Cinderella Press Conference

Cinderella Press ConferenceThe Cinderella press conference took place in London last week. Director Kenneth Branagh was joined by producers David Barron and Allison Shearmur, costume designer Sandy Powell, and stars Lily James, Richard Madden, and Holliday Grainger to discuss the latest Disney fairy tale…

On costumes in the film…

Sandy Powell: It was a costume designer’s dream. What really struck me was it was a film about girls. A lot of the main characters were girls, and ok there were male characters too, but it was predominantly women which doesn’t happen that often. It was a dream and I ran with it.

Disney's Cinderella

On adapting the story for a modern audience…

David Barron: When Ken [Branagh] mentioned to me that Disney had been in touch about a live action version of Cinderella, I said: “ooh, interesting”. I thought; how do you do something that is relevant for a contemporary audience, and in its own way faithful to the animated classic. Ken had a very clear vision on how to make this a film for today. This central message of courage and kindness… it just seemed that it would work for today and for a contemporary audience.

On Cinderella‘s influences…

Kenneth Branagh:[To be compared with Powell and Pressburger] is a wonderful compliment, because I revere those guys. A huge personal inspiration, that particular partnership.

Sandy Powell: For me, it was the nineteenth century, all over the nineteenth century, bits of the 1940s and 1950s thrown in for the Stepmother. I was looking at those 1940s actresses like Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, and when they were in films made in the 1940s set in the nineteenth century, and I really liked that look for Cate [Blanchett]. For the sisters I went a decade higher to the 1950s fashions, but keeping the nineteenth century look.

Cinderella Lily James

On the character of Cinderella…

Lily James: [She has] this strength can come from within. This dignified strength and grace… that in doing so she finds such joy and happiness in her life regardless of her situation. Even if it’s just talking to little Gus Gus! When I read the script I was just bowled over by the fact that it was such a faithful retelling of the fairy tale without any tricks or twists. It felt really strong. This was a girl I really wanted to play and felt inspired playing.

On the ballroom scene…

Kenneth Branagh: The kind of films that were wonderful to go and visit [for inspiration], apart from Powell and Pressburger were, well we looked at again The Red Shoes, we looked at Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Visconti’s The Leopard. We also looked Cyrano de Bergerac, the Rappeneau film for some wonderful camera work, particularly the sweeping shots that end up on close-ups of our heroine. The Age of Innocence is a Scorsese film that I love for its immersion into a world that you can feel, see, taste and touch and smell. Certainly we went to the classics.

Cinderella is released in UK cinemas on 27th March 2015.

Film Review: The Wizard of Oz 3D

The Wizard of Oz

To celebrate its 75th anniversary, The Wizard of Oz gets a cinematic re-release, being screened in 3D for the very first time. Despite its age, the film is as enchanting as ever.

When young Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto are caught up in a tornado, the pair are swept away from Kansas. Dorothy must journey to meet the Wizard of Oz, in the hope that he can return her home…

Three-quarters of a century may have passed since the film was originally released, but The Wizard of Oz still holds up as a wonderful piece of cinema. The film has none of its shine in terms of fantasy, spectacle and entertainment.

Victor Fleming’s film sets up a narrative template which has been emulated by numerous fantasy films since. At the core of The Wizard of Oz is a quest that is undertaken by the protagonist. The film introduces memorable characters throughout the duration. The fact that these are tied into the wider preceding frame of the narrative gives the film a tidy and complete feeling.

The Wizard of Oz mixes fantasy, adventure and music in a most satisfying manner. Songs from the film have become classics, whilst the iconography is some of the strongest in cinematic history. Aimed at a family audience, Fleming injects the right amount of peril, enchantment and humour.

It took 18 months to restore The Wizard of Oz  and convert the film into 3D. The results are pretty impressive, given the age of the picture. The use of 3D is subtle, enhancing the images without being distracting. In some scenes the use of 3D results in the backgrounds looking fuzzy in contrast. This does not hamper overall enjoyment, however.

The re-release of The Wizard of Oz gives a timely opportunity for both newcomers and longtime fans to see the quintessential fantasy film on the big screen.

The Wizard of Oz 3D is being released at IMAX cinemas in the UK from 12th September 2014.

Film Review: Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return

Animated feature Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is suitably entertaining fare for young children, although older viewers may demand more.

After Dorothy wakes up back in Kansas, it is not long before she must return to Oz. Her old friends Scarecrow, Tin-Man and the Lion need her help when Oz faces a new threat…

L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories offer such a rich volume of fantasy, it cannot be surprising that another feature based on his works has been produced. Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return smartly chooses to encompass elements which have been featured in various Oz films, but never in one single film. In this sense, there is something complete about the film.

Nonetheless, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is not without its issues. The script needed to be sharper to make the film truly enjoyable. There is not enough humour in the film, and some of the expository dialogue feels awkward.

The characters that are featured in the film are interesting enough, but require more investment. Dorothy and her friends have already been established in previous incarnations of the story, therefore more could have been made of the supporting characters. The antagonist in Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is weak, which does not help to keep the narrative engaging.

The animation has a generic CGI quality to it. Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is more reminiscent of a television cartoon rather than a feature film. The songs that are included simply are not memorable. There is no hook to reel viewers in.

Lea Michelle is in fine tune vocally, but the actress fails to exude a range of emotion. Martin Short is decent enough as the Jester, although like other actors he is hampered by the script.

If it was a cartoon made for television, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return would be watchable, although not terribly exciting. As a cinematic feature, the film disappoints.

Oz The Great and Powerful Press Conference

Oz The Great and Poweful Press ConferenceDirector Sam Raimi and the cast of Oz The Great and Powerful gathered in London last week to promote the film. I went along to see what they had to say (and to eat a few biscuits)…

James Franco spoke about his connection to the world of Oz. He explained; “I’ve been a fan of the world of Oz since I was a boy, I read all the L. Frank Baum books when I kid, and so I was excited because of that. That I would be able to step in that world of my childhood imagination. Speaking about Sam Raimi’s vision, he said; “I saw that they were going to be loyal and respectful of everything we lovers of Oz expect. There will be familiar things in the land of Oz that you need for it to be the land of Oz.”

Sam Raimi admitted he was very frightened to approach the project. He remarked; “There is so much love for the original Wizard of Oz picture and people don’t want their warm feelings towards this classic sullied. They don’t want someone stepping on the fondest memories of their childhood”. However when Sam read the script for Oz The Great and Powerful he admitted that “he fell in love with the story”.

Zach Braff joked about wearing a blue onesie for his role as Finley. He said; “You think that when you make a movie for six months, when you walk on set in a blue onesie your cast members would eventually stop laughing at you. But they didn’t”. Mila Kunis commented on the importance of the costumes for this film. She explained; “It was the first time in my life that a costume 100% helped me realise the character”. Rachel Wiesz echoed the sentiment, stating; “My character would have been nothing without the sequins, the feathers, the lashes, the corsets, the boots, the nails!”.

Oz The Great and Powerful is released in cinemas on Friday 8th March 2013.

Oz The Great and Powerful

Film Review: The Wizard of Oz (1925)

The Wizard of Oz (1925)The Wizard of Oz (1925) is a vehicle for the physical comedy of director and star Larry Semon rather than a faithful retelling of any of the Oz tales.

A toymaker tells the story of how Dorothy, the rightful ruler of Oz, was sent to Kansas as a baby. Oz is under the rule of Prime Minister Kruel, who is determined to stop Dorothy from taking her place on the throne…

Made fourteen years before Victor Fleming’s film, The Wizard of Oz appears a stark contrast to its successor. Much of the plot has been altered, with much less focus on Dorothy’s quest. Semon’s The Wizard of Oz is more of a comedy than a fantasy, with many of the magical elements of Oz being toned down.

The main reason that this 1925 film is not as memorable or cherished as the 1939 movie is undoubtedly because of where the emphasis lies. The focus is on Semon’s farmhand character rather the Dorothy. She becomes a secondary player in this adaptation. The film is more concerned with the farmhand getting himself out of scrapes.

Moreover, Kansas dominates as the prime location, instead of Oz. Semon’s film misses the magic of the land; an element so intrinsic to later versions. Even the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion are not actual characters but the farm workers purposefully dressing up. Downplaying the fantasy elements of the books is a significant misstep.

Performances are fine,with Larry Semon, Oliver Hardy and G. Howe Black making the most of their athleticism. There are some good stunts in the film, particularly given the era in which it was produced.

Overall, The Wizard of Oz is not a bad film in its own right. However, it is not a memorable version of Baum’s tale.

The Wizard of Oz (1925) was screened with animated short The Wizard of Oz (1933) as part of the BFI’s ‘Returning to Oz’ season Piano accompaniment was provided by Stephen Horne.

Film Review: Oz The Great and Powerful

Oz The Great and Powerful

With its spellbinding imagery, Oz The Great and Powerful is a most pleasing fantasy adventure.

Oscar Diggs is a fairground magician always on the look out for the next scam. When he is swept away to the magical land of Oz, the inhabitants believe him to be the great wizard that they have been waiting for…

Oz The Great and Powerful functions both as a prequel to 1939’s The Wizard of Oz and a homage to it. The film tells the tale of the man behind the wizard, and how he came to hold such a powerful position. Oz The Great and Powerful fills in the back story to an important character in the Oz realm, but one who takes a backseat in the 1939 film.

Sam Raimi’s film features plenty of nods to the 1939 classic. Fans should be pleased with these, as they fall into the loving homage category, rather than an attempt to ape the original. Unlike Return to Oz, Oz The Great and Powerful maintains the style of the 1939 film. Despite over seventy years passing since The Wizard of Oz, Sam Raimi’s film retains its style. The opening in particular is a great homage to Victor Fleming’s film.

The narrative fits the conventions of this style of fantasy. The dialogue is imbued with a healthy does of schmaltz. However, The Wizard of Oz itself was also ripe with sentimentality, so this should not surprise. The schmaltz does not make Oz The Great and Powerful a bad film by any means; however those not keen on whimsy may find it too cheesy. The film introduces some new characters to the sphere. These wok well, particularly sidekick Finley.

Oz The Great and Powerful is a majestic amalgamation of live action and CGI. The two formats are blended together so well, the separation is not really noticeable. The film makes the most of colour, in keeping with its predecessor, and is incredibly effective in creating the fantasy world of Oz. It is really worth seeing Oz The Great and Powerful in 3D; as the depth does add something. Danny Elfman’s score is also good.

Performances from the stellar cast are strong. James Franco is most believable as the magician of dubious morals. Rachel Weisz is perfectly cast as Evanora, while Michelle Williams makes a suitably ethereal Glinda. Mila Kunis also excels as Theodora.

Fans of The Wizard of Oz should find Oz The Great and Powerful to be a lovingly crafted addition to the Oz universe. Highly recommended for fantasy aficionados.

Film Review: The Patchwork Girl of Oz

The Patchwork Girl of OzThe Patchwork Girl of Oz is an eye-opening experience for viewers unfamiliar with it. A quirky and amusing silent film.

Ojo and his father decide to travel to Oz in order to escape poverty. On their way, they come across a magician who is attempting to bring a patchwork doll to life. When the experiment has an unexpected outcome, the group must work together to rectify things…

Directed by J. Farrell McDonald, The Patchwork Girl of Oz is based on L. Frank Baum’s book of the same name. The plot focuses on lesser known Oz characters, but retains the same narrative style as Baum’s most famous work. The quest aspect of fantasy adventure reigns supreme, with Ojo and pals being plagued with various obstacles on their journey.

The one thing that lets The Patchwork Girl of Oz down is that the characters are not quite as endearing as they should be. Unlike The Wizard of Oz, the protagonist does not capture the hearts of viewers. The film’s running time is fairly short (81 minutes), and there a number of characters vying for attention.

Scraps, the patchwork doll come to life, is a surreal character. Played by Pierre Couderc, there is no mistaking that the doll is a man, despite the title. The image of the doll is quite unusual; viewers may feel they have been slipped something mild-altering. Couderc physicality is impressive, even if the appearance is bizarre.

The film exhibits a good use of trick photography, especially considering it was made in 1914. The Patchwork Girl of Oz amuses in its peculiarities. Not a patch on later Oz films, McDonald’s film is worth watching for its surreality alone.

The Patchwork Girl of Oz was screened with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910) as part of the BFI’s ‘Returning to Oz’ season. Piano accompaniment was provided by Costas Fotopoulos.