Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Film Review- Maleficent

Modern Disney continues to hack away at the classic version with a combination of chainsaws, hatchets and machetes following in the path of Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman and Red Riding Hood comes Maleficent which is where they get the live action fantasy right.

The classic 1959 Sleeping Beauty story is turned upside down. The story starts with young fairy Maleficent soaring above the Forest Kingdom acting in perfect harmony with nature and the creatures around her. She meets and befriends Stefan an awkward human boy but he eventually heads off to the royal court to be with the other humans.

The Humans come to conquer the Forest Kingdom and are turned back lead by an adult Maleficent  (Angelina Jolie). The grown Stefan (Sharlto Copley) now an aid to the king seeing a chance to become the current Kings successor comes to Maleficent as a friend betrays her then returns to the court for his reward.  Maleficent seeks her revenge by cursing the now King Stefan's newborn daughter Aurora declaring that she will prick her finger on her 16th birthday and fall into a deep permanent sleep. Fearing the curse King Stefan sends his daughter into hiding with the three pixies Fittle, Thistletwit and Knotgrass (Lesley Maniville, Juno Temple and Imelda Staunton) from where she is not to return to the court until the day after her 16th birthday.

The writing duo of Linda Woolverton and Charles Perrault do an excellent job dismantling a classic tale. The perspective is changed, the central character is changed they alter the relationship between Maleficent and the princess Aurora ( Elle Fanning). All of their tinkering is successful so much so that they change the rooting interest of the viewer.

The technical aspects of the film set it apart. The visual effects, Art department, Makeup department and Anna B. Sheppard's costume design all work seamless together to bring this world together. The feast for the eyes when natures army rises from the earth to battle the humans when they first come to conquer the Forest Kingdom.  The bright colours that fill the screen displaying Malficents power to the display of the different and odd creatures in the day to day life in the forest. The make up department and costume design work on Maleficent alone leads the viewer to believe that the character sprung right out of the animated story and into a live action production.

Angelina Jolie commands the screen in the title role. She has moments when she is vulnerable and defenseless. But fort he most part she is in total control of the events in the forest and her influence is strongly felt in the human court. Lesley Maniville, Juno Temple and Imelda Staunton as the three dimwitted pixies that take charge of Aurora are a constant source of comic relief.  The interaction  between the three almost takes on a three stooges type feel. All three actresses pay their roles well.  Elle Fanning turns in another solid performs as Aurora. A key scene where she brings Maleficent out from the shadows mirrors and earlier one where Maleficent did the same for Stefan and her interpretation of Maleficent always watching over her sparked an unforgettable reaction by Jolie. Sam Riley tackles the role of Diaval well as he is constantly tormented by Maleficent but maintains his loyal sidekick shapeshifting Raven role.

Maleficent is an excellent retelling of a classic tale that has been told by bedsides for years and the original film passed down for 5 generations. Even though the production team alter the material they still honour the source producing a memorable story that I highly recommend.

**** out of 4

Maleficent | Robert Stromberg | U.S.A. /U.K.  | 2014 | 97 Minutes.

Tags: Fairies, Forest, Curse, King, Princess, Prince, Kingdom, Betrayal, Revenge, True Love.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Film Review- A Million Ways to Die in The West

Seth MacFarlane takes the next step in his film career with A Million Ways to Die In The West. MacFarlene first dipped is toe in the film world with a voice role in Ted. This time he plays is the lead role in a Comedy Western.

Albert Stark (MacFarlane) is very self aware in 1882 Arizona where everyone who is not you is trying to kill you. He is also a pacifist refusing to participate in duels then looses the affection of his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried). His fortunes change when a mysterious female named Anna  (Charlize Theron) comes to town. They pal around; Anna boosts his confidence and teaches him some valuable needed frontier skills.

Writers Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild hit all of the elements that they feel are needed in a Western perhaps to the films detriment. The production has duels, outlaws, the fair, a big formal dance, salesmen selling miracle cure alls and a running gag of 1880's photography that works very well. The act focuses on how long it takes to complete a photo at that time leading to no smiling plus the legend of the one person who smiled in a picture who must have been a crazy person. One element that does not work is the overabundance modern languages and phrases in the film. The use of modern day language only serves to jolt the viewer out of the time period and away from the course of the movie.

MacFarlane's direction is straight forward but he does use panorama well to present the scope and expanse of the Arizona desert. A memorable sequence is a horseback chase towards a speeding train with a band of outlaws in pursuit of the films hero.

The key to any comedy are the laugh out loud moments. This film has its share but is distracted by the need to hit the plot points. One of those points that would have remained better in the back ground is the relationship between the sweet hooker Ruth (Sara Silverman) and her fiancé Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) A reduction in their parts could have tightened up the production and reduced the films running time. The series of gags that prove the film title are all well done. They show how life is fleeting in the West and at any moment nature, wildlife, other humans or bad luck could lead to your funeral.

One great piece in the film is the If you only got a moustache number lead by Alberts rival for Louise's' affection Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) a lavish production in the middle of the formal dance that emphasizes the popular style of over the top moustaches in the wild west.

The acting in the production for the most part is nondescript. Seth MacFarlane who cut his teeth in the toon world is almost fittingly two dimentional as the lead character. Liam Neeson is very underused as Clinch the villain of the piece. Look closely for some strong cameo's including a couple by Christopher Lloyd and Jamie Foxx as very recognizable characters. The standout performance in the piece is Charlize Theron as Anna. She jumps into the role with both feet balancing being the in the moment of the film and self awareness of the time perfectly and hits her comedy timing perfectly.  Neil Patrick Harris is also strong in the rival role and all thing moustache shop owner Foy.

A Million Ways to Die in the West has some funny passages but not enough to make up or the telegraphed plot or mainly average performances of the cast. The film would have benefited from narrowing the elemental focus and playing up more the site gags. Seth MacFarlane's comedy is divisive.  If you are not a fan of Family Guy, Ted or even his turn at hosting the Oscars it's doubtful that this film will be for you.  It is not a piece that I can recommend for a wide audience.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

A Million Ways to Die in the West | Seth MacFarlane | U.S.A. | 116 Minutes.

Tags: 1882, Arizona, Duel, Outlaw, Child Bride, Death, Fair, Dance, Sheep, Train.