Monthly Archives: June 2014
Earlier in the year, moviegoers were treated to “The Lego Movie.” A big-screen adaption based on the famed toy many have been using to build all sorts of things and places brick by brick. Legos are still a hot product and sure enough this movie was a massive hit. “Lego Movie” got unanimous praise all around from viewers and Lego fans alike. The only question I have is that if such a film could get so much praise and appreciation, how come I’m not in the majority of those who keep claiming this is the next Toy Story? Or simply, how come I didn’t like this movie when it offers so much that I can enjoy but in the end I only felt it didn’t come together for me?
Well, sure enough this movie establishes its set in a universe where everything is made of Legos. From the people to even right down to the buildings, as the citizens casually go about their daily lives by means of instructions given to them. One inhabitant name Emmit (voiced by Chris Pratt) is a causal everyday construction worker gets suddenly pulled from his average day of following the rules to a chosen one plot. Eventually, he meets up with a group of Legos that are part of a rebellion alliance that plan to save the Lego universe from the clutches of the world’s leader Lord Business (performed by a surprisingly under used Will Ferrell). Lord Business plans to use a weapon called the Kragle to glue down the Lego universe to keep it “perfectly still” in his view. With Emitt tossed into the mix as a supposed “Chosen One,” he is the only thing that can save the Lego world but the problem is that aside from living life by the book, he doesn’t have a single creative thought in his plastic noggin aside from creating double decker sofas and ogling the love interest Wyldstyle who has Batman (Will Arnet) for a boyfriend.
And that’s very much just a portion of the plot as it feels like a first grader wrote this idea and I feel that’s kinda the point of this movie. Its meant to be outlandish and absurd to the point you feel like your watching a kid playing with his toys. And that’s one of the problems I had with “Lego Movie” as I felt like the whole movie was being made by a kid and I couldn’t distinguish if I should treat this as a kids movie or a self-aware parody of kids films considering the tone and style of the movie is addressing how aware it is. And I don’t want to be reminded of that. I want to watch a film and its universe.
After seeing “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and “21 Jump Street,” I think I finally caught on to what directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are doing with their movies. They are making their flicks “self-aware” in thinking the more satire that gets injected, the more funnier it feels. Now, I love satire and I can see this form of writing working for things like Futurama or Mel Brooks movies. But the problem I have is that their material feels too “self-aware” when addressing a joke on a film cliche or how the scene is obviously parodying the common criticisms filmgoers have about today’s movies (as seen in 21 Jump Street when the chief officer comments on how people are rehashing old things and making them new…because that is about as clever as peanut butter toast).
I don’t mind “breaking the fourth wall” or being “self-aware” of yourself. But it has to work in a way so it doesn’t hamper with the environment of the movie. Mel Brooks took on the old West (Blazing Saddles) and future space (Spaceballs) without nudging to the audience frequently of the stuff they are parodying. The Muppets did riff on their own films but not the point they were constantly calling shots on which cliche was next or poking holes at the plot at a heavy pace. I can understand the form of comedy its going for but it just didn’t feel right for me here. I wanted to enjoy this world of living toys in their own world but because of the constant “film nudges,” it kept pulling me out as I was reminded it was a movie and I really don’t want that feeling. I didn’t even laugh or smile at a single joke. Not one. And trust me, I do have a sense of humor. I’ve enjoyed recent kid/family films like Despicable Me 2, Frozen, and Muppets Most Wanted so perhaps there’s something with the comedic style that is not engaging to me.
Sure it has a social commentary on how unoriginal things are today and people are literally “going by the book” to get through life but it felt done before with movies like Brazil or Wall-E. Wall-E had it edgy with the human race babied down to computer obsessed beings as Brazil showed a totalitarian nightmare where the simplest computer error can create much havoc. With “Lego Movie,” I didn’t feel like I was getting anything new as the mini-toys go about their life and act like there is nothing wrong by sticking to what they read from a set of instructions.
But maybe the characters will be interesting right? Unfortunately, they were predicable and standard to me. We get Emmit, the everyday worker who enjoys being part of the system and will find out just how important he is to this big conflict that is up ahead. He’s got a bright cheery attitude that makes him goofy but morale heart to know how to take his average life and put it to use. He’s very much the every man cliche and I didn’t find much interest in him. What I couldn’t understand was how Emmit could be so energetic and happy when he knows so many people and yet they don’t acknowledge him as a close person. For a character this upbeat, I can’t picture him being socially awkward or devoted of people even considering how he interacts with them in the opening scene like he knows EVERYONE personally and yet they later regard him as just another average joe. Yeah, we know he’s going to save the day. There’s not competition there.
Wyldstyle is the feisty female love interest who wants to be great but misses her chance like Tigeress from Kung Fu Panda but less mystique. Vitruvius is the wise Obi Wan that guides the group and is blind (which in a possible reference to Ray Charles where he plays the piano I found rather questionable…either that or maybe I’m looking it too much. your choice), Batman is the Gaston that tries to prove how heroic he is and yet is wrong, Benny and Bad Cop are there for comic relief and then there is Lord Business. First, you can’t make a villain like this have a name with less subtly. Seriously? Lord Business? Guess executives are in open season for being kid movie villains.
Second, for an antagonist who has plans to freeze the Lego world and plays a huge part, I didn’t think much of him. Will Ferrell does his usual shtick and does fit the personality of a “I want things my way” form of character but I didn’t find him funny or even threatening. I didn’t even feel like he was in the movie that much the more I think about it. The focus is more on this world of Legos that is doesn’t think twice when it comes to character depth that often.
But the biggest problem I had was the twist near the end which reveals the truth behind the Lego world. I won’t give too much away for those who have yet to see it but I will put it like this. Remember how I said this movie feels like it was written by a kid? I’ll leave it at that. By the time we get to this part, it feels like the rug has been pulled out from us. This Lego world is vast and when they reveal the truth behind it, it feels somewhat last minute and not well fleshed out. It feels like a last minute tag for emotion that comes right out of nowhere.
But there is a bigger problem to contend with and that’s my familiarity with Legos. I’m going to admit it right on the fly. I knew about Legos as a kid. I heard about this as a kid. I even saw commercials about them as a kid. But I never had them in my toy chest growing up or even think much of them. I was more of a castle playset/action figure/plushie kid. When ever I had the chance to play with Legos, it would either be with the Duplo set or Kenetix. I even got annoyed with how there were so many small pieces in such a big box. Yeah, I didn’t have much patience nor have the Lego building skills. I just wasn’t into Legos that much and it shows how much I wasn’t into this movie because of my childhood experiences and the style of the screenplay. Even looking at as a movie on its own, I can’t separate it seeing it prominently has Legos as the center and feels like a half movie/half commercial. I can already picture kids running out and finding sets for the Unikitty’s cloud palace or trying to hunt down an Abraham Lincoln figurine.
But still are there some positives? Well I do admit, the animation is good. Seeing the way these worlds are made brick by brick and the movements of the Lego figures almost give the feel of a stop-motion flick and you have to give credit for their research. Even on the close ups, you can almost see scratches and signs of wear on the characters giving the feel of animated plastic right in front of you. Again, the idea of a world with nothing but Legos is a unique concept until the revelation kicks in that diminishes all wonder and I do like the idea of how they keep taking anything in this world and crafting something out of it like a pirate ship or a hot rod car. And you can tell the performers are having a good time regardless of one’s attitude towards this movie. They know its a movie about Legos and not limiting themselves while going all out and childish like spaceman Benny’s crazed obsession for making a spaceship or Unikitty’s urge to keep her emotions bottled up like how a kid would refused to explode into sadness or rage.
However, when I look back upon this movie, it reflects my feelings with the movie’s number “Everything is Awesome” where it feels too hip and energetic for my taste. Sure its a nice looking film but story and characters are the biggie when it comes to a feature film and I feel those elements didn’t live up to my taste. Maybe 2013’s crop of bad family films left me to resort to a form of cynical film snob or maybe the director’s comedic writing style didn’t work for me. Either way, I can’t chalk this up as a bad movie considering the amount of effort placed into it and considering the huge amount of respect and praise it has behind it. I’m sure kids will really love this one but for me, I’m more of a Toy Story guy as the world of people and toys melded together perfectly in that film and I had better connections with the characters and plot. “The Lego Movie,” on the other hand, just didn’t do much for me aside from its animation and creative environment. Even going in with an open mind and viewing it just as it is, I still didn’t like this one no matter what.
21 Jump Street was a late 1980s police drama that lasted for four seasons on the FOX network. I can’t say I’m a fan of the show as I never saw an episode, but after reading it up and seeing the movie, I’m more curious to see how the TV show differs than how its sequel “22 Jump Street” will top the smash hit. From what I read up, the show was more serious and dealt with issues of drug abuse, homophobia, and much more. Now the series that launched the career of Johnny Depp is turned into a comedic farce that oddly enough exists in the universe of the TV show. So looking at it as just a movie is harder seeing my mixed feelings I have towards it.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum team up as rookie cops that become friends in the blink of an eye and are placed into a special division. The division deals with undercover cops disguising as teenagers and busting crimes happening at schools. As it turns out, the two are assigned to deal with a drug bust where the teen goes through four stages of crazy high before collapsing out. While that goes on, the standard cliches of cop buddy comedy are put to the test as Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill)’s identity gets swapped with his partner and has to deal with courses where his social skills were not strong. If that wasn’t enough, Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) is stuck in Morton’s stronger subjects as he deals with science classes and nerds that he slowly starts to have a better appreciate for despite his jock attitude.
Its this very element that holds the movie together and its a shame because the rest of it didn’t seem to appeal to me. The comedy does have some laughs but nothing appeared to be “laugh-out loud” to me. The cliches are nice but they are the usual cliches you would find in most cop films like The Heat or the Lethal Weapon movies. I like the idea of younger people working undercover but if I was a teenager and in a class with these two, they would stand out to me as adults from the bulk and look. But I guess that is the joke as some people do question their older appearance but seeing these two were out of school for a good seven years, it feels somewhat off to me.
There is a form of commentary set up on the modern lifestyle of the teenager which has some promise but then it turns into reheated Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds leftovers with the subject of drugs and partying coming into play. At times, they plan around with the idea of how students are lost into peer pressure with one of them being a private drug dealer but other times they show just how more intelligent they appear to the average adult like a bunch of science buffs who can bug a cellphone. Even one of them provides a YouTube video where he shows the progression of the drug being passed around and yet we are placed in a high school with some bright kids and some who act like they could work for the mafia. Something about that feels very undermining to me.
Again, I would be fine with this if the movie’s comedic tone wasn’t confusing to me. Half the time, I can’t tell if I’m watching a parody of cop drama or a straight forward buddy cop comedy. It has the typical cliches like the two partners gaining better skills after working with each other and it has elements that feel like a serious drama but are executed in a comedic manner like a modern day Naked Gun. There’s a scene where Morton and Greg try out the new drug and its effects start to kick in when they are confronted by a gym teacher who transforms into a mechanical cat puppet to a talking ice cream cone in front of their eyes. Its so over the top, that it feels right out of The Naked Gun movies with its surreal imagery. There’s even a running gag where a setup for an explosion is about to happen but reality kicks in and doesn’t happen. Seriously, there’s even a tank that gets shot that has “Fuel & Oil” written on it literally.
The humor swings back and forth between being oddly-funny and way too meta to the point its confusing. Should this be taken as a buddy cop parody or a satire of the original show? Even a character announces “the end of Act 2” further cementing the weird style it takes in. While there are some moments of straight-forward humor (like Morton’s problems of being socially awkward) and some pop culture references planted here and there, the rest of the film feels strange and low-brow to the point where I don’t know if its a buddy comedy or an over the top parody considering the source material its based from.
However, what does work is the comedic relationship between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum’s characters. In the vein of most buddy comedies, it works to have the most unlikely pair team up and play off of each other with their own attitudes on life and their personal problems. Watching these two on-screen makes the movie worth it. Even when they are conversing with other teenagers, it can be fun to see how they interact with Morton being more open to teen hangouts and Greg warming up the power of science and how “kick-a$$” it can be.
But at the end of day, I feel like I’m watching a basic cop buddy movie even right down to having Ice Cube star as the cliched angry boss that yells at them when they mess up or don’t have a single lead. His part is good but its again it didn’t feel laugh-out funny to me. I feel like the whole movie was taking the classic cliches of a buddy cop film and doing a new spin on them while being an adaption of a TV show drama but nothing came together for me. I felt it was just an ok flick. But, it was a hit at the box-office and plenty of moviegoers liked it so I can’t fault it for that. It just didn’t do much for me. “The Other Guys” had Will Ferrell as a quiet man teaming with Mark Whaleberg. “The Heat” had Sandra Bullock’s nice girl attitude being matched up to size with a loud-mouth and flipping hilarious Melissa McCarthey. “21 Jump Street” has the makings of a buddy comedy in place but it felt standard to me. Not bad but not memorable. Either way, it was harmless.
The Fault in Our Stars was a surprise hit this weekend taking in the top spot with $48 million. Considering the recent pattern and franchise debuts that came in May, this is a huge surprise. But if one takes into effect that popularity of the book (which has over 10 million copies in print), one could be assured just how big this would catch on. Also, its successfully managed to reach its target audience that being of young women. According to Fox Studios, about 82% of viewers were female and about 79%were under the age of 25. Even the opening weekend gross compared to The Vow ($41.2 million) and Dear John ($30.5 million), this marked a new high in romantic films.
But not all new openers can be big hits. Tom Cruise and his latest sci-fi epic shows critical praise with but something went wrong. It ended up taking third place with $28.8 million which is even lower than John Carter ($30.2 million) and even Elysium ($29.8 million). Perhaps one can pinpoint this on the marketing for making it look like another grimy-war like future epic that we have seen before. That or perhaps the star power of Tom Cruise is unfortunately dwindling. Or maybe it bared too many similar traits to Oblivion from last year. Either way, this will be a hard one to see cross the $100 million mark that is if word of mouth will boost it.
In other news, Maleficent took the second spot with $34.3 million and has earned $128.2 million in the domestic ranks. X-Men: Days of Future Past dropped to fourth place with $15.2 million with $189.6 million domestically. And lastly, A Million Ways to Die In the West is literally dying hard with a really dismal drop to 5th place, a weekend gross of $7.3 million and has so far earned only $30.3 million domestically. Seth better be ready to bounce back because there is short chance this one will reach the $50 million mark.
Overall, this is not a bad start to June as we are only warming up.
Free Birds was that rare case of a movie where I had to watch twice in one day. First time, it was in the day and about 40 minutes in was when I started to zone out and had to assist some can recycling. Second time was after work where I started from the beginning to see if anything was missed. And honestly, I should have just let it be and let my thoughts be at the 40 minute mark because anything pass the first 10 or 15 minutes is when it becomes an annoying bore. I heard a lot of negative things about this movie. And when watching it, I tried to find anything positive. There are a few things but it doesn’t save this (oh god…do I have to…fine) “turkey” from my negative justice.
The premise is about two turkeys that travel through time to stop the first Thanksgiving from ever having turkey on the menu both with different reasons of doing this action. Reggie (voice by Owen Willson) is the naïve and innocent everyman that just wants to relax and be free. He doesn’t want to be served on a platter and in the opening scenes, we see his life is nothing more but trying to convince other turkeys that life is just meaningless to his race of bird; its get fatten on corn and be eaten. But as luck may have it, he is chosen to be the “pardoned turkey” by the President (represented as a strange Ronald Regan caricature. Seriously how come no one mentioned this in the reviews? Its weird) and lives a life of luxury on pizza and Spanish soap operas.
Its a little cute at first until another turkey named Jake grabs him into a plan to go back to the first Thanksgiving and change history so turkeys are not a dinner for the holiday. Once they arrive, the movie drags deeper into its awkward comedy and odd-beat plot elements as a tribe of turkeys act like Native Americans who are avoiding the wraith of Myles Standish (really? a historical figure is made the bad guy?), a hunter who is trying to nab a turkey for a planed feast with the Natives. But the turkey tribe feels outmatched as they try to dispel the traps placed out and survive. And if you have read this far, you can obviously see why this movie plain fails.
From the trailer, I thought it was going to be a simple dumb movie. But what took me by surprise was how they were able turn a stupid idea that could have worked in some way but make it not only boring but even unpleasant. And the last time I had that feeling was watching Mars Needs Moms; a sci-fi family flick about Martians kidnapping a boy’s mother for gene extraction to program nanny robots that had little good characters or even anything remotely entertaining. But while Mars Needs Moms was trying to be science fiction, Free Birds is trying to be this colorful comedy and it doesn’t work. I’d go as far to say its on par with the bad alien flick but at least it tries to make effort but it still feels down right uncomfortable.
And its not the idea of animals being eaten or anything. Its more than that. At least with Free Birds, I can understand its trying to be a comedy by its tone and atmosphere where else Mars Needs Moms didn’t know whose audience it was meant for. So I’ll give credit that it knows its viewers but even I can’t let that one slide. There’s moments that feel out of place in its campy cartoon tone like one scene where the Pilgrim characters clamor about starvation and try to make a joke out of dying from hunger. I’m sorry but I found that really dark; even for a kid’s movie like this. They even try to make some form of commentary between turkeys raised in a farm compared to turkeys raised in a lab but that goes nowhere. Its placed in as a case of something I would like to call “The Gribble Effect.” A moment in a movie used for annoying side characters where they are giving a backstory to try and enhance but the moment feels forced and manipulated. They did this to Gribble in Mars Needs Moms and they do it here with Jake.
In fact, the minute he first appeared, I was already started to drift off. I get the idea. He’s a dumb muscle- headed bird that is out for adventure and his mission from a “Great Turkey” (don’t ask…). I can see this working for maybe someone along the lines of Joe Swanson but his antics just get old and tiring really fast with his energetic attitude and Woody Harrleson’s performance just doesn’t sound like he is all there. Its like he is aware the movie is bad and is addressing how absurd it is. He even does this earlier on in a doozy of a fourth wall joke that feels unneeded. He is just there is crack terrible jokes and mug about his muscles. It gets old fast.
In fact, I don’t think everyone does their job well in the acting department. Amy Poehler plays Jenny, a love interest turkey who has a weird quirk with her lazy eye that never lives up to much potential and it feels like Amy is on auto-pilot most of the time. In fact, a lot of these voices feel like they are there. Their not into the roles and just wanted the recording session done with. Owen Wilson, on the other hand, is the only thing that holds it together. At least Owen knows how to deliver comedy or maybe its because his suffer attitude somehow fits the role. I really got no complaints other than the fact this character has been done a lot but at least Owen really tries considering the material he has to work with.
Everything else is just a bore to sit through. The jokes go on for about maybe 45 seconds a gag. There is no pace within these jokes to make they standout. Even a prolonged scene in the mysterious bunker has guards cracking bad jokes and laughing so annoyingly that it made me want to put my thumbs deep into my ears. They even use the old “Two Weeks Till Retirement” joke. Its like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs where they just toss every joke at every 20 to 30 seconds like they are desperate for a laugh. At least with Cloudy, they make up for it with some character development but with Free Birds, I don’t feel like I spent enough time to know these characters. They just feel like they are there. Reggie is obvious going to save the day, Jake is there to make us laugh and fails, Jenny is going to get the hero and I honestly didn’t care for the Pilgrims at all.
I think they don’t make that much of an impact in this movie other than the villain who also doesn’t feel like he is used much or properly build up. He is there to hunt turkeys. That is all for motivation. Heck, even the Native Americans appear at the end like out of the blue because…yeah, its a Thanksgiving movie so…can’t have it without them. Even the characters beforehand don’t leave much of an impression for me to remember them. The group of turkeys Reggie is kicked out of is a lame parody of corn religion or something, the Ronald Regan president (seriously, why did they choose this design…its weird) just exists to get Reggie’s story going and the farmer doesn’t even get any lines. I think it would have been more effective if they did something like Chicken Run with the owners being low in debt on the turkey farm or even giving at least some character but they don’t even try.
But the biggest crime this movie has against it is the way they waste the premise. Reggie and Jake go to the 1600s just to stop Thanksgiving. In real history, there was no turkey served at Thanksgiving and I feel some comedic potential is wasted here. Why not do something like The Nightmare Before Christmas with the turkeys finding out how no turkey was served on the first Thanksgiving and try to make it permanent or make the holiday in their image? This could have lead to some really funny jokes like people praising turkeys like the next celebrity or even a Planet of the Apes parody where turkeys are the rulers of the Earth. Wouldn’t that make for a funnier movie? But no, they try to mess with history for the sake of messing with history thinking it will save turkeys from becoming holiday dinner. I even read up at one point John Kricfalusi had some involvement in the early production and posted some early artwork on his blog. And honestly, I would have loved to see THAT VERSION more compared to what we got in the final run.
I know your expecting me to riff on this movie about its “historical inaccuracy” but even from the opening, it is obviously addressed with George Takei saying that history that is portrayed is not true. My only guess is that they don’t want another Disney’s Pocahontas situation but its not like the disclaimer is needed. I know this movie is just for kids and will only change things around for the sake of story. You don’t need to spell it out for us. We have a thing called Google and can use it to see what is true and false.
(SPOILER…not like you would care…but still)
But worse of all is how this movie ends. I was very bored with it right when the time travel story kicked in and I really got annoyed when in the end, its not peace and understanding that saves it. Its product placement that gets turkeys off the menu as Reggie brings in mounds of Chuck E. Cheese pizza. I know this because the logo for the company is clearly slapped on the boxes. Even S.T.E.V.E. the time traveling computer that Geroge Takei voices exclaims how the breadsticks are good and the Natives mention how the pizza with sardines is like old socks but tastes better than his wife’s cooking. Oh how everyone was happy as they nommed on their pizza from the future causing turkeys and carving knives got to be replaced with a pizza and a pizza cutter. Oh how I wanted to rip every fiber out of my head when this happened. …Sorry…just wanted to get that off my chest.
This movie has a lot of potential and a lot of it is wasted. Right down to the very core is a flick that has something but then switches to auto-pilot for the sake of being on lack of motivation and well-written characters. If the script was solid, I would have excused the stiff animation and lazy backgrounds but Free Birds is just not well cooked enough to be even worth recommending. Not even for kids I think this is good for. Maybe a few tots might giggle at the cartoon designs but I don’t think it will get a high seller any time soon. Its not funny enough, the characters are one-note and everything just has this dull and unpleasant vibe to it. There’s even a joke with a turkey being hauled off to the shed by the farmer as he mentions about going to “Turkey Paradise” and the farmer has an ax in his hand. If that doesn’t sum up the overall feeling this movie left me, I’ll probably find myself at the gate of Reel FX Creative Studios complete naked and yelling a slew of obscenities. And honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it does come to that conclusion. Before I go mad, stick with Chicken Run. Its more inventive and you get your money worth. Free Birds can sit in the back of vault along with some ye old stuffing and cranberry sauce from the 17oos for all I care. It doesn’t deserve a viewing.
Maleficent took the top spot domestically with $69.4 million and is so far #1 for this box-office weekend. Apparently this was quite the surprise as droves of families went to see the new Disney reimaging of Sleeping Beauty and its appeal to the female audience certainly shows. According to Box Office Mojo, the audience was 60 percent female and certainly was a summer highlight for being the first so far to be targeted at women. Though this can also be counted for fans of Disney version who know the iconic villain well enough for a spot in Disney history and its marketing really pushed the “think you know the tale” motif to stir some curiosity.
However, not all were pleased as it left critics mixed but surprisingly the audience was more in favor of it. As of this post, according to Rotten Tomatoes only 51% of the critics gave Maleficent a positive review while 77% percent enjoyed it. This is almost adjacent to another fairy tale reimaging back in 1991 with Steven Spielberg’s Hook which left critics mixed to negative but its viewership holds up really well. Its safe to say this family flick left a spell on its audience and one that last long depending on its reception in the home video market.
But not all movies have a fairy tale ending as Seth McFarlane’s “A Million Ways to Die In The West” did have a happy weekend. Debuting in
third place with $16.8 million, this is considered a huge disappointment compared to Ted’s opening gross of $54 million. Seth’s dark western comedy bomb for a variety of reasons that I wish to theorize. One could be the fact that the marketing this month tried to push it so much that it felt forced to its viewers (accounting for having the “Ted” connection and spoiling a major cameo). It was almost like they didn’t even try to sell this picture as it only focused on its outrageous humor and none of the attributes from plot to its celebrities. Another could be the Oscar hosting back in 2013 that got a unanimous amount of negativity in regards to Seth’s comedic style and presentation that didn’t gel with every viewer.
On top of that, westerns seem to be a dying genre that gets an attempt to be boosted from the tombstone but is not getting anywhere. A good explain is last year’s The Lone Ranger that alienated viewers over wondering how a movie with such a major price tag can get made and yet disappoint. I don’t think there is a hint this genre is completely dead but considering past summer western flops like Cowboys and Aliens, Johan Hex and Wild Wild West, I think its time Hollywood started searching for another “Unforgiven” or “Tombstone” before declaring it completely dead. Or at the very least, release westerns in the off-season. Just a thought.
But the biggest nail in the coffin is the loyal viewers. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the critical reception was much worse than Maleficent obtaining only 33% positive reviews while its audience was only 51 %. To top it off, Seth’s popularity has been dwindling recently with the recent revamping to Family Guy as they killed a major character off for a short time that left a huge backlash. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if “Million Ways” passes the $50 million mark but I would actually settle for a night renting Blazing Saddles than this any day. At least pray Ted 2 improves something.
To describe Disney’s new fairy tale reimaging “Maleficent” is like going into a ride at Disneyland. You sit back in your seat as the ride queue music drifts into the line you came from, you are on a track and being revealed the story and its wonderful animatronics. You find yourself being turned and twisted following the story of Maleficent and her adventures while admiring the craftsmanship. But when the ride is over, you feel saddened. Not because it was a bad ride but you wish it went on longer and appreciate the fun you had going on. Let me tell you that when the minute this movie ended, I didn’t want to end. And when you find yourself engaged into this world of fantasy hammering against reality, its rare for family movies these days to do that. But then again, I shouldn’t praise it too much seeing it has flaws but you know what they say, not every movie is going to be perfect. But with “Maleficent,” I can make an exception.
The story starts off with the origin straight away and its a good setup while a bit “been there, done that.” Maleficent is depicted as a winged fairy (horns by Rick Baker and performance by Angelina Jolie) who is the leader of other good hearted and well-designed CGI creatures in a gorgeous heaven called the Moors. Everything seems elegant and colorful till a tyrannical king that is neighbored close to her only seeks to destroy the faerie world. Why does he want to do this? We never find out. But if one knows their folklore, people are cautious and prejudice to mischievous sprites so I can sort of let that pass. His son Stefan (Sharlto Copley) sees something different in her until (as you can guess) he grows so distance from her that he starts to admire her less. Why? Is it because the human world forces this prejudice or does it even exist? This is something never made clear as the narration we get tells us how Stefan is more interested in being king as his dying father challenges his adversaries to kill the good-natured fairy and bring back proof.
And thus, like in all fairy tales, Stefan goes back to seemingly seek for forgiveness but instead makes off with her wings instead of killing her seeing how time they spent again told by narration and montage footage. Because of this, Maleficent turns cold-hearted and curses his first daughter-born child that at 16 she will prick her finger on the needle of a spinning wheel and die…oh, I’m sorry, “fall into a sleep like death.” And just like in Sleeping Beauty, the child grows to be the happy-cheerful Aurora (Elle Fanning making up for her dreadful performance in 2010’s The Nutcrakcer) who surprisingly grows a bigger bond to the grumpy fairy and sure enough, Maleficent starts to realize she might have made a mistake.
When watching this movie, I was a bit nervous seeing this is Disney taking their adaption of Sleeping Beauty and giving it addition/alternate material. The crow is there but he can turn into anything under Maleficent’s command (sometimes a walking and talking Sam Riley who is equally entertaining). The three fairies that “look after” Aurora are there but are more dumber than a sack of potatoes. The goblins that existed in the castle are now goofy but well-designed forest creatures. The prince is there but is more forgettable than you can imagine. Even right down to the scenery and cinematography, this film really feels like a fresh take on the 1950s animated classic (that I do wish I had time to revisit…even though I do remember a good portion).
For everything it alters, it does have a unique take to it. Like the creatures Maleficent has to look after which I found to be very well done. They almost feel like they were taken out of Max Reinhardt’s Midsummer Night’s Dream but only in color. I like how the raven is not reduced to a bird half the time and turns into a human as it gives something for Maleficent to interact and play around with. What they alter or tag on, is really ingenious but again, this is your standard fairy tale and it retains to that nature story-wise and environment wise. Its a family film that is taking its source and updating it for a new audience so your going to expect good things and bad things anyway and I took it with stride.
The one thing that really holds this together is Angelina Jolie’s take on Maleficent. I’m glad this was made with her as I can’t picture anyone else pulling this role off. You can just see she is having fun playing a wicked fairy that is getting revenge and you can’t help but delight in how wicked she is. Jolie even nails the 1959 animated version’s voice down to a tea; mannerisms and all. Its great and you do feel sympathetic but perhaps a bit too much. Straight away, they establish she is the good one and carry this throughout. Even when she is casting enchantments, it doesn’t seem all bad (except the prophecy of course) or when she is going against soldiers, she doesn’t kill them immediately. And perhaps, its for the best. You could argue it would make the character a bit too extreme and dark but it wouldn’t hurt to make things a bit more edgy.
And that’s the key word here, edgy. A lot of the scope and scale is there to make this a grand episodic fantasy along the lines of Lord of the Rings or The Dark Crystal. There’s a battle scene at the start that almost feels like it has the tone of the Narnia movies but then the movie shifts to being light and innocent like Willow or Hook. But its not a bad transition and again you do really feel bad for Maleficent when she feels her curse was no a good idea after all and fails in trying to prevent it. This is very much what kept me going and I’m sure its what viewers will enjoy.
But of course, there are problems. When one is rooting for Maleficent, no one is feeling sorry for King Stefan. I really feel like more could have been done with his character and at times, they do hint some tragedy as he goes mad over plans to kill the fairy but it never came together for me. There’s a bit where he’s told someone close to him dies and he just shrugs it off in revenge. He goes mad thinking Maleficent is going to attack again and tries to get his guards to stay up all night. This could have been potential for a really good villain or at least a really a tragic character along the lines of Captain Ahab, but it doesn’t go anywhere other than him being a tyrannical ruler.
And the three good fairies…well, I’m deeply mixed about them. At first, I thought their shtick was good but good enough. Some people might find them annoying (and creepy as their CGI counterparts) and even question just how “smart” they are. There is a picnic scene where they are arguing over something and they don’t notice the princess they are taking care of nearly falls off a cliff. Then again, they haven’t gone out of the Moors that much but how did you take care of yourself. I understand the fairies in the 1959 animated movie weren’t perfect but at least they had some understanding of living a human life. Here, I left like I was watching The Three Stooges let alone more than three wood creatures. Obviously, they are used as a comic foil instead. Sometimes its funny with the way they argue and bicker but other times, they might get on your nerves a bit. The good thing is that there isn’t much of them and maybe its for the best.
Again, what worked best for Maleficent was Angelia Jole’s performance and the world its placed in. I would actually like to argue this is what Pixar’s Brave should have been. Rich in its own mythology instead of using the Scottish as comedic foils and reducing the Celtic land’s beauty to scenery. Personally, I’m a sucker for fantasy movies like Legend and Willow and I feel Maleficent works is you best see it in that angle. Its not meant to be complex as it wants to tell a simple story. If your looking a fantasy movie is not overly complex and just tells the story straight, this is for you. But if you want something with a harder edge like The Neverending Story or Return to Oz, this might not be. For me, I came in with low expectations and walked out at the end credits knowing I saw a enjoyable film for viewers of young and old. Even if the story is not perfect, your bound to find something enjoyable with the 90 minutes well spent.