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

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Saving Mr. BanksReleased: December 20, 2013. Directed by: John Lee Hancock. Starring: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Annie Rose Buckley. Runtime: 125 min.

Many might fear that a biography film made by Disney might feel too Disney, like the way they handle their sports films – a bit cheesy but still entertaining. (It’s great that director John Lee Hancock didn’t make this as cheesy as he did with “The Rookie.”) With “Saving Mr. Banks,” it never feels like that. This follows the behind  the scenes story of how P.L. Travers’ (portrayed by Emma Thompson) novel “Mary Poppins” was adapted into a film by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). She reflects on her difficult childhood while speaking her mind about everything she doesn’t like, much to the writers’, and especially Walt Disney’s dismay.

“Saving Mr. Banks” is an entertaining bio pic featuring some fantastic performances. It also gives Travers’ “Mary Poppins” a lot of layers that I hadn’t previously known, and it makes me want to rewatch it, because I haven’t seen it for a long time. Emma Thompson portrays Travers, an uptight but funny character. She is a realistic thinker who believes children should be prepared for the hardships of life; it makes the viewer question what might have traumatized her. It gets shown throughout in flashback form, but more on that in a bit.

She’s a delicate character who should lighten up a bit, but is very well portrayed by Thompson. I find it interesting how it’s hard for Travers to give up rights to Mary Poppins, because she wants the characters in the film to be portrayed well. It’s more difficult to share something when you care so deeply for it. One more thing on Thompson’s performance: I enjoy that she gets to play the authour of “Mary Poppins”, while she had previously portrayed Nanny McPhee in “Nanny McPhee” and its sequel “Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang,” and McPhee is also a magical nanny – so it’s a similar character to Poppins. She also wrote the screenplays for those two films, so that’s kinda cool. (The first “Nanny McPhee” is the only one worth seeing.)

Travers reflects upon her childhood throughout the film. Little Pamela (a.k.a. Ginty) is portrayed by Annie Rose Buckley, who’s really good. It seems child actresses are much more consistently better than child actors, if you ask me. She is moved to a new town in Australia with her family where her father Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) has a great imagination and he teaches Ginty to dream big, but he can be a bit too irresponsible with everything else – especially in the workplace; but he’s a good father figure because he’d do anything for his daughter. Farrell’s performance is memorable, especially when occurences happen that he doesn’t have much control over. Ruth Wilson portrays the mother, but she doesn’t have much to do throughout. Pam’s little sister is cute, but there isn’t much of a relationship expressed between the two of them.

Flashbacks in films don’t bother me, but in this film – it makes the plot a complicated in scenes for a bio pic, because of all of its symbolism and all of the parallels that are drawn. This is also more profound than one’s average bio pic, so that makes up for it. It’s thought-provoking because there are themes of forgiveness and the fact that when someone suffers, there are other people in the world going through a similar type of suffering. It teaches to not live in the past, as well. But however Travers has grown up, it’s made her very stubborn. Walt Disney does his best to put up with that. Tom Hanks is quite charming as Disney, a character who doesn’t want to fall back on his promise to his daughters to bring Poppins to the big screen.

He’ll probably still receive the Oscar nomination for his work in “Captain Phillips,” however, because that character showed a bit more emotional range. B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman (who play the Sherman brothers who work on the music and lyrics), and Bradley Whitford (as co-scripter Don DeGradi) play supporting roles in the writing department. Their singing and dancing is entertaining. There’s one scene where they sing a song, while Colin Farrell rhythmically says a speech, and it skips between the two time periods. It’s very cool. Paul Giamatti also gets a role as Travers’ driver, and he gets some layers a bit later on in the film, in heartwarming ways. Suffice to say, it’s quite the cast and an enjoyable film. It’s a good thing I liked this, too, because I’d like the cool poster on my wall.

Score83/100