Movie Review: “Cinderella” (Kenneth Branagh, USA 2015)

Back in the early ’80s, Kenneth Branagh was the most successful young Shakespearean actor since Laurence Olivier. Critics were never big fans of his work, but he showed a remarkable ability to connect with audiences. He nearly made his big break with a film many may recognize called Amadeus (Milos Forman, USA 1984) but his film career instead didn’t find much traction until he put together his theater troupe (including his then-wife Emma Thompson and his mentor Derek Jacobi) to create a film version of one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, with himself taking on not just the lead role but the position of director in Henry V (Kenneth Branagh, UK 1989). The film was a huge success for Branagh both as a director and as an actor, and that success continued for several years with the minor exception of the quickly-forgotten Peter’s Friends (UK 1992). Then, his Hamlet (UK/USA 1996) met with a more mixed reception (wrongly, as far as I am concerned–it’s a brilliant film), with many finding the four-hour runtime excessive and Branagh’s performance an over-the-top attempt to outdo Olivier’s most famous role (Branagh was better–I’ll put that on record anytime). He was still a promising film director with some very strong credits already under his belt (Dead Again [USA 1991] is an impressive film that has since been forgotten, but it shows off that there’s more to Branagh than being a modern Olivier impersonator.) and a fantastically gifted, charismatic actor, but it seems that the criticisms of what he hoped to be his magnum opus stung him.

It took a few years before Branagh returned to directing with the ill-conceived Shakespeare musical Love’s Labour’s Lost (UK/France/USA 2000) and a few years again until he returned with another Shakespeare film and a return to his original fascination with Mozart, neither of which got much attention from anyone. Then, in 2011, he returned to directing with a surprising presence in the Marvel stable for Thor (USA), which he followed with another forgettable action film in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (USA 2014). However, the financial success of these films seems to have returned the once-promising director to the point where he can take on a top-notch project. Disney could hire whomever it wanted to direct its live-action version of Cinderella, and it went with Branagh–that says something about where he currently stands. A guy who was rejected repeatedly by the Harry Potter franchise now gets to take on one of the signature stories of the biggest-name movie studio in history, and I for one welcomed his return. Continue reading

TV Episode Review: “Better Call Saul” “Rico” (05.08, 2015)

Written by Gordon Smith

Directed by Colin Bucksey

While it is a series whose lead character is an attorney, Better Call Saul has been far from a legal thriller. Indeed, its antecedent Breaking Bad, with its crime-centered story arc, was closer to the “legal thriller” genre than Jimmy’s attempts to further his career and help his mentally ill brother. Until this episode, that is. Continue reading

Anatomy of a Scene: “Rear Window” (Alfred Hitchcock, USA 1954)

This week, Fathom events is showing Rear Window in theaters across the country. The first round was yesterday; the rest are Wednesday. It’s one of the greatest films of all time, so I suggest going, and in its honor I’m posting an edited version of a paper I wrote in my freshman year in college about the film’s climax. The paper was a close-viewing that was essentially a prototype for what my little-used “Anatomy of a Scene” series is, so I’m going to present it with few changes.

The Unarmed, Silent Standoff: On the Climax of “Rear Window” as a Battle of Truth against Evil

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic Rear Window may be best defined by its climactic scene of confrontation between protagonist L.B. Jeffries and antagonist Lars Thorwald. While the rest of the film is more comedic and literal that this climax, no other scene in this picture is a strong metaphor for the universal theme of the battle between truth and falsehood. Its power derives largely from the low-key lighting with a few high contrast shafts of light that draw attention to details such as the doorway and Lars Thorwald’s eyes. Hitchcock skillfully cuts short, repetitious shots; hardly allows any sound to be audible; and utilizes low-key and high contrast lighting in order to manipulate the viewer into viewing this climactic scene that acts as almost the entirety of the film’s third act as something apart from the rest of the picture and also as something more meaningful than perhaps most of the film is. Continue reading