Tag Archives: Elle Fanning

Trailers of the Week — The Spoils of Tim Burton

by Gabe Valdez

Diving straight in:

BIG EYES

We’ve all been waiting for a return to form by Tim Burton for quite some time. His best film is an argument that will never be solved, but many cinephiles – myself included – will make the case for his kooky, emotive biography of the legendary B-movie director, Ed Wood.

Burton can go off the rails sometimes. It’s the emotion that can’t help but shine through in his most restrained moments that gives his best films their heart. So when Burton finally returns for another biography, let alone one centered on painter Margaret Keane and starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, it’s cause to pay attention.

That and, if you know me at all, you know I’ll watch anything starring Krysten Ritter, one of our most unappreciated screen comedians.

LOW DOWN

Elle Fanning. Peter Dinklage. John Hawkes. Glenn Close. Lena Headey.

You simply don’t get better casts than this. What’s it like to grow up under a drug abusing, drunkard jazz legend? That’s the premise, and while that’s a stellar cast, this looks like Fanning’s movie. She’s been moving further and further out from older sister Dakota’s shadow and at this point may be the better actress – or at least the one choosing more interesting projects (I’m sure Dakota is crying into her Twilight money as I write this).

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR

Jessica Chastain is one of the most fearsomely commanding actors we have. She’s worked a career’s worth of roles in just a few short years. In 2011, she starred in seven films, including Take Shelter, Tree of Life, and The Help. In 2012, she starred in four films, including Zero Dark Thirty. 2013 saw two more films, and this year, she’s in another five or, depending on how you count The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby‘s different his and her variations of a troubled romance, six. Or seven. It’s complicated.

The point is, since her performances announced to the cinema world in 2011 that she’s the kind of force we may not have seen since Meryl Streep first brought her talents to bear, Chastain’s starred in at least 18 films, garnering two Oscar nominations. Anything she does is must-see because across those 18 films, she’s unfailingly created unique and compelling characters. Yeah, Oscar Isaac’s great, too, and J.C. Chandor is the very definition of an up-and-coming director (he helmed last year’s All Is Lost), but Chastain is the reason to see this.

MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN

And, of course, the latest Men, Women & Children trailer. This is looking incredibly good. I featured an earlier trailer a few weeks ago and, aside from championing Jennifer Garner and Judy Greer as under-utilized actors, I stand by the idea that this could echo Adam Sandler’s touching and scary dramatic break in Punch Drunk Love several years back.

THE LIBERATOR

And it doesn’t fit the theme, but all the trailers rarely do, so feast your eyes on this beautiful preview for The Liberator. We aren’t offered many Latin American heroes, let alone in a film that looks so sumptuous and epic.

Worst Trailer of the Week (Tie) –
THE HOUSES THAT OCTOBER BUILT

Oh dear. Normally, I don’t include films made on the cheap. That’s why Bigfoot’s film debut in Exists was excused from Worst Trailer a few weeks ago. But this is from some pretty major found footage talent and it manages to look profoundly atrocious inside of two minutes.

Worst Trailer of the Week (Tie) –
KITE

I also don’t normally feature straight-to-DVD in this section, but Kite was a groundbreaking anime. Why? Not so much for its cliché storyline, but rather for how stylishly it delivered such an incredible amount of violence in so short a time. Centering on an assassin who gets close to her targets using methods of distraction that sometimes involve her underage sexuality, it either bordered on the tasteless or took Japan’s silent cultural endorsement of child sexuality to task. Depends on who you ask. Certainly the imagery in the movie was deeply controversial.

This live-action, English language adaptation? Well, it stars Samuel L. Jackson, who does a film like this every year just to keep his B-movie cred shiny. It otherwise presents itself as a wannabe Hitgirl movie. Will it contain the confrontational gore of the original, or present action free of consequence and saturated in American-style one liners? Will it use the disturbing sexuality of the anime to hammer home a real social commentary, or will it use the premise as an excuse for cheap titillation and provocation? I have my worries.

I haven’t seen the original in so long, I don’t think I could give an accurate opinion. I remember liking the cinematic techniques in the action scenes, but that’s about it. You don’t adapt this project as a cheap cash-in free from addressing in some way what made it so controversial in the first place, and that’s what this trailer reeks of.

Big Eyes Amy Adams

A Timely Allegory, a Unique Opportunity — “Maleficent”

Maleficent lead

A man wants the respect of the other men around him. Acquiring that respect means he has to display his worth. This display becomes a grotesque act of violence against a woman. This is the broad allegory at work in Maleficent, defined in its first 20 minutes. After the Isla Vista shootings, I don’t know that there’s a more appropriate 20 minutes of film we need to see.

The film is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the villain’s perspective. We’re introduced to Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) as a child. A fairy from a fantastical land, she falls in love with a human boy, whose thirst for respect and power causes him to betray her and cut off her wings. The power of allegory is that this can all be accomplished with a PG rating. Children will marvel at the film’s fantasy land and understand the tale of vengeance at the film’s heart. They will comprehend the allegory at face value, but they thankfully won’t have the experience to be able to apply it. Adults will recognize the trademarks of scenes we’re used to seeing in other genres. When Maleficent wakes up after being drugged and finds her wings have been cut from her, it’s not a hard metaphor to grasp. Unfortunately, too many adults in the audience will have had the experience to be able to apply it.

After her betrayer is named king, Maleficent curses his daughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning) – she will prick her finger on a spinning needle at the age of 16 and fall into a “sleep like death.” I won’t give anything away beyond these basics, but Maleficent is filled with metaphors of social shaming, divorce, and abuse. Like the best fairy tales, these darker meanings are only hinted at, giving the tale greater relevance and more value in being retold.

Maleficent Elle Fanning

As an allegorical reinterpretation of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is powerful and more timely than its filmmakers could ever have imagined. As a film, it suffers from some dodgy craftsmanship. There are very beautiful moments – its creature, costume, and set design are brilliant. Little details, from the filigree on the king’s armor to the embroidery of the pillows on which Aurora rests, fill out the world with the texture of unspoken history. Some very overlooked technical elements take away from this, though – the sound design is thin and the musical score feels recycled. The visual effects can range from breathtaking to amateurish, and they have a markedly different tone from dialogue scenes. The 3-D is strained and muddies a great deal of detail – opt for 2-D showings. Maleficent doesn’t feel like a finished film. It feels like a very promising rough cut.

Only a few actors in the world are dynamic enough to command our attention through such a litany of technical dilemmas. Foremost among them is Angelina Jolie. There is dialogue here no actor can pull off, and yet she grounds it with a regal bearing that is at once overacted and tender. Director Robert Stromberg often focuses exclusively on her eyes, putting the rest of her face in shadow, and she has the ability to convey so many emotions in quick succession it leaves you reeling. Every time a slapstick scene clunks or an action scene only half-works, we return to Jolie’s performance and the film recovers almost entirely.

Maleficent link

That scene in which Maleficent wakes up to discover her wings are gone – it’s not filmed well. The set’s beautiful, but the shot choices take away from the moment. None of that matters – Jolie’s performance in that scene is so wrenching and haunting that she could’ve filmed it on a bare stage free from the context of the plot, and we’d still understand its every nuance. Fanning also deserves credit for her bright turn as Aurora, as does Sharlto Copley for his nasty, emotionally lean performance as the betrayer-turned-king, Stefan.

Maleficent is more important for its values and performances than its cinematic accomplishments, but this may make it a better film than something less ambitious and more polished. It joins a growing trend in summer entertainment of discussing issues we as a society are often too slow to address. Add to this the rarity of a performance as outlandish and commanding as Jolie’s, and Maleficent is a very solid recommendation, especially as family entertainment. It hits some heavy issues that – like it or not – children have to be prepared for as they grow up. It’s up to you how much you’d like to discuss afterward. Maleficent leaves the door open to those discussions in a unique and comfortable way.

Maleficent cap