4 Shots From 4 Witchy Films: Burn, Witch, Burn, Season of The Witch, The Craft, Maleficent


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Today, we celebrate witches everywhere with….

4 Shots From 4 Witchy Films

Burn, Witch, Burn (1962, dir by Sidney Hayers)

Season of the Witch (1973, dir by George Romero)

The Craft (1996, dir by Andrew Fleming)

Maleficent (2014, dir by Robert Stromberg)

For Your Consideration #3: Angelina Jolie in Maleficent


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Way back in March, when people like me first started to ask ourselves what and who would be nominated for Oscars in January, a lot of us assumed that 2014 would be the year of Angelina Jolie.  We predicted that her film Unbroken would be an Oscar front-runner and quite a few people felt that Angelina herself would become the second woman to win the Academy Award for directing.

And, it could still happen!

However, with Angelina being pretty much ignored by most of the traditional Oscar precursors and Unbroken getting positive but hardly rapturous reviews, it’s starting to look more and more like Unbroken will be lucky to receive a picture nomination, much less a mention for Jolie.

Now, I haven’t seen Unbroken yet so I can’t really judge whether it deserves any awards consideration or not.  However, I can say that Unbroken is not the only film for which Angelina Jolie deserves consideration.

Maleficent came out this summer and did quite well at the box office but it seems to have been forgotten and that’s a shame because it features one of Angelina Jolie’s best performances.  The film itself is a revisionist take on Sleeping Beauty, re-telling the story from the point-of-view of the fairy queen Maleficent (played, of course, by Angelina.)

In this version of the story, we see that the true villain was Sleeping Beauty’s father, Stefan (Sharlto Copley).  When they were younger, Stefan and Maleficent were lovers but the Stefan eventually abandoned her, knowing that having a relationship with a winged fairy would only serve to thwart his own ambitions.  Years later, when the humans attempt to conquer Maleficent’s kingdom, it is announced that whoever slays Maleficent will become the new king.  Knowing that Maleficent is still in love with him, Stefan drugs her and then cuts her wings off.  Using her wings as evidence to back up his claim that he has killed her, Stefan becomes the new king.  The now wingless Maleficent is left alone and embittered.  When Stefan’s daughter, Princess Aurora, is born, Maleficent announces that, on her sixteenth birthday, Aurora will sink into a deep sleep and will only be awaken by the kiss of someone who truly loves her.

Maleficent was one of those films that truly divided critics.  Male viewers tended to rightfully criticize the film for being tonally inconsistent and for relying too much on CGI.  Female critics, however, understood that none of that mattered.  As flawed as the film may have been, we knew that the most important thing was Angelina Jolie’s performance.  She may have been playing a fairy and she may have been appearing in a movie that was dominated by CGI but Angelina Jolie brought such strength and complexity to the role that she transcended all of the film’s flaws and instead created a thoroughly real character.  We understood and we related to Maleficent’s fury.  When she first woke up to discover that her wings had been stolen from her, it was devastating because the moment was real.  We all knew what had truly happened to Maleficent.  When she sought revenge, we sought it with her.  When she regretted her actions, we shared her regrets.  Her pain was our pain and her triumph was our triumph.

Angelina Jolie gave one of the best performances of the year in Maleficent and she certainly deserves your consideration.

Angelina-Jolie-as-Maleficent

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Maleficent”


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Is it just me, or is this year’s summer blockbuster season incredibly front-loaded?  Not only did it get off to a ridiculously early start in April with the release of Captain America : The Winter Soldier, but it seems that, with the notable exception of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, which is slated for a July release, everything that I was interested in seeing came out prior to the Memorial Day weekend — which was, in years past, the time when Hollywood’s blockbuster onslaught usually began.

Oh well. I guess there’s still some stuff I have some sort of low-level semi-interest in hitting theaters, with Disney’s Maleficent being a prime example of what I’m talking about. I wasn’t “hyped” for it, per se, but on a rainy Saturday afternoon with nothing else going on, what the hell — it’ll do in a pinch. Anybody with a functioning neural cortex pretty much knows what they’re getting into with something like this — a purportedly “modern re-telling” of a classic fairy tale (in this case Sleeping Beauty) that’s also, perhaps paradoxically, billed as being “truer to the roots” of the story than the universally-known animated version. Maybe everything that’s old really is new again.

In any case, the pattern these kinds of thing inevitably follow was set fairly firmly by Snow White And The Huntsman a couple summers back, and with a live (well, okay, live plus lots of CGI) action version of Cinderella already in the pipeline, it looks like “modernized fairy tales” (that are, again, supposedly “closer” to the “source material”) is a full-blown trend in Tinseltown. At least until one flops spectacularly.

Maleficent is too precise, clinical, and by-the-numbers to be that first big flop, of course, as this is thoroughly audience-tested material from start to finish, and while that same uber-conservative approach definitely sucks any sort of life or individuality from the proceedings, it does ensure that Disney will almost certainly turn a healthy profit off this thing, even with a budget estimated in the neighborhood of $200 million. It is, for all intents and purposes,  a can’t-miss investment, and that’s what it plays out as.

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Which isn’t the same thing as me saying that Maleficent is actively bad — it’s just that it’s not particularly good, either. Oh, sure, Angelina Jolie is perfect in the title role (there’s already Oscar talk) and it really does feel like it’s a part she was born to play, and the CGI work is spectacular and breathtaking and jaw-dropping and all that, and yeah, Elle Fanning as Aurora ( that’s what we call her now, folks, not “Sleeping Beauty”) leads a very talented supporting case that also includes the likes of Imelda Staunton, Sharlto Copley, Juno Temple, and Brenton Thwaites, all of whom do good work, but it’s all in service to the most pedestrian, production-line cinematic engineering possible. First-time director Robert Stromberg, who hails from a CG effects background, most likely knows what he’s doing here, but he’s given so little room to maneuver that failure just simply isn’t an option. This is a film that literally could have been directed by nearly anyone with at least some sort of cinematic background and turned out okay.

And maybe that’s what bugged me about it the most : just that sort of hyper-aggressive okay-ness. Given the opportunity to completely re-set the table, the Disney execs who originated and then green-lit this idea were more than happy to just tinker around the edges and “update” things without actually changing them. We all know the story, and while we’re admittedly getting a heavily-padded version of it told from the perspective of the “bad guy,” the fact remains that at the end of the day, all we’re left with is a more expensive, glitzier take on what we’ve already seen.

Angelina-Jolie-as-Maleficent

Maybe I missed a bit by just seeing this in 2-D, but let’s face it : any flick that leans upon the crutches of 3-D,Imax, and all that crap to “get the most from it” is one that’s entirely reliant upon bells and whistles — and while those bells and whistles are, no two ways about it, most impressive in this case, there’s just no substitute for a genuinely involving script, and Maleficent doesn’t have one. Mind you, it doesn’t have a bad script, either, it just — has a script. And the job of that script is to provide some sort of plausible set-up for one admittedly magnificent effects sequence after another. It’s cool and all for about a half hour, but after two full hours of Stromberg and company having to top themselves every five to ten minutes, you just end up feeling sort of worn down by events rather than invested in them.

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Still, I suspect that Maleficent is going to prove to be pretty well “review-proof” and enjoy a healthy run in theaters before going on to do equal, if not even greater, business on home video. This is a film that’s precisely engineered to do exactly what it’s supposed to and nothing less (or more). Kinda like a robot. And it’s that robotic, auto-pilot, cruise control sensation that prevents this movie from being at all memorable — for good or ill.

Lisa And The Academy Agree To Disagree


The Oscar nominations were announced today and, for the most part, it’s pretty much what you would expect.  Below is the list of nominees.  If a nominee listed in bold print, that means they also appeared on my own personal list of nominations.

Best motion picture of the year

Black Swan
The Fighter
Inception
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

(The Academy and I agree on five of the ten nominees.  That’s actually more than I was expecting.)

Performance by an actor in a leading role

Javier Bardem (Biutiful)
Jeff Bridges (True Grit)
Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)
Colin Firth (The King’s Speech)
James Franco (127 Hours)

(The only real surprise here is Bardem.  I haven’t seen Biutiful but I’ve heard amazing things about it.)

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

Christian Bale (The Fighter)
John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone)
Jeremy Renner (The Town)
Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right)
Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech)

(Yay for John Hawkes!  Some people are surprised that Andrew Garfield wasn’t nominated for The Social Network.  I’m disappointed he wasn’t nominated for Never Let Me Go.)

Performance by an actress in a leading role

Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right)
Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone)
Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)

(I’m happy to see Lawrence and Portman recognized but I still so wish that the Academy had recongized Noomi Rapace and Katie Jarvis as well.  I knew it wouldn’t happen but still…)

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

Amy Adams (The Fighter)
Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech)
Melissa Leo (The Fighter)
Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit)
Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom)

(Weaver — Yay!) 

Achievement in directing

Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)
David O Russell (The Fighter)
Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech)
David Fincher (The Social Network)
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (True Grit)

(The snubbing of Christopher Nolan for Inception is probably the closest thing to an outrage that the Oscars will produce this year.)

Adapted screenplay

127 Hours – Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
The Social Network – Aaron Sorkin
Toy Story 3 – Michael Arndt (screenplay); John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich (story)
True Grit – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Winter’s Bone – Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Original screenplay

Another Year – Mike Leigh
The Fighter – Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (screenplay); Keith Dorrington, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (story)
Inception – Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right – Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
The King’s Speech – David Seidler

Best animated feature film of the year

How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

 (I haven’t seen The Illusionist yet but I’m looking forward to it because the previews look great, it’s based on a script by Jacques Tati, and I love all things French.  Still, I kinda wish that Despicable Me had been nominated just so Arleigh could see the minions at the Academy Awards.)

Best foreign language film of the year

Biutiful (Mexico)
Dogtooth (Greece)
In a Better World (Denmark)
Incendies (Canada)
Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi) (Algeria)

Art direction

Alice in Wonderland – Robert Stromberg (production design), Karen O’Hara (set decoration)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 – Stuart Craig (production design), Stephenie McMillan (set decoration)
Inception – Guy Hendrix Dyas (production design), Larry Dias and Doug Mowat (set decoration)
The King’s Speech – Eve Stewart (production design), Judy Farr (set decoration)
True Grit – Jess Gonchor (production design), Nancy Haigh (set decoration) 

Achievement in cinematography

Matthew Libatique (Black Swan)
Wally Pfister (Inception)
Danny Cohen (The King’s Speech)
Jeff Cronenweth (The Social Network)
Roger Deakins (True Grit) 

Achievement in costume design

Colleen Atwood (Alice in Wonderland)
Antonella Cannarozzi (I Am Love)
Jenny Beavan (The King’s Speech)
Sandy Powell (The Tempest)
Mary Zophres (True Grit)

(That’s right, I ended up going 0 for 5 as far as Costume Design is concerned.  Which I guess goes to prove that I have better taste than the Academy.)

Best documentary feature

Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy and Jaimie D’Cruz)
Gasland (Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic)
Inside Job (Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs)
Restrepo (Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger)
Waste Land (Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley)

 (If Banksy wins, I’ll be happy.  I have a feeling the award will go to Inside Job, however.  As a documentary, Inside Job reminded me a lot of Capt. Hindsight from the South Park Coon Vs. Coon And Friends trilogy.  Also, I’m a little bit surprised that Waiting for Superman wasn’t nominated.  I’m even more surprised that I actually saw enough feature documentaries last year to even have an opinion.  Also, interesting to note that Restrepo — a very nonpolitical look at military in the mid-east — was nominated while The Tillman Story, a much more heavy-handed and stridently political documentary was not.)

Best documentary short subject

Killing in the Name (Nominees to be determined)
Poster Girl (Nominees to be determined)
Strangers No More (Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon)
Sun Come Up (Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger)
The Warriors of Qiugang (Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon)

(It’s always interesting that nobody knows what these movies are about yet their producers always end up giving the longest speeches at the Oscars.  I’m hoping that Poster Girl wins because the actual producers have yet to be determined.  I imagine that means there might be some sort of legal action going on which means that, if it wins on Oscar night, there might be a big fight at the podium.  Plus, I like the title.  It makes me want to walk up to people I barely know, lean forward, and go, “Can I be your poster girl?”)

Achievement in film editing

Andrew Weisblum (Black Swan)
Pamela Martin (The Fighter)
Tariq Anwar (The King’s Speech)
Jon Harris (127 Hours)
Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter (The Social Network) 

Achievement in makeup

Adrien Morot (Barney’s Version)
Edouard F Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng (The Way Back)
Rick Baker and Dave Elsey (The Wolfman)

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (original score)

John Powell (How to Train Your Dragon)
Hans Zimmer (Inception)
Alexandre Desplat (The King’s Speech)
AR Rahman (127 Hours)
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network)

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (original song)

Coming Home (from Country Strong, music and lyrics by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey)
I See the Light (from Tangled, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater)
If I Rise (from 127 Hours, music by AR Rahman, lyrics by Dido and Rollo Armstrong)
We Belong Together (from Toy Story 3, music and lyrics by Randy Newman)

(I’ll just say it now — 4 nominations and I didn’t agree with a single one of them.  Seriously, they could have nominated up to 5 songs but instead of giving at least one nomination to Burlesque, they just nominated 4 songs.  What a load of crap.)

Best animated short film

Day & Night (Teddy Newton)
The Gruffalo (Jakob Schuh and Max Lang)
Let’s Pollute (Geefwee Boedoe)
The Lost Thing (Nick Batzias, Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann)
Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary) (Bastien Dubois)

(I’ve actually seen Day & Night since it was shown before Toy Story 3.  I thought it went on a little bit too long, to be honest.)

Best live action short film

The Confession (Tanel Toom)
The Crush (Michael Creagh)
God of Love (Luke Matheny)
Na Wewe (Ivan Goldschmidt)
Wish 143 (Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite) 

Achievement in sound editing

Inception (Richard King)
Toy Story 3 (Tom Myers and Michael Silvers)
Tron: Legacy (Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague)
True Grit (Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey)
Unstoppable (Mark P Stoeckinger)

Achievement in sound mixing

Inception (Lora Hirschberg, Gary A Rizzo and Ed Novick)
The King’s Speech (Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley)
Salt (Jeffrey J Haboush, Greg P Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin)
The Social Network (Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten)
True Grit (Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F Kurland)

 (I would have probably had more matches in the sound category if I actually knew the difference between sound editing and sound mixing.)

Achievement in visual effects

Alice in Wonderland (Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi)
Hereafter (Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell)
Inception (Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb)
Iron Man 2 (Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick)

So there you go.  I went 50/50 on the Best Picture nominations and — well, it all pretty much went downhill from there, didn’t it?  Oh well.