Friday, October 18

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil Review

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Dir: Joachim Rønning

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Warwick Davis, and Michelle Pfeiffer

A group of men are walking through a dark and mystical forest carrying lanterns. They are entering a forbidden territory in hopes of stealing something magical for the human world. Before these trespassing men can accomplish their goal, they are confronted through the shadows by a horned creature with fiery eyes, massive wings, and glowing green supernatural powers. 

While this may sound like a perfect premise for a spooky Halloween movie, this introduction, the scariest moment of this otherwise overly tame fairytale, belongs to Disney’s sequel “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”. Angelina Jolie, returning as the re-envisioned villain who demonstrates more heart and sympathy than anger and vengeance, brings a calm yet intimidating demeanor to the iconic villain of the animated “Sleeping Beauty”. 

Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and her goddaughter Aurora (Elle Fanning) have been living a peaceful existence. Aurora is the ruler of an enchanted land, a forest-like domain where fairies fly with water droplets and fields of glowing dandelions grow in majesty. Aurora becomes engaged to Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) which disrupts the already complicated bound with Maleficent. The ensuing nuptials bring about the hope of peace between the human and fairy world, however, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) has other devious plans in mind for Maleficent and Aurora. 

Director Joachim Rønning, who last helmed 2017’s “Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”, handles the difficult task of continuing the story, which seemingly didn’t need a sequel, of the Disney villainess. Though the cause for story continuation here is assisted by three extremely talented actors who are doing their absolute best to bring life to this familiar tale. 

The role of Maleficent seems tailored for Angelina Jolie, her grin is especially utilized with numerous emotions fluctuating throughout. Unfortunately, much of the character development in this film is a retread from themes from the first film, still, there are a few moments where Jolie is provided room to expand the character. Elle Fanning adds some much-needed character charm to the film with Aurora, the character becomes the vessel for peace between two worlds, the primary conflict of the film. Michelle Pfeiffer is a good choice to counter Jolie here, she plays evil with glee in almost every scene.

Unfortunately, all these great actors are stuck in a film without a strong narrative standpoint. While the film is aiming to display themes of accepting differences and embracing family in whatever form it may take, these components are often undercut by the need to adhere to the familiar fairytale, storybook steps. There are a few interesting moments involving the evolution of Maleficent, which allows the character to find the emotional conflict to bridge towards the finale. And whenever Maleficent is allowed to be vulnerable, which doesn’t happen enough, the film finds its stride in displaying its core theme of embracing difference and the dedication one has to family.  

“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” has a great cast who are stuck within a story that never allows them to grow into anything different from everything we already know them as.  This doesn’t help the journey this sequel is trying to promote but instead makes it seem somewhat one-note which is unfortunate when you have such a unique character like Maleficent, played by a dedicated Angelina Jolie, holding the frame.

Monte’s Rating

2.25 out of 5.00

Friday, October 4

Joker Review

Dir: Todd Phillips
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, and Brett Cullen

The power of laughter is an amazing characteristic. Laughter composes so many emotions, happiness and sadness and everything in-between and beyond. Laughs are uniquely individual, sometimes they are contagious, other times they can be scary, and in some occasions, they can be forged. 

Joaquin Phoenix utilizes a maniacal, nervous, and ultimately tragic form of laughter to compose an unstable character, the DC supervillain “Joker”. Phoenix, in a completely amazing, transformative performance, is placed within a shallow, depressing, and somewhat pointless film that is aspiring for thoughtful insight on numerous subject matters but instead meanders into a place of emptiness. 

Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonesome, damaged man working as a sign-waving clown, moonlighting as a stand-up comedian who keeps a journal of jokes, in the dingy, rough streets of Gotham City where desperate kids steal his sign and entitled men beat him up on the subway. Arthur is struggling in life, he is meeting with a psychologist and taking medication for his concerns, one of which is an uncontrollable laughing condition that signals some kind of substantial past trauma. Arthur lives and takes care of his ailing mother (Frances Conroy), who once worked for the storied Wayne family in Gotham, holds fond admiration for a late-night television show host (Robert De Niro), and has a crush on a girl (Zazie Beetz) who lives in his apartment complex. But Arthur is slowly breaking at the same time as Gotham City, leaving both man and city in a desperate place. 

“Joker” has a lot of narrative wheels spinning; ideas concerning the state of mental illness and the lack of assistance available for those dealing with difficulties, the social divide and inequality that pushes poor and rich characters in Gotham further away from any semblance of decency, and the victimization of people who don’t fit into the specific spaces defined by society. 

In the middle of all of the confusing contemplations and supposed insightfulness is one of the most famous comic villains of all time. And while comic book films have found ways to incorporate complex moral stories about characters struggling with their motivation or responsibility, “Joker” never seems to make a clear choice about what kind of character it wants to compose. 

Arthur is suffering, his nervous laugh seemingly teetering from complete sadness to utter contempt in moments, yet the moral struggle ends with the laugh. The world around Arthur is crumbling, the city of Gotham is at a boiling point, anarchy and chaos are imminent and Arthur’s personal emotional frustration and outbursts with and without clown makeup are exploited by the media which eventually points to him as some kind of poster child for Gotham’s frustration. It’s never completely identified because Arthur’s character is never composed to connect his disturbing actions to the turmoil found in the world he exists in. And even if the design of the story was to connect Joker’s origin as bred from chaos, to connect that Joker would exist in some way because society predicated the design, there isn’t enough in the narrative to make these ideas have the strength to become meaningful and astute. Instead, it feels lost, shallow, and misguided. 

Still, amidst the narrative issues, the film boasts a stunning performance from Joaquin Phoenix. The actor composes a character with physical actions that combine bodily contortions; the actor is frail and manipulates his face and body in rigid manners, while also embodying a delicateness, seen within graceful dance moments and gentle hand gestures that move with a fluid-like feel. Robert De Niro is also interesting here, poised in a position as a late-night talk show host that feels similar to Jerry Lewis’ role in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy”, a film where De Niro played the role of an obsessed lurker. 

“Joker” unfortunately never has a target in mind, which ultimately makes all of the moves it takes predictable and somewhat derivative of other films that handle a similar subject matter. The film understands how to photograph a world in distress, how to compose a score that feels ominous and anxious, but it never provides the narrative material for the astonishing abilities of Joaquin Phoenix’s character, and impressive complicated laugh, to have the gravity and depth it craves. 

Monte’s Rating
2.75 out of 5.00

Tuesday, October 1

The Death of Dick Long Review

The Death of Dick Long
Dir: Daniel Scheinert
Starring: Michael Abbott Jr., Virginia Newcomb, Andre Hyland, Jess Weixler, and Sarah Baker

What’s the strangest, most ridiculous, completely bonkers situation that you have ever heard about or experienced? Were you told, “that would make a good movie”, after sharing these stories with others? Cinema has a way of taking the most outlandish stories, sometimes just an idea, and craft them into movies; think about “Howard the Duck”, “Eraserhead”, “Sharknado” as some of the outrageous films that have found their way into popularity and cult followings.

 “Swiss Army Man”, directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, is one of the newest entries into the wildly extreme, genre-bending catalog sometimes known as “WTF” films. “Swiss Army Man” is a surreal story about a homeless man, played by Paul Dano, stranded on an island who befriends a dead body, played by Daniel Radcliffe, with terrible flatulence in an attempt to get home. It’s an utterly strange concept that is surprisingly wholehearted even as it balances awkwardly between profound insights and profane gratuitous content. 

“The Death of Dick Long”, directed solely by Scheinert, is attempting to emulate in small ways the tone of “Swiss Army Man”. However, this film places greater emphasis on its darkly comic storyline and a provocative finale, a narrative twist that will remain unspoiled in this review though it should be noted that the result may not be for every film fan. The outcome of this challenging story is an uneven blend of ideas that feels like it was aiming for shock value, indulgence in an odd mystery of events, and a strange journey that complements more than a few laughs along the way. 

 A group of bandmates who enjoy partying and getting into weird situations have a terrible accident happen. Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr.) and Earl (Andre Hyland) don’t want anyone to know the mysterious circumstances that lead to the death of their friend Dick. But keeping secrets are not these two friends’ strongest assets and news travels fast in the small Alabama town that they live in. Before they can figure out what they are going to do about the death of Dick, everything begins to fall apart. 

Director Daniel Scheinert is an interesting director, the content that he is trying to connect in both of the feature films he has made are perplexing and bizarre and many times extreme in aspects of drama and comedy, that’s a complicated combination of themes to fine-tune within a narrative. While the setup for “The Death of Dick Long” is quite entertaining and humorous, much of the cohesion of narrative themes and establishment of tone disappears as the film moves from idea to idea throughout the remainder of the film. The humor is present throughout the film, with a mixture of punchlines that have hit or miss results and performances from the lead cast that is actually very good. Still, the film still struggles to flesh out the characters in more meaningful ways and find the proper balance of the shenanigans that eventually lead to the final reveal which is trying to be more than just simple shocking material. 

“The Death of Dick Long” has moments that are quite interesting, offering humor and drama that is trying to lead to insightful and thought-provoking moments. Unfortunately, the strange and uneven pacing of the film and lack of depth with the characters ultimately hurts the extreme reveal it is setting itself up for.

Monte’s Rating
2.25 out of 5.00