Thursday, April 16, 2015

Pop stuff: Cinderella, The Reluctant Dragon, Daredevil

What I'm reading, hearing, watching, etc.


Cinderella. This is a fun, albeit not terribly necessary, live-action update of Disney's animated classic. I guess they're doing this with a number of the originals - "Pinocchio" is up next.

As Cinderella, Lily James ("Downton Abbey") looks and dresses much like her cartoon counterpart. She's not much more dimensional either. She's a sweet girl confronted by nasty people who learns to stick up for herself while remaining nice. Not a bad life lesson. But beyond being a sad Pollyanna, James doesn't have much to do.

Cate Blanchett is given a bit more to work with and has fun vamping it up as Cinderella's evil stepmother. She's provided a back story that makes her somewhat sympathetic. And we see, via her behavior and Cinderella's, how loss and adversity has the potential to either destroy or strengthen you. This contrast is a nice touch. I liked, too, that the stepsisters in this version aren't ugly. They just act that way.

As in the original, Prince Charming (Richard Madden) has little to offer beyond good posture, nice hair and a bright smile. He's dull. Cinderella could do better.

Helena Bonham Carter, meanwhile, steals the show as Cinderella's offbeat, possibly tipsy Fairy Godmother. Her magical transformation of pumpkin into carriage and mice into horses is great fun.


The Reluctant Dragon. Never having seen it before, we gave this 1941 Disney film, now on Netflix, a shot for Family Movie Night last weekend. And it's great!

Though it includes the animated short in the title, the real highlight is everything leading up to it. This is a full-length feature focusing on writer/actor Robert Benchley's tour of the Disney studios.

Along the way, we see how the Disney animators in art class and at work, working with animation cels, creating sound effects and background music and more. It's all planned out and scripted, of course. But it's shot on location and provides an opportunity to see behind-the-scenes Disney stars such as animator Ward Kimball and Clarence Nash (the voice of Donald Duck) on screen.

The animated shorts included are actually less entertaining than the scenes of Benchley meeting and interacting with these folks. There's also a great scene where the action marvelously transforms from black and white into Technicolor. Check it out.


Daredevil. I'm not a serious binge watcher, but I have watched the first couple episodes of this new Marvel series on Netflix. I liked it, though I found the first couple of storylines a bit predictable and the pace - apart from fight scenes - a little slow.

Charlie Cox star as Matt Murdock/Daredevil and the show has a dark mood obviously inspired by Frank Miller's classic early 1980s run on the "Daredevil" comic book series.

Daredevil inhabits the ground level of the Marvel Universe. No bombast and epic, world-shattering action here, just dark shadows and urban blight.

At least in the first couple of episodes, Daredevil fights mobsters, not super-villains. And he has no super strength or invulnerability of his own, just heightened senses brought about by a freak accident that stole his sight but fine-tuned everything else.

The fight scenes are especially well-executed and dramatic. Daredevil has great martial arts moves, but he also gets pummeled. He gets knocked down and picks himself up only be sheer force of will. He's super human in the sense that he's very, very human. There's a sense he could be killed at any moment.

Accordingly, Rosario Dawson turns up as a nurse in the second ep to fish a beaten Daredevil out of a Dumpster and treat his (many) wounds. Dawson is good, bringing personality to a cliched part. Also nice are Elden Henson as a funny, self-deprecating Foggy Nelson and Deborah Ann Woll is the sad and troubled Karen Page, who becomes the secretary in Foggy and Matt's law office.

Cox is very good in the lead role. He could be overly brooding, but is charming, funny and mysterious instead.

I also like that the show connects to the rest of Marvel's on-screen universe in a very subtle way.

There are mentions of "the incident," which resulted in the destruction of the show's Hell's Kitchen environs, but it's up to viewers to realize this refers to the epic New York battle that took place at the end of the first Avengers film.

"Daredevil" and other Marvel series planned for Netflix will apparently have their own niche and tone, while still acknowledging their connection to the rest of the Universe.

It will be interesting to see more. Judging by these episodes, the series if off to a promising start.

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