Courage and Kindness: Cinderella; Insurgent

Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella (I never thought I’d use those three words in tandem) turns out to be a visually sumptuous, beautifully scored (Patrick Doyle), and altogether enjoyable rendition of Charles Perrault’s well-known fairy tale, as adapted by Chris Weitz and fairly light on the Grimm.

You know the story by now: poor Ella loses her loving mother and adoring father before twenty minutes have elapsed; she’s also gained an attractive, wicked stepmother and two gauche stepsisters—who also take over the run of the manor, exiling Ella to the attic.

Ella, bolstered by her mother’s mantra to “have courage and be kind,” finds the gumption (helped by her pretty radiant Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham-Carter) to attend the palace ball (given so the Prince can find an agreeable bride), capture the Prince’s fancy and survive the various curveballs thrown at her by the evil stepmom in order to earn that happy ending.

One can quibble with certain facets of the story: as presented, Cate Blanchett’s stepmother and her clumsy daughters are so transparent that one wonders why the father leaves Ella in their care; and as Lily James so winningly portrays Cinderella, it’s unlikely that this Cinderella would have stood for the humiliations heaped upon her. Yet the movie, if not inspired, is consistently engaging, occasionally amusing (Rob Brydon’s painter adds some laughs), and gives Derek Jacobi another opportunity to grace lend some grace notes to a Branagh film, this time as the dying patriarch who comes through with some sound advice for his son.

Insurgent or perhaps I should say The Divergent Series: Insurgent continues the dystopian saga of the Five Factions and the desire of the head of the Erudite faction (an icy Kate Winslet) to eliminate the extra-special ones who possess qualities of several different factions: “divergents” —but not before she rounds them up in order to open the box that may contain the key to everyone’s future welfare. Shalene Woodley’s Tris is perhaps the purest, and therefore most targeted divergent, she’s tough, resourceful—but she also has a heart, a quality that might put her at a disadvantage when dealing wtih one as ruthless as Winslet.

Tris, like Cinderella, also has memories of her mother (Ashley Judd, returning via the wonders of virtual reality) who has implored her to cultivate her better qualities (courage, kindness).

There are some good action sequences and a few good performances (namely Woodley’s conflicted Tris), but the whole project has a deja-vu feeling to it, and the supporting characters are either underdeveloped or downright implausible (or both, as per Miles Teller). Things may progress in a more interesting manner, as Naomi Watts’ character achieves more prominence, but I can’t say I’m anxiously awaiting the next installment (or should I say two, since the final book will be made as a two-part movie, to be released in March 2016 and 2017—and you may know how I feel about that).