Maleficent Review – Tim Burton: Lite


Director: Robert Stromberg

Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Charles Perrault (fairytale)

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley


Release date: May 28th, 2014

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: Angelina Jolie. 

Worst part: The mind-numbing visuals.

Angelina Jolie is certainly one of Hollywood’s hardest workers. A mother of two, Oscar-winning actor, and conquering humanitarian – Jolie’s determination and guile place her ahead of most A-listers. After taking an extensive break for charity work and her latest directorial feature (Unbroken), the slinky celebrity returns to the big screen for Maleficent. Turning people green with envy the world over – Jennifer Aniston, in particular – this actor deems herself worthy of playing one of the Grimm Brothers and Disney’s most popular antagonists. Maleficent, despite giving Jolie a fun role, will disappoint hardcore Disney fans and average blockbuster-hungry cinema-goers alike.

Angelina Jolie.

Maleficent is the distinctive and slimy villain of the memorable tale Sleeping Beauty. Marked with large horns and flowing black dresses, the character lauds over her expansive kingdom like none other. Like every other recent fairytale adaptation (Wicked, in particular), Maleficent spins the narrative around to focus on another character. Re-telling Sleeping Beauty’s story from Maleficent’s perspective, this blockbuster is reminiscent of several similarly underwhelming adaptations of late. For those unaware of the story, I will go over it briefly. In an impressive kingdom overlooking the Moors below, King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) aims to conquer the surrounding lands populated by wondrous creatures. Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) is then sent into an eternal sleep, broken only by true love’s first kiss. Led by Maleficent (Jolie), the Moors’ citizens fend off the aggressive human hordes. That’s the overall story surrounding this movie’s true narrative. Here, King Stefan is Maleficent’s mission. This time around, Maleficent, being a tragic figure, is also ashamed of her deceitful and destructive actions. Harmed by Stefan, after falling in love with him, the vengeful Maleficent manipulates Aurora’s future. Bizarrely, this charming antagonist stalks Aurora throughout her burgeoning childhood.

Elle Fanning.

After Disney’s resurrection with Tangled and Frozen, modern audiences realised that the mega-conglomerate could, once again, compete with Dreamworks Animation and Pixar. Touching on Disney’s 20th century glory, the animation team brought a family-friendly audience back to the cinema after a period of dark, pop-culture-driven fare. However, on the other side of Hollywood, big-budget adaptations like Alice in Wonderland and Snow White & the Huntsman infected popular tales with action-adventure clichés, CGI landscapes, and epic scopes. Unfortunately, Maleficent is the culmination of the most exhaustive and uninspired aspects of the two aforementioned trends. As the pot-stirring concoction of studio interference and Jolie’s overwhelming prowess, this adaptation becomes familiar and dreary. Borrowing heavily from the 1959 classic as well, this fantasy epic, despite the clever premise, never forms a clear and memorable identity. Director Robert Stromberg – Production Designer on Alice in Wonderland and Oz: the Great & Powerful, and Avatar – replicates his previous creations for this uninspired and intangible project. Taking on this gargantuan production, his conventional style proves his worth…as strictly a visual effects artist. Relying on CGI world-building and monotonous battle sequences, Maleficent takes interesting concepts and presents dour and heartless creations. At this point, shots of characters looking longingly at CGI landscapes and winged creatures are meaningless sights to behold for $20 a piece.

“I call on those who live in the shadows. Fight with me now!” (Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), Maleficent).

Sharlto Copley.

Blame should also fall on Linda Woolverton’s mechanical script. Lacking the original story’s merit, the uninteresting twists and turns illustrate this trend’s greatest flaw – it’s difficult rooting for the bad guy. Her screenplay, presenting Maleficent as a lively warrior in the first half, displays promise as a Jolie-driven vehicle. Developing tragic and determined characters on both sides, the narrative bursts to life early on. However, borrowing from Stardust and Mirror Mirror, the tonal shifts will confuse kids and bore adults. Flickering from sickeningly sullen to whimsically light-hearted, this adventure becomes a studio-controlled creation. In particular, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Leslie Manville’s fairy characters deliver generic, Three Stooges-like jokes unworthy of their spectacular talents. Bowing to Jolie’s every demand, the studio executives understand why this adaptation exists. Jolie, Hurling her immaculate range and passion into this role, overshadows the supporting cast. Coveting the promotional material, her immense prowess pushes her away from believability. Failing to connect with her fellow cast, certain characters, Sam Riley’s crow/human hybrid especially, become needless and obvious foils for her enrapturing character. Stranded in Jolie’s line of sight, Fanning is stuck in a one-dimensional role. Perplexed by the most mediocre of sights, Aurora’s presence becomes grating. In addition, Copley’s performance, harmed by a wavering accent, falters whenever he and Jolie share the screen. His character’s tedious arc makes us miss Maleficent whenever she drifts into the shadows.

Lacking a Rupert Sanders/Kristen Stewart-level controversy, Maleficent lacks significant resources to stand above this year’s blockbusters. Stromberg and Woolverton, aiming to appeal to current trends and multiple demographics, develop an unoriginal, plodding, and unappealing fantasy epic. However, this does indeed mark a noticeable return to Tinsel-town for Jolie. Thanks to her slender frame and rousing delivery, Jolie’s performance sticks out like a broken wing.

Verdict: A plodding and conventional fantasy epic. 

Elysium Review – Sci-fi Society


Director: Neill Blompkamp

Writer: Neill Blompkamp

Stars: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga


Release date: August 9th, 2013

Distributor: TriStar Pictures

Country: USA

Running time:  109 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Blompkamp’s direction.

Worst part: Jodie Foster.

Imagination can be found in strange and enthralling places. In a time of shlock and awe, Hollywood needs to look at ‘foreign’ cinema to see how story, character, and heart can be masterfully injected into a movie. In 2009, a $30 million (chump change by modern blockbuster standards) South African sci-fi drama obliterated preconceptions regarding the ‘popcorn movie’, CGI’s potential, and apartheid. That movie was the surprise hit goo-fest District 9. Director Neill Blompkamp’s follow-up, Elysium, is the inferior yet entertaining big-budget pseudo-remake.

Matt Damon.

I’m not saying Elysium is a lazy and cynical sci-fi action flick. I’m simply suggesting that Blompkamp could’ve, and maybe should’ve, reached higher to justify his immense popularity. Before I piss anyone off, I’ll state my affection for this enjoyable and enterprising sci-fi smash. It’s an underrated and inventive movie unafraid to discuss major 21st century issues. This movie begins with a young boy being punished for stealing. After developing affection for a female classmate, he believes he’ll become Earth’s most important citizen. The movie then jumps several years into the future (2145, to be exact), and Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) has become the furthest possible thing from what his younger self had in mind. At this point in time, Earth has become a decayed and overpopulated mess occupied by disheartened people and expansive favelas. The wealthy few have emigrated to a giant satellite called ‘Elysium’, protected by Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster). Suffering police brutality whilst on parole, this skilled ex-con must adapt to the dangerous skeleton-like labyrinth of Los Angeles. Thanks to a workplace accident, a fatally concentrated exposure to radiation gives De Costa five days to live. Hunted by a creepy and vicious government agent, Kruger (Sharlto Copley), De Costa’s fight for survival has the potential to change Earth and Elysium for the greater good.

Jodie Foster.

District 9 is essentially a powerful concoction of Independence Day and City of God. It addressed South Africa’s on-going issues with flair, potency, and panache. Elysium may not be as resonant or intriguing, but still contains many important messages and ‘f#ck yeah!’ moments. Here, Blompkamp has arguably established himself as this generation’s James Cameron. Taking on powerful stories and entertaining sci-fi action tropes, he stands above other budding sci-fi filmmakers (no offence, Joseph Kosinski). Unlike Kosinski’s Oblivion, Elysium triumphantly establishes itself when, where, and how it needed to. Thankfully, Elysium isn’t bogged down by slow pacing or a disengaging narrative. Like this year’s other sci-fi/apocalypse action flicks, Blompkamp’s film looks at humanity during a time of chaos, dystopia, and war. Unfortunately, considering the immense talent on display, Elysium doesn’t stand above 2013’s blockbuster crop. Blompkamp needed to bring originality and verve to this heavy-handed premise. This movie, if anything, proves he excels with visual composition and action-direction but should give his scripts more time to gestate. Like Cameron and George Lucas,  Blomkmap’s reach exceeds his grasp during the script-writing stage. His screenwriting, though not terrible, throws too many contrivances and cheesy moments at the audience. Blompkamp’s filmmaking idiosyncrasies, however, are immensely gripping and sophisticated. This story, though blunt, is tangible and enthralling due to his purposeful yet glorious direction.

Sharlto Copley.

In fact, Elysium‘s greatest aspects are found in its dialogue-free moments. The movie opens with immaculate sweeping shots of Earth and Elysium. From a thematic standpoint, these scenic, vertigo inducing vistas are conclusive and thought-provoking. Blompkamp’s intention is, obviously, to draw parallels between Elysium‘s universe and our own. The stark contrast between the broken-down, ‘third-world’ Earth and pristine satellite-based ‘habitat’ is obvious yet momentous. From the first flashback onward, there are are a plethora of metaphors and symbols alluding to important events and current affairs. Discussing such issues as military/government control, the 99% vs. 1% feud, asylum seeking, equality, overpopulation, and Obama-care, Elysium is, somehow, more topical and overblown than Blompkamp’s previous works. One standout scene, in which Da Costa is confronted and beaten by robot policemen, looks into the treatment of minorities by authoritative forces. The problem, however, is that Blompkamp throws messages/conversation starters into the story without following through on them. His agenda is nowhere near as emotionally or thematically deep as it was in District 9. However, the movie’s greatest asset is Blompkamp’s attention to detail. Suited for I-MAX, his visual style is awe-inspiring and meaningful. Combing impressive practical effects with expansive yet efficiently used CGI, Elysium is a jaw-dropping and poignant sensory feast. Blompkamp also brings his affection for gore and advanced weaponry over from District 9. Featuring exploding bodies, creative action choreography, and unique technological devices (including an ailment-curing MRI scanner), Elysium may be 2013’s most imaginative big-budget movie.

“The only thing I can do to help you is leave, I promise you.” (Max (Matt Damon), Elysium).

Interstellar UFC.

This nostalgic yet competent fusion of 80s, 90s, and 00s sci-fi action flicks – specifically Total Recall, Blade RunnerTerminator 2: Judgement Day,  and Children of Men – is bolstered by engaging action set-pieces. Blompkamp keeps the silliness to a minimum as the ‘junkyard meets Apple Store’ aesthetic, shaky-cam, and slo-mo push each sequence along. The shootouts and fistfights, making good use of Da Costa’s peculiar and iconic back-brace device, are thrillingly handled. Shot and edited with precision, the final set-piece becomes a sci-fi version of Mortal Kombat. Despite the explosions and lavish settings, it’s the performances that make Elysium whole. Despite Elysium‘s discomforting lack of wit and depth, the A-list actors, for the most part, elevate their archetypal characters. Able to inject magnetism and sympathy into any role, Damon becomes a likeable screen presence here. Despite his character’s abrasive personality, Damon’s physicality and compelling performance perk up the conventional role. Embodying polar-opposite characters in 2013 thanks to Elysium and Behind the Candelabra, his range and ambitiousness are commendable facets. As a desperate, lonely, and angry ex-government attack dog urgently needing a leash, Kruger is one of Elysium‘s many magnificent creations. His uncontrollable rage and psychotic tendencies liven up this earnest affair. Copley delivers another quirkily dark turn under Blompkamp’s direction. Unfortunately, Foster is under-utilised in a one dimensional and over-the-top role. It doesn’t help that the character’s villainous socio-political motivations are as bafflingly silly as her wavering accent.

Like many of 2013’s low-four-star blockbusters, Elysium has several outstanding concepts and memorable sequences. Making Blomkamp and Copley even bigger names, it pushes boundaries and showcases some talented individuals. Hopefully, Blompkamp will stay behind the camera rather than in front of the keyboard.

Verdict: An ambitious and jaw-dropping follow-up to District 9.