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.

The Lion King 3D

September 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones
Directed by: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
Written by: Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton

My 3-year-old godson Leo (yes, how very fitting) jumps around the movie theater and munches on a cookie as he awaits the start of “The Lion King 3D.” It’s only the second time he has ever been in front of a big screen, but he seems to know the drill. A cozy reserved nook between his mom and dad is warming up and his popcorn/drink combo is arranged perfectly for consumption. Mom holds a cardboard Pumba mask on her lap for safekeeping.

Squeals from eager pre-schoolers crescendo as parents and grandparents discuss how old they were in 1994 when the classic animated film first hit theaters. It’s exactly the environment Disney was hoping for when the studio decided to re-release “The Lion King” for a limited two-week theatrical run in anticipation of next month’s release of the Blu-ray/DVD Diamond Edition (in case you missed the Platinum Edition back in 2003).

In the theater, there is a hint of nostalgia mixed with the excitement of a new generation of kiddies who have yet to experience the humorous shenanigans of the goofy hyena villains or the catchy albeit now-slightly-annoying philosophy of “Hakuna Matata.”

As a purist, I hang onto my heavy-duty 3D glasses begrudgingly, but know I’ll probably get a migraine if I don’t conform to Disney’s movie-watching demands. The massive wildebeest stampede and Scar’s Third Reich-inspired musical number were already phenomenal 17 years ago without the additional dimension, so what’s really the point?

I scoff when the lights in the theater dim and the Disney logo becomes slightly blurred forcing me to toss on my specs. I turn to look at Leo, who has already wedged into his spot comfortably. His eyes are fixated on the screen as an animated sun rises and a mighty “Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba” echoes from the speakers and sets off what I still consider four of the most spectacular minutes in Disney cinematic history.

A calming sensation washes over me and I think about the first time I saw a Disney cartoon at the theater with my family. I was three years old when they re-released “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1983 and remember it vividly. Leo was about to create a memory he would hopefully keep for the rest of his life. Who cared what format he’d see it in?

Just then, I turn to Leo to see his reaction to the brilliant opening scene. He has removed his glasses and is watching “The Lion King” just as intently. “He doesn’t want to wear them,” Leo’s mom says. For the rest of the movie, I lower my glasses every so often to feel just as courageous.

Alice in Wonderland

March 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by: Tim Burton (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”)
Written by: Linda Woolverton (“The Lion King”)

Director Tim Burton’s visual sensibility is once again at the forefront of another dark spectacle full of big ideas but ultimately hollow at its core. This time it’s “Alice in Wonderland,” a beautifully-realized take on the popular 19th century Lewis Carroll tale, which has been remade numerous times in the past 100 years.

In the newest version, “Alice” takes the best of what Burton does and buries it under an incoherent narrative by animated film screenwriter Linda Woolverton (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King”). It’s not so much that the magic or overall look has been squandered. The twisted tale of a Mad Hatter, a waist-coated white rabbit, and Cheshire Cat is quite stunning with the characters going through a computer-generated makeover. Burton’s version, however, must overcompensate on imagination when the sluggish story sucks all the adventure out of what could have been an epic reimaging of a beloved classic.

Fresh-face Australian actress Mia Wasikowska (“Defiance”) is entrusted with the role of the title character. In a sort of sequel to any of the preceding films, here Alice is actually returning to the fantasy world most people know from the trippy Disney film of 1951. In this adaptation, Alice is an unconventional 19-year-old who visits a place called Underland after she rejects a suitor who has asked for her hand in marriage.

Bothered by nightmares of her first journey down the rabbit hole (an event she hardly remembers), Alice stumbles yet again into a land where flowers talk, frogs are royal servants, and oversized facial features are signs power. Woolverton’s script even finds room for Carroll’s Jabberwocky, a monstrous character first introduced in his novel “Through the Looking Glass.”

Since her last visit, the vile and bulbous-headed Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has taken over. Alice does her best impersonation of the kids from “The Chronicles of Narnia” to try to stop her and her loyal army. A prophetic scroll shown at the beginning of her second coming reveals Alice to be the one who will put an end to the queen’s reign. Most of the characters, however, think she is the “wrong Alice” and won’t be able to help.

Cast near-perfectly especially with Johnny Depp as the eccentric Mad Hatter, Crispin Glover as the sinister Knave of Hearts, and Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry lending their voices for the hooka-smoking Blue Caterpillar and the hypnotic Cheshire Cat respectively, “Alice” definitely transports us to the world we all new Burton could create. It’s unfortunate, however, that the digital enhancements outweigh a story that is more aware of its dreamlike marvels than before. Because Alice is older, that childlike sense of wonderment is absent. Woolverton (off with her head!) compounds the problem by fashioning a whimsical yet convoluted tale that often becomes dull and gaudy all at once.