Cake. Not So Nice As Pie.

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When God / Allah / Buddha / the deity of your personal choice is dishing out talent, how do comic actors manage to accrue the lion’s share? For not only are they blessed with the ability to make us laugh, but they can inevitably turn their hand to serious drama quicker than you can say ‘Billy Connolly’s Bafta nomination for Mrs Brown’. OK, so maybe not that quickly.

Latest case in point is Jennifer Aniston. Like or loathe the phenomenon that was Friends, you’d be churlish not to admit Ms Aniston was gifted with probably the best comic timing of the entire cast.  But underneath the bouncy barnet always lurked a serious actor. Cake sees her let it loose.

Jennifer plays Clare, a chronic pain sufferer.  Divorced, she lives alone attended by her maid Silvana (Adriana Barraza), whose caring nature she shamelessly takes advantage of. She attends a support group run by the touchy feely Annette (Felicity Huffman), who dispenses sugar coated platitudes that sit ill with the naturally acerbic Clare. The group are in shock having just lost a member, Nina (Anna Kendricks), to suicide and after one sarcastic comment too many, it’s brusquely suggested Clare find herself a new group.

At first, the cause of Clare’s pain is unclear. She has brutal scars on her body but her pain seems as much mental as physical. She refuses to cooperate with her physiotherapist and, hooked on prescription drugs, seems uninterested in getting better until curiosity leads her to track down Nina’s widowed husband, Roy (Sam Worthington). Striking up a friendship, they eventually find solace in each other’s company and shared traumatic experiences.

Cake is not a cheery film. It’s slow and the story is hardly original – we’ve seen the painful path to redemption story umpteen times before. What’s interesting are the characters and the performances. Jennifer Aniston is on top form as Clare, taking on a character that is self-indulgent and unlikable and bravely not watering her down.  Films mostly portray those who are suffering in a nobly heroic light.  We found it refreshing to see one more ambivalent.

UK release 20 February

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Into The Woods

into woodsLet’s examine this on paper: an all-singing, Disney adaptation of a Stephen Sondheim musical featuring a selection of traditional fairy tale characters. We’re not exactly salivating. Rather, we’re plugging our ears and running screaming to the nearest bridge with active plans to throw ourselves off.  But wait, we’ll miss the season 1 finale of Homeland (Yes, we’re 2 seasons behind. And what?). Saved by the Brody…

A baker (James Corden) and his baker’s wife (Emily Blunt) run a little bakery (funny that) somewhere in fairy-tale-ville. Happy with their meagre peasant lot they selflessly give free buns to a little girl in a big red cloak (Lilla Crawford) who needs food for her poor grandmother. The only thing missing from their lives is a baby baker.

Cue flashes and bangs as a witch (Meryl Streep) appears, who reveals Mr Baker is victim of a family curse that prevents the couple having a child. To reverse the curse they must venture Into The Woods (see what they did there) and collect items including a cow, a golden slipper and a big red cloak. In the process they’ll encounter Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack and his beanstalk and Rapunzel. Tally ho.

Into The Woods, believe it or not, is a joy.  Visually rich, dark and spookily Gothic, the stuff of childhood nightmares, it’s packed with gloriously OTT frightwigs and corseted tulle costumes. All that’s missing is Helena Bonham Carter.  And the actors wind their lungs round the surprisingly complex songs with gusto. But what really makes it work is the tone, hitting just the right notes of arch and knowing, The Brothers Grimm mashed up and reinvented for 2015.  Cinderella (Anna Kendricks) finds herself nonplussed with her preening, caddish Prince Charming (Chris Pine) who petulantly protests he was “brought up to be charming, not sincere”.  The Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp) stalks the shrill, brattish Little Red Riding Hood with a drooling lasciviousness that is deeply disturbing, if not illegal.

Like the best ‘family’ entertainment, most will go over the heads of kiddies, who will have buried their head in their popcorn and / or fainted by the time some of the more violent scenes have passed (an Ugly Sister getting her eyes pecked out by a flock of crows, anyone?).  Welcome to The Disney Dark Side.

UK release 9 January

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