Category Archives: Half-assed

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

I never thought that Maleficent cried out for a sequel. The first one seemed to wrap up the story rather neatly: Maleficient, thought largely to be a villain, was actually just a fairy with a dark past, a magnificent wardrobe, a broken heart, and a slight hairpin temper. Inside, she was rather like a pussy cat. More or less. But all-knowing Disney thought there was more money to be made more story to be told, so it milked an old fairy tale for more malevolence.

When we left Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), it was generally understood that she wasn’t so terrible after all. Really kind of sweet, and fiercely protective of the little girl she’d raised as her own. Years later, it seems that message never penetrated the minds of the villagers down below who still fear her. Aurora (formerly Sleeping Beauty) (played in this series by Elle Fanning) has been prancing about barefoot in the forest as Queen of the Moors, home to all kinds of fairies and mythical creatures. Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) has continued to sniff about and likes the flower crown in her hair and her whole boho-chic vibe. He proposes and she accepts, and they’re pretty much the only two who are happy about it. Maleficent is mostly just concerned because she knows she won’t exactly be welcomed by “his kind.” And maybe she’s also a little sad to lose her precious goddaughter. His mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), makes it clear they’re on shaky ground with her as well. You can imagine how awkward the engagement dinner’s going to be. Or, no you can’t, because it’s next-level awkward. I won’t say it’s the reason that humans and fairies go to war with each other but it’s not not the reason, if you know what I mean. So if you thought planning your wedding with your in-laws was fraught, imagine the tension when both mothers are intent on destroying each other. I mean, the seating chart alone is going be bizarrely complicated when you need opposing armies at the same table.

Anyway, Sean thought Mistress of Evil was “not great” and overlong. And at 20 minutes longer than its predecessor, it’s hard to argue that point. It does take way too long to establish certain facts. But I thought the movie was “not that bad” (is she quoting herself there? Indeed she is). I enjoyed meeting all of the little woodland creatures, especially more of Maleficent’s ilk, including the lovely Chiwetel Ejiofor. But mostly I was there for Maleficent. Poor, dark, misunderstood Maleficent. Yes her black eyeliner is intimidating and her horns are slightly reminiscent of a Beelzebub type. That does’t mean she has a heart of darkness! Don’t judge a book by its brooding black cover. Not even when that book falls from a top shelf and caves in your skull. Err. Well maybe then. Anyway, I love Maleficent because I love Jolie in the role. She’s menacing and conflicted and vulnerable and powerful and it’s terrific to see her don the wings and the cheekbones again.

Does Maleficent: Mistress of Evil justify its existence? Not remotely. Jolie and Pfeiffer make an electric pair and it’s sort of wonderful to see two such formidable women square off so maybe that’s enough. And if it’s not enough, the incredible costumes by Ellen Mirojnick will more than make up the difference.

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Earth

Just for example, around 2 billion years ago, igneous and metamorphic rocks formed a gorge, and then around 70 to 30 million years ago, through the action of plate tectonics, the whole region was uplifted, resulting in a high and relatively flat plateau. Five or six million years ago, a river began to carve its way downward (during heavy flooding, the water takes boulders along with it, which act as chisels along the bottom). Further erosion by tributary streams led to the canyon’s widening. In another couple million years, it might be a little deeper still, but mostly it will have continued to widen. That’s how the Earth naturally made a very big hole in the ground, 446 km long, up to 29 km wide and more than 1,800 meters deep. We call it the Grand Canyon. Earth is a fine architect given millions of years, but we humans are moving 156 million tonnes of rock and soil per day. People are moving mountains. They’re changing the shape of the Earth.

This documentary takes a look at the people doing it. Labourers who tunnel through the Earth from above and below provide some interesting insights from a personal perspective – “If all else fails, there’s always dynamite. We always win.” And though many profess to “feeling bad” about obliterating landscapes, it is short-term profit who is driving all that brutal machinery, not long-term critical thinking or morality or common sense.

Earth is an interesting movie with an uninspired title. It would benefit from better editing, both in terms of smooth transitions and tightening up some scenes that are unnecessarily long. I know some 5 year olds who are insatiable when it come to trucks and diggers, and every time I pass a construction site I see a number old old men watching the machinery do its work, but for me this movie ran overlong. Still, it’s a neat little package of stuff we don’t see nearly enough, certainly not all collected together. It makes for thoughtful viewing.

Addams Family Values

The Addams family home is all shook up: the kids are playing Marie Antoinette with a real, working guillotine with their new mustachioed baby brother Pubert, and Gomez and Morticia have brought in a new nanny named Debbie to sort them all out. Uncle Fester of course falls madly in love with her.

There’s just one problem. Well, clearly there’s more than one. But the big one, aside from Wednesday and Pugsley trying to kill their baby brother, is that Debbie (Joan Cusack) is a black widow. She has a nasty habit of marrying wealthy men and murdering them on their wedding night. And Fester (Christopher Lloyd) is indeed a wealthy man. Well, he’s wealthy anyway. And he’s smitten.

The rest of the Addams family, not so much. Gomez (Raul Julia) and Morticia (Anjelica Huston) try to wish him well, even when he cuts them out of his life, but little Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman), though somewhat neutered by summer camp, are naturally more suspicious. But now that he’s estranged, can anyone possibly reach him before it’s too late?

Addams Family Values is a rare sequel that seems to have gained in momentum from the first. It introduces new characters that add new dimensionality to the family. Fester really comes into his own in this film, and Joan Cusack is an absolute dish. It’s also exceedingly fun to watch the Addams siblings do a sleepaway camp. Never have two people belonged anywhere less. And the way in which they ruin a historically inaccurate play is the absolute most fun. I could watch this as a spin-off all day long. I should also note that Granny gets replaced in the sequel; Carol Kane replaces her. And Carol Kane is god. She’s also younger than Huston, who plays her daughter, but watcha gonna do? Huston gamely gets back into character, and I love the way they’re lighting her face, with just a beam of light across her eyes. It’s so strikingly different from everyone else in the room. And I know I said this last time, but I’ll say it again: Christina Ricci is a child actor tough to outdo. She really nails Wednesday and makes sure the kids aren’t just placeholders in these films.

All told, Addams Family Values good fun. It’s not great, but it’s like training wheels for future horror fanatics and the freaks and creeps in all of us.

The Addams Family (1991)

The Addams family are a bunch of creeps, goths, freaks, and misfits. Merry makers of mayhem but also a paragon of suburban goals: a husband who adores his wife, a father who dotes on his children, a mother-in-law’s presences embraced and appreciated, children allowed to test the boundaries of their identity, given the space to think deeply and creatively, inventing games and new forms of play. There are few such tight-knit, loving nuclear families depicted on screen today.

Still, the Addams family isn’t quite normal. Mother Morticia (Anjelica Huston) has a sickly pallor and father Gomez (Raul Julia) an obsession with seances. Daughter Wednesday (Christina Ricci) has devised a game called “Is there a god?” and brother Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) allows himself to be electrocuted in its name. The family is attended to by a grunting butler named Lurch (Carel Struycken) and a detached hand. Their fondness for the macabre, and for weaponry in particular, might intimidate most guests, but longtime lawyer Tully (Dan Hedaya) is quite used to their eccentricities, and Gomez’s grief over a 25-year estrangement with brother Fester has left him vulnerable in a way that makes the financially strapped lawyer’s eyes glisten. He enlists an imposter to pose as Fester (Christopher Lloyd) in order to claim the family’s fortune.

Cher wanted the role of Morticia and Kim Basinger briefly had it, but it was Anjelica Huston who had to suffer through the transformation. To give her eyes the signature slant, make-up artists attached strings with spirit gum to the outside corners of her eyes, tugging them to give them a lift, and anchoring the strings to her head. If you think that sounds painful, it’s only because you haven’t yet heard about the metal corset that gave her figure that very structured look. A restrictive dress gives her walk the wiggle. And some neck lifts and long fake nails and you’re almost there.

Meanwhile, I think my favourite performance comes from a very young Christina Ricci, who has to be one of the world’s most consistently good child actors, serving up many iconic roles before she even hit puberty.

The family is unfortunately a little failed by the script, which never quite works as well as it should. But the happy news is, we’re soon to have another dose of our favourite spooky family, in theatres this weekend – an animated version with Oscar Isaac as Gomez, Charlize Theron as Morticia, Chloe Grace Moretz as Wednesday, Finn Wolfhard as Pugsley, Nick Kroll as Fester, Snoop Dogg as It, and more. Lots more. Can’t wait.

TIFF19: My Zoe

If you love Julie Delpy, as I do, you probably love her talky scripts, her hyper-verbal, over-analytical characters who leave no thought unspoken. She has a knack for combining drama and comedy and elevating both with intelligent commentary. My Zoe is quite a departure. Which isn’t to say that it’s not smart or insightful. But it is very, very different.

Isabelle (Delpy), loving mother to Zoe (Sophia Ally) is going through a divorce from her husband, James (Richard Armitage). Their daughter’s custody is their battleground. They both love and want her desperately, but they might also have the need to hurt and wound each other however they can. It hasn’t been easy. Zoe is a sweet little girl who is too young to understand the animosity. When James notices a bruise on Zoe’s arm, he is not un-accusing of Isabelle. When Isabelle hears Zoe sneeze, she is not un-accusing of James. They are suspicious of each other’s parenting, determined to be the Best and Most Devoted One. I wish I could say that all dissolves when it turns out Zoe is gravely ill.

A mystery illness strikes quickly, and severely, and the waiting room where the two parents wait is a literal tiny glass box where their tension just bounces off the walls and back into their bodies, ratcheting up the hostility with each allegation lobbed. Is it love gone sour that has them at each other’s throats, or just fear and frustration? Truly, to be the parent of a sick child is the most helpless one can feel. It’s no wonder they seek their scapegoats. Up until this point, the movie is riveting: emotional and raw, full of anger and spite. But then it makes a u-turn.

The next half is so materially different that you might wonder if you’d fallen asleep and woken up during an entirely different movie. It’s still Julie Delpy, still playing a devoted mother, obsessed, even. But everything else has changed: the characters, her surroundings, and most of all: the tone. It’s disorienting trying to get your bearings in this new reality.

Delpy is of course quite good – sometimes astonishing, sometimes vehement, often dangerous and despairing. Her performance is a wail heard by mothers everywhere. But if also reaches beyond the normal, natural borders of motherhood and asks: what else? The answers are not necessarily comfortable.

TIFF19: Motherless Brooklyn

Motherless Brooklyn looks a lot cooler than it is. Gosh it pains me to say that. I really wanted Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn to be great, and it isn’t bad, but it doesn’t do a lot to distinguish itself.

Norton plays Lionel Essrog, a private detective who works for friend and boss Frank Minna (Bruce Willis), who’s into something deeper than he should be. Lionel doesn’t know what, but when Frank winds up dead on his watch, you can be sure he’s going to find the fuck out.

Lionel, with his tics and Tourette’s, is not your typical P.I. – it’s hard for him to really stay under the radar when he’s yelling out rude things. But he does good work, and he’s very motivated to do right by his friend. Following the clues leads him to Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and to exactly where these things always lead: dirty politicians. Is there any other kind?

Anyway, the movie is a send-up to ye olde film noir of yesteryear, when men wore trenchcoats with deep pockets stuffed with revolvers and fedoras worn specifically so they could be doffed each time a dame walked into the office, though you could barely see her through the yellowed fog of cigarette smoke. The detective was haunted by his past, of course, possibly by a dame he didn’t save in time, but he was stoic, never talked about it much. Just fingered his gun and smoked some more. Motherless Brooklyn puts a slight spin on things by introducing a detective who can’t shut up. And gives him a dame who is, and I’ll whisper this part: not white.

The film is so meticulously put together that sometimes it feels more like a history lesson than gumshoe caper; the diorama of NYC is gritty and seedy, so lovingly rendered that it doubtless earns its A+ but also serves as a distraction in an already bloated movie. And the maddening thing about Motherless Brooklyn is the performances are roundly very good, engaging and solid. But when you throw in the period setting and the metaphors and the big moods and Norton’s search for political relevance, something is bound to get lost. And clocking in at 2.5 hours, that’s a long time to devote your attention to each of the film’s moving parts, especially when things don’t quite add up to what they’ve promised. I also, if I may, think this was a missed opportunity to shoot in black and white. I mean, go all in if you’re gonna go all in. The actual result is a bit of a mixed bag. I think the good outweighs the bad, but at 144 minutes, I think there was opportunity to excise some of the bad completely, but no one has the courage to really wield the knife.

In The Shadow of The Moon

A series of victims, each with the same puncture wounds on the back of their necks. They bleed from their noses, their ears, their eyes. They bleed and they die. The only thing that connects them is a mysterious woman in a blue hoodie, who seems to have visited each before they died. When Locke (Boyd Holbrook) and his partner Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine) investigate, along with their Lieutenant Holt (Michael C. Hall), what they uncover makes little sense.

Turns out, thanks to a glitch in the moon, every 9 years this hoodie woman (Cleopatra Coleman) gets to visit from the future and assassinate a few select people who would eventually contribute to Earth’s destruction. It’s like going back in time to kill Hitler’s grandparents. It’s for the good of humanity, but try telling that to the beat cop on the case. Locke gets a sense of this but no one else believes him, which means that every 9 years he gets crazier, more obsessed, more fixated on a narrative that can’t possibly be true.

The plot’s a little bumbly so it’s better to focus on how isolating it would be to hold a tiny piece of history secret in your heart, to chase a serial killer who reincarnates every 9 years, even after you think you’ve killed her. There’s no scenario in which that makes you a better person. Which the voice-over narration tells you pretty bluntly. And the thing about voice-over narration is that it’s usually used to mask glaring holes in a story that the film isn’t up to showing in a less obtrusive, sermonizing way. It’s rarely a good thing. And as you might guess, as we gain understanding of these slayings, the movie’s tone shifts from detective whodunnit to preachy science fiction – not exactly my favourite.

Jim Mickle’s In The Shadow Of The Moon starts off with promise and then declines steadily from there, perhaps falling to its own ambition, which does not incline me toward forgiveness.