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Reviews: ‘Cinderella,’ ‘Frozen Fever,’ ‘Run All Night’

Lily James and Cate Blanchett in Cinderella

By Tim Lammers

“Cinderella” (PG) 4 stars (out of four)

Filmmaker Kenneth Branagh masterfully directs an instant classic with “Cinderella,” Walt Disney Pictures’ latest animated great-turned live-action fairy tale. Preceded by the 2010 blockbuster “Alice in Wonderland” and the 2014  summer hit “Maleficent” (the “Sleeping Beauty” tale told from the villainess’ point-of-view), “Cinderella” emerges as the best of the three re-imagined tales so far – mainly by  sticking with the narrative fairy tale fans know and love while making subtle yet strong changes where it counts the most.

Lily James stars as Ella, who as a child loses her mother (Hayley Atwell) and gains a cruel stepmother (the deliciously evil Cate Blanchett) and two stepsisters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera) when her father (Ben Chaplin) remarries. Trapped as a servant to her stepmother and stepsisters after her father dies, Ella – who is dubbed “Cinderella” by one of the stepsisters – sees a glimmer of hope through a chance meeting with the handsome Kit (Richard Madden), who keeps secret from the young woman that he’s really a prince who will soon inherit a kingdom.

Interview: Helena Bonham Carter (U.S. exclusive)

Interview: Kenneth Branagh

“Cinderella” works on every level, from using real landscape complimented by lavish castle set pieces and costumes; to stellar acting, a mystical atmosphere, Patrick Doyle’s moving score and the perfect mix of humor and heart.

The movie is also very emotional, especially in times of loss, but not necessarily depressing. It effectively helps build the character of Cinderella, who while taught by her dying mother to “have courage and be kind” – shuttering the damsel in the distress characterization from earlier interpretations of the tale.  Cinderella is now a strong and independent young woman who is an equal, essentially, to the prince, even while their social status couldn’t be any further apart.

Naturally, “Cinderella” wouldn’t be “Cinderella” with all of its classic elements: there’s the pumpkin that turns into the carriage, the mice that transform into horses and of course, the iconic glass slippers; but even those elements feel fresh and vibrant thanks to the wondrous performance of Helena Bonham Carter as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother.

And while Bonham Carter is only in the film for about 10 minutes (first, as an unrecognizable beggar lady who tests Cinderella’s will to be kind, only to transform into the giddy, Bibbidi-Bobbidi white-gowned magician who creates the girl’s transportation to the beautifully staged Castle Ball) – she makes the most out of every second she’s on-screen. Thankfully, Branagh puts his talented star to good use by making her the narrator of the film, and even has her sing the iconic song “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” during the end credits.

Despite the smattering of talent that surrounds her, James’ glowing performance as Cinderella helps the “Downtown Abbey” star carry the film with relative ease on her delicate shoulders. She’s the perfect choice to play the time-honored character with a sweet smile, an air of innocence and steady charisma and charm that makes you root for her from start to finish. True, we all know how the tale ends, but what an exciting, freshly mowed path through the gorgeous forestland “Cinderella” takes us on to get there. It’s a brilliant movie suited for girls and boys, and women and men of all ages.

Playing before “Cinderella” is the new “Frozen” short film “Frozen Fever,” a delightful seven-minute tale about a sniffling Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel), who’s trying to arrange a birthday party for her sister, Anna (Kristen Bell) despite a nasty cold. Elsa’s under-the-weather for the entire short, but her condition helps produce clever additions to the world of “Frozen” and the loveable goofball snowman Olaf (Josh Gad).

Most importantly, parents may find their children letting go of the Oscar-winning “Frozen” song “Let it Go,” as “Frozen Fever” debuts a memorable new song, “Making Today a Perfect Day.” It’s a perfect song for a perfect mini-sequel of sorts, since it takes place after the events of the first film.

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“Run All Night” (R) 3 stars (out of four)

Liam Neeson is back with a particular set of skills – although time does appear to be catching up with him, finally – with “Run All Night,” a gritty, fast-paced crime thriller that boasts a terrific cast to help the film rise above its convoluted storyline.

Neeson stars as Jimmy Conlon, a broken-down former hit man for his longtime friend/powerful New York City mob boss Sean Maguire (Ed Harris). In an unfortunate set of circumstances, Jimmy shoots and kills Sean’s only son, Danny (Boyd Holbrook) who was a hair-trigger away from his shooting Jimmy’s son, Mike (Joel Kinnaman), for witnessing a murder.

Despite their long history together, Sean orders a hit on Mike so Jimmy can suffer the same pain of losing a child. But Jimmy’s not going to give in easy, and devises a plan to stay on the run throughout the night with his estranged son, in an effort to try to make things right with his former crime confidant.

Neeson seems only to be playing a variation of the “Taken”-like character that’s dominated the action crime genre in the past few years, and it appears now that he’s just on this side of being unbelievable. Neeson’s a big man at 6 feet 4 inches and is no doubt fit for a man of 62, but given the physical and mental toll his life of crime has taken on him (he’s executed dozens of people, with some of the hits closer to home than he’d like to remember), and it’s a wonder how he disarms and beats people (or shoots them with skilled precision) for a guy who walks with a limp and was falling-down drunk just hours before.

Harris, meanwhile, is chilling as the ruthless crime boss, while Kinnaman – who rose to prominence in the brilliant AMC-turned-Netflix-series “The Killing,” is excellent as the moral compass of the film. He’s about the only main character that you can root for, given Jimmy’s and Sean’s menacing pasts. Vincent D’Onofrio also shines as the film’s only straight cop in a city otherwise owned by Sean’s power, while Common is wicked as a hit man hired to complete the job that his crew can’t seem to get done.

In the end, fans of shoot ’em ups with high body counts will no doubt be satisfied by “Run All Night,” despite the film’s obvious faults. And while “Run All Night” leaves more to be desired, it’s at least a major improvement over Neeson’s lackluster third film in the “Taken” franchise.

Loki Marvel Sixth Scale Figure

Movie reviews: ‘Taken 3,’ ‘Selma,’ ‘Inherent Vice’

Liam Neeson in 'Taken 3' (photo -- 20th Century Fox)

“Taken 3” (PG-13) 2 stars (out of four)

It Ends Here, the tagline on the poster for “Taken 3” promises and thank God.

“Taken 3,” presumably the last in Liam Neeson’s “Taken” saga that arrived with a bang in 2008, is the perfect example of an unnecessary sequel in a franchise being milked for all it’s worth. The first film – about Neeson’s daughter (Maggie Grace) being kidnapped by sex traffickers – was a spectacular action thriller; and its 2012 follow-up, where Neeson and his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) were taken as a revenge for his actions in the original, was average at best.

The newest installment doesn’t fare any better. At least no one is taken in it, which would have been an utterly ridiculous. Instead, it’s a chase movie and revenge thriller that isn’t any better or worse than any other films in the action genre. The big benefit here is the brand recognition and a likeable trio of leads with Neeson, Janssen and Grace, and the addition of the always great Forest Whitaker as detective who pursues Bryan Mills (Neeson) throughout the film.

The trailer and the TV spots pretty much let the cat out of the bag as far as the driving element of the plot is concerned: Ex-CIA operative Mills’ (Neeson) wife, Lenore (Janssen), is murdered, and Mills is framed for it. Wanted by the CIA, the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department, Mills puts his “particular set of skills” to work to elude the authorities and find the real killers.

Interview: Famke Janssen talks “Taken 3”

From there, “Taken 3” goes on auto-pilot, employing the same sort of high-kinetic action and adventure that juiced up the prior two films in the trilogy. Stocked with Russian bad guys who are after Lenore’s suspicious husband (Dougray Scott), “Taken 3” has one semi-clever plot twist, but in the end, it just feels like a boring retread of umpteen films we’ve seen before.

If you don’t want to be, well, taken, for a lackluster ride, do yourself a favor and watch the original again, or check out Neeson’s under-rated detective thriller “A Walk Among the Tombstones” from earlier this year. Neeson is still one of the most charismatic actors out there, and with the right material, his “particular set of skills” work quite well.

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Reviewed in brief:

“Selma” (PG-13)  3 stars (out of four)

It’s about time that the story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s voting rights march in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, be told on the big screen – and it’s a big shame the film is being mired in controversy.

“Selma,” director Ava Duvernay’s unflinching depiction of the brutality marchers sustained in 1965, presents a huge quandary. On one hand, it’s an expertly-directed film that features brilliant performances by David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, respectively; but on the flip side, former aides, historians and even one King’s associates are crying foul over the portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkenson) — who comes off as more of an obstructionist in the events leading up to the voting rights act than a partner in the efforts.

Minus the objectionable material, the bulk of “Selma” remains an important and necessary film for our times. Having said that, Hollywood still needs to be held accountable for the leeway filmmakers take when bending historical fact for the sake of creating drama on the big screen.

“Inherent Vice” (R)  3 stars (out of four)

Joaquin Phoenix stars in what is easily the biggest disappointment – and worst film – of last year.

The film’s top-shelf talent, which also includes Josh Brolin, is completely wasted by Paul Thomas Anderson’s pretentious direction, and a nonsensical script that’s virtually impossible to grasp.

Dreadful and plodding, this movie should have been called “Incoherent Vice.”

Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Minnesota radio stations.

Interview: Famke Janssen talks sacrifices, emotional impact of ‘Taken 3’

This shouldn’t come as a big surprise to anybody with an interest in “Taken 3,” mainly because of the big plot reveal in the trailers and television spots for the final installment in the “Taken” franchise: Things do not end well for Famke Janssen’s beloved character, Lenore.

In a phone call from New York Wednesday, Janssen told me not only did she know before she read the film’s script that something tragic was going to happen to Lenore – the ex-wife of former CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) – she wholeheartedly embraced the idea instead of getting depressed by it.

Quite simply, the charismatic actress said, the gut-wrenching event was a necessity to drive the plot of “Taken 3” forward.

“It was a smart decision to make to kill off Lenore, especially given the fact that we have spent two movies with them as a family and have rooted for Lenore and Bryan to get back into a romantic relationship,” Janssen said. “Because of that, the emotional impact of what happens to Lenore is much greater than if a random person had been picked to be taken. It’s more powerful to have somebody Bryan’s becoming close to again in his life be killed.”

Famke Janssen in 'Taken 3' (photo - Fox)
Famke Janssen in ‘Taken 3’ (photo: 20th Century Fox)

Opening in theaters nationwide on Friday, “Taken 3” finds Bryan framed for the murder and on the run from the CIA, FBI and police authorities, and trying desperately to clear his name amid the devastation. Also never one to back down, Bryan once again employs his “particular set of skills” to find the real killers and protect his and Lenore’s daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), from any harm.

The “Taken” franchise has been a thrilling ride for viewers since 2008, starting with the kidnapping and liberation of Kim by her father in the first film; followed up the targeting of Bryan and Lenore by Kim’s captors in the second installment of the trilogy in 2012.

Janssen believes the reason the “Taken” movies are so popular with audiences is, despite all the extraordinary action and intrigue the characters experience, moviegoers can still relate to it on a human level. Most people, after all, are driven by a primal instinct to protect their family members from all harm no matter the cost.

“They all probably hope that they have somebody in their lives like Liam Neeson, who is going to go out and protect and fight for them — and avenge for them if needed,” Janssen said. “That’s why the films have struck a chord with people.”

In “Taken 3,” it appears that Neeson’s character’s passion to protect his family has no doubt had an effect on Lenore, as the two are on the verge of getting back together before the tragedy. Their possible re-coupling was a well-thought out plot development, Janssen said, and she’s glad the filmmakers didn’t throw the two back together willy-nilly after Bryan’s heroics in the first film.

“Revisiting the first film, it’s pretty clear that he hadn’t been there for years for his daughter,” Janssen observed. “Of course, everybody still loved him when he appeared on screen and hated me, but he clearly hadn’t been the greatest father — we have to remember that. He tries really hard to make up for it, even though it’

;s by giving his grown-up daughter a stuffed panda.”

Future/past
Despite her untimely demise in “Taken 3,” one thing that Janssen has discovered — at least in the “X-Men” films — is just because it seems like it’s all over, doesn’t mean it’s over. After her character, Jean Grey, met a tragic end in “X-Men: The Last Stand,” it didn’t seem possible we’d see the telepath’s streaming, fiery red locks on screen again — that is until some unique, dream world storytelling in “The Wolverine” and her revival in “Days of Future Past” revealed a world of new opportunities for the character.

From what’s been reported so far, it appears that franchise will carry forth for the time in being in “X-Men: Apocalypse” with the younger, prequel version of the characters. But in the event writer-director Bryan Singer calls her for a future “X-Men” film, Janssen said she’ll jump at the opportunity to play Jean again.

“Of course, I’d love to be back, but I think, realistically, with the way ‘Days of Future Past’ ends, is that it’s going back to the 1980s and there will be a much younger Jean Grey,” said Janssen, 50. “The great thing about ‘Days of Future Past’ is you don’t know where the next story lines are going to lead.”

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As for this casting a younger Jean Grey business, I told Janssen not to sell herself short about the filmmakers finding somebody 20-30 years junior taking over the role. Despite hitting the milestone birthday in November, the stunning actress still gives the appearance that she stopped aging at 30.

Besides, Janssen said, people should take note of their surroundings, and only think of age as a mere number. Maybe, in a sort of way, the way Lenore’s life is cut short in “Taken 3” makes Janssen’s point all the more poignant.

“As far as it comes to aging, I always say, ‘It’s better than the opposite.’ We should feel lucky to be here, and there are many worse things in life than aging,” Janssen said, humbly. “I think aging makes us wiser than ever before, and more thankful to be alive.”

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Click image to pre-order the 12-inch (1:6 scale) figure of Gamora from “Guardians of the Galaxy” from Hot Toys/Sideshow Collectibles.

Reviews: Tim Lammers talks ‘This is Where I Leave You,’ ‘Tombstones’ on KARE-TV, more

'This is Where I Leave You' (photo -- Warner Bros)

See below Tim’s reviews of the new dysfunctional family comedy “This is Where I Leave You” and the crime thriller “A Walk with Among the Tombstones” with Diana Pierce on KARE 11 in Minneapolis. Also you can read Tim’s reviews of the films on BringMeTheNews.com, and hear the reviews on 92.5 KQRS FM (7 minutes in), 96.3 K-TWIN and KSCR-FM.

Gamora pre-order Sideshow 2
Click image to pre-order the 12-inch (1:6 scale) figure of Gamora from “Guardians of the Galaxy” from Hot Toys/Sideshow Collectibles.
Tim Burton Book 2
Click book cover for info on how to buy!