Maleficent – I am subtly pleased for Disney’s box office success, even if the movie barely passes as “okay”

angelina-jolie-maleficent

MOVIE REVIEW

Maleficent
Roth Films, Walt Disney Pictures, US 
97 Mins
UK Release: 28th May 2014

Director Robert Stromberg
Producer Joe Roth, Scott Michael Murray
Screenwriter Linda Woolverton
Cinematographer Dean Semler
Cast Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley

Maleficent has surprisingly picked up a crate full of cash at the box office, which left me pondering over what could be so charming about this new canon from the Disney franchise. I duly found the answer: Angelina Jolie. Hollywood’s charming humanitarian and hard-boiled star plays out her role as Maleficent with a magical allure and an offbeat stern wit that at least kept me enrolled up to the credits. You could be blunt and suggest that her strut through the forest with great posture and seductive standpoint (good or evil) for anything in her path could be the foundations of the allure.

It is the good and evil dichotomy that is actually rather interesting here; Maleficent is a character we want to see pull-through (win, be happy, whatever you want to call it), but she is fundamentally a dark image with inequitable manners. On the other side of the fantasyland, along with those humans, lives the new King, Stefan (Sharlto Copley), who was once a great childhood friend of Maleficent. He is to, at first, presented in great sunshine, as a sweet young boy who wishes to transcend the lands like Maleficent with her great fierce wings that, by the way, have a pulse of their own. How childhood can be deceiving and what nasty swine some people (finger pointed at Stefan) can live to become.

Other than Maleficent herself, minor charms come from the three fairies (the beguiling imagery of fairy bodies animated to real human heads), the light sentimental touches from Aurora (Elle Fanning) and the simple-minded creatures she plays games with growing up and the respectively impressive and clear-cut visual effects from Robert Stromberg’s team (this is Stromberg’s directorial debut but he has impressive credentials as a production designer – Avatar – and a visual effects designer – The Hunger Games). A climatic scene is particularly enthralling, though I couldn’t help pondering what a 7 year old with her young mother might have been picturing from the latter; a few nights of the sweats to say the least. Stromberg introduces some titanic earth-crunching creatures (much like Darren Aronofsky’s rock monsters in Noah) to give some enlightenment to the otherwise trivial battle scenes at the edge of the forest. However, Aronofsky’s monster figures where central to the plot, whereas Stromberg seems to be fostering his craft and upping the ante.

Their were smiles and laughs from all ages across the auditorium, the film has certainly hit a mark, but without Disney and its basis of The Sleeping Beauty rubbing its back I doubt this film would have any energy at the box office. It is still a fairytale and it, thus, carries the notions of ideological life, but it got mixed up along the way with trying to be unique and scary and/or funny and/or introduce whatever lines of dialogue and pictures it can utilise in order to be bring in the mass audiences. It will nudge you in a couple of places and it will trudge along its ninety-seven minute path at a very steady pace; you will be inclined to think it was an okay movie experience.

2.5/5 stars

Watch the trailer below:

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, or Why You Should Never Watch National Theatre Live!

curious incident of the dog

National Theatre live is no new phenomenon having launched in 2009 and I decided it was time to give it a go. I loved the book as a kid and now I had the opportunity to watch it in the West End, only I was at a cinema in Leeds. I was actually really excited having booked the tickets well in advance, and sat down with an openly curious mind, almost as curious as Christopher who is the autistic boy that sets out on an adventure of discovery in this well-told tale.

The play is extremely well told and remarkably constructed for the stage. Light and sound being as much a star as Luke Treadaway who earned himself a Laurence Olivia award in 2013 for the role of Christopher. The stage is constructed with a grand and open rectangular floor space that is designed to light up in various gridded structures to create anything from tubes to house blocks. It is an abstract design that would collapse without the innovative and blaring sound design, the racketing of the tube and the experimental use of static to implement Christopher’s state of mind. Explosions of numbers are also projected onto the floor as Christopher solves his mathematical problems. He does so rapidly, and Luke is tremendous in his ability to utter such convolutions that his character demands. It is touching the way he dearly and passionately talks about largely insignificant things, trivial to the context in which they are uttered. It certainly enlightens the beauty with which autistic individuals view the world, be it a mysterious light at the end of a tunnel.

So, what a great play. And, therein lies a fundamental problem; you spend the entire time longing to be in the audience taking in the atmosphere that it is the spatial beauty of the theatre. I will now offer some insights into my experiences sat behind a great canvas that felt like a thick brick wall between myself and the other side (200 Miles down the M1). As my experience of theatre is limited, though I have certainly experienced its splendor, I cannot comment so wisely in comparison to the cinematic screen end of the spectrum. I can only observe my frustration of being sat in a movie theatre and watching a play when I would rather be at the play or sat were I was watching a movie instead. Hypocritical indeed, as I was well aware what my ticket entitled me too!

Nevertheless, my thesis that one wishes to be on the other side (at the theatre) and/or simply watching a movie caused me endless complication as I tried to enjoy what was a fantastic theatrical production, but one that my mind wouldn’t allow. Or, rather the aesthetic hashing of the ordeal is a disgrace for the felt spectator. You need to liberate your mind in order to gain full satisfaction and insight into a piece of art, if you are concerned with factors external to the authenticity of the work, your engagement and experience is duly lost or spoilt by a rigged surface. Such is live theatre and there are a number of explanations (although some are inexplicable) that led to this disruption.

Lets begin with the consequences of the silver screen. The aesthetic of a theatrical experience is of course completely diminished by the latter. The screen acts as a protest to the production; it allows some of it to be shown and that which is shown is inanely reproduced to destroy all reality. What I mean is that the language of cinema is used to represent the theatre and those consequences are fatal. The syntax of the shot, for starters, tries to replicate a well-constructed classical form of film montage. Christopher is shown in a close-up, a reverse mid-shot, a top shot, but never a real wide shot. By real, I mean a wide shot that encompasses the whole stage, a shot that would allow the closest form of resemblance to the theatre. Such a shot is completely disregarded, until the very end when we finally acquire a glimpse of the auditorium and realise how we have just spent two hours not experiencing the theatre at all, but something completely different, perhaps it appears as a film rehearsal might. The empty stage, the actors overacting to find their nuances, the long takes and self-effacing camera angles; it is by no means a film rehearsal but certainly more so than a theatrical experience. The theatre has its own language, with the drama and the stage; it is not infatuated with the décor and montage of the cinema; all the latter is killed with live theatre.

What is shown is a frame filled with shadows of the audiences’ heads, distant cameraman and their chunky lenses and, of course, our noble stage actors. In fact, at one point, the cutting these frames made me feel dizzy and have to retract from the screen altogether; it was a rather claustrophobic experience; perhaps induced by not being able to breath along with the real audience. Of course, seeing stage actors project themselves onto a screen is trivial, dishonest and alarmingly awkward. Much of the acting feels like bad acting and rightly so, the camera cannot allude the stage and it certainly cannot attribute the features of stage acting. There are psychological layers to acting, and the screen, so sensitive to the latter, will destroy the stage actor’s aura and, ultimately, their performance.

The camera is a nail for details, it picks out the skin tones and the rest of the meticulous features of its frame, the theatre doesn’t, it doesn’t need to. The cinema therefore dismantles the theatre production before our very own eyes; there is no mise-en-scene but a few actors and their seamless correspondence on the stage as the story moves from one location to the next. Even this well executed and seamless interaction of stage maneuvers is dismantled, as the camera disturbs this reality, it picks out what it wants to see. In other words, the only way to experience something close to the theatre would be a distinctive wide shot with a deep focus, and no consecutive montage. For this would allow our eyes to rest and scope the auditorium as an active theatre audience does, the opposite to a passive cinema audience. For example, the camera is focused on Christopher and his emotion changes in response to the characters on the opposite side of the stage, yet we do not see there emotions, they are hidden. Such are the powerful tools of a film director, but this is not a film and the theatre need not experiment, or be able to experiment, with such tools. The cinema screen enlightens the opportunity and shatters it in its very essence.

One could write a dissertation on the aesthetics and ontologies presented through such a mish-mash of art exhibition. But, I will save this for another day and conclude this blog post by saying that you should never, if not just to experience, go to see NT live. That is to say that if you care about the foundations of the theatre and the cinema then you will be lugged to hell and back trying to watch a live performance and experience it without scratching your brain every couple of minutes. If you are able to simply sit back and idly watch an execution of art, then let me know.

Short Reflections from the Silver Screen: Bait (3D)

Bait-3D

Bait

Australia. 2012. Kimble Rendall.

This B-movie has the classic elements of a genre film in which humans are the prey (bait) to two great white sharks. Despite awful acting, CGI (the sharks look hilarious) and the outrageously farfetched scenario of this movie, it still serves up a few laughs and thrills for the taking.

There is a great tsunami, it floods a supermarket and an underground car park bringing with it an array of sea creatures, including the two great whites; one roams the aisles whilst the other hangs out in parking lot. The acting is generally bad, but their characters and the scenario don’t give them much of a chance. There are a few unresolved relationships to boil our interest, but frankly we don’t give a toss and are more excited about who will be the next bit of bait for our friendly giants.

Impressive cinematography and production design lift this movie above its garbage package. And, the imbecilic characters and plenteous shark munching do provide enough entertainment to keep you engaged.

 

*All reflections are from my film journal.