Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
'Cinderella' - a fairytale full of life's lessons
"Cinderella"; Cast: Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Nonso Anozie, Stellan Skarsgard, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon and Eloise Webb; Director: Kenneth Branagh; Rating: ***
 
Disney's live-action film "Cinderella", crafted with pomp and splendour as a typically traditional fairytale by director Kenneth Branagh, reiterates the oft heard story of how an orphan girl, harassed by her cruel step-mother and equally harsh step-sisters, marries a Prince. Laced with life-lessons for everybody, this film is more than just a sweet fantasy romance drama.
 
The tone of the narration is laid at the very beginning, when little Ella (Eloise Webb) tells her mother, "I believe in everything". And, as the story unravels, you are aware of what to expect and yet, wonder how the film got its name Cinderella, when the protagonist is called Ella.
 
The telling has all the elements like a caring father, a nasty step-mother Lady Tremaine and her daughters Drisella and Anastasia, Prince Charming, Fairy Godmother, the Pumpkin turning into a carriage, the mice into horses, lizards as footmen, the goose as the carriage rider and the glass shoes. They make you nostalgic.
 
As the story moves at a brisk pace with a few distinctively funny and emotional moments, you are glued to the screen. You simply become aware of the freshness of the approach and the simple, yet minute, logical stances that the director takes. And where it deviates and expands upon, it does so in ways that add nuance and depth. These help not only to make the tale credible, but likeable also.
 
The film belongs to television actress Lily James who plays the grown-up Cinderella. Her sweet demeanour is reflected by her "kindness and courage". And physically, her transformation from a housemaid to "the beautiful princess to be" is mesmerising. Aptly paired opposite her is Richard Madden, the charming Prince who she fondly refers to as "Mr. Kits". The onscreen chemistry between them is palpable and that makes their romance believable.
 
Ben Chaplin and Hayley Atwell as Cinderella's loving and caring biological parents are functional. Their scenes with Cinderella are synthetically sweet. Their equation seems tailored to heighten the contrast delivered by the antagonists.
 
Cate Blanchett as Mrs. Tremaine, Sophie McShera as Drisella, Holliday Grainger as Anastasia and Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother make their presence felt with dramatic overtures. Their scenes are theatrical and engaging.
 
The dialogues are characteristically a Disney product -- very crisp, chirpy and intermittently spiked with tasteful and elegant humour.
 
Visually, the elaborate earthy and picturesque sets by production designer Dante Ferrett, period costumes by Sandy Powell and fine performances by the actors are brilliantly captured by cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos. With smooth camera movements, his wide angle shots, especially the colourful ballroom scene and the last mastershot, are compelling.
 
The computer generated images are of fine quality and captivating. The dancing butterflies, the digitally rendered animals and their magical transformation along with Cinderella's makeover, mesh smoothly into the live-action drama. Cinderella's race against time when she has to return home before the last stroke of midnight is thrilling, as well as fascinating.
 
In modern times and with a questioning audience, the only issue this timeless classic faces is its oversight to justify how could Cinderella have a laidback attitude and wait for destiny to play its part? And the uncalled for, deliberate low-neck gowns that the ladies wore at the ball gave the scene a vulgar tinge.
 
Nevertheless, this "Cinderella" with "her courage, kindness and a little bit of magic" is worth a watch.

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'The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' - only second best
 "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"; Cast: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Richard Gere, Tina Desai, Lillete Dubey, Shazad Latif, Cellia Imrie and Ronald Pickup; Director: John Madden; Rating: **
 
This typical indie masala film is a sequel to the 2012 released, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel". It lacks the novelty factor and the sheen which was apparent in its first edition.
 
The narration takes off a couple of years after the long-term British residents have settled at "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" in Jaipur. The hotel is packed to capacity and manager Sunil Inderjit Kapoor aka Sonny (Dev Patel) and his co-manager Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) are now toying with an expansion plan for "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel". This forms the crux of this film.
 
The sequel opens with Sonny and Muriel on a road trip to California in the hope of finding an investor to help them buy the property they are looking for. After the inconclusive meeting with the retirement company in the US, who they hoped would finance their dreams, the duo are back in Jaipur.
 
Life continues as routine with Sonny taking roll calls of his guests every morning, in case they leave unexpectedly, pun intended.
 
And while he manages his hotel, he is also bogged down with his impending marriage to Sunaina (Tina Desai) and his uncertain future. His frustrations escalate when Kushal (Shazad Latif), Sunaina's brother's friend, turns up in their lives.
 
The rest of the coterie at the hotel too are embroiled with issues of their own, basically related to matters of the heart. The end culminates as a geriatric romance saga punctuated with rough, dry and acidic humour, that generates from metaphor packed dialogues.
 
Adapted from Deborah Moggach's 2004 novel, "These Foolish Things", the script written by Ol Parker is chaptered in three parts; The Sagaai - The Engagement party; The Sangeet - The Family party; and the Shaadi - The Wedding.
 
With several sub-plots, numerous characters and no dramatic sequences, the pace of the narration is fluid, sluggish and meandering.
 
The film is worth watching for the fine performances by the geriatric cast. Maggie Smith as Muriel who keeps Sonny grounded, is endearing. It is a delight to watch her dish out caustic one-liners.
 
Judi Dench as Evelyn Greenslade, who sources textile for an overseas company now appointed as its official buyer, has a bounce in her step after a successful negotiation. While she is professionally secure, her relationship with Douglas (Bill Nighy), the half-baked tour guide in Jaipur, is on a rocky terrain. It is touching to see how he proposes to her.
 
Equally interesting is to watch the tracks played by; Celia Imrie as the romance starved Madge, who is wooing two eligible suitors and Richard Gere who plays Guy Chambers, an incognito hotel inspector and a novelist who finds his muse in Lillete Dubey, Sonny's widowed mother.
 
Dev Patel slips into Sonny's shoes with fine precision as the over-confident and irritatingly talkative entrepreneur. He pairs with Tina Desai in equal measure. Together, their chemistry is blatant and appealing. Shazad Latif as the bone of their contention has his screen moments and he shines.
 
A few Bollywood songs like "Yeh ishq haaye" from "Jab We Met", "Balma" from "Khiladi 786" and "Aila re aila" are integrated into the script. And the entire cast seemed to have a blast shaking their legs to "Jhoom Barabar Jhoom".
 
With good production quality, the film efficiently captures Jaipur through Ben Smithard's lens, but then the images are not alluring enough to make you want to visit Jaipur.
 
Overall, while "The Exotic Marigold Hotels" is packaged as a cultural ambassador of Jaipur, "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" remains after all, only the second best!

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The day an escalator ate my pants (The Funny Side)
My wife says that instead of answering her questions, I always go and ask the readers of my column. I don't know, do I?
 
While you ponder that, let me share a shocking news report: a rogue escalator grabbed a man's track suit bottom and stripped it off him. He had to wait at the bottom in his underpants while engineers tried to make the naughty moving staircase return his trousers.
 
"This happened a few days ago in Boston, but it nearly happened to me last year," said a reader named Ali. One tried to take my chinos, once.
 
A quick survey of other readers produced links to numerous cases. A woman's ankle-length dress was grabbed by an escalator in a Singapore mall. "I was sure that I was going to end up standing there, half-naked in my underwear," she said. "And it wasn't even my good underwear."
 
When such things happen, members of the public leap into action, grabbing their phones and searching for the camera function. In the Singapore incident, a noble stranger ripped a big chunk off her dress to save (some of) her modesty.
 
One reader said a misbehaving gym treadmill yanked off his tracksuit trousers, and a colleague showed me a YouTube video of a similar machine eating a large rubber exercise ball.
 
"If a machine wants your dress or pants, just hand them over," he said. "They don't take no for an answer."
 
It seems everyone has an escalator tale. In Japan, there's an escalator in the Okadaya Mores shopping mall, Kawasaki, which takes you on a downward journey of just 83 cm, which is about 2.5 ft. For those of us who like to have a quick nap on escalators, it's a bit rushed. I've barely closed my eyes and it's flinging me off the bottom.
 
In the US, the older escalators are just 16 inches wide. Unfortunately US residents are now more than 16 inches wide. An escalator for just one thigh at a time is not a lot of use.
 
In Hong Kong, a huge dispute is taking place. The city is frenetic but crowded, so busy people march up the left side of escalators while slowpokes stand on the right.
 
But ambitious officials at the main transport network MTR Corp realized that they could get marginally higher scores on safety charts if they made everyone stand still.
 
So they removed the "Stand on the right" signs. But people kept walking. Officials then painted outlines of feet on the left AND right of the escalator steps. But people kept walking. Now staff are broadcasting instructions on endless loops: "Hold the handrail and DO NOT WALK." But people are STILL walking.
 
The officials' only alternative now is to actually get their engineers to slightly extend the teeth on the left side of the steps and then put up some signs: "By choosing to walk on the left side of this escalator, you give permission for MTR Corp to whip off your pants or dress without warning. Hope you are wearing your good underwear."
 
Anyway, if stepping on a Hong Kong escalator, be prepared. Yes, have your phone set to camera function in advance.

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