Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” directed by the Norwegian director Joachim Rønning is the sequel to the first Maleficent film from 2014. Five years have passed since then and was it worth the wait? Personally, I don’t think so.

I had my hopes up when I went to the cinema to watch this 119 minutes long sequel, because I had really liked the Moors with all its magic creatures in the first film, I had liked how Maleficent was both the villain and the hero and I had especially liked the feministic twist concerning the true love’s kiss that woke up the sleeping beauty Aurora, Unfortunately, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” does not live up to its predecessor but remains a typical disappointing sequel. Most of the story takes place outside the Moor and as for feminism… it is more or less non-existent.

From the very beginning, it is evident that former feministic ideas have been abandoned, as things are back to the way they were before sleeping beauty woke up. Once again Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is feared and hated by everyone except for her sidekick Diaval (Sam Riley) and her ever so sweet and ever so lovely - and pink - god daughter, Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning).

The princess, who is now the queen of the Moors, is still in love with Prince Philip of Ulstead (Harris Dickinson), although he has changed a bit as he used to be played by Brenton Thwaites. Aurora seems to welcome this, as the two of them plan to get married, something that Maleficent strongly objects to. However, she agrees to attend a dinner party hosted by Philip’s parents, King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), but the queen is out to kill Maleficent as she hates the Moor fairy folk.

Maleficent must flee as she is accused of putting a curse on the king who is now the male version of Sleeping Beauty, but there is no true love’s kiss to awaking him as the queen doesn’t love him. Escaping from the castle, Maleficent is rescued by the Dark Fae Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who takes her to an underground cavern. Here she finds out that she herself is a Dark Fae and that others like her and Conall have been forced to hide and nearly driven extinct by human oppression. Furthermore, Maleficent is the last descendant of the ancient and powerful Dark Fae Phoenix, whose remains she sees. They look a lot more like the skeleton of a pterodactyl than of the mythic bird that is reborn from ashes. In any case, it is a huge hint of what is going to happen to Maleficent later in the film!

With Maleficent as their secret weapon, the Dark Faes led by the aggressive Borra (Ed Skrein) now plan an attack on the humans on the wedding day of Aurora and Phillip while Queen Ingrith plans to kill all the Moor fairy folk who have come to attend the weeding.

I don’t think that any of the actors in “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” comes across as remarkable except for perhaps Jenn Murray as Queen Ingrith’s helper Gerda, as she plays the part with overdramatic gestures and pathos. As for the plot, it is very predictable and so is the ending. And as said before, the feministic message from the first film is totally gone from the second, which I am far from the first film critic to notice. Sure, all the main roles are played by women, but in a “reversed” universe, where women act as men usually do in film and where the men have the traditional female roles of someone who must be rescued or won. This is not feminism, it is just reversed gender roles and besides, the strong, independent Maleficent is back to being a hated female, whereas the pink goody-two-shoed Aurora is the type of female that is shown love, and of course the biggest thing a girl can ever aspire to is once again to be married. To a man. It’s not good enough, Disney! Three out of five stars: ***

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

It Chapter 2

When I had to review the first “It” movie in 2017, I procrastinated for a week before I got it done, because I didn’t know what to write. Not that the movie was bad, but it just wasn’t scary at all. This time I have to write a review of “It Chapter 2” and so far, I have been procrastinating for three weeks…

Like the first movie, this sequel is directed by Andy Muschietti, and the story is set twenty-seven years after The Losers’ Club first encountered It/Pennywise the dancing clown. After a homosexual man is murdered in Derry, Maine, by It, the adult Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) who stayed in Derry as a librarian while the other six club members moved away, convinces his childhood friends to return to Derry and honour the promise, they made in 1989 to kill It if it came back. Not all of them make it back to Derry and those who do have only hazy memories of their childhood. Mike helps them remember and convinces them that the Native American ritual of Chüd can stop It for good, but it requires seven personal items from the past. The members venture out into Derry to find their items and they each encounter It. At the same time, their old bully Henry Bowers (Teach Grant), who has survived what looked like a fatal fall into a well in the first movie, breaks out of a mental institution where he has spent the past twenty-seven years. It helps him of course, and Henry starts hunting down the Losers. The grand finale takes place in the underground cave beneath the sewers under the Neibolt house where the Losers must fight for their lives against a giant Pennywise.

So far so good, except, the film is never really good. There is of course great stuff in the movie, like references to other horror films such as “The Thing” and “The Shining” (written by “It’s author Stephen King) and the recurring joke about people not liking the ending of Bill’s stories, which hints at Stephen King often being criticized that his endings are no good .All in all “It Chapter 2” is a very funny film, but that is not just good, I guess, as this is a horror film that’s supposed to be scary, which it is not.

Furthermore, the movie is way too long. Even though the story jumps between 2016 and 1989 (as the story in the first film apparently took place here and not in 1984-85 as originally reported), 2 hours and 49 minutes is ridiculous.

Then there’s the cast. Where the young cast consisting of Jaeden Martell (Bill), Sophia Lillis (Berverly), Jeremy Ray Tayler (Ben), Chosen Jacobs (Mike), Finn Wolfhard (Richie), Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie) and Wyatt Oleff (Stanley) are as brilliant as in the first movie, the adult cast who play the Losers as grown-ups are kind of bland. With Isaiah Mustafa (Mike) as the only exception, the adult cast flops at making their characters interesting and three-dimensional. They are just characters. This is a major problem, because who cares what happens to Bill (James McAvoy), Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Ben (Jay Ryan), Richie (Bill Hader), Eddie (James Ransone) and Stanley (Andy Bean), when you can’t identify with any of them? They don’t even look like grown up versions of the young cast!

And then there’s Pennywise, of course, the dancing clown, It, played by Bill Skarsgård. I’m sure Skarsgård tries his best, but his clown is still too silly-looking to be scary. I think I compared Pennywise to the White Rabbit from “Alice in Wonderland”, the last time, so let me take it one step further this time and call him the bastard child of the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter!

When it comes to acting, the cameos are much more interesting than the Losers and It, especially Stephen King himself, who has a wonderful part as the shopkeeper at Derry’s Second Hand Rose. Other cameos are the movie’s director Andy Muschetti as a customer in the pharmacy, the famous movie director Peter Bogdanovich as the director Peter and finally as the Big Guy in Ben’s meeting scene you can spot Brandon Crane, who played Ben as a kid in the “It” mini-series from 1990.

As for the plot, I think that the many changes from the book and the mini-series are often questionable. Like, why are we still introduced to Bill’s wife and Beverly’s violent boyfriend when they are not to be seen in any other scenes? They both played much bigger parts in the book and the series and so did Henry Bowers. Instead we get a lot of new scenes that don’t do any good to the flow of the story.

Besides – and I have to write SPOILER ALERT - the way the Losers defeat Pennywise in the end is just ridiculous, because if this kills It, It would have been dead hundreds of years ago. Don’t tell me that no one has come up with that idea before, seeing how silly Pennywise looks!

The biggest disappointment to me is, however, that Maturin, the wise and benevolent cosmic turtle, is nowhere to be found in “It Chapter 2” despite the many hints at his presence in the first movie. Instead, the sublime macrocosmic fundament of the plot has been changed to a Native American ritual. Without Maturin, the universe of “It” becomes very small, and in my opinion way too small to justify such a loooooong and semi-trivial flic.

Like the first “It” movie, “It Chapter 2” isn’t a bad movie, it just isn’t good either, so once again I end up giving three out of five stars: ***


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