Maleficent (2014)

Photo source: http://www.imdb.com/media/rm2488531712/tt1587310?ref_=tt_ov_i

Maleficent (Source: IMDb)

Released: May 30, 2014. Directed by: Richard Stromberg. Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley. Runtime: 93 min.

In the fairy tale re-imagining sub-genre, this is the best addition yet, and it seems that first-time director Richard Stromberg learns from the mistakes of the the previous two films in the sub-genre.

“Oz the Great and Powerful” was too generic, and this has a great narrative. “Snow White and the Huntsman” was too morbidly dark tonally, but this is only dark when it has to be.

The story re-imagines Disney’s 1959 cartoon “Sleeping Beauty” from the perspective of the film’s titular protagonist, Maleficent; the original story’s villain. After experiencing the ugly greed of man, Maleficent seeks revenge on King Stefan (Sharlto Copley), and she takes her anger out on is his baby daughter, Aurora. Stefan learns that if you’re going to take a fairy’s wings, you should kill her instead. And not only because she could sue for airfare costs.

Aurora is cursed to enter a deep sleep on the sunset of her sixteenth birthday, and can only be awaken by true love’s kiss. The story is written intelligently by Linda Woolverton (“The Lion King” and 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland”). The film’s sweetness and sincerity is a pleasant surprise. The film’s human and raw cinematic storytelling is also impressive. One of the film’s most realistic aspects is a teaching that anger is a curved blade.

Great performances and characterization help add emotional depth. Angelina Jolie is deliciously evil as the titular Maleficent. She handles the cruel grace and pain of Maleficent so well in one of her strongest performances in recent memory. In one adorable scene, Jolie’s real-life daughter Vivienne, as Aurora (5 Years Old),  goes up to her and hugs her around the waist and pulls at the prosthetic horns. It’s impressive that Jolie doesn’t break character.

Elle Fanning also bring layers to the character of Aurora. Fanning captures the kindness of the character because her smile and gentleness is radiant. The loving curiosity of the character is also appealing. Fanning was cast for her physical likeness to Aurora and for her capacity as an actress; and the fact that she gets to sleep on the job is definitely a pro of the role. I learn cast members were also cast for their physical likeness to the original characters. Some unimpressive stars include Sharlto Copley as King Stefan; he captures the depression of the character, but he’s boring. Sam Riley as Diaval is also not compelling, but that could be because of the boring character. He’s a lot better as a crow, acting as Maleficent’s eye in the sky.

There are many strange creatures in the film, many of which reside in the Mores (which is kind-of cruel as I thought it was S’mores at first), the bordering forest Maleficent rules. The creatures range from weird swamp creatures with ant-eater like noses to something that looks like Groot of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It gets so strange, that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see those stone giants from “Noah.” Nonetheless, the visuals are great.

There are visuals reminiscent of other films, notably flying scenes (reminiscent of “Avatar”) and the visuals in a war scene that bring to mind “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Most of the time, the visual effects team make the visuals their own, except there are occasions where the visuals also look like “Oz the Great and Powerful” (mostly the colourful Mores creatures). It also seems that it is more difficult to differentiate style for director Robert Stromberg, because he is production designer on both “Avatar” and “Oz.”

Too creepy for my liking. (Source) http://www.awn.com/sites/default/files/styles/original/public/image/attached/1016753-bc1020ddlv1142.1104r-1200.jpg?itok=5g0b58kq

Too creepy for my liking. (Source

The three fairies that care for Aurora – Flittle (Lesley Manville), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton) and Thistlewit (Juno Temple) – get sidelined in this version of the fairy tale. Even though they do have sporadic, amusing banter, the three actresses aren’t used to their potential. They’re a funny trio with strong costume design, but their pixie selves are visually strange. This is the film’s only poor visual effect.

They’re often in human form to make sure people see them as three women raising their child in a humble cottage. The set design for that is fun. The film flows improves on exhausting and overlong runtimes of “Snow White” (2hr., 7 min.) and “Oz” (2hr., 10 min.) and ensures that this film runs at a strong pace. Surely, this breezes by at one hour and 37 minutes, a perfect run-time for this well-told fairy tale.

Score: 85/100

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Dark Shadows (2012)

Dark Shadows

Release Date: May 11, 2012

Director: Tim Burton

Stars: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green

Runtime: 113 min

Tagline: Every family has its demons

It’s the year 1752, and Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) and his family had just set sail to America, in search of a greater life. Though, they could not escape the mysterious curse that was placed upon his family. Skip two decades, to where Barnabas is the head of Collinwood Manor, but he makes the mistake of breaking the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), a maid who’s really a witch. When Barnabas would not love her in return, she placed a curse upon him to turn into a vampire when he dies, so he will have to live for eternity, knowing that his one true love is dead. Skip two centuries, and Barnabas is just waking up from his dirt nap after being trapped inside of a coffin. He makes his way back to Collinwood Manor, and he offers a little support to his descendants, while Angelique still roams the earth…

Dark Shadows is based on a late 60s to early 70s TV show of the same name. This is also the eighth Tim Burton-Johnny Depp vehicle, and it isn’t very good. The Burton-Depp team has brought us great films like Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd; but they have also brought us bad films like the just okay Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the apparently disappointing Alice in Wonderland. Can you figure out which side it belongs on? It belongs on the bad side. If Shadows were to stand on its own two feet, it isn’t impressive or groundbreaking at all, and if it were to stand with the seven other Burton-Depp vehicles, it would just be awful. Burton has been known for his dark material in films and that signature over-the-topness, and this one is certainly over-the-top, but not in a very good way.

It tries to be funny, and fails. It tries to be fantastic, and fails. There are only one or two pretty good jokes, but the majority of them are big misses. There are some scenes that were meant to be action packed, but they felt really quite boring. They were over the top, but not in the great way we want Burton’s flicks to be. It feels more like a newcomer to the directing game who is experimenting with his options.

The whole vampire love story is getting so old, it’s just about been sucked to death (and brought back to life five times) by the Twilight series. It’s certainly better than the Twilight series, but not by a whole lot. There are some pleasant twists thrown at the audience, that some viewers will like, but most may say, “That’s so ridiculous, I should have saw that one coming.” The story is just a bit too uninteresting to carry itself well enough throughout the entire 113 minutes. It was a giant chore to watch. The acting is okay, and really the only interesting characters are Barnabas (Depp), David (Gulliver McGrath) and Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz). The cast is certainly attractive, but some of them don’t offer their usual chops to the table (excluding Depp and Moretz, the rest are just average).

Dark Shadows has a pretty uninteresting plot and a vampire premise that has highly been worn out, only a few likeable characters that can be counted on one hand, and a generally boring endeavour from the Burton/Depp union.

40/100