The Beguiled

June 30, 2017 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kristen Dunst
Directed by: Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”)
Written by: Sofia Coppola (“Marie Antoinette”)

I’ve never seen Don Siegel’s 1971 adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s novel, “The Beguiled,” and I imagine that there are plenty of fascinating and inevitable nuggets to be discovered in comparing it with Sofia Coppola’s new adaptation. You won’t find such critical comparisons here, which is for the best since everything should be judged on its own merit. The “is this movie really necessary” argument is already being thrown around, and to those simpletons I retort: is any?

Coppola’s film boasts an epic cast featuring the likes of Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice and many more. The story is simple enough. After finding a wounded Union soldier in the woods, a Confederate all-girl boarding school finds its repetitive, undisturbed routine upended by the presence of a man in the house. True to the title, Farrell plays his character with the perfect mix of charm and rot. Coppola slowly peels back the layers of all her characters, revealing the darkness that resides in some of her characters while shattering the innocence of others. It’s compelling storytelling, though if you’re not a fan of Coppola’s steady pacing you may not find much to enjoy here.

This is a very tense and suspenseful movie, but it is also laugh-out-loud darkly comedic. “The Beguiled” throws us into a world where order, restraint, reverence, and etiquette are just as if not more oppressive than the war that rages on just outside the house’s gate. The opening shot of the film follows a young girl through woods flooded with cannonball smoke as the sounds of war echo. It’s the perfect way to open a film about creeping evil, and Philippe Le Sourd peppers the film with similar images to amplify that mood. The costumes from Stacey Battat, Coppola’s regular collaborator, tell so much about each character, marking this film as a perfect fusion of elements behind and in front of the camera.

That subdued style of storytelling works great as buildup, and while the payoff in the final act is explosive and dark, it could have gone darker. This is an R-rated movie, but the only given reason is sexuality (there’s thrusting; shame!). Coppola doesn’t seem to have any interest in embracing her R-rating. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it may have done “The Beguiled” some good if she had pushed the envelope a bit further.

Still, what remains is incredibly powerful and unforgettable. Part of what makes “The Beguiled” so entertaining is that it constantly changes what character you feel compelled to root for. I don’t really think there’s anything empowering about this movie. It’s a horrifying look into the complex intricacies of human nature. No matter how much of a front one tries to put on, there’s always insidious malevolency lurking beneath.

Maleficent

May 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copely, Elle Fanning
Directed by: Robert Stromberg (debut)
Written by: Linda Woolverton (“Alice in Wonderland,” “The Lion King”)

Who is a movie like “Maleficent” for? The film is too violent and scary for children who are—maybe—familiar with the Disney classic “Sleeping Beauty,” and too boring for the Hot Topic-shopping teens that made it out to see Tim Burton’s like-minded reimagining of “Alice in Wonderland.” No, “Maleficent” seems to serve one purpose: to give Angelina Jolie a role well-suited to her stature and facial features.

With revisionist takes on fairy tale villains being all the rage, “Maleficent” sets out to tell us the real story of why Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) cursed Aurora (Elle Fanning) to fall into a death-like sleep on her 16th birthday after pricking her finger on a spinning wheel. You see, as a young fairy, the winged Maleficent met a poor, orphaned human boy, Stefan, hiding in the Moors, a peaceful and magical realm free from man. They fall in love as teenagers, only to be pulled apart when ambition draws Stefan back to humankind. Years pass, and the human ruler King Henry wages war on the Moors, to claim it for its riches. The grown Maleficent and her army of Ent-like tree warriors beat back the humans and send the king to his deathbed. King Henry promises the crown to the man who can kill Maleficent, an opportunity the adult Stefan (Sharlto Copely) seizes by sleazily reconnecting with Maleficent, only to drug her and cut off her wings, proof enough to make him king. Betrayed, Maleficent swears revenge on King Stefan, namely by cursing his newborn daughter Aurora to the aforementioned eternal sleep.

It’s pretty bold for a modern-day Disney movie to call one of the studio’s all-time classics an outright lie, but that’s how “Maleficent” treats the events of “Sleeping Beauty,” the latter coming across as a downright smear campaign against Maleficent, a woman scorned who just happens to have destructive magic powers and gnarly black goat horns. Mostly, though, the film is just dull. After her betrayal by Stefan—a thinly-veiled analogy for sexual assault—Maleficent spends a good deal of the movie just sort of hanging around, whether in her wicked tree throne or keeping a watchful eye on Aurora as she grows up, secretly covering for the near-deadly mistakes made by the three fairies charged with protecting the princess.

Maleficent’s relationship with Aurora is simultaneously the best and most problematic part of the movie. Jolie shines when expressing warmth for the cursed girl (and man, is Aurora a dim-bulb in this movie) and it hits a moment of real emotion when Maleficent seeks to revoke the curse, only to realize even she can’t undo it. But defanging one of Disney’s most badass villains, essentially turning her into a fairy godmother, leaves the film feeling like a giant shrug.

Super 8

June 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler
Directed by: J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek”)
Written by: J.J. Abrams (“Misson: Impossible III”)

As much as filmmaker J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek”) would have liked for his nostalgic sci-fi “Super 8” to convey as much enchantment as a Steven Spielberg-directed masterpiece like “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” or “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” it doesn’t quite reach that ambitious goal. Nevertheless, “Super 8” is not without its own small trove of delightful moments. Standing on its own as a less aggressive version of the Abrams-produced 2008 creature feature “Cloverfield,” the movie doesn’t have all the elements necessary to make it a true classic, but there are some admirable things it accomplishes, especially when the enthusiastic kids are at the forefront.
 
Set in the small fictional town of Lillian, Ohio in 1979, the film follows six friends who are spending their free time during the summer shooting a zombie movie with a Super 8 camera, a set piece not nearly important enough to warrant the title. At the center of the imaginative group of teens is Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), an innocent boy with a mop-top who is mourning the recent loss of his mother, butting heads with his deputy-sheriff father (Kyle Chandler), and fawning over Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning), a classmate invited onto the no-budget set to give their George A. Romero-inspired project a more affectionate vibe.
 
The kids’ summer plans take a mysterious turn when they are witness to a catastrophic train wreck that takes place during a late-night shoot. Soon, bizarre incidents start occurring around town (dogs and appliances go missing; the U.S. Air Force shows up tight lipped). Although Abrams keep the audience in the dark for a majority of the film, we know something has escaped from the train’s cargo and is now terrorizing the town. The movie’s tagline – “It Arrives” – kind of confirms this isn’t a surprise visit from grandma.
 
Impressively capturing the ambiance of the era, Abrams embraces his young characters in the same manner as Spielberg with “E.T.,” Richard Donner with “The Goonies,” and Rob Reiner with “Stand by Me.” While the film’s script is short on the same emotional appeal as those timeless pictures (the father-son dynamic lacks authenticity), Joe and Alice’s puppy love is sweet enough and the lighthearted and humorous dialogue shared between the kid actors complements their realistic performances.

Lest we forget Abrams knows a thing or two about the action genre. If this movie’s train derailment doesn’t end up being the single best use of CGI this summer, special effects hounds have a lot to anticipate.