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Non-Review Review: Maleficent – Mistress of Evil

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil might be the worst wide release of 2019, which is no small accomplishment in a year that produced Welcome to Marwen, Life Itself and Hellboy.

To be fair, the film’s starting point is decidedly eccentric. There is an argument to be made that the original Maleficent helped to kick start Disney’s live action remake renaissance, alongside the greater success of Alice in Wonderland. While the film didn’t quite do Aladdin or The Lion King numbers, it earned a hefty three-quarters-of-a-billion dollars at the global box office. It isn’t a surprise that it got a sequel. It is a surprise that the sequel took half-a-decade to materialise, to the point that Disney’s live action cinematic slate has already moved well beyond this villain-centric reimagining.

She’s really glowing lately.

Even allowing for the five year gap, Mistress of Evil is a staggeringly tone-deaf piece of work. The original Maleficent was a very clumsy piece of allegory, but an ambitious one. Obviously drawing from the same basic revisionist approach as Wicked or Oz: The Great and Powerful, the film attempted to offer an empathic and compassionate approach to one of the great villains of the Disney canon. The film depicted Maleficent as the victim of assault and shaming, a target of a patriarchal smear campaign.

Unfortunately, despite nods at subverting conventional gender narratives, Maleficent doubled down on them. Instead of allowing its title character her own strength and independence, Maleficent insisted on redeeming the character through the narrative of motherhood. This was decidedly uncomfortable, the obvious insinuation being that the only way for a woman to recover from such a brutal assault was through embracing conventional gender roles. Still, as misguided and clunky as the execution was, it was interesting to see a family-focused blockbuster story grappling with these sorts of big ideas.

“I’m Batman.”

Mistress of Evil somehow finds a way to double-down on the misguided clunkiness while also stripping out anything resembling an interesting or engaging social commentary. Almost everything about the movie is horrendously and grotesquely misjudged. Mistress of Evil is a frankly inexplicable hybrid of groan-worthy fifties domestic sitcom and pained allegory about the folly of resistance even when being herded into gas chambers. That isn’t even a “read” of the film, it’s “what is literally depicted on screen.”

The result is one of the most ill-judged blockbusters of the past twenty years.

Magnificent.

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Non-Review Review: Maleficent

As portrayed in the classic 1959 version of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is an absolutely fascinating character. Like so much in that film, she is woefully under-developed, but brilliant character design by Marc Davis and sterling voice work from Eleanor Audley helped to fashion an iconic characters. In spite (or perhaps because) of the fact that Sleeping Beauty establishes so little about her, Maleficent endures one of the most recognisable and memorable characters in the Disney animated canon.

So, if a live-action villain-centric feature film was going to tackle one of the classic villains from the studio’s rich history, it makes sense that Maleficent would be chosen. Angelina Jolie seems almost born to play the role, carrying herself with a regal grace, an icy detachment, an impeccable sense of comic timing and spot-on vocal impersonation of Eleanor Audley. The production design on Maleficent is absolutely stunning, with the movie occasionally seeming like an animated classic brought to life.

If only the same amount of enthusiasm had been invested in the script.

All fired up...

All fired up…

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Non-Review Review: Maleficent

As portrayed in the classic 1959 version of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is an absolutely fascinating character. Like so much in that film, she is woefully under-developed, but brilliant character design by Marc Davis and sterling voice work from Eleanor Audley helped to fashion an iconic characters. In spite (or perhaps because) of the fact that Sleeping Beauty establishes so little about her, Maleficent endures one of the most recognisable and memorable characters in the Disney animated canon.

So, if a live-action villain-centric feature film was going to tackle one of the classic villains from the studio’s rich history, it makes sense that Maleficent would be chosen. Angelina Jolie seems almost born to play the role, carrying herself with a regal grace, an icy detachment, an impeccable sense of comic timing and spot-on vocal impersonation of Eleanor Audley. The production design on Maleficent is absolutely stunning, with the movie occasionally seeming like an animated classic brought to life.

If only the same amount of enthusiasm had been invested in the script.

All fired up...

All fired up…

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Non-Review Review: Snatch

The wonderful folks over at the Jameson Cult Film Club were polite enough to sneak me into their screening of Snatch. It was my first time attending a screening organised by the team, and I was genuinely impressed. seriously, if you live in Ireland and are a film buff, do yourself a favour and pop over to sign on up. They transformed the Tivoli Theatre into a series of sets from the film, with an open trailer park out the back, a boxing ring inside and lovely bit of flavour throughout. It really was a fantastic evening, and the crew deserve a huge amount of kudos for pulling it off in such style. Hell, they even got actors impersonating the characters to introduce the film, with a Brad Pitt impersonator telling us to turn off our phones with the help of subtitles. I honestly think it might be the closest I’ve ever been to living inside a film, and I’ve been to Disneyland.

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My Daddy’s a Movie-Star: When Do We Stop Thinking of Second-Generation Actors In Terms of Their Relatives?

It occurred to me as I was watching the trailer for Lucky, the upcoming black comedy starring Colin Hanks and embedded below. I was actually thinking of Colin Hanks as a name in his own right, rather than “the son of Tom Hanks, who also acts.” I mean, of course I knew his name, and I also respected his work, but there had always been this rather pronounced association between Colin and his father. I don’t mean anything to diminish Colin’s work, and I know it isn’t fair, but that was pretty much how I had – to a large extent – defined the young performer. I don’t even think I did it consciously. However, in watching the trailer for his upcoming film, I actually found myself thinking of Colin in his own right. Even though he is – honestly – the spitting image of his father, I had to consciously drag that association into my head in order to make it. It got me thinking, when does the child of a successful actor come into their own?

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Non-Review Review: The Tourist

In theory, The Tourist should be great fun. After all, the last time we had a high-octane romantic adventure thriller, we ended up with the genuinely entertaining Knight and Day. And, if anything, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie should represent a large step-up from Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t quite deliver. Mistaking twists for plot and assuming that strong leads can make up for underwritten roles, the film flails around rather randomly, alternating between a genuinely exciting little European thriller and fairly paint-by-numbers twist-a-minute adventure, it never manages to set a particular tone, and leaves its two actors struggling to stay afloat amid the rather wonderful Venetian scenery.

Tour of duty?

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Non-Review Review: Salt

This post is part of James Bond January, being organised by the wonderful Paragraph Films. It’s the final post I’m doing as part of it, looking at last year’s pretender to the “super spy” crown.

I pride myself on my suspension of disbelief. Richard Donner convinced me that a man could fly. My favourite film of 2008 was about a man who dressed as a flying rodent who took on a psychotic clown in downtown Chicago. I recently enjoyed a movie where the inner workings of a computer were represented as neon motorbikes. The film of the year features a crack team of specialists who break into people’s dreams and steal their ideas (or plant new ones). And yet Salt taxes my suspension of disbelief.

Are they arresting her for a Salt?

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The Very British Mr. Bond: The Habits of Empire & The American Fixation on Bond

This post is part of James Bond January, being organised by the wonderful Paragraph Films. I will have reviews of all twenty-two official Bond films going on-line over the next month, and a treat or two every once in a while.

James Bond is a peculiarly British phenomenon. He’s a charmingly debonaire socialite with great taste in women and suits, but also a coldly professional killer. I’ve had debates on him where I’ve classified him as a gentleman, a sociopath, a sexist, a piece of nostalgia in a tuxedo, one of the last true cinematic heroes and the very distillation of cinematic class – sometimes within the context of the same argument. Why is Bond so fascinating? What makes him so gripping? Is it perhaps the fact that Bond is, in all his personas, so incredibly British?

Is he mostly armless?

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When Does a Movie Star Become an Actor?

I think that most people would agree that there is a distinction between a “movie star” and “an actor”. I think that the great Nicholas Meyer offered a definition that fits quite well:

What’s the difference between an actor and a movie star? An actor is someone who pretends to be somebody else. A movie star is somebody who pretends that somebody else is them. Actors will change their face, will change their hair, will change their voice, will disappear into the role. A movie star doesn’t disappear.

That might sound quite harsh towards a “movie star”, but I think that you could argue that a movie star (if applied correctly) can add a certain amount of artistic weight to a film:

A movie star is someone whose past work enriches your experience of, and deepens your pleasure in, his or her present work. In other words, a movie star is someone whose baggage you want to carry.

I don’t mean that the terms are mutually exclusive insofar as they apply to a specific individual (indeed I can think of several performers who are both actors and movie stars), nor that it’s a fixed position (I can think of many individuals who have started out as what might be considered an “actor” before becoming a “movie star” in their own right). In fact, while it’s easy to think of any number of performers who have repositioned themselves as movie stars after beginning as actors, it’s somewhat rarer to see it happen the other way around. Is the road from actor to movie star a one-way trip?

Is it a rocky road to being taken seriously as an actor?

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Non-Review Review: The Bone Collector

se7en had quite an impact on Hollywood. And, where there’s success, there’s countless imitators. Some are good, some are… less so. Here we have another entry in the late-nineties serial-killer-harrasses-detective subgenre and – in its defense – it’s a perfectly mediocre concept elevated by two very talented leads. The movie is ultimately undermined by its refusal to play fair (no way even the cast of CSI could figure out who the killer was before the reveal – it might actually make logical sense for him to be an unknown, but that wouldn’t give us an emotionally-invested climax), but you could do far worse than this serial killer thriller. You could also do better, but who am I to judge?

Anything Brad can do...

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