I admit that while writing my movie reviews, I will frequently consult Rotten Tomatoes to see where I stand in relation to all the big name reviewers, the people who are supposed to know a little bit about the game, and allowing for some variation just based on personal preferences, my opinions on movies do not differ that much from these big names -- usually. There are times, however, when I have to believe that those guys saw a different version of the movie than I did.
I finally this past week got to see this past years Oscar's Best Picture winner -- 12 Years a Slave. It is the story of a man kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. It is an unflinching, often very uncomfortable portrayal of the Antebellum South. It is a story that we need to revisit from time to time, just like we have to revisit the Holocaust, because as a people we must never forget of what we are capable. Time has a way of smoothing over and sanitizing things. Plantations and concentration camps can become clichéd images of evil. The human cost of hatred and bigotry can be glossed over.
12 Years a Slave was a sobering and necessary story. However, despite what 97% of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes said, I did not think it was a particularly good movie. It was choppy and episodic. The use of a stylized dialogue was distracting and added nothing to my understanding of the characters. It was visually "off." The director, Steve McQueen, said that he was deliberately drawing on the style of the painter Goya. "When you think about Goya, who painted the most horrendous pictures of violence and torture and so forth, and they're amazing, exquisite paintings, one of the reasons they're such wonderful paintings is because what he's saying is, 'Look -- look at this.' So if you paint it badly or put it in the sort of wrong perspective, you draw more attention to what's wrong with the image rather than looking at the image." (See the interview here.) That didn't work for me either.
Great story, okay film, but not Best Picture.
But this is not about 12 Years a Slave, but rather Disney's new movie Maleficent which Sand and I went to see at the movie house. Reading the reviews on Rottentomatoes, I got the impression that I was in for a ho-hum movie experience. There were just lots of negative reviews, the gist of which was "Jolie was good, the movie was bad."
After the first fifteen minutes of the movie, which I thoroughly enjoyed and into which I was thoroughly sucked, I remember thinking "Wow, this movie must really fall apart after this because it would be a great movie if it was all like this." I really thought that. I thought the same thing after thirty minutes, after forty-five, then after an hour, and then after an hour and a half.
Maleficent is the beautiful and powerful fairy who is the protector of the fairy people who live in the Moors, a land that borders the human kingdom. The humans and the fairies have an antagonistic relationship filled with mistrust. The young Maleficent befriends a young human, and the love that develops between seems to bode well for the future relations between the races; but unfortunately, the young man's ambitions to become king present him the dilemma of having to betray his friend in order to gain power. He does not choose well, and Maleficent, betrayed and grievously wounded, becomes bitter, resentful and vengeful. She smolders in her hatred until she shows up unexpectedly at the christening of the new king's daughter, Aurora. She casts a spell on the baby, saying that the child will, before the sundown of her sixteenth birthday, prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a deathlike sleep from which she may only be awakened by true love's kiss. The classic fairytale confrontation is set. But as they say, all is not what it seems.
Angelina Jolie was not good, she was magnificent. The special effects were state of the art, fabulous, and integrated into the story in such a way as to enhance the story and not simply be eye candy. The story was entertaining, maybe not earth shattering, but it was clever, smartly paced, and well written.
What's not to like?
Admittedly, this was a vehicle for Jolie. The story was called Maleficent, it was all about the character Maleficent, and Jolie was Maleficent. If they ever make this movie over again in the future when they can do a holographic 3D version with Smell-o-Vision, it will be said of whatever unfortunate plays Maleficent, "Oh, she was okay, but she was no Angelina Jolie."
DO NOT listen to the naysayers in the critic community on this one. It is a meaty and fun movie, a perfect summer big screen experience.
Go see it if you can.
The Disney animated Sleeping Beauty came out when I was five years old. Naturally, the villainess Maleficent scared the snot out of me. I watched the film again with my daughter, and again with my first grand-daughter, no longer afraid, of course, but in admiration of the style and contrast of the evil queen's portrayal.
When I first heard that a movie about Maleficent was being made, I raised an eyebrow. I figured it would be on the order of the Gregory Maguire distortions of the Oz books, Wicked among them. While wildly popular with many readers, his work made me gag, and I worried that a new take on Sleeping Beauty might be just as nauseating. But then I saw that Angelina Jolie was cast in the title role, and I found both my eyebrows raised in surprise, and I began to hope that Maleficent would turn out well.
And it did.
A reviewer who didn't like the movie at all felt that it strayed too far from the "original" Sleeping Beauty. Here's a translation of the real original La Belle au Bois Dormant (The Sleeping Beauty in the Woods.) Sounds to me like Disney took some fair liberties with the story in the first place, and frankly, I liked this adaptation of an adaptation better.
I'll definitely be looking for this DVD at Christmas time.
Incidentally, Bernie and I are also in agreement about 12 Years a Slave.