Tag Archives: Juno Temple

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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Maleficent

As a young fairy, Maleficent is like any other girl, wings and horns notwithstanding. She likes adventure and good stories, and a little mischievious boy named Stefan with whom she shares a first kiss. But as they grow older, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) must protect her land from an evil king and Stefan (Sharto Copley) has taken off in pursuit of ambition and power. On his deathbed, the king calls on his trusted inner circle, including Stefan, to kill Maleficent to earn his crown. Stefan seeks her out to warn her,ostensibly, but it plays out a lot more like betrayal. Woe her broken heart.

King Stefan is crowned and soon there is a child: a girl. Maleficent is furious, and her fury is a glorious sight: green light, crumbling walls, the world bends to rage and damn I wish my anger could manifest itself like that. Meanwhile, the kingdom is celebrating the birth of little Aurora but Maleficent crashes the party, putting a curse on the little sleeping babe. Unfortunately, she learns too late that this child, this sleeping beauty if you will, is perhaps the one person who could have united the land that Maleficent holds so dear.

Disney has learned to pay heed to their villains lately, as well they should. They are often more interesting than the so-called heroes, and in Aurora’s case, this is 137000% true. Sleeping Beauty is as passive a princess as they come since she’s doomed to spend her own movie either in hiding, or deep in sleep. Maleficient, on the other hand, is dripping with vengeance, steeped in power. It’s magnificent.

The Disney World parks, however, still default to the princesses. On our upcoming visit to Disney World, we’ll visit Aurora at Queen Elsa’s castle. Last time we met her in Cinderella’s. Lucky for us, we caught her between naps.

Halloween, however, is the one time of the year Disney embraces its dark side. Only around Halloween can villains be spotted at meet and greets in the park. They even get their own merch and treats – check out this Maleficient look-alike ice cream cone, available at StoryBook Treats. Her dragon breathes fire at parade goers. Halloween seems like an exceptional time to visit Disney World for some value-added extra fun and fright, but alas, Disney rips down its Halloween decorations on the night of November 1st and by the 2nd, the park is transformed for Christmas, which means we’ll get an awfully early start on the holiday.

Anyway, the Maleficent film tells the villain’s unknown side of the story, and it shows that she is perhaps not as evil as we’ve been led to believe. Disney is an unreliable narrator, y’all.

Keep your eyes peeled: two of Jolie’s children, Pax and Zahara Jolie-Pitt, have cameos in the film. Daughter Vivienne played the baby Aurora, and was the only child on set who was frightened of her while in costume. Her Maleficent cackle was developed at home, with her children as barometers, voting on which was just right. Jolie confesses she kept a pair of horns for herself, though presumably not the ones so heavy she’d get neck pains even after very short scenes. She had a hand in developing Maleficent’s look – Disney wanted to capitalize on her beauty of course, but Jolie insisted on Maleficent’s more devious look, drawing inspiration from Lady Gaga. Even so, it was Lana Del Rey she hand-picked to sing Once Upon a Dream for the end credits. The movie has the biggest budget for a first-time director, but Robert Stromberg had an excellent pedigree, with two Oscars under his belt for production design on Alice in Wonderland, and Avatar, which understandable earned him substantial credit with the Disney team.

Angelina is wonderful in the film and this first one performed so well that a sequel is expected in theatres October 18th.

Wonder Wheel

25 years ago, Woody Allen sexually assaulted his 7 year old adoptive daughter, Dylan. “Allegedly.” He has continued to make movies and has continued to be rewarded for them while his young victim has grown up in a world that protected bullies and made excuses for monsters.

Not anymore. For too long we have separated art and artist – but at whose expense?

Last year Allen released Wonder Wheel, starring Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake, just as the #metoo movement was gaining ground. For the first time, actors were being put on the spot, forced to justify their work with him (and others, to be sure), and to actually be accountable for making a career choice over a moral stand. Some of his past collaborators were quick to jump ship:

“I did a Woody Allen movie and it is the biggest regret of my career.” – Ellen Page

“I wouldn’t work with him again.” – Colin Firth

“[It] made me realize that I increased another woman’s pain, and I was heartbroken by that realization.” – Greta Gerwig

Kate Winslet had some early Oscar buzz for her role in Wonder Wheel, but seemed to sink those chances by refusing to condemn Allen in the months leading up to its release. Now, obviously it’s a tricky situation when this is your work and you’ve signed a contract and you have some obligations. But also she’s a millionaire with a shelf full of awards who could probably spare a little of both to stand up for her fellow woman. And, you know, do the right thing.

Griffin Newman, who is a more modestly paid actor from Allen’s upcoming film, A Rainy Day in New York, wrestled with his conscience and decided to donate his salary to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. That prompted some of his more famous costars, Rebecca Hall and Timothee Chalamet, to do so also. Hall wrote “I see [now] not only how complicated this matter is, but that my actions have made another woman feel silenced and dismissed. That is not something that sits easily with me in the current or indeed any moment, and I am profoundly sorry. I regret this decision and wouldn’t make the same one today.” She donated her salary to Times Up, the legal defense fund to support victims of workplace sexual harassment. Chalamet has said “I don’t want to profit from my work on the film. I want to be worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with the brave artists who are fighting for all people to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

f50690e00877dc00ee5218bfa40af334--woody-allen-hollywood-actressesMeanwhile, Justin Timberlake got some deserved flak for daring to wear a Times Up pin but refusing to so much as comment on his willingness to work with Allen. Both Selena Gomez and Elle Fanning have been unapologetic about working with him on A Rainy Day, a troubling trend for young women. Jude Law and Liev Schreiber have also remained mum. Scarlett Johansson, who has positioned herself at the forefront of the Times Up movement and has publicly criticized James Franco for his creepy sexual advances, has failed to comment on Allen’s though she’s worked with him repeatedly. And Alec Baldwin has of course been stupid enough to support him – I suppose abusive men have to stick together.

Will Woody Allen continue to work in Hollywood? Who knows – he’s actually mostly been working for Amazon lately, and that’s a questionable future since he was brought on board by – guess who! – Roy Price, the guy who has since quit amid sexual harassment allegations. Sigh. I guess the better question is Who cares? He can continue to write and produce, but it’s going to be a lot harder to secure financing without big-name stars, and it’s going to be an awful lot harder for a big-name star to sign on without backlash. And in the meantime, his movies are nothing if not a good excuse to talk about a movement that’s been a long time coming and to thank the brave people like Dylan Farrow for speaking up and reminding us all what’s important.

 

Killer Joe

I’m so shell-shocked from this movie I’m having trouble writing about it.

When Chris, a not so great guy from a not so great family ( Emile Hirsch) has a stash of drugs stolen from him by his mom, he has to come up with cash quick, or he’s dead. He and his father, Ansel (Thomas Hayden Church) hatch a plan to kill the mom and collect on her life insurance policy. texasAnd Chris knows just the guy to do the job – Killer Joe, a Dallas detective who happens to be a hit-man on the side.  Too bad they can’t afford to pay his retainer…until Joe spots Chris’s sweet little sister Dottie (Juno Temple) and decides that sexual collateral will do just the trick.

This film is trash. Trash trash, not trailer trash. Don’t be fooled by the actual trailer park. These people aren’t just hicks, they’re actual filthy, morally bankrupt people. This fact is established very very quickly – it’s immediately vulgar, over-the-top vulgar, and that’s before the beaver gets flashed in your face. Chris’s stepmom (Gina Gershon) has no boundaries and apparently no pants. Letts, the playwright, is adept with fucked up families (think August: Osage County) but this one takes the cake.

So I was repulsed by this movie, and this from the girl who didn’t blink once while watching Sin City a few weeks ago. My revulsion was knee-jerk and I went straight for the “bad movie” label – bad, bad movie. But I didn’t turn it off. And as I watched more, I realized that the badness is on purpose. It’s the point. You’re not supposed to like these people. This film is showing us a very dirty, seedy class of people. The badness is actually pretty expertly done, which doesn’t mean it’s easy to watch.

Enter Matthew McConaughey, a southern gentleman and a breath of fresh air. His demeanor is calm, his drawl is polite. He injects the movie with a much-need hit of stillness that lets us catch our breath after all the frenetic coarseness. The audience wants to eat him up which is a very effective device because it turns out he’s just as morally reprehensible and probably the most soulless character yet. He just has a more polished facade.

There’s so much tension in this movie that occasionally a giggle will bubble up, guiltily, without relieving even an ounce of the tension. This movie will make your jaw ache. It’s brutal. It’s sadistic. There so much fetishistic sexual cruelty that you won’t know where to look. If you’re comfortable exploring dark, nasty, demented sides of people without every really scratching the surface, then by all means, you won’t do better than this movie. I sort of hesitate to call it exploitation cinema, but isn’t that what it means? To be a voyeur in this condemnable underworld and enjoy watching the bloody violence and perversion vicariously? But Killer Joe has the capacity to really catch people off guard, and not in a good way. (You won’t ever eat fried chicken again.) It’s provocative but doesn’t really attempt to teach us anything. The characters are not remotely redeemable, but neither is the movie. Galling, outrageous, and ultimately superficial. And as polarizing as the movie is, just wait til you get to the end.

 

 

(And if by chance you’ve landed on this site just needing to talk about what you’ve seen, then please take the chance to do so in the comments. Assholes Watching Movies is providing a public service: vent, ask questions. Others be forewarned that there may be spoilers.)