Today, I’ve got some mini reviews of some movies that have been released on streaming services in the last couple of weeks, including Amazon’s much talked about (and much maligned) new take on “Cinderella,” a few new Netflix releases: “Afterlife of the Party,” “Worth,” and “Kate.” You can also now stream the filmed version of the great Broadway musical “Come From Away” on Apple TV Plus. Similar to the beautifully shot stage version of “Hamilton” that was released on Disney Plus last year, “Come From Away” is a lovely, life-affirming show based on the true story of the flights that were grounded in the tiny Canadian town of Gander in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, released in time with that event’s 20th anniversary.
“CINDERELLA” (2021) (Amazon Prime Video)
The simple magic and timelessness of the fairytale “Cinderella” is that it can be easily adapted to various mediums, its setting and characters changed and flipped to create something new from something old, without losing sight of its original message of maintaining kindness towards others regardless of the circumstances. A lot of the film versions of “Cinderella” are great. Writer and director Kay Cannon’s modern jukebox version of the story, however, is not. Pop star Camila Cabello stars as the titular protagonist, who lives in a nondescript kingdom in a nondescript time and place, living and working for her tyrannical stepmother Vivian (Idina Menzel) and stepsisters Malvolia (Maddie Baillio) and Narissa (Charlotte Spencer). Meanwhile, Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) is being forced by parents, King Rowan (Pierce Brosnan) and Queen Beatrice (Minnie Driver) to throw a ball to find his future bride. All the eligible ladies in the kingdom are invited, but this Cinderella is less interested in attending to get a night away from her family and meet a prince, and more to meet some influential people she can sell her dresses too. Cinderella is a fashion designer, and she aspires to own her own dress shop, even though the society she lives in doesn’t support the notion of female business owners. Of course she meets Robert anyway and there’s an immediate spark between the pair, but marriage is not Cinderella’s priority. This is just one of several ways in which Cannon attempts to modernize the traditional fairytale, with middling results. Billy Porter playing the fairy godmother (or Fabulous Godmother, as he’s billed in the credits) is an inspired casting choice, and watching him get to belt out “Shining Star” is one of the only truly fine moments in the movie. There are a couple other good bits too; the prince going door to door with Cinderella’s glass slipper trying to find the woman whom the shoe fits, only to have uninterested women slamming doors in his face or not answering the door at all, is pretty amusing. But for the most part, these changes feel like forced attempts to pander to a younger female audience. And it will likely work for the tween crowd who this movie, with its fresh-faced young stars and peppy remixes of hit songs, is clearly targeting. But “Cinderella” and many other recent movies that center around the “strong female lead” tend to lose sight of the fact that most of us actually really like the romance and the happy ever after endings and want to see more of that. There’s a reason why Disney’s 1950 animated classic has endured for generations, why so many people herald the studio’s 2015 version starring Lily James as the best of their live-action remakes, and why when the 1997 TV version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical starring Brandy finally hit Disney+ earlier this year, it saw a massive resurgence in popularity. Cabello shows off some pretty impressive comedic chops in her role, but neither the script nor her performance conveys the innate kindness and faith in the good in humanity that makes Cinderella so appealing. It doesn’t help that the love story takes a bit of a backseat in this narrative, but it probably wouldn’t matter, since as the Prince, Galitzine is too bland to make much of an impact. In fact, much of the cast feels flat, despite the presence of some real heavy-hitters. The humor is overly immature (I never want to hear James Corden, who plays one of the mice turned coachmen, discuss his “front tail” ever again), and both the visual style and the songs covered in the film are a nonsensical mish-mash of genres and time periods. With Cannon, who wrote all three “Pitch Perfect” movies, at the helm, it’s a little surprising that “Cinderella” isn’t more likeable. But in straying a little too far from the core elements that have made this story work time and time again, something got lost. Runtime: 113 minutes. Rated PG.
“AFTERLIFE OF THE PARTY” (Netflix)
Comedies about death can be tricky territory to navigate. It’s easier to delight in the macabre humor of a purely black comedy, but try to throw in a dash of drama and commentary on grief in the mix and it can be difficult to know just how to react. That’s about where I landed with “Afterlife of the Party,” which is directed by Stephen Herek and stars Victoria Justice as Cassie, a party girl who dies suddenly and finds that she has to set some wrongs right back on Earth before she can pass on. This includes reconciling with her estranged mom and a dad (Adam Garcia) she neglected to spend time with while she was alive, and making things right with her best friend Lisa (Midori Francis), with whom she fought on her last night alive. Lisa is kind of awkward and nerdy (essentially the opposite of Cassie), and part of Cassie’s time with her involves setting her up with her neighbor, Max (Timothy Renouf). Francis has a very sweet and charming presence, and Justice is quite good too, but the strong relationships built throughout the movie can’t save it from its wildly inconsistent tone. “Afterlife of the Party” veers from light comedy to rom-com to drama, as its finale forces its characters to come to terms with their loss: Cassie with everything in life she will never have the chance to experience, and her friends and family with the loss of their loved one. These scenes are poignant, but they feel out of place in a movie that up to now has been striving for more laughs than tears. “Afterlife of the Party” is still mostly entertaining, but it’s hard to know how to react to a comedy about such a sad situation. Runtime: 109 minutes. Rated TV-PG.
“Worth” is a story about the aftermath of 9/11, but it tells a side of the story that most people likely have never thought about. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, no nonsense attorney Ken Feinberg (Michael Keaton) is assigned by Congress to lead the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. The task put to him and his colleagues: come up with a formula based on the livelihoods of the deceased to determine the monetary value of each person’s life, and how much of a settlement their family should receive from the government. Some of the lawyers on the project struggle right away with the calculating nature of the assignment, like young attorney Priya Khundi (Shunori Ramanthan) and even Ken’s longtime coworker Camille Biros (Amy Ryan). For Ken, however, it takes a long time to acknowledge the human side of this job, to the frustration of the claimants involved. One of them, Charles Wolf (Stanley Tucci), whose wife was killed in the attacks, leads an effort to fix the fund, claiming that it’s unfair for them to place more monetary value on the life of, say, a CFO versus a building janitor. Ken and Charles engage in a lot of back-and-forths throughout the film, and Keaton and Tucci both deliver impressive performances, even though I wasn’t fully convinced by Ken’s character arc. That’s likely more a fault of the script and direction than the performance, however. Director Sarah Colangelo doesn’t do enough with the source material (it’s based on Feinberg’s own book recounting the events) to elevate it to something more than a standard true life drama. The most moving parts of the film are the ones where victims are seen recounting their stories of their lost loved ones to the lawyers; some of them talk about receiving phone calls in their final minutes, others play voicemails. But these challenging, emotional moments feel like they are oddly placed within an otherwise rather slowly-paced, dull movie crammed with a lot of legal proceedings and technical jargon, as does a subplot involving a victim’s wife (played by Laura Benanti). The film asks us to consider whether or not a price can be placed on a life, but I think that topic could have been pushed harder; as it stands, “Worth” is interesting, but it isn’t very thought-provoking. Still, for an exploration of a true story that some of us may be unfamiliar with, “Worth” may be, uh, worth taking a look at.
Welcome, friends, to the crappy Netflix action movie of the week. The failure of director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan’s film has little to do with its star, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who has proven herself time and again to be a top-notch action lead, with her deep voice and cool demeanor. She spends much of this movie covered in blood, taking almost as many blows as she deals, single-mindedly searching for vengeance while also forming a legitimate bond with the teenage daughter of one of her past victims. She strolls into a potential battle in slow motion, sunglasses on, cigarette dangling from her mouth, a gun in each hand, and seemingly not a care in the world, the standard image of a female action star that a lot of films now tend to embrace, for better and for worse. But “Kate” fails at being a solid vehicle for Winstead’s talents. Winstead’s Kate is an assassin who, when a job in Tokyo goes south, finds that she has been poisoned and has only 24 hours left to live. She spends that time searching for her killers with the help of Ani (Miku Martineau). “Kate” has everything you’ve seen before: a neon-lit visual aesthetic, thinly developed villains, a hardened killer forming a heart-warming bond with a wise-cracking youngster. Sure, we know what we come to these movies for, but there’s never any moment of “Kate” that’s interesting; even the friendship formed between Kate and Ani often feels forced. Perhaps the most egregious aspect of “Kate,” however, is its Tokyo setting. This story could have been set almost anywhere in the world. The city and the bevy of Japanese gangsters are used primarily to accentuate the endeavors of the film’s white American protagonist; they are an aesthetic with almost no substance. The action scenes, at least, set “Kate” apart from other, similar movies; they are much more gory and graphic than expected. “Kate” may satisfy viewers looking for a hardcore action outing, but this is otherwise another forgettable entry in the genre from Netflix. Woody Harrelson costars as Kate’s mentor Varrick. Runtime: 106 minutes. Rated R.