Maleficent: Mistress of Evil review

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL

Director: Joachim Rønning
Cast : Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Harris Dickinson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sam Riley, Robert Lindsay, Ed Skrein, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple
Genre : Fantasy/Adventure
Run Time : 1 h 58 mins
Opens : 17 October 2019
Rating : PG

In 2014, audiences learnt the back-story behind Maleficent, the villainess of Disney’s 1959 animated film Sleeping Beauty. Beyond being a cackling sorceress/sometimes-dragon, Maleficent painted its title character as someone who rose from tragedy and betrayal to form a complex bond with the young Princess Aurora. Directed by Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge), this sequel continues that story, pitting Maleficent against a conniving, ruthless new foe.

Aurora (Elle Fanning), Queen of the Moors, is about to marry Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) of Alstead. Aurora’s godmother Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is resistant to this union. Despite her heroic actions, she has been cast as a villain in stories spread by the humans. Philip’s father King John (Robert Lindsay) thinks the wedding could help to unite the two kingdoms, but his mother Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) harbours hatred towards Maleficent and the magical creatures with whom she is aligned. Maleficent discovers a hidden society of faes, including the wise Connall (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the fiery warrior Borra (Ed Skrein). Queen Ingrith foments a war between the humans and the faes, with the young couple caught in between.

Angelina Jolie continues to be all sharp-cheekboned perfection as Maleficent. We were afraid that she might phone in it given that this is a sequel, but she still appears to relish the role. Not only does she get numerous fabulous costume changes, Maleficent goes on a journey of discovery, getting acquainted with her people and learning about their customs and beliefs. There is a conflict between her allegiance to her fae kin and to Aurora, which gives the powerful character something to struggle with.


Much of the film works because of Michelle Pfeiffer. Casting her opposite Jolie was an inspired move. The early promotional materials tried to hide it, but there’s no point beating about the bush now – Queen Ingrith is the “Mistress of Evil” of the title. Pfeiffer plays the villain with sneer and swagger hidden beneath a regal façade, with shades of her witch character from Stardust sometimes visible. Coming off like a PG-rated Cersei Lannister, it’s an absolute hoot.

There’s a lot going on in the plot of the movie, so it is to writers Linda Woolverton, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue’s credit that the movie never loses sight of its emotional core: the relationship between Maleficent and Aurora. They might not be on the same page for much of the film, but it cannot be questioned that Maleficent deeply loves and cares for Aurora, something Ingrith winds up exploiting.

Just as in the first film, the show is stolen by Sam Riley as Diaval, Maleficent’s shape-shifting sidekick. Riley manages to be both cool and endearing. Queen Ingrith’s sadistic henchwoman Gerda (Jenn Murray) is also a fun, arch character.

While the visuals are often mesmerising and transporting, the film does lean very heavily on computer-generated imagery. This is expected of a fantasy adventure film, but some of the characters do seem unnatural. The Fairy Godmothers Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistlewit (Juno Temple) and Flittle (Lesley Manville) return from the first film, and their almost-human facial features sometimes cross over into the dreaded uncanny valley.

Prince Philip is boring, but then again, this is something inherent in the source material. Brenton Thwaites, who was busy filming Season 2 of Titans, is replaced by Harris Dickinson, who constantly seems a little bit confused and flat. However, this is also a sign that the film understands that Philip is not the main character, and that he does not have to be the hero to save the day.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is almost completely wasted in a relatively small supporting role.

The action sequences in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil are grand and expansive. Like most big-budget high fantasy projects these days, it seems more than a little derivative of Game of Thrones, but the big battle scenes are dynamic and lively. The movie gets surprisingly dark, with the villain’s plot involving genocide by way of biological warfare. However, the movie still has a bounce and a sense of humour to it and is never too self-serious the way something like Snow White and the Huntsman and its sequel The Huntsman: Winter’s War sometimes were. The big climactic battle takes place in broad daylight, which is a relative rarity in films of this type.

This film has a completely different design team than the first but maintains a sense of visual continuity while also giving us something new. The costumes by Ellen Mirojnick are stunning, especially Maleficent’s battle outfit, which is a sexy, elegant body paint-style number. Production designer Patrick Tatopolous creates some gorgeous fantasy environments, chief of which is the hidden fae sanctuary comprising mini-environments which have different climates.

Summary: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil sometimes transcends its fantasy adventure genre trappings thanks to strong performances by Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer, putting more of a spin on its source material than many of the live-action remakes Disney has given us lately.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Alita: Battle Angel review

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

Director : Robert Rodriguez
Cast : Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Keean Johnson, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Eiza González, Michelle Rodriguez, Lana Condor, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Idara Victor
Genre : Science Fiction/Action
Run Time : 2 h 2 mins
Opens : 5 February 2019
Rating : PG13

           James Cameron has long spoken of adapting Yukito Kushiro’s manga Battle Angel Alita aka Gunnm to the big screen. After developing the project through the 90s and 2000s, he turned his attention to the Avatar movies, passing the directorial baton to Robert Rodriguez. This is the result.

It is the year 2563. Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), a kindly scientist living in the post-apocalyptic Iron City, comes across a discarded robot core in a trash heap. He attaches the core to an artificial body he has built, reviving the cyborg girl. Ido dubs her ‘Alita’ (Rosa Salazar). Alita has no memory of her previous life and adjusts to her newfound existence in Ido’s care. She meets and falls for Hugo (Keean Johnson), who introduces her to the sport of motorball. Alita aspires to enter a professional motorball tournament, but Ido tries to dissuade her because it’s a lethal sport.

Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), Ido’s ex-wife, is now working with the shady and powerful Vector (Mahershala Ali), who has made his fortune in motorball. Vector sets his sights on Alita, sending cybernetically-enhanced bounty hunters including Zapan (Ed Skrein), Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley) and Nyssiana (Eiza González) after her. Alita gradually recalls her past as a soldier in a catastrophic war 300 years ago, reconciling this past with her current existence as powerful forces pursue her.

Alita: Battle Angel might have Cameron on board as producer and co-writer to lend it pedigree, it winds up a disappointment. The film boasts some good cyberpunk design elements and eye-catching visual effects from vendor WETA, but the familiar story structure and character types make it seem like something that has sat on a shelf for 20 years. Cyberpunk is very much an 80s-90s concept – while there still are creative and compelling cyberpunk works, we’ve already begun looking on cyberpunk futures the way we look at The Jetsons-style 50s futurism.

          Alita plays the young adult novel-style ‘chosen girl’ trope painfully straight and falls back on tried and tested sci-fi movie conventions. There’s a floating metropolis where the elites live, while everyone else leads a hardscrabble existence in a post-apocalyptic city. Bionic bounty hunters roam the streets as militaristic drones keep order. With its light body horror, the film sometimes approaches the off-kilter twistedness of the source material but is never brave enough to embrace it. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and a sense of going through the motions pervades Alita. There’s a dynamism to the action sequences but a limpness to everything else.

“I’m starting to feel like I wasn’t very important,” Alita sighs to Hugo. “Just an insignificant girl thrown out with the rest of the garbage.” Naturally, Alita winds up being the most significant girl. The character is portrayed via performance capture by Rosa Salazar. Alita’s enlarged anime-esque eyes deliberately contribute to an uncanny valley quality, reminding the viewer that she’s different from everyone else. The character is a blend of giggly innocence and formidable combat prowess, with Salazar switching fluidly between the modes. Salazar’s performance is one of the most worthwhile aspects of the film.

It’s always nice to see Christoph Waltz in a non-creepy role, and as Dr Ido, he is a serviceably likeable Gepetto-esque figure. There just isn’t enough depth in the material for the relationship between Ido and Alita for audiences to care very much about it.

Jennifer Connelly is mostly flat as a character who could’ve been interesting because of her conflicted nature. Fellow Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali is wasted as a generic villain who pulls the strings behind the scenes. There is a surprise element to the Vector character that differentiates him from other similar villains, but it just isn’t enough to make him memorable.

Keean Johnson makes for a boring love interest. Much of the film’s cheesiness is derived from its romantic subplot, which becomes a driving force for Alita. We don’t know what Alita sees in Hugo. Even given some moral ambiguity, Hugo is patently dull. It sounds mean, but the best way to describe the character is ‘lame’. There’s nothing passionate or transporting about the romance, which feels like it belongs in an early-2000s Disney Channel Original Movie.

The various cyborg ‘hunter warriors’ Alita must fight are various shades of cartoony and while they might approach menacing, never seem like a legitimate threat. This is in part because of how Alita seems to be physically stronger and faster than anyone she faces.

Alita: Battle Angel isn’t a complete loss: Rosa Salazar gives it her all, and the realisation of the ‘Panzer Kunst’ fighting style and the kinetic motorball sequences are exciting and entertaining to watch. The film was shot in native 3D and looks great in that format. It’s just a shame that this is a largely flavourless version of this story, saddled with awkward dialogue and melodrama.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Deadpool

For F*** Magazine

DEADPOOL 

Director : Tim Miller
Cast : Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T. J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapičić, Leslie Uggams
Genre : Action/Comics
Run Time : 1 hr 49 mins
Opens : 11 February 2016
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scenes and Violence)

There’s an actual Deadpool movie and we’re reviewing it; this is a real pinch-me moment for any comic book fan. This X-Men spinoff centres around the invulnerable, trigger-happy, wisecracking, fourth wall-breaking antihero Deadpool. When mercenary Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he volunteers for an experimental procedure to cure him and grant him regenerative super-powers in the hopes that he can live out the rest of his days with the love of his life, Vanessa (Baccarin). Ajax (Skrein), one of the operatives in charge of his transformation, intends to torture Wade and lease his services to the highest bidder. Reborn as Deadpool, Wade seeks vengeance against Ajax and fears he won’t be able to win Vanessa back after being horribly disfigured, supported by his bartender friend Weasel (Miller) and blind landlady Al (Uggams). In the meantime, Colossus (Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Hildebrand) of the X-Men are out to recruit Deadpool to join their band of do-gooders.

            There’s definitely an underdog quality to the Deadpool movie. For years, it seemed just out of reach, no matter how hard star/producer Reynolds lobbied for it to get made. Despite repeated attempts by Fox execs to suppress it, it’s seen the light of day and was definitely worth the wait. First-time feature film director Tim Miller helms the movie with admirable confidence and the brash, tongue-in-cheek tone is very faithful to the character’s portrayal in the comics. Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick of Zombieland fame have crammed the script with more smart-alecky pop culture references and snicker-inducing double entendres than you can shake a katana at. While this is still very much a straight-forward origin story decked out with bells and whistles, it is refreshing amidst the current landscape of comic book blockbusters which run the risk of feeling samey-samey. There’s a leanness to Deadpool that serves as a counterpoint to the bloat of more conventional franchise entries.

            Deadpool makes it known loud and proud that he’s far from a straight-arrow, nice guy superhero. He’s crass, cocky and all-around unpleasant, which means it might not be particularly easy to get audiences who aren’t already acquainted with his shenanigans to be in his corner. However, it is easy to see why Reynolds has such an affinity for the character, who like him, hails from Canada. Reynolds has been in a string of flops with most attempts at pushing him as an A-list leading man falling flat, and Deadpool is just the right material for his particular talents. To put it bluntly, Reynolds can sometimes come off as a bit of a douche, what with that smirking, handsome mug of his. Deadpool is unapologetically, 100% a douche. Surprisingly, Reynolds is also able to imbue the character with a decent amount of pathos and the sequence in which Wade is being tortured as he undergoes his transformation is genuinely affecting. There’s also a fight scene in which Reynolds gamely goes completely nude.

            The film’s limited budget means not being able to shell out for a star-studded supporting cast, a fact which is acknowledged as part of the self-aware humour. While the character is thinly-drawn, Baccarin is alluring as Vanessa and more than able to keep up with Reynolds’ non-stop snarking. A montage of Wade and Vanessa’s eyebrow-raising lovemaking proclivities is just the right combination of being a turn-on while also being hilariously uncomfortable. Colossus, with skin of metal and a heart of gold, provides plenty of laughs as well, despite the digital animation used to bring him to life falling a little short of the standard set by bigger-budgeted superhero movies. Miller’s comedic shtick can sometimes be annoying (see Transformers: Age of Extinction), but he tones things down and is able to sell Weasel as a comforting, familiar presence.

Alas, the film’s weakest point is its villains, with Skrein unable to bring much charisma or menace to the role of primary baddie Ajax. As Ajax’s henchwoman Angel Dust, MMA fighter Gina Carano stands around looking tough and throws punches when required. With his healing factor and formidable arsenal, Deadpool never actually faces a significant level of threat from his antagonists, but battling the bad guys consciously takes a back seat to the character strutting his irreverent stuff.



            Deadpoolgleefully crosses the line at any given opportunity, revelling in the violence, nudity and profanity like nobody’s business. It adheres to plenty of tropes we’ve seen before in comic book character origin stories, but there’s definitely a new spin on things here to enjoy. Sure, there are audiences who will find Deadpool too smug and obnoxious for their tastes, which is completely understandable. And there will teenagers who will emulate the character’s unsavoury manner, thinking it’s the definition of cool. But if you’re experiencing comic book movie fatigue (and really, who isn’t at this point?), Deadpool is a delightfully naughty shock to the system. And yes, stick around for the de rigeur post-credits stinger which hints at things to come, albeit in the movie’s own offbeat way.



Summary:A fan-favourite character finally gets his due. While not as unconventional as it would like to be, Deadpool is what fans have been waiting for and is enjoyable in its wholehearted embracing of the source material.

RATING: 4out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong  

“I’ve already broken three WALL-Es before you!” 


The Transporter Refueled

For F*** Magazine

THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED

Director : Camille Delamarre
Cast : Ed Skrein, Ray Stevenson, Loan Chabanol, Gabriella Wright, Tatjana Pajković, Wenxia Yu
Genre : Action
Run Time : 96 mins
Opens : 10 September 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Some Sexual References and Violence)

Frank Martin, badass chauffeur extraordinaire, rides again in this reboot of the Transporter franchise, with Ed Skrein stepping into the driver’s seat. Those who engage Frank’s professional services must abide by three rules: “no names”, “never change the deal” and “never open the package”. Frank plans on spending some quality time with his newly-retired father (Stevenson). However, he is called away on duty when a mysterious woman named Anna (Chabanol) hires him. What Frank thought was going to be a simple job ends up landing both him and his father in mortal danger, as Anna coerces Frank into helping her enact a deadly vendetta against ruthless prostitution kingpin Karasov (Radivoje Bukvić).

The Transporter series has been something of a cash cow for producer Luc Besson, the franchise comprising three feature films starring Jason Statham and a spin-off TV series starring Chris Vance. The premise lends itself well to an episodic nature – each new job Frank takes on brings with it new adventures. Naturally, Besson would be most unwilling to put said cash cow out to pasture, so here we are with yet another unnecessary reboot. Besson has put the new film in the hands of director Camille Delamarre, whose previous film, Brick Mansions, was also his directorial debut. From the get-go, it’s clear that The Transporter Refueled is a film that is being made purely for business purposes. It is intended to kick off a new trilogy co-produced by Besson’s EuropaCorp and Chinese company Fundamental Films, with at least one of these new movies slated to be shot in China.

All that cynicism aside, it is still possible to enjoy The Transporter Refueled as disposable entertainment. It is slick, glossy and glamourous, even more of an Audi commercial than the recent Hitman: Agent 47 was. The production values are solid enough, with sub-par computer-generated effects kept to a minimum. Stunt coordinator Laurent Demianoff and car stunt coordinator Michel Julienne are both frequent collaborators of Besson’s. While the stunts never reach the ludicrous heights of the previous films, there is still fun to be had and the pace is kept sufficiently brisk with chases, hand-to-hand fights and action sequences set on airport runways and in luxury yachts. Naturally, the plot is a mere inconvenience and secondary to the action, and scenes that are intended to be emotional generally fall flat. Oddly enough, the prologue takes place in 1995 and the bulk of the film takes place “15 years later”, meaning the movie is set in 2010. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to just set it 20 years after 1995, in 2015?

Frank Martin is still Jason Statham’s signature role and the figure of the driver in the sharp suit who can handle himself in a fight is somewhat iconic, so much so that Statham essentially cameoed as Frank in Michael Mann’s Collateral. Many have dismissed Ed Skrein, who vacated the role of Daario Naharis on Game of Thrones for this project, as just a pretty boy. While he doesn’t quite possess Statham’s natural gruffness, he is relatively charming in the part. Unfortunately, like many of today’s crop of leading men, there are times when he pitches his performance as “intense” but it reads as “flat” instead. Still, he’s able to carry himself well enough throughout the action and there’s an earnestness about him that is somewhat appealing.

French supermodel Loan Chabanol has poise to spare – alas, the same cannot be said of her acting chops. The Anna character, a former prostitute striking back against her criminal employers, should have far more of an impact than she does in Chabanol’s hands. Her sisters in arms, played by Gabriella Wright, Tatjana Pajković and Wenxia Yu, are barely discernible from one another and the film fails to substantially develop the bond between these women. The Russian mafia villains are about as stereotypical and generic as they come. It’s a good thing that Ray Stevenson is on hand to lend some personality as Frank Sr., clearly enjoying himself whether he’s putting the moves on Gina (Wright) or berating Frank Jr. for being 38 seconds late to pick him up. The film is clearly taking its cue from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, what with dear old dad calling his son “Junior” and inadvertently joining his son on a dangerous adventure. Needless to say it doesn’t remotely approach the father-son chemistry provided by Sean Connery and Harrison Ford in that film.

The Transporter Refueled is little more than a generic, fizzy action flick but then again, it clearly has no aspirations to anything beyond that. The action manages to be inventive as if almost by accident, with a gag involving Frank using fire hydrants to distract his pursuers and a fight scene in a service corridor with drawers on either side being the standout moments. More polished than expected for a cash-in reboot, The Transporter Refueled is far from a fiery wreck, it’s just closer to a Ford Focus than an Audi S8.

Summary: A largely silly and unnecessary reboot, The Transporter Refueled is cinematic junk food, but it is slickly packaged and moves at a decent clip.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong