Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

February 5, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Lily James, Sam Reily, Matt Smith
Directed by: Burr Steers (“Igby Goes Down”)
Written by: Burr Steers (“How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days”)

I don’t like zombies. I don’t get the zombie craze. I’m not a fan of “The Walking Dead,” I don’t understand why people are legitimately afraid of the zombie apocalypse, and so on. I gave the craze a fair shake in 2009, mind you, when I checked in on the burgeoning zombie zeitgeist by reading the Seth Grahame-Smith/Jane Austen mash-up novel “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” on which the long-delayed movie is based. When I set the book down, I shrugged. I had smiled at some clever moments, but the story as a whole never grabbed me, too beholden to Austen’s original text (which it seems makes up about 85 percent of the novel) to get as truly unhinged as the logline hints at. Seven years and numerous behind-the-scenes changes later, the film has finally arrived, suffering from the same problems as the source material.

In 19th century England, the Bennet sisters, led by headstrong Elizabeth (Lily James of last year’s live-action “Cinderella”), navigate the prim and proper social scene, looking for husbands while also using their expert martial arts skills to ward off hordes of the undead zombies that have Britain under siege. The arrival of dashing Mr. Darcy (Sam Reily), he himself a proficient zombie killer and the model of upper class prejudice, frustrates Elizabeth as they, of course, end up falling in love. Only this time there are zombies and stuff.

With dullness settling over the whole movie like an English fog, “PPZ” only springs to life all too infrequently. A particular bright spot is “Doctor Who’s” Matt Smith as the Bennet sisters’ cousin and suitor. Effeminate and persnickety, Smith’s Parson Collins lights up the drabness that overtakes what should have been a somewhat batshit romp through classic literature peppered with armies of the undead, sort of an “Army of Darkness” for women. Instead, though, nothing ever really gels and the digitally-muted CGI violence never engages like it should. The Bennet sisters are interchangeable in their badassery, and Darcy and Bingley (Douglas Booth) are blandly beautiful Brits with luscious lips and permanent stubble. Yawn. The movie even wastes the two “Game of Thrones” ringers in the cast by stranding Charles Dance as the Bennet sisters’ benevolent father and Lena Headey as one-eyed zombie-hunting dowager who essentially does nothing. What ends up on the screen ultimately isn’t funny enough, scary enough, thrilling enough, or fun enough. “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” won’t put an axe through the brain of the genre, but it may signal we’re approaching the end of this epidemic.

Cinderella

March 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh (“Thor”)
Written by: Chris Weitz (“The Golden Compass”)

The original 1950 Disney animated film might always be a classic to purists, but director Kenneth Branagh’s live-action version of “Cinderella” is superior on almost every front. Besides the fact the cartoon’s charming musical aspect is missing, there is so much to like about this new movie, I don’t feel the least bit guilty of actually looking forward to what Disney comes up with when they give the live-action treatment to other classic tales like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid” in the future. Hopefully, they can also try to right the wrongs of “Snow White and the Huntsman” someday, too.

In “Cinderella” 2.0, screenwriter Chris Weitz (“The Golden Compass”) and director Kenneth Branagh (“Thor,” “Hamlet”) tighten up the storytelling and fill in a lot of the plot holes of the original film effortlessly and keep the traditional narrative intact for the most part. It’s a beautifully shot picture and something that fits perfectly in Branagh’s canon, especially with his background in the Shakespearean Theater. “Cinderella” exudes elegance with Branagh leading the way. As Cinderella’s stepmother, two-time Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”) is wickedly good and never oversteps her character’s evil ways. This role could’ve easily become a bit over-exaggerated like Charlize Theron’s take on the Evil Queen in “Snow White and the Huntsman,” but Blanchett is able to reel in the performance enough so that it doesn’t feel like she was mugging for the camera at any time. The same can’t really be said for actress Helena Bonham Carter who seems like the too obvious choice to play Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. Carter does a satisfactory job for her quick cameo, but it would’ve been nice to see someone that doesn’t always get a phone call when casting directors are looking for someone to fill a quirkier role. Basically, Carter has turned into the female version of Johnny Depp.

Aside from that uninspiring casting choice and an ending that doesn’t really know what it wants to do with itself, “Cinderella” is vibrant and at times transfixing. I’m still not completely sold on the whole Disney princess culture and the idea that a young girl can only find happiness when she is rescued by a prince, but Branagh’s interpretation makes it a little easier to swallow because Cinderella feels more in control of her own story. There are still glass slippers and happy endings, but unless you’re watching “Into the Woods,” would you want it any other way?