Friday, May 30, 2014

Moonlight Movie Reviews - Maleficent and Godzilla

I was so tempted to call this double-bill review "Maleficent vs. Godzilla", but that wouldn't be accurate and might raise false hopes for a sequel far too interesting to ever happen. So, let's tackle these two one at a time, shall we? We'll start with...

"Maleficent" is the new Disney live-action feature based on the classic fairytale of Sleeping Beauty and, significantly, even if completely rewritten, the 1959 animated feature film from the same company. The title role in this case, however, goes to the villain of the story, and I, for one, found this reinvention of the Sleeping Beauty story quite interesting to say the least. Of course, I'm kind of a fanatic for Disney and fairytales in general, so I was highly anticipating this movie. 

I went to see this one at my usual haunt, which I often talk about briefly to add a bit of Austin flavor to these reviews and to let everyone know what they're missing out on if they don't go see all their movies at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. We're talking amazing pizza, hilarious pre-shows, and fascinating fellow movie fans like these...

Yeah, these three Maleficent cosplayers were seated just down the row from me. 

And, as you know, I've been desperate to meet some local, female cosplayers lately. Though I'm more into the princess variety. Well, at least the Alamo preshow for Maleficent gave me this funny tidbit...

Of course, we also had clips from the original Disney Sleeping Beauty and some behind the scenes stuff (this was at the Lakeline Drafthouse, by the way), but, I know what you're saying, get on with the film review... Okay, here we go...

Well, saw this one in 2D, because it's cheaper and I am never too impressed with 3D, you know the drill, and I saw it on Thursday night. Wish I could have reviewed it right after, but you know, still working a day job. Anyway, the film, if you didn't know already, stars Angelina Jolie. Basically, American royalty. I admit, I have not seen a ton of her work. Most of it hasn't appealed to me. The only things that pop into my head as movies I HAVE seen are the Tomb Raider movies, which I thought she was well cast in, but was only mildly entertained by. Then again, it's been a long time since I've seen those. As Maleficent, Miss Jolie is just as perfectly cast. And, luckily, I was far more entertained this time around. But, let me give you the plot first.

There's this princess...

Yes, a very beautiful princess. Her name is Aurora, but you might know her as Sleeping Beauty. They drop the Briar Rose secret identity this time around. The classic story, of course, is that Maleficent curses Princess Aurora when she's a baby. On her 16th birthday, "She will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die!" Well, it goes a little differently here...

There's a backstory, see. And, um, Spoiler Alert, I guess. The film begins when Maleficent was a child, and actually a good fairy, with great, feathered wings. Maleficent is the most powerful fairy living in a magical land that, unfortunately, borders a human kingdom notorious for some greedy royalty. One day, young Maleficent meets a young human boy, and they become best friends. He visits her again and again, and when they are teenagers, he gives her what he calls "true love's kiss". However, years later, after being distracted by greed, he returns as a servant of the dying, nearby king who offers his throne to the man who kills her. Coming in the guise of a concerned friend, this time the boy, Stefan, now grown, deceives Maleficent. He gives her a drink that knocks her unconscious, and he attempts to kill her. He realizes he cannot, however, and instead removes her wings and brings them back to the king, who believes her to have been killed. Stefan becomes the new king by marrying the old ones daughter, and the child they have, obviously, is the princess Aurora.

Maleficent, her beautiful wings stolen from her and her heart turned cold against any concept of love, takes on a sidekick of a raven she transforms into human form, and back again, and into other stuff, to be her wings for her, and basically her eyes and ears in the human world. Thanks to her new, feathered friend, she learns of the birth of King Stefan's child, and she makes her way to the castle for the celebration. As you probably know, this is when the cursing happens, and it's an awesome scene, at times almost word for word from the Disney animated classic. Though, don't get used to that.

As the story continues, some of it is familiar. The three good fairies, renamed for this installment, but still in pink, blue, and green, take the baby princess to live with them in a cottage in the woods until the day after she turns 16. The king orders all spinning wheels destroyed and locks up the remains in a dungeon. However, as time wares on, King Stefan begins to go mad with paranoia and hate for Maleficent as he tries to workout a way to find and destroy her. And it's all unnecessary, as the growing baby in the woods is gradually charming warmth back into the heart of the bitter fairy queen, who has secretly been watching over her. Essentially Maleficent has had to care for Aurora over the years, as the good fairies are completely clueless in caring for a human child, and without Maleficent's help she would have died on the very first day. At first, it was just to ensure her curse fulfilled, but over time, she begins to love the child like a mother. Revoking the curse is out of Maleficent's power though, as she originally set it to be unstoppable by anything other than true love's kiss, something she believes does not exist.  

Okay, I'm gonna stop there with the spoiler-loaded synopsis. Clearly, this film turns the character of Maleficent on her ear by making her, well, the hero of the film. An anti-hero, sure, but a hero nonetheless. Let me just say, the climax is awesome in all Maleficent's badassdom. Yes, there is a dragon, though it's not Maleficent this time, but it makes more sense that way here, and we already saw that in "Enchanted" anyway. And, yeah, I'll admit that as this film goes along, it is easy to predict how things are playing out. I didn't feel that it wasn't original in a sense though, just, you know, you could make out what was going to happen. This is a big problem for some, but I loved how it played out so well, it is, for the most part, so well made, that it is fine for this film. Yes, I enjoyed "Maleficent" a lot. Angelina Jolie owns the film, for sure, but that's just how it should be. She is PERFECT as Maleficent! Truly amazing and a joy to watch! So, what did I not like about the film, or what is worth bringing up for discussion specifically?

Well, let me start with the only thing I really didn't like about the film: The good fairies. This trio was, quite simply, annoying. I am not blaming the casting, either. The number one offender here was the CGI when they were in their fairy form. They looked awful and were soooo annoying. They did the thing where they had big heads on little bodies. Look, I HATE caricature art. I'm saying that as a cartoonist. I hate when people say I should set up a caricature stand somewhere or get a gig doing that at a theme park. I do not like those big headed, tiny bodied drawings. I only buy bobbleheads that are proportionate! I REALLY hated the look of these fairies. I dealt with them though. They didn't completely ruin the film for me, thank goodness, but their scenes were tough to watch when they were in fairy form. When they were in human form, they were more tolerable, but really, they didn't have to change them THIS MUCH from the original Disney versions. Definitely not to the point of making them complete idiots. I realize they wanted them to be inept at caring for Aurora, but they could have been that way without being idiots simply by being fairies without human baby-raising experience. I suppose they are partially considered the comic relief of the film, but that just goes to show how some folks have no business writing comedy. I can imagine these characters coming from the same mind as those two annoying Transformers in Transformers 2, or the sidekicks in all the worst animated features out there.... Yeah, these fairies were the biggest problem for me. Few other things really bugged me in this film though.

And since there wasn't anything much else that bugged me a lot in "Maleficent", the other key thing to discuss, I think, is a comparison to the Disney animated classic, Sleeping Beauty. Clearly, this film is partially based on that one. Anywhere else, the evil fairy from the Sleeping Beauty story is just a nameless, evil fairy that casts a curse... This IS the Disney character, and the others, well, the others...

Aurora (Elle Fanning) is gorgeous and charming, but she is very different from the classic version. She's less graceful and elegant, and here is more playful and, well, goofy! In an attractive way, of course. It actually is a change that suits the film well though. I have no complaint on that. The change in Stefan is a sad one, but it suits this film's story, which I say is a darn good one. Prince Phillip, well, a lot of people have been mocking this character in the new film. This is mainly because he's this nothing prince who just shows up looking fresh off a Disney Channel series, and for all I know, he is (I've been without TV for a while, though I confess, I've been known to indulge in some Wizards of Waverly when I'm near one). Phillip doesn't have much of a role in the film, I think the actor does well enough in it, and it plays out well. The prince simply isn't that important this time around, and that's part of the joke. Maybe the casting is part of a joke too, though I think it's just pandering to the current taste young girls have in men these days, ha. I know one reason some female members of the audience didn't like this character though, was that he's nothing like the animated feature's version of Phillip, who was easily the best Disney prince until the Disney Renaissance brought more developed ones onto the scene. Oh well. As I said, the role this time around, while not totally disrespected, is partially a bit of a joke in terms of importance, so I think it is well played and the casting just makes it a bit funnier really. Yes, there is a bit of a twist in the way the curse is broken this time. It's predictable, yes, but it's still quite charming and touching. What can I say. Angelina Jolie made everything about this movie totally acceptable. She miraculously played the classic Maleficent perfectly and yet turned her story around to redeem her at the same time. I'll go on a bit about the whole twist of the film being familiar though. We've seen this kind of thing a lot lately. Maybe it all started with "Shrek" to twist fairytales on their ear, and "Once Upon a Time" is doing it like crazy now, but after Shrek, there was "Enchanted" and "Tangled", "Princess and the Frog" and "Frozen", and surely some stuff I'm leaving out. There's been a big push for the women-empowerment, "We don't need a prince to rescue us," angle. I do admit, I find myself wondering how much longer it will be before this sort of thing gets old too, and then what? Will the prince saving the day become a nostalgia thing and come back for a bit? Is it going to be a cycle, or is there some new twist on the horizon? I still haven't really seen the ugly, fat guy get the beautiful girl. Maybe we could finally see that twist. Beast had to turn into a handsome prince first, and Shrek's girl had to get ugly first. Quasimodo didn't get squat until a sequel that was so badly done, who wants to even think about it (and Quasi getting a cute girl, admittedly, is a stretch). At any rate, yeah, I'll give it to them that they pulled off the anti-prince-rescue fairytale once more, but like I said, Angelina is the one who makes this all work, even when it feels we just saw this twist in a movie last year. And, with that, I should specify that the twist here was in the vein of Frozen and Enchanted, pointing out beautifully that true love is not an instantaneous thing.

Let's see, what else? Well, there's the issue of names. This is clearly based more on the Disney animated feature than anything else, so why change the names? This is a Disney fans quibble, I suppose, but it is annoying that they kept some of the Disney character names and changed others, especially for the three good fairies. Boy, they didn't get much right about those three, though there WERE some cute tributes to the classic films best moments, even for these three, like the bit with the birthday cake and the color blue. The father of Prince Phillip also got a name change, if memory serves, and that seemed COMPLETELY unnecessary. 

All in all, any complaints I have were minor, aside from the good fairies being so annoying and, in their fairy forms, downright hideous. Looking at them in their fairy forms is like trying to watch "The Polar Express", only way worse. Oy. However, I loved nearly everything else about this film. It's gorgeous, fascinating, heartwarming and fun. It might not be what many were expecting, but it's a lot more interesting than retelling the same film in live-action, and yet a better concept than Burton's take on Wonderland (though, I enjoyed that one for the most part too). I did enjoy pretty much all the casting here. What they did with the Raven, I thought, was great, aside from the line where he is angry about being turned into a wolf. I swear, I've heard similar lines far too many times. It's the humor writing where this film had some trouble, with the fairies and moments like that, but it had its wins in that department as well, mostly involving Angelina and her brilliant performance. And that's really what this movie is all about. Angelina IS Maleficent here. It's a completely new take on Maleficent, but it somehow feels true to her as well. Somehow, it just works. I highly recommend this one. Grit your teeth during those fairies' scenes, try to take Prince Phillip's Disney Channel looks in stride, but enjoy all the rest! There is a lot to enjoy in "Maleficent"!

Enough about that though, how about this?!!!

Or, even better, how about this?!!!! Godzilla vs. Godzilla!

Well, sorta. I mean, I thought, if I'm gonna talk about the 2014 "Godzilla", I might do a few comparisons to the 1998 version too, as I remember it, because some definitely came to mind while watching the newer film. I'll be straight with ya though. I should be in bed already and took a long time on that Maleficent review, so I'm gonna speed through this as best I can. Besides, this film has been out for like two weeks already. You probably saw it already if you wanted to.

Myself, I wanted to. I grew up with fond memories of Godzilla. I phrase it that way because I was very small when I was waaay into Godzilla. Like kindergarten. That's when I remember being most into him, and I have only seen snippets of his films since, aside from these two American blockbusters I'm gonna discuss briefly tonight. In fact, I still have my favorite toy from when I was that young, which happens to be a Shogun Godzilla with firing fist and flaming tongue lever action! I do need to find him a replacement detachable tail on Ebay though. His has a big, ugly crack in it. 

Okay, so, I saw this one on the day of its release, so yeah, I feel bad about not getting this review up sooner, but as I have mentioned before, my mom was just in for a two-week visit. She's just heading home tomorrow, in fact. I, of course, saw this at the Drafthouse (the Village Drafthouse), so, here's your sampling of some of the pre-show goodies...

Wait a minute! Is that?!!! It IS!

It's the same Godzilla toy I grew up with! They actually played the commercial!
Good on you, Alamo!

Um, anyway, so, yeah, settled in with my delicious carnivore pizza, 2 sides of parmesan, and a coke, and got ready to watch 'Merica's second attempt at making our own Godzilla film. 

It started out strong. It started out with Bryan Cranston. Everyone loves Bryan Cranston. I haven't even watched "Breaking Bad", and I know he's the greatest actor of our time! Well, so I hear. He definitely seemed pretty amazing, from what I saw of him. See, despite what the trailers lead us to believe, he is barely in this film.

Oh, but I'm getting ahead of myself. If you didn't know, Godzilla is a movie about a giant, prehistoric, radiation-fueled, aquatic lizard monster that terrorizes Tokyo regularly, though he also saves it from other giant monsters frequently too. He isn't truly bad, he is just insanely, terrifyingly huge, and so he destroys everything. He first came on the scene in Japan in 1954 and has been in a ton of films since, but we made our own Godzilla film in 1998. In 2014, we tried again. And now, the results of that trial....

Honestly, I am split on the new Godzilla film, much like with the first, though in the opposite direction. It brings to mind my thoughts on "Man of Steel". If you'll recall, I felt "Man of Steel" did a great job with giving us what the Christopher Reeve movies couldn't, but it failed on all the stuff the Reeve movies excelled with. The new film had all the great action and effects, the old film(s) had the human story, the emotions, humor and character. I can say the same thing about the two American Godzilla films, really, and there isn't a lot that needs to be said beyond that. But, let me at least get specific.

It seems a lot of people didn't like the 1998 Godzilla film. Now, I can agree with them that the creature did not really come off as the Godzilla we knew and loved, and this was disappointing. However, it was still a cool monster, and in my opinion, a fine monster movie. I enjoyed it, and, ha, honestly, I found it far more interesting and enjoyable than the 2014 film. It was just more entertaining. The human element, and the general plot, if you will, was just much better. Granted, the creature terrorizing the city, it wasn't Godzilla. In fact, he has since been officially renamed Zilla, and in a Godzilla sequel from 2004, goes up against the original Godzilla (and loses almost immediately). 1998's Godzilla film didn't deliver a legit Godzilla in their "Zilla" creation, but as a movie, I can honestly say I like it more than the 2014 film. Why is that?

The 2014 film is great when Godzilla is on the screen. Unfortunately, that's not very often. Some would argue that is common for a true Godzilla film. Maybe so, but as the human side of things (as lovely as Elizabeth Olsen is to look at and as find as the acting was all around) was just not all that interesting, well... what can I say, I actually fell asleep in the theater during the climax! I mean, the whole plot was this one soldier trying to get back to his family, stopping now and then to do his duty in fighting Godzilla. I fell asleep at one point, woke up a few minutes later and he had his kid. What the? Seriously, I only closed my eyes for a couple minutes. Anywho, it was a bit disappointing, frankly, but I will say that it was okay, I was probably pretty tired that day (went right after work), but truly this movie's success was in the design of Godzilla and the fact that he acted like Godzilla, and that a lot about this was like a real Godzilla movie. They just needed a more interesting story. I actually preferred the one in the '98 film. It was just more interesting. To be fair, it is easy to fall asleep during Godzilla films in general, but I haven't had that problem with the '98 film. What more can I say? 2014 Godzilla, it delivers half of what it needs to, and it happens to be the exact opposite half that the '98 film delivered, but it's the half you need to stay awake, even if the route they took this time was more traditional. I loved that he looked more like Godzilla and I loved that he fought other monsters and was insanely huge. I definitely will give the sequel a chance. As for this 2014 one though, I say if you are a fan of all the old Godzilla films, there's a chance you'll enjoy this one. If you're just looking for a good film about surviving a giant monster attack, your better bets are the '98 film and "Cloverfield". So, I don't totally say, "Don't see this one," just be prepared that you may or may not fall asleep. 

And, that's it for now. I'm hoping to catch X-Men, though it'll be next weekend if I do, so that'll be another that's kinda late. I wanted to see "A Million Ways to Die in the West," though I'm not hearing great things, but that can greatly depend on the individual... Money is tight though, so I might only see X-Men if I even make it to that one, ha. As for my long promised Disney World Trip review, I probably mentioned this last time, but I have been thinking about doing that in July as a sorta Christmas in July thing, so figure that will probably be what happens there. I have some other things I'll be posting in the meantime though, including more local restaurant reviews and some other stuff, and I do fully intend to get the comic strip going hardcore again soon too, we'll keep busy with lots of stuff even before that point though, so come back often to see what's new at the Moonlight Motel! Laters! 

1 comment:

  1. Definitely a pretty movie to gaze at, but it doesn’t quite go any further than that. There’s not much of a story and even if there is one to begin with, it’s uninteresting and as obvious as you can get with these fairy-tale re-workings. Good review.