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.

District 9

August 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sharlto Copely, Jason Cope, David James
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp (debut)
Written by: Neill Blomkamp (debut) and Terri Tatchell (debut)

First time director/writer Neill Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson (“King Kong”) make some bold decisions in the sci-fi film “District 9.” The dangerous game of cinematic Russian roulette starts by releasing the film in the summer when purely mechanical action movies are what always reel in mainstream audiences. Then, they decide not to hire any familiar actors during a season where name recognition is usually vital.

Blame the lack of A-listers on the frugal $30 million budget if you’d like, but “District 9” starring Nicolas Cage just wouldn’t be the same skillfully-crafted movie. Here, Blomkamp and company pull the trigger and unleash an impressive and thought-provoking narrative laced with enough intense action for anyone who thinks they’re only sitting down to see an alien vs. man battle royal.

In “District 9,” Bloomkamp uses faux-documentary style footage and interviews and sets our alien-invasion in Johannesburg, South Africa. While most films would typically place the story in New York or Los Angeles or somewhere with identifiable monuments so they could blow them up, “District 9” – from the very start – lets audiences know that it refuses to follow any pattern.

In Johannesburg, stranded extraterrestrials have been living for 20 years in a segregated part of the city known as District 9 ever since their spaceship stalled in the skyline. When the city’s residents decide they no longer want the aliens living among them, the alien-affairs corporation Multi National United (MNU) steps in to relocate the creatures to a safer environment.

Promoted to lead the transplantation of the almost two million aliens to another camp is Wikus Van De Merwe (non-actor Sharlto Copely, who gives an undeniably striking debut performance), the son-in-law of MNU’s CEO. Eager to take on his new responsibilities, Wikus takes a battalion into the alien slums to have them sign an eviction notice (one of the few cheesy scenes of the film) before they are moved out of their homes.

But when Wikus is infected with an indefinable liquid found in one of the alien’s huts, he slowly becomes the answer to many of the inexplicable issues the human government still has with their longtime tenants. More specifically, Wikus becomes the key to demonstrate how the alien’s powerful weaponry works. He’s also the only hope for an alien named Christopher Johnson (all the prawns have human names so they can be identified) and his Martian child to find a way back to their home planet.

There are some fascinating scenes throughout “District 9” that could be considered metaphors for those viewers who may want to delve deeper into Blomkamp’s motivation to make a film with an underlying message about South Africa’s apartheid, the racial segregation enforced by the South American government for almost 50 years (Blomkamp, who was born in Johannesburg, grew up with it all around him). For those who are not big on the social commentary of “District 9,” the special effects trump those of the other blockbusters this summer and do so in a more refined way. Who says a good summer action movie has to be as brainless as a bag of Autobot bolts? “District 9” proves you don’t have to choose between entertainment value and intelligent filmmaking.