New Maleficent Trailer

I was not excited to hear that there would be a movie featuring Maleficent following the release of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.  While I enjoyed Burton’s artistry, I thought the story was weak and screenwriter Linda Woolverton had been tapped to write the script for the new picture with a first time director known only for his contributions to special effects.  To be fair, I already had a bias.  I dislike stories that attempt to tell a well known tale from a reverse angle.  Sometimes it’s interesting to see the tragedy of where someone goes wrong.  Harvey Dent is one example, Anakin Skywalker, is another, or virtually anyone from the series Heroes, depending on what part of which season.

At worst it would be a telling the villains side of the story, a gimmick that I never enjoyed.  Villains with worthwhile stories often have thim incorporated into the traditional narrative.  providing a counter argument for a melodrama is not something I am really interested in.  At best however, it could be something like the ironic and witty Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.  The addition of Paul Dini as a writer, certainly provides a glimmer of hope.  He has done great work with DC and Marvel.  His episodes of Batman the Animated Series are among my favorites.  his involvement could mean a very worthwhile story after all, especially considering his penchant for writing female villains.

While I appreciate his involvement there is one thing I always expected from Maleficent, given the visuals of Burton’s Wonderland, and the breathtaking imagery of Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful.  Surely, the appearance and feel of this new look at the world of Sleeping Beauty– already rich with unique visual appeal in Disney’s original animated version– would be moody and evocative and striking in it’s depiction of such fantastic scenery.  I expected this until I saw the teaser trailer, which seems to be the least inspired of Disney’s recent live action fairy tale adventures.  It also features Aurora (presumably) far more than is suitable in my opinion.  While it sheds little light on how these two characters will fit together in the narrative, the teaser shows much of the world the movie is set in and my initial interpretation is generic fantasy: light on personal artistic flair and heavy on the well worn territory of other fantasies like Snow White and the Huntsman and Jack the Giant Slayer.  The only exception being that possibly due to incomplete rendering, certain animated elements look very fake and will hopefully be made to fit in more with the rest of the picture.  On a positive note, I did dig the Disney title in the beginning of the trailer.  I will continue to keep an open mind as the release date draws near, but so far I don’t like what I see.


Review: Oz The Great and Powerful

gi poster ozLast night, I had the immense pleasure of full immersion into the merry old land of Oz the way it’s never been seen before.  Revealed by the vision of the great and powerful Sam Raimi and his master tinkers, from opening curtains it was clear that this was going to be a dazzling display that succeeds in recapturing the magic of the moment original audiences must have felt when first watching The Wizard of Oz in 1939.  Nothing beats the fun and anticipation of a wll crafted title sequence to get you started on your journey, especially when your companion on that journey is Danny Elfman, who has and still does do some of his very best work with Raimi (Darkman, A Simple Plan, Spiderman).  The score is immediately recognizable to any Elfman fan as classic Danny in his prime.  Ad to that the stunning black and white photography and you are locked in for the ride.

Oz the Great and Powerful is every inch made for a Real 3D experience and delivers the most colossal spectacular any team of Hollywood magicians can offer.  It’s no wonder that the ever-changing scenery and many elaborate sets are to be drunken in slowly as the epic adventure of a carnival con man drags him the yellow brick road toward possible redemption.  Aside from the stunning spectacle of magnificent scenery and Sam Raimi’s keen vision and incomparable sense of balance between fresh innovation and familiarity with the classic, the big seller for this film is James francos impeccable depiction of Oz.  Franco does for the character what RDJ does for Tony Stark and what Johnny Depp did for Jack Sparrow in the first Pirates of the Caribbean; only he handles the character with such finesse and discipline that he creates a more three-dimensional character than anyone is likely to have seen on the silver screen.  The complexity of the man has so obviously been thoroughly explored by Raimi and Franco that he becomes such a flesh and blood human it seems astounding that he could ever be a wizard.  Franco’s depiction of Oz is such that he ceases, as an actor, to be a medium to the character, and fully becomes him in a way that every look and every utterance comes from the heart and soul of Oz himself.

The amazing story of the redemption of Oz (both the land and the man) starts out in Kansas, where we find our trickster little more than a petty thief with some theatrical flair and a weakness for the ladies.  The black and white photography is some of the crispest most beautiful I have ever seen and Raimi’s first action sequence of the film is harrowing, desperate, comical and brilliant, as is the predictable, but no less illuminating first glorious glimpse of the land of Oz in full color, mirroring of course the moment of Dorothy’s arrival 73 years ago.  As a stranger in a strange land,  Oz struggles with the opportunity to start fresh and the irresistible urge to take advantage, especially when the chips are down, but before he is even fully aware of his predicament, the choices he makes upon his arrival begin to seal his destiny and shape the people he meets.

It’s an epic journey full of great humor and powerful imagery that marks a monumental technical and artistic achievement.  Danny Elfman’s score is so perfectly in tune with the production and a must have, especially for fans of his work on Big Fish and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Peter Deming, Director of Photography, gets to play with every trick in his trunk and creates a seamless and believable atmosphere where fantasy knows no bounds.

The rest of the cast is terrific, but my favorite supporting performances come from Oz’s primary companions, played by Joey King and Zach Braff.  These characters lit up the screen and really played a part in Oz’s transformation as opposed to simply adding comic relief.

Oz the great and Powerful in Real 3D will envelope you in a world unlike any other, so real and so imaginary it is a sensation that is unique to cinema alone and yet only the highest of aims and the loftiest of dreams can harness it.  It provides sufficient enjoyment of these gifts yet never treads away from the story.  So you can ease on down the road with little urgency, but no less compulsion to move forward.  This is a great piece of art that introduces one of the greatest characters in cinema history to one of cinema’s oldest and most timeless worlds.

Movie Review: Cinderella, Diamond Edition Blu-Ray

I had the surprising pleasure of watching the new Blu-ray Diamond Edition release of the classic Walt Disney picture Cinderella.  This is one of the best told and most enjoyable of all of Walt’s fairy tale adaptations.  Some of those long loved Disney Classics are so far removed from the direct to DVD sequels they’ve spawned that returning to those childhood favorites is a real treat.  These films truly stand the test of time.

Cinderella has all the charm, humor and beautiful artwork you can expect from Walt Disney, but it’s also one of his best animated features.  I was never too interested in Cinderella,  I remember some of the comedy bits, the suspenseful climax as the mice lug the key up the tower to rescue Cinderella before the Grand Duke leaves, and the songs, but I was more interested in The Sword in the Stone and The Jungle Book at that age.  Returning to this film as an adult I am really able to appreciate the artistry and the very clean storytelling.

The story of the little girl condemned to a life of servitude to her wicked step mother and two step sisters is filled with wonderful characters, visions, scenes and music that demands respect from an audience that has been exposed to recent cheaper takes on the Disney classics that lack so much of the heart and depth of the originals.  It takes you through a typical day in Cinderella’s life as she trudges through her chores, but when the king announces a ball is to be held as a plan to get the Prince married she must try to find time in her busy schedule to prepare.  Even with the help she receives from her mice friends, the Step sisters ruin her chance to go, but the Fairy Godmother arrives just in time, to give her the magical night that will change her destiny with that memorable song “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo,”.  One of my favorites is Cinderella’s rendition of “Sing Sweet Nightingale” in the bubbles while she washes the floors and the devious cat, Lucifer tracks dust all around her in the mean time.

Among the special features, of which there are many, is a short documentary on the “Real Fairy Godmother”  The woman the character was based on who later became the Fairy Godmother of Burbank, for all of her charity work.  You’ll also be delighted to find the hilarious short “Tangled Ever After” featuring Pascal and Max as the ring bearer and flower– um… lizard.  You’ll also get a sneak peek behind the scenes at the amazing expansion of Fantasyland at Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Disney World.  Let me just say it’s the best use of space since the creation of the park.

Buy Cinderella (Two-Disc Diamond Edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo in Blu-ray Packaging) from Amazon.