Maleficent

Friday night, I rolled out to the movie theater with the roommate to go catch a 3-D IMAX (all the regular shows were sold out) of Maleficent. We’d both been waiting for the movie to drop in theaters since the trailer was first released. Myself out of interest to see what they’d do by giving Maleficent the Wicked treatment, and he for Angelina Jolie. I’m not a film enthusiast or student by any means, so my fully observations on the movie are purely informal reactionary opinion.

** SPOILERS AHEAD **

Angelina Jolie sells the movie, no question. By the end of the first 10 minutes of the movie when the initial world and plot are established the nature of the story and the events that will follow become immediately obvious, especially with the familiarity with the source material and the scenes shown in promotional clips — our exact reaction to the scenario was, “Ah, so it’s like that…”,

Movie trailers and internet memes leading up to the films release indicate that everyone’s clued in on the fact that Maleficent having wings and somehow losing them was going to be a point of exploration in the film. It’s actually the movie’s strongest moment. After being drugged to sleep by her childhood sweetheart, she comes to and finds that her beloved wings were amputated in her slumber. And Angie depicts that sudden realization of loss, pain, and violation with such unnervingly precise believability that it becomes so uncomfortable to watch that I actually forgot what movie I was watching and who it was made by. There are some really obvious correlations that established movie reviewers have been all to happy to call attention to. Jolie’s recent experience with her double mastectomy channeling into her performance, and the obvious analog for that plot device serves as. However, if you abstract the scene enough, the violation of trust and person being witnessed are not exclusive to female rape victims. I’m an adult male who’s never experienced a violent sexual abuse, but that didn’t stop the scene from strongly resonating with me. She drifts off to sleep in the trust and comfort of the world and people around here, only to wake and suddenly find her world turned upside down. Robbed of her strengths, betrayed by a close trusted one, left abandoned and drowning in despair with no one to fall back on but herself, in the process growing hardened, hateful, and vengeful. As demonstrated in the movie, these are traumas can happen without the experience of sexual assault.

Though that scene may be Angelina’s strongest moment in the film, her performance carries it all the way to completion. The visual effect eye candy is set to max, but most of the time I wasn’t paying attention to anything that wasn’t Angelina Jolie as Maleficent. The pacing and editing are very brisk and stilted — I’ve read this was the director’s first time in the chair, serving in the past mostly as a visual effects director, and it definitely shows. All the whimsy in the movie that would normally exude charm in a Disney production felt forced and fell flat. With all the liberty taken with magic and armies, everything that happens feels like it does because something has to, not because the story demands it to. In the final stride when it overlaps with the Sleeping Beauty narrative we’re all familiar with, the reworked story line and its underdeveloped nature lack a real impact due to a complete disregard for the idea of consequence. It’s Disney, so things still all manage to work out for the happy and better.

Still, I very much enjoyed watching the movie. Angelina Jolie’s performance never falters and makes up for all the movie’s other shortcomings. More than that, I like the direction that Disney’s storytelling is heading lately. They’re revisiting fairytale fantasy, but through an updated modern lens. True loves with happily ever afters and good versus evil are no longer the primary story drivers. I like it.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Truthfully, I’m not one to watch many movies, which is a large reason as to why I’ve not drafted/posted any movie reviews on this blog. In the shift from adolescence to adulthood, I found myself growing frustrated with the hours of running times I’d invest into watching a movie, only to have the return fail to meet expectations. My best friend/roomie happens to love movies and has long since served as my unofficial recommendation engine. This past Friday, we had no evening plans and decided to go catch a movie now that the summer blockbuster season is starting to ramp up. We settled on catching a showing of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, expecting gratuitous action sequences & special effects with a plot that would at the very least be merely “acceptable”. What I got was a story so poorly developed that it kept putting me to sleep. Every time I woke up, I’d watch for a couple minutes to try to get caught up with the narrative, only to end up annoyed by the movie and losing interest to the point of passing out once again.

As I mentioned, my expectations were pretty properly aligned. I was going to watch a big-budget action flick that was focused on the modern-day take on a comic superhero created in the 1940’s as World War II propaganda. The character is, through name, appearance, and even personal backstory, the sensationalized embodiment of the “traditional” American spirit. So, I sat down thinking I was going to get 2+ hours worth of explosions, feats, superpower, and fight/action sequences with amazing special effects. What I got was a depressing representation of the current real-life political climate.

Captain America Movie Poster, Team America
What I expected — not what I got.

From the outset, good old Cap’n ’Murrica is lost. After banding together with all the other big powers on the good guy side and saving the world in The Avengers, he’s back to trying to get caught up with the modern world and find what he wants to do with his life. Watching handsome Mr. Super-capable going through an existential crisis didn’t really evoke much sympathy from me as a real normal person who’s been through the same thing on a much deeper level, but I digress. So while we begins to work on sorting out his personal affairs, he stays busy by putting his powers to good use for the government. A few segments in, the captain finds out that SHIELD has been developing a crazy military defense system, elevating the situation from unrestricted global monitoring of people to having an invisible gun pointed at everyone. And our hero, the representation of the classic American spirit protests, but he’s unable to do anything about it as a single person. It comes to light that SHIELD has been compromised and is corrupted, and that’s when I started falling asleep.

Over few clips I caught throughout the remainder of the movie, I basically watched a super cut of all the old plot devices I’d seen in the big action films of the 90’s: the best friend who thought to have died in the war still being alive, the former best friend being alive because he was saved and turned by the Russians, the “big reveal” where every secondary character turns out to be a supporting spy/soldier/hero. I realize that I can judge the movie too harshly on this front since Captain America has been around for a considerable amount of time, and being faithful to the comic requires retreading those established story arcs. Yet, at the same time, the whole point of these movies is to bring them up to date to contemporary story telling standards; with all the liberty Hollywood exercises in adapting stories from other mediums — think video game movies here — it felt like very little was done to reinvent the story and make it fresh and remarkable.

Ultimately, it was a disappointing waste of time and money.