UNFRIENDED

You heard it here first:  Unfriended is The Blair Glitch Project.

 Unfriended-posterThat’s what I’m calling this ghost in the machine horror show that takes place entirely on a computer monitor – all 82 minutes of it.  Pretty long for a cyber chat, but just long enough for the blood to start flowing.

 Beginning with the suicide of fellow classmate Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman)after the circulation of an extremely embarrassing videosix of her teen friends discover a malevolent entity lurking within their Skype’d conversations.

 Blair (Shelley Hennig) Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) Jess (Renee Olstead) Ken (Jacob Wysocki) Val (Courtney Halvorsen) and Adam (Will Peltz) find an uninvited guest among their gossipy gang, but nothing can be done to make the intruder leave.  It communicates with taunts and mysterious, mild threats – at first.  “You don’t want to do that” it declares when one of the group tries to delete it.

 The list of its demands grows, demonstrated by the groupincreasingly panicked (and unsuccessful) maneuvers to remove it.  There are implied consequences; it will not be ignored.

 You WILL pay attention.  You WILL NOT unfriend me.  You WILL all play a game or you WILL die.  Count on it.  

06 There’s a countdown, too, effectively portrayed primarily in audio effects to hype up suspense, along with a youthful WTF factor that is unsettling.

 The entity’s gradual reveal, its purpose and intentions, and its unstoppable, unseen power gives the viewer a sense of mounting dread, while incorporating glitchy computer graphics to heighten the sense of the grotesque as one by one, the teens meet incomprehensible and violent consequences.

 Director Levan Gabriadze (Lucky Trouble) helms a uniquely original visual of a narrative in that it is one long screen shot with video images and text messages simultaneously appearing in real time (with side chats).  His supernatural cautionary tale about cyber bullying proves that we are indeed in the 21st century with all of its technological implications and responsibilities.

 The noname cast helps make this anonymous enough to insert your own groupinto the mix and should resonate especially well with youthful audiences.  The impact of grotesque images of attractive, popular teens (sometimes dropping F-bombs like napalm) while facing the unexpected consequences of deceitful acts, secret trysts, and monumental betrayals illustrates the ripple effect of one bad decision when allowed to flourish in pixels and bandwidth.

 Moving swiftly to its very predictable ending, Unfriended gets a bit cliché at times when the gang gets frenzied and their dialogue is limited almost solely to profanity.  One of the scenes of “comeuppance” shall we say, is almost comical, which breaks up the terrifying momentum that’s been so carefully crafted.

 Though not an original subject or premise, the film’s originality comes from viewing it within the confines of a computer monitor, its square dimensions like the borders of some vast cyber-country full of one word commands.

 Chat. Tweet. Snap. Like. Post. Share. Unlike. Unfriend. Delete. Die.

unfriended-33Two-time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett is the haute couture reason to revel in the visuals as her scathing, scarlet lips issue a cascade of casual cruelty.  Wicked stepsisters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera) provide vain, silly (but not ugly) counterparts for James’s kind, forgiving, integrity-filled servant-turned-princess. Madden’s prince has a first name, and it is NOT Charming, but he does wear tights, ride horses, and pursue his prized female with a solitary glass shoe.  

Thankfully, some things never change.Director Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet) helms a Chris Weitz (Antz) narrative that is safe – and sumptuous.  Academy Award winners Sandy Powell (costume design) and Dante Ferretti (production design) weave an opulence that for some, will be enough to ride into “Happily Ever After.”Others will find the new Cinderella to be an instance of More is Less.  

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CINDERELLA

StarringCate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Nonso Anozie, Stellan Skarsgard, Ben Chaplin, Derek Jacobi

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

TRAILER

Don’t let the live action fool you.  There are still helpful mice and birds in Disney’s second version of the classic fairy tale.  Like its 1950 animated predecessor, (original story by Charles Perrault) there are still hateful step-relatives, a fairy godmother, a prince, a ball and a glass slipper.  The ball gown is still blue, the maiden, still blonde. 

Cinderella201525At 65, though, someone must have thought it was time for retirement.  2015’s Cinderella would be more empowered, her backstory enhanced to make her puzzling subservience understandable, she would be less of a damsel in distress. 

Or maybe not. 

What the latest film version of Cinderella has going for it is that it is bibbity bobbity beautiful.  The costumes, set design, CGI, ambience, and visual artistry is pleasing, sumptuous, lush, and gorgeous, so at least there’s something to look at as the age-old story plays out.A 105-minute running time means that there has to be lots of filler and folderol running through the tale, and there is.  Some of it is enlightening, like what happened to Cinderella’s (Lily James) parents, and why the evil stepmother (Cate Blanchett) became so cruel.  

Other attempts at filling up the feature length time slot rely on elongated discussions between the players, additional scenes (a stag hunt, a swing ride, a diary session with a modern pencil) and several sight gags as Cinderella’s coach and attendants are created by the magic of her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter).  These antics continue after the ball as well, with the return of the carriage to a pumpkin, the horses to mice, the coachman to a goose, the footmen to lizards.  Very well done, visually, but lingers a tad too long in the execution (and folderol).There are additional characters, such as the Captain (Nonso Anozie) and the scheming Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgard), advisors to the King (Derek Jacobi) and Prince (Richard Madden).  Anozie’s character is a plus, integrating the Palace Guard.  Skarsgard’s Grand Duke and his requisite ulterior motive is an unnecessary detour from the story, wasting time but providing filler.All of this does not make it a bad film, by any means, but it does drag in some areas, making it less engaging than it might have been.  Children will be enthralled, although one little boy at the screening I attended was fast asleep by fairytale’s end.ba25d6a5bc5da94a416f628988d4a8f7c5189ac8

Meeting our heroine’s parents (Ben Chaplin and Hayley Atwell) and discovering their “have courage and be kind” influence on their daughter fills in a piece of the Cinderella puzzle long ignored, but initiates the somewhat slow pace to come.That being said, the ballroom scene is full of colorful, dizzying enchantment.

Two-time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett is the haute couture reason to revel in the visuals as her scathing, scarlet lips issue a cascade of casual cruelty.  Wicked stepsisters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera) provide vain, silly (but not ugly) counterparts for James’s kind, forgiving, integrity-filled servant-turned-princess. Madden’s prince has a first name, and it is NOT Charming, but he does wear tights, ride horses, and pursue his prized female with a solitary glass shoe.  

Thankfully, some things never change.Director Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet) helms a Chris Weitz (Antz) narrative that is safe – and sumptuous.  Academy Award winners Sandy Powell (costume design) and Dante Ferretti (production design) weave an opulence that for some, will be enough to ride into “Happily Ever After.”Others will find the new Cinderella to be an instance of More is Less.  

3

WOMAN IN GOLD

StarringHelen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Bruhl, Katie Holmes, Tatiana Maslany, Charles Dance

Directed by: Simon Curtis

TRAILER

With the aid of a nerdy lawyer, an elderly woman sues an Austrian museum to retrieve her family’s stolen paintings. No, she is not the Woman in Gold, but her long deceased aunt is, and to Maria Altmann (Dame Helen Mirren) the painting, referred to as both a national treasure and the Austrian Mona Lisa has a sentimental value that transcends its 100 million dollar appraisal.maxresdefaultPainted by Gustav Klimt in 1907, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” and several other masterpieces were taken from her family home by the Nazis when Altmann was a young bride (Tatiana Maslany in flashback). Altmann and her husband eventually escaped Austria, leaving behind her beloved extended family.Flash forward to 1998 when the widowed Altmann, now living in Southern California, enlists the aid of mild-mannered attorney Randol Schoenberg -grandson of classical composer Arnold Schoenberg – to start legal proceedings in order to get the painting back. To accomplish this, Altmann must accompany Schoenberg back to Vienna (where she vowed she’d NEVER revisit) for face-to-face meetings with Austrian officials from the Belvedere Gallery where the painting now hangs, in an effort to persuade them of her legal right to reclaim it. Austrian reporter (Daniel Brühl) advises the pair on what to expect (a polite, but repeated “NO” to all requests for restitution). The venture results in a barrage of polite dismissals and seemingly impossible legal and financial hurdles. Altmann and Schoenberg leave discouraged and divided about their next step.Schoenberg experiences some epiphanies about his own identity (his grandfather was a Nazi refugee, too) that kick starts his drive to argue Altmann’s case. The pair ultimately takes the issue all the way to the Supreme Court.Pre-war flashback sequences illustrate Altmann’s cherished early years and her family’s elegant lifestyle, disrupted by Nazi persecution, theft, and house arrest. Altmann’s escape from Austria and her present day return to her childhood home (now converted into business offices) are two of the films most compelling sequences.Mirren and Maslany bring Altmann’s story to the screen with mesmerizing poignancy and determination. Though not the titular woman, Mirren is still golden as the pragmatic, feisty, haunted survivor. thumbnail20388Reynolds’ Schoenberg seems bewildered and ineffectual, gaining strength later in the film. His wife (Katie Holmes) seems to serve the singular purpose of illustrating daunting financial responsibilities as his family grows, while Brühl is a mouthpiece for the story’s narrative from the Austrian side. Jonathan Pryce makes a short but crucial appearance s Chief Justice William Rehnquist of the Supreme Court.Director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) allows for a somewhat dull treatment of an important subject, as mild mannered in places as Schoenberg himself. The story is fascinating and true, yet the film hits its mark only periodically. This is actor Alexi Kaye Campbell’s first feature-length script, apparent in scenes, especially present-day, that tend to drag with clichéd dialogue and forced humor that rings false within the film’s serious backdrop. Still, it’s worth seeing for the historical significance and for the performances of the two women that portray Maria Altmann, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 94. It’s a story of love, loss, family, justice, and memories as precious and delicate as the gold leaf that adorns sections of “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.”It’s Altmann, sharing her family album through paint, persecution, politics, and perseverance.

3 1:2