FlixChatter Review – Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil was at once my most anticipated and most dreaded film of this year. Disney has a long history of over saturating the market with quickly produced sequels, prequels and even midquels of films that have been successful. These sloppily made seconds have left me with a bad taste and a severe distrust of Disney sequels.

I loved the first Maleficent and feel rather protective of it. In a pre-me too and pre-times up world, Maleficent brought us face to face with the disturbing reality of our culture and wrapped it up in a way that would be understandable and affecting to young children. The violence during the wing scene is as confronting as a Brothers Grimm tale and just as truthful, exploring the ideas of betrayal and assault, and the subsequent psychological toll, as well as the ideas of consent, choice and ownership over one’s body. Although it was widely panned as an over produced mess, it addressed some heavy issues of our time and for that reason is still very valuable. Would the sequel do the same?

Directed by Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Rønning, Mistress of Evil has an amazing cast of Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning, with Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Lindsay playing Phillip’s parents with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ed Skrein, and Sam Riley in supporting roles. Distractingly, Brenton Thwaites as Prince Phillip has been replaced by Harris Dickinson due to scheduling conflicts.

Like its predecessor, this film is a bit of a jumbled mess. It starts off with with Philip proposing to Aurora and we are dragged into rom-com inspired dinner scene. In a painful exchange Aurora asks Maleficent to cover her horns and lessen parts of herself that make people uncomfortable. Although watching Maleficent practice her smile and tone is meant to be comedic, it is also a very pointed assimilation. Aurora and Maleficent are expected to change in order to fit in.

Despite her best efforts to be a cordial guest, Maleficent is as impulsive and quick tempered as ever. Queen Ingrith gets the fairy queen so upset she flies the castle, ultimately seeks refuge in a hidden community of dark Fey. The last of their people, they come from all over the world.

Like Maleficent, they have been cast out and marginalized. Although overreaching, Disney is transparent in their intention that the Fey are meant to collectively represent all marginalized groups where Aurora, Phillip, Ingrith and other “humans” in the film are meant to symbolize  western colonial/imperialists. A narrative that is all too easily resolved by the end.

It is here with the Fey that a new side of Maleficent comes to light. A more introspective, open and vulnerable character emerges. She often sits alone, her wings engulfing her in a protective cloak; standing as a champion of morality while the world would yet again cast her as the villain.

Ejiofor as one of the Dark Fey leaders

This film follows the first, challenging the idea that women must be at odds with one another and can share deeply intimate bonds. Maleficent and Aurora relationship breaks boundaries and is constantly under attack by patriarchal forces hiding in a legend (Sleeping Beauty) that is also a lie.

At the same time, back at the castle, King John mysteriously falls ill and in reaction, to their king’s sudden demise, the entire and kingdom is armed and ready to wipe out the fairy kind. SPOILER ALERT [highlight to read] This genocide is particularly frightening to behold as one watches a room full of creatures ravaged by a poisonous powder. Thus begins the war movie phase of our film that culminates in a completely unnecessary epic CGI-rich battle (similar to those found in Marvel movies.

The socio-political themes in Maleficent are a bit mature for this film to address, which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t make the film fit together well. Nevertheless, I think it raises important issues and creates a space to safely have discussions with children. I really appreciated that Philip and his fathers are cast as allies and work to fight the stigma and spread love and understanding. I think the representation of their relationship, love and accountability as males and leaders in their community in itself is a huge paradigm shift in cinematic feminism.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen Maleficent: Mistress of Evil? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)

I can’t believe it’s been three years since Ant-Man came out. Perhaps because we saw the character in Captain America: Civil War, it felt like I had just seen him recently. This movie actually takes place following the aftermath of Captain America 3, which explains why Ant-Man isn’t fighting with his fellow Avengers in Infinity War.

The immensely likable Paul Rudd returns as Scott Lang and here he grapples with the consequences of being a superhero and a dad. I love the opening sequence of Scott playing with his adorable daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) at his well-equipped home as he’s in house arrest (due to his involvement with the Avengers). He’s only days away of being a free man when suddenly he’s dragged back into his life as Ant-Man and re-team with Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas).

I’m not going to mention what the urgent new mission is, but those who saw the first film could probably guess what it is. Speaking of which, Michelle Pfeiffer shows up as a prominent character and she’s always lovely to watch. I wish the film would just focus more on that storyline, instead of overcrowding it with multiple plots. In fact, one of the main plots involving a ghost named Ava (Hannah John-Kamen) who can phase through objects is so boring and the serious tone feels off compared to the rest of the movie. Thankfully, for the most part Peyton Reed succeeded in creating yet another fun-filled Marvel adventure, thanks to the fantastic cast.

I love that this time Ant-Man sort of play second banana to The Wasp in many ways, especially during the action scenes. Hope is such a take-charge woman-with-a-mission character that she’s a natural born leader, while Scott is always one step behind. The dynamic works well and makes for some hilarious moments. Rudd is such comedic gold, even just him doing ordinary things around the house is funny! I truly can’t imagine anyone else in the role (another spot-on casting that Marvel Studios have done, just like Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man). The supporting cast are a hoot just like the original. I gotta say Randall Park as an FBI agent & Lang’s parole officer and Michael Peña (with his mad rapping style) as one of Lang’s bff/business partners are especially hilarious.

The quantum realm ‘science’ of the shrinking and expanding of the characters is never clear to me but what I love is that this movie knows that full well and uses it to its advantage. “So you just put quantum in front of everything?” Scott Lang quipped at one point during the discussion w/ Hank Pym’s former assistant played by Laurence Fishburne (ahah so now we’ve got Samuel L. Jackson‘s arch rival joining Marvel too, awesome!) I think the movie’s low point is the villains, what’s with Walton Goggins playing yet another lame villain after seeing him in the Tomb Raider reboot. He plays a low-level blue-collar criminal who wants to steal Pym’s technology to sell it on the black market. He’s once again outsmarted by a woman here as his character is absolutely idiotic. That said, and even with the plots and subplots piling up, this movie still moves along at a breezy pace with dynamic action scenes. I don’t normally care for 3D but this time I didn’t mind as it actually looks good.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the action scenes, especially the main chase scene through San Francisco, showcasing some of its landmarks. All of the shrinking and expanding scenes are hilarious and a joy to watch, especially when big Ant-Man rides a pick-up truck like a kiddy scooter! Oh and I’ll never be able to stop giggling every time I hear the name Antonio Banderas now 😛

I gotta hand it to Marvel Studio honcho Kevin Feige, under his leadership the Studio really thrives in creating a plethora of movies that have its own individual style yet ties in as a whole to the Avengers’ story. Like Thor: Ragnarok, this movie is mostly a comedy but more family-friendly instead of the more sardonic style of Taika Waititi’s humor.

The Ant-Man may be tiny but this sequel sure is a huge dose of fun! I don’t even mind watching it again on the big screen. Definitely check this out if you enjoyed the first one, but even if you hadn’t seen the original, I think you’d still enjoy it. Oh and Marvel fans, you want to stay for the mid-credit scene 😉

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So have you seen Ant-Man and The Wasp? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

There are films you’d readily see just for the cast and this is one such a film. I’m familiar with Agatha Christie’s work though I can’t claim I’ve actually finished even one of her books from start to finish. I did however, see the episode from British ITV production of the Agatha Christie series starring David Suchet a couple of years ago, so the plot is still quite fresh in my mind. The latest adaptation featured Kenneth Branagh as the Belgian super detective Hercule Poirot. Branagh also served as director, based on a script by Michael Green (who’s had quite a year as he also wrote Logan and Blade Runner 2049).

The opening sequence in Jerusalem seemed too whimsical and decidedly over-the-top, and I’m not just talking about Poirot’s outlandish mustache. I read in a review somewhere that Branagh can’t decide which fake mustache given to him from the makeup department so he basically just wore them all in a row. I think that enormous mustache probably has its own trailer, too! That establishing scene introduced us to a god-like figure who’s an absolute genius in cracking criminal cases. It also revealed his quirky OCD personality, so obsessed he is with balance that when he stepped one foot on manure, he immediately had to do the same with the other foot.

For a story famous for being set on a train, the film took its time to finally get there. But once there, the train set pieces is really quite glorious, filled with lavish set pieces and even more gorgeous passengers decked in 1930s costumes. Despite the rather sluggish pacing, I enjoyed myself thanks to the amazing cast. A movie with Dame Judi Dench is an automatic must-see in my book, though sadly she didn’t get to do anything in this film. But to be fair, most of the actors here seemed to have spent more time in costumes than learning their lines. She’s still memorable here, as is Olivia Colman as Dench’s German maid.

It’s tough to be memorable in a large ensemble cast as this one, but I’d say the film’s MVPs are Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard, Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham, Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot. Oh, and hello Tom Bateman as train director Bouc (never seen this tall, dark and handsome Brit before but I sure hope I’ll see more of him!) It’s interesting casting to have Johnny Depp as Ratchett given his dire reputation of late. Branagh’s performance is often borderline over the top as well which in itself can be distracting. But I thought his monologue after the big reveal is pretty good and provides the high emotional point of the film. I love La Pfeiffer in this scene too, I’ve missed seeing her in movies. She’s one of those veteran actresses I wish would still get many intriguing roles.

I’m not going to talk about the plot here, but Branagh took some interesting creative licenses with how the story came to the big reveal. He also tried to vary the scenes of each passenger interrogation as to not bore the viewers, some work better than others. I love Branagh’s direction in Cinderella but here he seems too preoccupied with camera work (esp. the bird’s eye view angle) that the film feels rather haphazard at times. The dynamic camera angles adds energy to an otherwise stuffy whodunnit drama, but at times can be quite distracting as well.

Overall it’s a decent adaptation, but I’m not sure if it’s really all that necessary. I feel like the rich story would’ve been better served as a miniseries. There are parts that feel emotional, especially as we get to know who the passengers really are, but I think the film lacks any real suspense. That said, I still enjoyed it thanks to the committed cast, the stunning set pieces and the gorgeous score from one of my fave composers (and Branagh’s regular collaborator) Patrick Doyle. The ending seems to hint at ‘Poirot will return’ a la another titular character James Bond. Not sure I’d be so eager to return to another Poirot adaptation from Branagh though. I guess I’d recommend this if you like the cast, though if you’re a Christie fan you’d probably be more satisfied with re-reading the novel.


Have you seen the latest adaptation of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’? Well, what did you think? 

Wordless Wednesday: the unrequited love of ‘The Age of Innocence’

WordlessWednesdayIn honor of the double birthday of Michelle Pfeiffer (57) and Daniel Day-Lewis (58), I thought I’d highlight their work (and scorching chemistry) in Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence. It remains one of my all time favorite period dramas (and one of my faves of the 90s), and that unrequited love story never fails to move me to my core.

Words fail me to describe the beauty of this story… so I’m going to borrow the words of Roger Ebert: “It was the spirit of it — the spirit of the exquisite romantic pain. The idea that the mere touching of a woman’s hand would suffice. The idea that seeing her across the room would keep him alive for another year.”
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Newland Archer: You gave me my first glimpse of a real life. Then you asked me to go on with the false one. No one can endure that.

Ellen Olenska: I’m enduring it.

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Ellen: I think we should look at reality, not dreams.

Newland: I just want us to be together!

Ellen: I can’t be your wife, Newland! Is it your idea that I should live with you as your mistress?

Newland: I want… Somehow, I want to get away with you… and… and find a world where words like that don’t exist!

ageofinnocence_still2This may not be a violent film from Scorsese in physical term, but it’s certainly a vicious one in terms of matters of the heart. Certainly one of the most painfully-exquisite portrayal of unrequited love.


What’s your thoughts on The Age of Innocence?

Merry Christmas! Reminiscing on the alternative Christmas classic: Batman Returns

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It’s December 25 and I thought I’d take the time to wish you all a wonderful Christmas… wherever you are. It’s not quite a White Christmas here in Minnesota. The snow that’s supposed to hit us today seems to have shift to Friday, which is a bummer as for once I don’t mind having a snowy Christmas day as I don’t have to travel anywhere. It’s been a while since we actually have a truly mellow Christmas where we get to relax at home, eat home-cooked meal and watch movies in the comfort of our own home.

After church on Christmas eve, we wanted to see a Christmas-themed movie. At first we’re going to see Bill Murray’s Scrooged, but ended up rewatching Tim Burton’s 1992 Batman Returns, as this TOR.com blog cleverly dubbed …‘Twas the Dark Knight Before Christmas...

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Hey, even Alfred’s getting into the Christmas spirit putting up the Christmas tree in the Wayne Mansion whilst Bruce snuggles up by the fire. It’s the calm before the storm, as it were. The real action begins as soon as miss Selina Kyle enters the picture…

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(although a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it…)

I had seen it ages ago but I couldn’t remember much of the details other than Michelle Pfeiffer‘s stunning and iconic portrayal as Catwoman. She still is one of the best things about this film, and I don’t think anyone’s topped her performance yet in that role [sorry Anne Hathaway, you’re good but not THAT good].

The Christmas setting in Gotham City is gorgeous to look at and definitely got me a bit nostalgic of spending time in New York City last year.

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The festive Christmas lighting ceremony in Gotham Plaza is basically modeled after the giant tree in Rockeffeler Center, and there’s even that lavish holiday masked ball where Bruce Wayne gets to slow dance with Selina Kyle and discovering who their real identities are.

Keaton and Pfeiffer had quite a scorching chemistry, more so than Christian Bale did with any of his female co-stars. It’s a complicated and ultimately doomed relationship that’s beguiling and surprisingly emotional.

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“Does this mean we have to start fighting?”

Tons of great performances too, Danny Devito is effectively creepy yet funny as Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin, and Christopher Walken is always fun to watch as the slimy businessman Max Shreck. Danny Elfman‘s score is absolutely terrific, too, I should feature it in the next Music Break 😉

Though I’ve come to love Nolan’s Batman’s trilogy that’s more solemn and realistic, I have to admit I enjoyed Burton’s decidedly more circus-y and theatrical approach. Glad I rewatched this tonight, Batman Returns is definitely a fun albeit bizarre alternative Christmas flick if you’re not in the mood to watch It’s A Wonderful Life for the zillionth time. Though the story may be dark and even tragic, I wouldn’t call it an anti-Christmas movie. In fact, the finale ends on a hopeful note, with a subtle hint that the Christmas spirit isn’t entirely lost on them …

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Good will toward men… and women.


So folks, once again I wish you a MERRY & BLESSED CHRISTMAS.
What’ll you be watching this Christmas break?

Music Break: 5 Memorable Piano Moments on Film

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As a big fan of classical music, I have always been a fan of piano music. In fact, I grew up listening to Richard Clayderman in the car nearly every single day as the French pianist is my late mother’s favorite.

This month’s music break is inspired by a scene I saw on Monday night. It was in the new drama Breathe-In starring Guy Pearce who plays a music teacher and aspiring concert cellist who’s tempted by a high school British exchange student in the form of Felicity Jones. There is a scene where she played the piano for him right after both being drenched by a thunderstorm. Brimming with breathless sexual tension, let’s just say their mutual attraction reached a crescendo.

It made me think of other memorable piano scenes in movies. Now, I’m not talking about films that are about musicians like Amadeus, Immortal Beloved, Copying BeethovenGreat Balls of Fire! or movies with piano/pianist in the title for obvious reasons (plus I haven’t seen The Pianist yet, but I’m guessing there are many piano moments in it). No matter what the genre, a well-choreographed piano scene is not just about the music itself. As some of these scenes exemplify, they can stir up various emotions, whether it’s sweet, fun, tense, happy, melancholy, or ominous.

Here are five to start with and I hope you, my friends, can add your own favorites in the comment section:

STOKER

Just like the scene in Breathe-In, the sexual tension is ricocheting off the walls and the ceiling of the whole room. So much so that one can’t help but squirm in one’s seat as the scene reaches its er, climax.

Casablanca

“Play it once, Sam, for old times’ sake.” It’s one of the most misquoted line from Hollywood classics. I love this scene, it’s romantic but tinged with sadness. Ingrid Bergman never looked so luminous and As Time Goes By remains one of my favorite songs ever.

Corpse Bride

I didn’t plan on having an animated feature on this list but somehow I just remembered how much I enjoyed this scene. It’s one of my fave Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter many collaborations, and they made a sweet musical duet.

Groundhog Day

This is such a great movie as it’s full of surprises. I love Phil’s piano solo, especially when he played Rachmaninoff’s 18th Variation on a Theme by Paganini, as in the music used in Somewhere in Time.

Moonraker

What, a Bond film? Well, why the heck not? I’ve shared it on this blog before that my early introduction to classical music was partly through Roger Moore’s Bond movies, as the Spy Who Loved Me introduced me to Mozart as Bond villain Stromberg played Piano Concerto No. 21. This scene is particularly memorable as it’s the first time Bond met his nemesis Drax, an elegant billionaire with a penchant for killer dogs and classical music.


As a bonus, I had to add this one in The Fabulous Baker Boys. Though really who notices the piano when you’ve got Michelle Pfeiffer in that red dress, ahah. Amazing that Jeff Bridges didn’t make one false notes watching her sexy rendition of Making Whopee.


Well, hope you enjoy today’s music break. What are some of YOUR fave piano moments in movies?

FlixChatter Review: The Family

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Oh boy, where do I begin. Honestly, I dreaded writing this review. At first glance, the premise seems like it has potential. A mafia boss and his family under the witness protection program are relocated to a sleepy town in France for snitching on the mob. Even under the surveillance of CIA Agent Stansfield and his men, things quickly go awry as The Manzonis, er The Blakes as they’re now called, have a hard time fitting in. Can’t teach old dogs new tricks they say, especially when those dogs are a Brooklyn mob family who are so set in their ways in dealing with problems.

Now, add a dream cast, well dream trio really: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Tommy Lee Jones, naturally I expect at least a decent dark comedy. Alas, this turns out to be THE biggest dud I’ve seen on the big screen so far. I was pretty close on walking out a few times as the movie seemed to go on forever with barely a single laugh coming out of my mouth. Saying this movie is contrived is putting it mildly. Every single scene is seething with bad taste and every Mafia clichés imaginable, not to mention every French and Italian/American stereotypes. What’s worse, you can figure out the plot from miles away. Even the way the Brooklyn mafia clan find out where they live is so predictable it’s downright irritating.

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It’s really quite painful to watch great actors in something this terrible. Y’know, sometimes I don’t mind ridiculous, heck, I’d even tolerate absurdity. But a comedy that’s entirely unfunny — especially with THIS cast — is excruciating. Trust me, I wish I didn’t have to be so harsh but I kept hoping for one redeeming moment, but nope, that moment never came. Ok, there is one scene towards the end but it’s so self aware at its own joke that it feels so forced and exploitative. That scene too, was entirely predictable! I could tell the whole theater wasn’t enjoying it as I didn’t hear much laughter from start to finish, maybe a chortle or two… or perhaps a snicker?

De Niro has done similar comedic role that’s poking fun of the mob in Analyze This. To be honest with you, I’m kind of tired of that shtick, it’s only fun for maybe two seconds. Now, De Niro and Pfeiffer didn’t exactly phone it in here, I give ’em that, but I’d think they’d recognize a bad script when they see it by now? I’m a big fan of Tommy Lee Jones with his deadpan delivery but here he looks bored the entire time, like he couldn’t be bothered. Hmmm, perhaps that should be a warning to moviegoers?

Tonally, it’s all over the place, Besson just can’t seem to get his footing on what kind of movie he wants to make. I think he aims for a dark comedy but his approach is more like ‘shooting in the dark and see what hits,’ resulting in a misfire no amount of talent could save. It’s astonishing to read later on that Martin Scorsese is one of the executive producer, wow!

The subplots involving the Manzoni’s kids are so uninspired, but not exactly the fault of the young actors. I think John D’Leo and Glee actress Dianna Agron were serviceable enough, D’Leo is especially believable as a sly kid who learned everything from his wiseguy dad. Agron’s role as a principled virgin who takes pleasure in beating people up is so oddly-written though. In any case, the family’s German Shepherd still made more of an impression to me than those two.

His expression just about sums up my sentiment about this movie
His expression just about sums up my sentiment about this movie

There are violent scenes and profanities abound here, which warrants the R-rating. Perhaps people who are into mob movies might dig this one more than I did, but, really fans of any of the main stars here deserve better. Sorry to De Niro fans out there, but I think this Screencrush reviewer said it best: Robert De Niro‘s name on a film project is now more a red flag of warning than a sign of quality. Same with Luc Besson I guess, so don’t expect this to be remotely as shrewd as The Professional and Transporter/Taken film. If you want an action comedy from Besson that’s actually watchable, I guess just rent or rewatch The Fifth Element. By the third act, I was hoping someone would actually take a hit at the whole Blake family and spare us from our misery. I use the word complacent in my review of The World’s End and that’s a word I could use for the major talents involved here, too.

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Well, what do you think of this one? Let me know your thoughts.