow drifts or getting their faces licked by dragons.

While weak sidekick characters fail to provide enough fun and their amorous behaviour is ill-judged in a film aimed at younger kids.

The viking village has lots of nicely designed mechanical gizmos but no-one seems to realise the bat-suit wings that Hiccup sports to glide around may one day make the dragons redundant.

But Dragon 2’s lesson – that it’s never too late to start listening to your dad – is an important one that my son may learn… one day.

★★☆☆