Saturday, May 31, 2014

Maleficent star Jolie is solid, but there is not enough Magic to Save the Film

Maleficent (2 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by: Robert Stromberg 
Written by: Linda Woolverton (Alice in Wonderland)
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, and Sharlto Copley

A long time ago in land far away a young three year old named Kevin (that's me) told family that my favorite Disney character was in fact Maleficent.  I don't remember why, but that stuck with me throughout the years.  I have always wondered why this character left me so enamored. Rebecca Keegan from the Los Angeles Times wrote a piece a day ago, which speaks to why people love this character.

Keegan wrote Maleficent "represented a charismatic alternative to traditional, passive fairy-tale heroines."  Modern day Disney has started to side step this with Mulan, Anna, Elsa, Tiana, and a few more.  While as a young man I did not need a strong female character, but Maleficent represented a strong charismatic individual; she was a rebel, bold and brazen.  While I was not the biggest rebel as a child my indentity had a rebellious nature, and this character speaks to this piece of me.  I also often found that I connected with this type of representation with women, because it powerful, and was different than the way "othered" males were represented.  Maleficent as a live action tale with a strong female slant excited me, but the final result weighs too heavily on style over substance.

This live action revisionist tale of the Disney villain shows Maleficent as a young fairy who befriends a human boy named Stefan.  The two form a close friendship, and eventually fall in love, but their relationship suffers because of the divide between their two kingdoms.  For some reason Stefan who was born into a poor family starts to let his darker human side take over for him,  while Maleficent grows to be a leader amongst her people.  Without giving too much away, in attempt to win the King's  favor Stefan ends up cutting off Maleficent's wings, betraying their love in order to claim power.  Maleficent then turns into the Disney villain you have seen in the past.

After the initial revision of the classic story screen writer Linda Wolverton begins to use the traditional aspects of the Disney take on Maleficent and Sleeping Beauty, there are the three fairies, the curse, the crow, and a few other nuggets.  One of my biggest problems at what launches the film is Sharlto Copley's Stefan is the reason Maleficent becomes a villain; she curses him because he betrayed her.  While this is only a piece of it, the other involves losing her wings which give her joy.  

Wolverton was attempting to create a complex feminist character; she was aiming to construct a strong point about love, identity, and strength, through the symbolism of Maleficent' wings being cut.  The problem is there is not enough depth to Stefan, Copley is a note villain, and his only motive seems to be grasping for power, but you see nothing about him developing as a child.  I admire Wolverton's attempt to show what happens when men are uncomfortable with female power, but was that case with Stefan, or was he just greedy himself?  Wolverton uses narration rather than imagery to show Stefan's decent into this power hungry man, and even as he grows crazy attempting to protect his daughter you lose out on the person, because he loses his humanity.  I wanted more character development outside of Maleficent.

Wolverton's writing of the three fairies, Flittle, Knotgrass, and Thistlewitt as incompetent baby sitters who "raise" Aurora is  the most puzzling. I think these women were meant to be comic relief, but they were not funny.  Their representation seems to be the antithesis of the scripts metaphor.  Wolverton never wants to pull focus from the central character, and that's one of the flaws within Maleficent; she believes in that character so much that she does not let the rest of the film succeed. Wolverton's script is not bad, and the message at the end is strong, proving that love and care for a person can be shown on many different levels is great, but I think she tried to do too much.  Most of the time the film tries to do too much because of the direction.

Enter first time director, and Academy Award winning Art Director (Alice in Wonderland) and Visual Effects designer/supervisor etc Robert Stromberg.  Stromberg has done a great job over the years creating some of the most visually stunning films, but often those films like Alice in Wonderland value the style over substance policy, and that is the problem with this film as well.  Stromberg not only wants Jolie's to cackle do the walking, but that the visual effects, and production design take over the film, and most of these aspects of the film are stunning, and well done, you can tell these areas are Stromberg's strengths, but his direction makes the film feel messy, and tedious.  

Jolie thankfully makes the film more watchable, and mildly entertaining.  Jolie gives a great layered performance, and you can tell she has fun in the role.  I have to wonder was there too much Maleficent? Putting all the focus on this one character seems to push all other character development aside. Copley is still a one note villain.  Fanning is fine as a Aurora, but her story feels rushed. It would have been interesting keep the same message about this character, but also allow multiple character arcs to develop, including Aurora, and Stefan who's relationships with Maleficent felt rushed.  There was a lack of an emotional connection that made the story fall flat.  

Overall the film falls flat. Jolie's performance does not have enough magic to save Maleficent; she is talented actress, and Linda Wolverton's script is ambitious, but the material does not let you care enough to be successful

Movies to See and Skip June (2014)

May was all about the blockbuster, but that's Summer now I guess.  I hate to say it but this May compared to last May looked a lot different.  Last year May had some great smaller films like Before Midnight, Frances Ha, and The Kings of Summer.  This year there was Belle, that's all that truly seems to fit in this category for "wide" release.  If you look at June its no better, in fact it gets worse.

With that said X-Men: Days of Future Past lived up to the hype, and was a fantastic film, I saw it three times, once for a free screening.  Neighbors was hilarious, although a lot of funniest parts were seen in the trailer.  Godzilla roared, and a sequel is on the way.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opened well, but is struggling to get to 200 million.  Check out my piece about the struggling franchise here (  I enjoy this franchise more, thanks in part to the strong emotional level elevating the material.

Now to the bombs, the movies listed above were the only ones to make over 100 million (so far) for the month, the rest barely cracked 20 million including another failure from Adam Sandler, Blended, and Disney showing white people as the saviors in Million Dollar Arm.

Maleficent and a A Million Ways to Die in the West open today.  Maleficent will probably be number one, following in the foot steps of Snow White and the Huntsmen, and Alice in Wonderland  MacFarlene's last film Ted was a surprise hit, but it was also good, and had excellent reviews.  Both of these have poor reviews, but it probably won't stop people from going this weekend.  Bad word of mouth could hurt both.

Now onto the films opening in June, and there are a lot more than I realized including Jersey Boys, have I missed the marketing?

June 6th 

The Edge of Tomorrow

I like Doug Liman he has directed The Bourne Identity, Go, Swingers, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  Early reviews are solid, not amazing.  I think the thing that is selling me is Liman as director.  Tom Cruise has made some underrated films, Oblivion was better than thought.  While I do not know that I will pay to see this, I was glad I saw Oblivion in theatres.  This may be worth the time.

The Fault in Our Stars

I was about half through the book when I left it on a plane.  I liked the book so far, and while I am not sure what the ending will be, I know I will probably cry.  Shailene Woodley is a talented young woman, and I have faith that this will be a strong adaptation.

(The Fault in Our Stars)

June 13th 

22 Jump Street 

I loved the original, it was truly funny surprising film.  It will be hard to match the surprise factor again.  I think the same will be true about Pitch Perfect 2. Capturing lightening in bottle twice is hard.  The preview is solid, but not great.  The same creative team is back, and they could easily bank off the on screen chemistry of Tatum and Hill to win me over.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 

One of the few animated/family films of the summer, the first was good, and word from Cannes is that this film continues that solid character development, which could honestly make this the must-see movie of the month.

(How to Train Your Dragon 2)

June 20th 

Think Like a Man Too

I enjoyed the first one, nothing Earth shattering, but a fun film.  This will do well at the box office, but I can't help but think this sequel machine is just so tedious.  The cast is talented though, and this movie is certainly better than anything Tyler Perry has cranked out.

Jersey Boys

I honestly had no idea this film was being released in June.  Clint Eastwood seems like an odd choice to direct this film, if a director with clout was going to take this on someone like Scorsese would have made more sense.  The music of Frankie Valley annoys as well, and breaking the fourth wall in the preview, this isn't House of Cards.  Looks bad.

Venus in Fur

One year after it showed at Cannes, the most recent Roman Polanski film had mixed reviews.  After listening to the Oscar podcast from it is sad to think that some films from that festival may take a year to get a release in the States, or never.  Fur could be interesting, Polanski is great.

Third Person 

What happened to the career of Oscar winner Paul Haggis?  Oscar back lash for Crash winning or is it that this former Facts of Life writer just can't cut it?  Haggis certainly does like those interlocking stories about humanity, and the cast is cool, so this one is up in the air, but I am leaning towards skip.

(Jersey Boys)

June 27th 

Transformers: Age of Extinction 

Since when does Mark Wahlberg replace Shia LeBeouf, usually would be the opposite right?  Just saw the preview for this before X-Men, and I can say with certainty that this franchise should be put to bed.


Must See: How to Train Your Dragon 2, 22 Jump Street, The Fault in Our Stars (In that Order) 
Must Skip: Transformers: Age of Extinction, Jersey Boys, Third Person (In that Order)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife, Masters of Sex, Fargo, and The Normal Heart Lead 2014 TV Critics Choice Nominations

unnamed-1Once again, The Big Bang Theory has been crowned by critics with the most comedy nominations, (five) this year, and I hate to say this, while its funny I do not get the consistent love for this show.  It's a good show, but not one of the best in my book.  I also am not a fan of the laugh track, so I have a bias in the way CBS sitcoms sometimes force the laughs.  Go ahead, and trying watching without it, see how much you laugh. My rant is over.
I am a bit disappointed in this group, they basically snubbed the brilliant Brooklyn Nine-Nine, giving the show only one nomination for Andre Braugher.  Modern Family's resurgent season was also shut out, as was Community. The other big surprise is that the Television Critics association went gaga for Mindy Kailing and her show while they received only nomination here for Chris Messina, puzzling.  Girls also only receieved one nomination for Andrew Rannells.  
The other big comedy contenders are Orange is the New Black (4 nominations), Veep (3 nominations), Silicon Valley (3 nominations), and Louie (3 nominations).  Some great surprises in the comedy categories were Robin Williams for The Crazy Ones, Keith David for Enlisted, Albert Tsai for Trophy Wife, and Laverne Cox for Orange is the New Black.
The Good Wife and Masters of Sex lead the drama field with five nominations each.  Wife is no surprise, but Masters was dealt a blow at TCA yesterday being shut out, this strong nomination tally has made this show an impressive threat.
After Masters and Wife, Breaking Bad has the second most nominations with four.  True Detective surprisingly only got 2, no Woody Harrelson.  The Americans scored 4 nominations.
One thing I like about this award show is it does spread the wealth, two nominations for Bate's Motel, along with nominations for Hannibal, The Killing, Justified, Sons of Anarchy, Boardwalk Empire. and on.
The surprise snubs are no Kevin Spacey or House of Cards for drama, which was better in season 2, only Robin Wright received a nomination.  The biggest snub news is that Mad Men, Downton Abbey, and Homeland were all completely shut out.  The Emmy Awards will have egg on their face if all three are nominated in drama series.  I will say each of these shows had award worthy moments, and this critics group just appears to want to be "cool" and avoid shows people think are over, this is transparent.
Great "surprise" nominees, Bellamy Young for Scandal, Peter Sarsgaard for The Killing, Freddie Highmore for Bate's Motel (in the right category), Melissa McBride for The Walking Dead, and Maggie Siff for Sons of Anarchy.
The Big Bang Theory 
Broad City 
Orange Is the New Black 
Silicon Valley 
Louis CK, Louie
Chris Messina, The Mindy Project 
Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley 
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory 
Adam Scott, Parks and Recreation 
Robin Williams, The Crazy Ones 
Ilana Glazer, Broad City 
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Wendi McLendon-Covey, The Goldbergs 
Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer 
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation 
Emmy Rossum, Shameless 
Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine 
Keith David, Enlisted 
Tony Hale, Veep
Albert Tsai, Trophy Wife 
Christopher Evan Welch, Silicon Valley 
Jeremy Allen White, Shameless 
Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory 
Laverne Cox, Orange Is the New Black 
Kaley Cuoco, The Big Bang Theory 
Allison Janney, Mom 
Kate Mulgrew, Orange Is the New Black 
Merritt Wever, Nurse Jackie 
Uzo Aduba, Orange Is the New Black 
Sarah Baker, Louie 
James Earl Jones, The Big Bang Theory 
Mimi Kennedy, Mom 
Andrew Rannells, Girls 
Lauren Weedman, Looking 
Breaking Bad 
Game of Thrones 
The Good Wife 
Masters of Sex 
True Detective 
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Hugh Dancy, Hannibal 
Freddie Highmore, Bates Motel 
Matthew McConaughey, True Detective 
Matthew Rhys, The Americans 
Michael Sheen, Masters of Sex 
Lizzy Caplan, Masters of Sex 
Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel 
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife 
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black 
Keri Russell, The Americans 
Robin Wright, House of Cards 
Josh Charles, The Good Wife 
Walton Goggins, Justified 
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad 
Peter Sarsgaard, The Killing 
Jon Voight, Ray Donovan 
Jeffrey Wright, Boardwalk Empire 
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife 
Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad 
Annet Mahendru, The Americans 
Melissa McBride, The Walking Dead 
Maggie Siff, Sons of Anarchy 
Bellamy Young, Scandal 
Beau Bridges, Masters of Sex 
Walton Goggins, Sons of Anarchy 
Allison Janney, Masters of Sex 
Joe Morton, Scandal 
Carrie Preston, The Good Wife 
Diana Rigg, Game of Thrones 
An Adventure in Space and Time 
Burton and Taylor 
Killing Kennedy 
The Normal Heart 
Sherlock: His Last Vow 
The Trip to Bountiful 
American Horror Story: Coven 
Bonnie & Clyde 
Dancing on the Edge 
The Hollow Crown 
David Bradley, An Adventure in Space and Time 
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: His Last Vow
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dancing on the Edge 
Martin Freeman, Fargo 
Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart 
Billy Bob Thornton, Fargo 
Helena Bonham Carter, Burton and Taylor 
Minnie Driver, Return to Zero 
Whoopi Goldberg, A Day Late and a Dollar Short 
Holliday Grainger, Bonnie & Clyde 
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven 
Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful 
Matt Bomer, The Normal Heart 
Warren Brown, Luther 
Martin Freeman, Sherlock: His Last Vow 
Colin Hanks, Fargo 
Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart 
Blair Underwood, The Trip to Bountiful 
Amanda Abbington, Sherlock: His Last Vow 
Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Coven 
Ellen Burstyn, Flowers in the Attic 
Jessica Raine, An Adventure in Space and Time 
Julia Roberts, The Normal Heart 
Allison Tolman, Fargo 
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey 
Deadliest Catch 
Duck Dynasty 
Top Gear 
Undercover Boss 
The Amazing Race 
Project Runway 
Shark Tank 
Top Chef 
The Voice 
Tom Bergeron, Dancing With the Stars 
Carson Daly, The Voice 
Cat Deeley, So You Think You Can Dance 
Gordon Ramsay, MasterChef 
RuPaul, RuPaul’s Drag Race 
Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey 
Jimmy Kimmel Live! 
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon 
The Ellen DeGeneres Show 
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart 
The Colbert Report 
Bob’s Burgers 
The Simpsons 
Family Guy 
Phineas and Ferb 
Adventure Time 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

True Detective Leads the Television Critics Association (TCA) Awards with 4 Nominations

The big news at the Television Critics Association (TCA) Awards is that True Detective leads with 4 nominations.  True Detective was a ground breaking new series from HBO, and was nominated in Program of the Year, Best Mini-Series/Movie, New Program and Matthew McConaughey for Performance in a Drama series.

Other big nominees were Breaking Bad (3 nominations), and The Good Wife (3 nominations). No comedy received more than 2 nominations.

Speaking of blending Drama and Comedy blending, it appears the TCA were not able to define Orange is the New Black. Black received two nominations, Program of the Year, and Best New Program., but no genre nomination.

The biggest snub many will cite is no love for Masters of Sex, even in the Best New Program category.  Mad Men was shut out of Drama for the first time as well.  There was also no love for Hannibal, which has been showered by many critics with love.

Program of the Year
“Breaking Bad” 
“Game of Thrones” 
“The Good Wife” 
“Orange Is the New Black” 
“True Detective” 

Best New Program
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” 
“Orange Is the New Black” 
“Sleepy Hollow” 
“True Detective” 
Best Drama Series 
“The Americans” 
“Breaking Bad” 
“Game of Thrones” 
“House of Cards” 
“The Good Wife”
Best Movie, Miniseries or Special
“American Horror Story: Coven”
“The Returned” 
“True Detective” 
Best Comedy Series Individual Achievement in Drama
Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad” 
Julianna Margulies, “The Good Wife” 
Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black” 
Matthew McConaughey, “True Detective” 
Matthew Rhys, “The Americans” 

Best Comedy Series
“The Big Bang Theory” 
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”
“The Mindy Project” 
Individual Achievement in Comedy
Louis C.K., “Louie” 
Mindy Kaling, “The Mindy Project” 
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Jim Parsons, “The Big Bang Theory” 
Amy Poehler, “Parks and Recreation”

Best News and Information Series
“CBS Sunday Morning” 
“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”
“60 Minutes” 
Best Reality Series
“The Amazing Race”
“RuPaul's Drag Race” 
“Shark Tank” 
“The Voice” 
Best Youth Series
“Adventure Time” 
“Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood” 
“The Fosters” 
“Sesame Street” 
“Switched at Birth” 
Career Achievement Award
Mark Burnett
James Burrows
Valerie Harper
Jay Leno
William Shatner
Heritage Award
“Saturday Night Live” 
“South Park” 
“Star Trek” 
“Twin Peaks”

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Dream Emmy Ballot 2014: Outstanding Mini-Series and TV Movie Categories

As the Emmy eligibility period comes to an end in 6 days, and one of the last major contenders for Outstanding Television Movie, airs tonight, (The Normal Heart)  it's time to take a look at Mini-Series, and Television Movie categories. Listed below is my dream ballot.

My dream ballot, will look different, because I think the Emmy Awards, are skirting dangerous territory with submissions.  Here are the differences:

True Detective is not exactly a mini-series, neither is Luther, Sherlock, or American Horror Story, they, but in a sense they are what I would define as a limited series.  The Emmy Awards changed a lot in these categories this year, splitting the Mini-Series, and TV Movie into two separate categories (again), and adding a sixth nominee to the acting races. I think they should have also renamed the category as well, to Outstanding Mini/Limited Series.  True Detective should not be in the drama categories.  

Last year cancelled shows like Awake starring Jason Isaacs started to compete here, this year its the CBS series Hostages, while I will not bemoan placing a cancelled show here, I think there is a fine line, and CBS did not intend Hostages to be a mini-series, although it may help them get a nomination in Lead Actress for past Emmy winner Toni Collette. While these aren't Earth shattering things, I think they should be considered.

Beyond these changes these categories are stronger than ever. I know, I know, this is an unrealistic dream ballot, because I changed the category placement of True Detective, I may do the same for Orange is the New Black, which could be placed  in drama.  If you take away True Detective, this is still and excellent slate of contenders.  The Normal Heart is beautiful, and so well done.  Fargo does the Coen Brothers name proud.  Sherlock is edge of your seat good fun.  Coven while not as dark and twisted was a great piece on powerful women.  Speaking of powerful women, if you look at most of the Mini-Series, and Television Movies, do you notice anything lacking?  Lead female characters.

Outside of American Horror Story: Coven, few Mini-Series, or TV Movies were centered around women.  3 of the Outstanding Television Movie nominees have female leads, although 2 of those three are co-leads with men, and Coven is the only Mini-Series nominee with women at the core of the story.  This is a startling and consistent trend in this category, few mini-series center on women, and I think it's time for television executives to take notice and do something about this.   After all films like Wit, Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadow, and Temple Grandin were all excellent.

Outstanding Mini-Series
American Horror Story: Coven (F/X)
Fargo (F/X)
Sherlock Volume 3 (PBS/BBC)
True Detective (HBO)
The White Queen (Starz)

Outstanding Television Movie
Burton and Taylor (BBC America)
Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight (HBO)
The Normal Heart (HBO)
Return to Zero (Lifetime)
Trip to Bountiful (Lifetime)

Outstanding Actor in a Mini-Series, TV Movie
Benedict Cumberbatch-Sherlock Volume 3 (PBS)
Martin Freeman-Fargo (F/X)
Woody Harrelson-True Detective (HBO)
Matthew McConaughey-True Detective (HBO)
Mark Ruffal0-The Normal Heart (HBO)
Billy Bob Thronton-Fargo (F/X)

Outstanding Actress in a Mini-Series TV Movie
Helena Bonham Carter-Burton and Taylor (BBC America) 
Minnie Driver-Return to Zero (Lifetime)
Rebecca Ferguson-The White Queen  (Starz)
Jessice Lange- American Horror Story: Coven (F/X)
Sarah Paulson-American Horror Story: Coven (F/X)
Cicely Tyson-Trio to Bountiful  (Lifetime)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Mini-Series, TV Movie
Matt Bomer-The Normal Heart (HBO)
Martin Freeman-Sherlock Volume 3  (PBS)
Taylor Kitsch-The Normal Heart (HBO)
Joe Mantello-The Normal Heart (HBO)
Alred Molina-Return to Zero (Lifetime)
Jim Parsons-The Normal Heart (HBO)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Mini-Series, TV Movie
Amanda Abbington-Sherlock Volume 3 (PBS)
Frances Conroy- American Horror Story: Coven (F/X)
Janet McTeer-The White Queen (Starz)
Julia Roberts-The Normal Heart (HBO)
Gaboruey Sidibe- American Horror Story: Coven (F/X)
Allison Tollman-Fargo (F/X)