For the second month in a row, Friday the 13th is going to be bring good luck to the box office in the form of the live-action fairy tale Cinderella (Disney), directed by Kenneth Branagh (Thor) and starring Oscar winner Cate Blanchett and Oscar nominee Helena Bonham Carter as Cinderella’s wicked stepmother and fairy godmother, respectively. Playing the title role is Lily James, who has made a name for herself playing Lady Rose on PBS’s popular show “Downton Abbey,” and her Prince Charming is played by Richard Madden, best known for playing Robb Stark on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
The cast is rounded out by the likes of Derek Jacobi as the King, Stellan Skarsgard, and Hayley Atwell as Cinderella’s mother. It’s a decent cast, but Blanchett and Carter are the only ones who have some sort of draw at the box office with their presence.
Disney was not the first studio to try to get audiences into theaters in March, but they did help strengthen the potential for the month when they released Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, starring Johnny Depp, in March of 2010, and it ended up setting a new record for the month with $116 million opening weekend on its way to $334.2 million and over a billion worldwide. Disney followed that up two years ago with James Franco starring as Oz The Great and Powerful, directed by Sam Raimi, which also opened in March to $79 million on its way to $235 million domestic and double that amount worldwide.
Not that having that level of star power matters much, because even without a name star or director, there’s little question the name “Cinderella” is as well known as Alice in Wonderland. That’s generally what’s going to sell the movie, because it’s such a well-known fairy tale that caters to young girls’ dreams of becoming a princess, which has stayed with many of them until adulthood.
The film’s premise will be a big selling point, but Branagh has also created a gorgeous film that will play up to women’s love of fashion and fancy dress clothing and the romanticism of being a period piece, all of which should make it the first choice for girls and women from 5 and up. It’s also coming off the success of the Disney musical Into the Woods, which played on the Cinderella premise as well as other fairy tales, showing that there’s still an audience for these stories.
If the movie didn’t have enough going for it to get women and girls into theaters, then Disney has hedged their bets by placing the animated short Frozen Fever in front of the movie, which as you might guess is a follow-up to their hit movie Frozen, which won two Oscars, Grammies and the adoration of little girls everywhere. So Disney was probably already going to make a ton of money from this movie, but that short should put it over the top since Frozen is like crack for little girls.
It seems like this could open huge this weekend, probably somewhere in the high $70 million range and maybe higher if it was something that starts to get more guys interested, being that there aren’t many other strong choices. It may take a little tumble next weekend as it loses some business to The Divergent Series: Insurgent, which also has a strong fanbase towards women, but it should pick up again after that and do decent enough business over the rest of March and April to get to $250 million or maybe even more.
Many have tried to bring classic fairy tales made famous in early Disney animated features to the screen as live-action films. Some have succeeded, but many of them have tried to reinvent the wheel or tell these classic stories from a different angle. The fact that the Kenneth Branagh-directed Cinderella remains faithful to the tradition of the earlier Disney animated film goes a long way to make it one of the best attempts at a live-action fairy tale in recent memory.
The film opens with a prelude that explains how the young Ella ended up alone with her wicked stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and two step-sisters—hilarious comic performances by Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera—the former who has married Ella’s father for his money. When he dies while on a trip, they’re left in a position where they have to fire the staff and they put Ella to work doing all the menial chores around their large house. During a chance encounter in the woods, Ella meets Prince Charming (Richard Madden) who becomes enthralled with her to the point where he holds a ball inviting all the eligible women in his kingdom with the sole purpose of seeing her again.
You probably know the rest by now, from how “Cinderella” is mistreated by her new family and left with no way to get to the ball until her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) turns up to wave her magic wand, turning a pumpkin and Ella’s farmland friends into transportation and creating the glass slippers that will play a large role in the film’s last act.
More than anything else, Lily James makes a wonderful Cinderella, always bright and cheerful even through the worst of what she faces, with a disposition that makes it easy to understand why Charming would fall for her. The romantic aspect of the story works surprisingly well due to James and Madden’s wonderful on-screen chemistry that makes their romance so credible within the more fantastical aspects of the fairy tale. While Blanchett and Bonham Carter are the clear ringers in their two key roles, the film doesn’t fully rely on them to maintain interest although it does sometimes hit a lull between the grand ball and the finale.
Not trying to reinvent a fine-tuned wheel like the Cinderella story ends up working in the film’s favor, particularly by maintaining the period setting which makes the film perfect for Branagh’s visual sensibilities between his Shakespeare films and Thor. Despite basically being the same story with all the same beats, Chris Weitz’s impeccable screenplay ably uses voice-over by Carter to tell the story as it creates a grand spectacle that deals with things like the class system without ever hitting the viewer over the head with any messages.
The CG used to bring Ella’s farmland creatures, including mice and a goose, to life is also quite transparent and organic, maintaining some degree of realism without losing the magic of being a fairy tale, the latter culminating in the entrance of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, a sequence that will thrill those who love that part of the story.
The costumes by Sandy Powell are so sumptuous they immediately grab the eye even of someone like myself who has absolutely zero fashion sense (or interest), guaranteeing her a fourth Oscar. Add to that some of the most gorgeous production design from three-time Oscar winner Dante Ferreti and a glorious score by Patrick Doyle—neither who should make other plans on Oscar night—and you have a film that immediately pulls you into the world and keeps you invested.
Cinderella is such a beautiful film, Walt Disney himself would be proud of his namesake company for making it. It’s filled with the magic and romance and entertainment value of the films from his glory day and the type of film that helps expand people’s love of cinema and a theatrical experience that absolutely must be seen on the big screen.
(And yes, the animated short Frozen Fever that proceeds it is also fantastic, offering a fun new story and song that is just long enough to thrill fans of the earlier film without wearing out the characters’ welcome.)
Rating: 9 out of 10
Liam Neeson is back with his second action-thriller of the year as Run All Night (Warner Bros.) reteams him with his Unknown and Non-Stop director Jaume Collet-Sera, and pits him against Ed Harris (who also appears in the indie Cymbeline this weekend). Joining them in the cast is Joel Kinnaman, the Swedish actor who Hollywood seems to be trying hard to make the next big thing after being cast in 2014’s RoboCop remake.
Neeson’s coming off Taken 3, which opened solidly with $39.2 million, but then was quickly swallowed up by Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, so it only grossed $88 million domestically, considerably less than its predecessor. (Supposedly, it’s the last movie in the series so Neeson can move on to making Taken rip-offs like this one.) That series has pretty much given the Oscar-nominated actor a strong second act to his career, although he already had experience doing action from blockbusters like Star Wars: Episode I and Batman Begins. Neeson’s previous collaboration with Collet-Sera, last year’s Non-Stop, did decently with a $29 million opening and grossing $92.2 million domestically, which added to Neeson’s credibility as an action star with significant box office. In fact, he currently has a better track record than vets like Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Bruce Willis and even Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even before that, Neeson had other non-“Taken” hits including Joe Carnahan’s The Grey ($51.6 million gross), but his appearance in last year’s A Walk Among the Tombstones didn’t fare nearly as well, ending up with half that amount.
Neeson doesn’t have to carry this one as he does have a worthy counterpart in Ed Harris, who offers more of a draw towards older audiences (and coincidentally, also plays a mob boss in the modern-day Shakespeare adaptation Cymbeline, released in select cities this weekend). The same can be said for the supporting cast that includes Vincent D’Onofrio, Nick Nolte, Genesis Rodriguez and recent Oscar winner Common, although this is still seen as a Liam Neeson movie first and foremost.
Without much competition for older male audiences, Run All Night should do fine this weekend, although it’s probably going to end up somewhere around the $12 and 15 million mark rather than the $20 million plus some of Neeson’s other movies have opened to. It may be able to push $40 million despite the release of another action-thriller next weekend in the form of Sean Penn’s The Gunman.
This weekend last year saw the latest video game-based action movie with Need for Speed (DreamWorks), starring Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots, but it failed to make much of a mark, opening in third place with $17.8 million in 3,115 theaters or $5,728 per site. It fared better than Tyler Perry’s Single Moms Club (Lionsgate), which took the dubious honor of being Perry’s lowest movie opening to date with just $8 million in 1,896… and Perry was never seen again. (At least, until he co-starred in David Fincher’s Gone Girl later that year.) Despite a weak opening, DreamWorks Animation’s Mr. Peabody & Sherman held its ground with a 32% drop to take the #1 spot away from 300: Rise of an Empire, which dropped 63% to second place with $19.2 million. Opening in 291 theaters was the follow-up to the popular television series Veronica Mars (Warner Bros.), starring Kristen Bell, Krysten Ritter and the rest of the original cast, bringing in just under $2 million ($6,832 per theater) to end up just outside the Top 10. The Top 10 grossed $98.6 million and the sure-thing that’s Cinderella should help this weekend kick that weekend’s butt.
This Week’s Predictions –
1. Cinderella (Disney) – $76.2 million N/A
It’s the sequel to Divergent aka The Divergent Series: Insurgent (Summit/Lionsgate), plus Sean Penn tries his own hand at being Liam Neeson with The Gunman (Open Road), the latest action-thriller from Taken director Pierre Morel.
This Week’s Must-Sees
It Follows (RADiUS-TWC)
That’s the only non-doc I’m recommending this week, but I have four docs worth checking out:
The Wrecking Crew (Magnolia Pictures)
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (HBO Pictures)
SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION (Sundance Selects)
Champs (Amplify, Starz Digital Media)
Other Limited Releases of Note:
3 Hearts (Cohen Media Group)
The Cobbler (RLJE/Image Entertainment)
I first saw this movie at the Toronto International Film Festival with an audience and while it does earn points for being set almost entirely in my neighborhood on the Lower East Side and dealing with some of the same things it’s facing in terms of investors changing the face of the area, it doesn’t feel like one of McCarthy’s better movies, more of a high concept idea that unwisely relies on Sandler to sell it. Even with the likes of Steve Buscemi, Dustin Hoffman and Ellen Barkin in the cast, it feels like they’re generally doing lesser work, which is disappointing, although it does have more of a mainstream feel than some of McCarthy’s other films, maybe because it’s more about the premise than the characters. The Cobbler opens in select cities and VOD on Friday.
Interview with Tom McCarthy (Coming Soon)
Treading Water (The Orchard)
Home Sweet Hell (Vertical Entertainment)
Eva (The Weinstein Company)
The Lovers (IFC Films)
Walter (eOne Films)
Muck (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
You can post any comments or questions below, or you can get in touch with the Weekend Warrior on Twitter.
Copyright 2015 Edward Douglas