Tag Archives: film

Date with Disney

March 31st, 2017. We’d been planning this night for months. My partner and two of our dearest friends on a cheesy double date to the highly anticipated Beauty and the Beast.
We all met up, oh-so-Australian Malteasers in hand, and went to get the tickets in an episode which would prove to be more dramatic than the film. Here’s a detailed plan on how to make getting tickets far more complicated than it should be.

  1. Turn up and head to the kiosk.
  2. Discover that the next session is Xtreme Screen and the only seats left are in the very front row. Discuss as a group whether you really want to be that close.
  3. Check movie times across the road via phone. Race over to the other cinema only to discover that one is in 3D. Another group discussion follows.
  4. The theatre staff say that the ads are still playing at the 7:35 session and we can make it. Buy the tickets, rush in, and discover the film is halfway through the song Belle.
  5. Leave the theatre, get a refund and go back to the original theatre to get the Xtreme Screen tickets. Discover they have also sold out.
  6. After even MORE discussion, get tickets for the 8:45 session, now one hour away. Also the Xtreme Screen in the front row.
  7. Go kill time at San Churros where you order New York Cheesecake instead of churros.
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WHY MUST EVERYTHING BE SO DIFFICULT?!?

At 8:45pm, we finally took our reclining seats and the film began. All those months of anticipation, all the excitement of seeing my favourite animated Disney film in the flesh, on the big screen.

I left in a state of mixed emotions and mainly asking “Why?” I don’t even know if I can actually decide how I feel about the movie.

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Here we go again….

Alright, alright, put your torches and pitchforks down for a second and relax. I don’t hate this movie. I don’t even dislike it. There were aspects of the film I absolutely loved. Aspects that were, dare I say, even a slight improvement over the almost flawless 1991 film. Credit must always go where credit is due.
That being said though, I can’t sit back and pretend that this movie even comes close to the brilliance of the original film or the Broadway adaptation. Nor can I ignore the glaring problems with the film.

In the interest of keeping my blog shorter than the Bible, let’s get down to some ground rules. First off, this is not about the debate over whether Beauty and the Beast is about Stockholm Syndrome or bestiality. Those arguments are irrelevant and frankly boring to me. Secondly, if you disagree, more power to you. For all criticism of any art form, good or bad, there’s always going to be conflicting perspectives and we should only learn from them.

The Original

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The animated Beauty and the Beast is bar none my favourite Disney animated film. Everything about it is almost perfect. The characters are memorable, well-written and interesting. Belle is arguably the best female lead in the whole Disney canon. Top three, easily. The movie engulfs itself in the fairytale and throws a few twists along the way. The villain is not your typical bad guy; he’s actually the town hero but failing to get his way turns him to more desperate and evil measures. The animation is spectacular. The music is one of the best scores ever written. It was the first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Possibly it’s the reason we have a Best Animated category at all. (Time out – Moana should have won this year. I’ve been stewing over that for weeks! Ok ok, stay on topic…)
The point is, the 1991 original is about as perfect an animated film as you can get. So…really, why remake it at all? What was the reasoning behind it? I know Disney is all about live action remakes lately. And while I can understand the logic of wanting to ‘correct’ the mistakes of the past with Maleficent – which failed hard –  Cinderella or The Jungle Book, with a movie as good and timeless as Beauty and the Beast, it just really seems unnecessary.
But to be fair, it’s entirely possible for a remake to be great, and when I first heard of the remake, I was keen. Maybe a remake of Beauty and the Beast could focus on some aspects of the Beast’s past, or go into greater detail about Belle. I was open to it, and even kind of excited.

The Cast

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All the characters in Beauty and the Beast are nothing short of iconic, and so it only seems logical that the remake have the finest possible cast as well.
When the casting was announced for the remake, I got even more hyped. Emma Watson as Belle? Makes sense. Ewan McGregor as Lumiere? Yes please. Kevin Kline as Maurice? I’ll watch that any day. Ian McKellen as Cogsworth? Absolutely. Josh Gad as Lefou? That works, obviously. Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts? Definitely. Living theatrical goddess Audra McDonald? I’m sold. I had no idea who Dan Stevens (Beast) and Luke Evans (Gaston) were and I admit that with no shame whatsoever.
Obviously this new cast had big shoes to fill, considering the treasure trove that was the original voice cast. Paige O’Hara (Belle), Robby Benson (Beast), Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts), David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth), Richard White (Gaston), the late Jerry Orbach (Lumiere). But there’s no reason to assume that they can’t reach and even surpass the original.
My verdict? Everyone in the remake is at least watchable. Some are better than others, and this is mainly due to screen time and the writing. Which brings me to….

The Characters

Belle

In the original, Belle is a role model for the ages. She’s kind, but she has her limits. She’s smart, but doesn’t show off. She’s beautiful, but there’s a lot more to her than that.People talk about her, but she doesn’t let that stop her from doing what she loves. She knows she’s destined for greater things and desires something greater than herself.
Emma Watson was a very fitting choice for Belle, not least because of Hermione also being a massive bookworm. And I’m just going to say here, I think Emma Watson is a decent actress, an inspirational person and beautiful both inside and out.
Her performance as Belle is…ok. She certainly knows the character and heaven knows she’s trying. But compare this performance to the animated version and you will be sadly disappointed.
In the original, the way Belle is animated and voice-acted gives her a real identity and they make it absolutely clear that she is unique. She is the only character in her town that wears blue until the Beast shows up. In the remake, Belle is not the only one wearing blue, and not a lot about her really stands out as different. She talks to more people, she doesn’t really act any different, she doesn’t even read that much. In short, she’s not as interesting.
And yes, let’s get to the elephant in the room. Emma Watson’s singing. Um…how can I put this….it was terrible. I’m not even sorry. She cannot sing and anyone who tries to convince me otherwise is fighting a losing battle. And yes, I can judge since I have a qualification in music theatre and have been singing professionally for over seven years.
Not only was her voice shaky, hesitant and auto-tuned beyond belief, but there was zero acting involved and she also sounded like she was trying to imitate an American teen pop sound as opposed to a grand musical theatre style. Sometimes, like the case with The Rock in Moana or Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables, a non-singer can use charm, charisma, or just incredible acting skills to the point where a not-so great sound doesn’t actually matter. Emma Watson does not do this. It’s really uncomfortable to watch and not pleasant to listen to. Add to the fact that the original film had Paige O’Hara, and the original Broadway production starred Susan Egan, and there’s just no way in the world to make such bad singing redeemable.

Frankly, I’m sick to death of Hollywood casting people who can’t sing (Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, anyone?) in musicals. If you cannot sing, you have no business being in a musical, let alone one of the most beloved musical films ever. I say either cast real singers or bring back dubbing!

The Beast

Oh movie. You tried so hard to make the Beast have more of a backstory. You were so close. You mentioned that the Prince only became selfish because of his father’s influence brought about by his mother’s death.
So why in the name of all that’s good and holy didn’t you explore it? It went absolutely nowhere. This could have been fascinating to watch. We could have seen a major character arc, explored the parental influence, commented on the fact that the servants apparently sat back and allowed this to happen. The ‘flashback’ was so brief it was blink-and-you-miss-it! Also, the animation in the original had a zillion times more emotional expression than the CGI thing you stuck on the screen. When Belle sees Maurice is in trouble through the enchanted mirror, the animation shows the Beast actually struggle with what to do, and ultimately make a very painful decision. When Belle arrives at the castle, you see the regret and even awkwardness on his face. You can see the loss of hope when Gaston arrives to kill him. He’s given up. Then when Belle arrives, you can see the resolve to fight back. I could go on and on about this, giving examples of moments with ALL the characters. You feel the changes and emotions through the music, the acting and the drawings. It’s shown, not told and this is why people loved the Beast so much to begin with. He was freaking interesting!
With the remake, the lack of expression makes it harder to have any chemistry between Belle and the Beast. This Beast wasn’t bad by any means…he’s just not as compelling to watch.
However, to be fair, it made a lot more sense for the Beast to be educated in this context, since that makes sense with the time period and also gives him and Belle some more common ground.

Now let’s get to the absolute best things about the film!

Maurice

I think my mother put it best “I’d watch Kevin Kline do a Coke ad,”
If Kevin Kline has ever given a bad performance, I’m yet to see it, and this film is no exception. He is absolutely beautiful as Maurice and the way he’s written makes the character so much more believable that the original. As mentioned before, he creates music boxes instead of inventions. He’s slightly eccentric, but nowhere near the bumbling fool of 1991. He was brave and could stand up for himself. He has a backstory (although why did he insist on keeping it secret?), he clearly loves his daughter, he’s really fun to watch and that song he sings in his introductory scene…it was magical. He was absolutely perfect in every way.

Gaston and Lefou

I have zero complaints about these two also. Not only are Luke Evan and Josh Gad having the time of their lives in their roles, but Gaston and Lefou have been expanded and made more realistic for a live-action retelling. Gaston being a celebrated soldier makes a lot of sense and having Lefou being given a moral dilemma was quite enjoyable. Every scene with them made me laugh hard.

And in terms of the alleged LGBT moment….I honestly don’t understand why people were having a heart attack over it. It was so unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Objects

The objects are fine in the remake and they look great. The acting is good, the designs work, they have some fun moments. You have no trouble believing that this is how people might look if they were turned into these items. But I do have one MAJOR gripe that I simply cannot let slide.

Broadway star Audra McDonald is in this movie. She is a living legend. The woman has the voice of an angel and her acting skills are nearly unrivalled. She could sing the phone book from 1998 and make it enthralling. She has SIX Tony awards, more than anyone in human history. She’s also the only person to win a Tony in every acting category.
How dare you only give Audra McDonald about 6 lines. Shame on you.

Essentially the characters are a mixed bag and so is…..

The Story

How can I put this? The movie is almost twice as long as the original yet it felt like it was on fast forward. At times it seemed like an almost shot-for-shot rehash, but all the important moments were almost glanced at.
I didn’t feel there was a single moment when Belle fell in love with the Beast or vice versa. In the original, the Beast knows right from the get-go that Belle could be the one to break the spell. He doesn’t give her a room and actually gets angry at Lumiere for letting her out of the dungeon. He doesn’t invite her to dinner until she’s in her room refusing to come out. He expresses absolutely zero desire to get to know her. In the original, he gives her the library as the most grand romantic gesture possible. He seemed almost bored in the remake. I didn’t believe for a second that they were forming a connection, as none was shown through looks, music or acting. How can the pacing and emotional journey be so superior for an animated film where there’s all kinds of time constraints and restrictions? The original felt like the story was moving, like characters were actually doing something and changing.
That is essentially the main flaw with this remake. It is banking on the fact that you’ve seen the 1991 animated film. This is why characters aren’t as interesting or fleshed out. This is why the most crucial elements of the story are treated as an afterthought. It’s like they thought it wasn’t necessary to throw effort into certain scenes.
There were potentially great plot points that could have been added but were practically glossed over. There was a pre-release mention of Belle being an inventor while Maurice made music boxes and I was totally down with that. But come the movie, and it’s barely even mentioned. The laundry device she supposedly makes appears for about ten seconds. We don’t know how she came up with the idea, how she put it together, or if this is something she does regularly. This could have been an added dimension to an already good character. It was missed. There was a moment where Belle was teaching a little girl to read, which was a lovely scene. But again, ten seconds later and it’s never brought up again. The little girl never reappears and it’s never explored why she would approach Belle.
But the added tangent I actually despised was the scene where Belle and the Beast go into that ridiculous magic book. That was completely pointless and felt like an entirely different movie. Aside from that appalling “tourist” joke which dragged you completely out of the moment, why did this enchanted book even have to be there? It was never mentioned again. Supposedly the Enchantress left it along with the rose and I assume the mirror since the remake never actually said where the enchanted mirror even came from. Again, they rely on the knowledge of the original.
And ok, Belle’s mother died from the plague. Fair enough. So what does Belle do? She brings back that rose pen thing which is presumably infected with plague bacteria and is now going to spread death and destruction everywhere.

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Congratulations Belle. You’ve doomed the entire village.

And finally, the music. I was sorely disappointed and confused as to why on earth four new songs were written for the film when there were six new songs added to the stage musical.
Though I could stomach the lyric changes well enough, the film’s new songs were generally just not as good. The reason the new songs worked well in the stage show was because they were based in the instrumental score so everything tied together. Home, Maison Des Lunes, No Matter What, A Change in Me, Human Again, If I Can’t Love Her. I was dying to see that last song on the big screen. It’s a beautiful piece of music and a great moment for the Beast. I’ll admit I have a soft spot for Evermore, the Beast’s new number, and the moment in the film was a good spot for a song, but it just didn’t have the power that If I Can’t Love Her had. I sincerely wish that they had simply incorporated the Broadway tracks into the film. That would have been fine. Although I’d be lying if I said I wanted to hear Emma Watson’s attempts to sing Home.

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I know, Alice. I know

I realise this review is sort of all over the place, but so is the movie. It seems like the film is trying to be a carbon copy of the original we love, and also be it’s own thing. This half-half leaves an inferior remake behind, trying to fix what was never broken.

Beauty and the Beast did not have to be remade, but it has been, so hopefully you can draw your own conclusions and decide whether it’s worth the two hours. I’m glad I saw it, but I can’t say I’ll be rushing to see it again and again. If you go in expecting a masterpiece you probably won’t find it. You’re more likely to come out appreciating the original masterpiece a lot more. Or maybe you’ll find it a delightful film. Either way, be my guest.

Bully Part 1: The Bullying Epidemic

“Kids will be kids,”
“Boys will be boys,”
“They’re cruel at that age”
“It’s a part of life,”
“You’ll get over it,”
“Why can’t you just be friends?”
“Just ignore it,”

Anybody who’s been bullied has heard those words. Bullying seems to be expected in school. It’s almost considered a rite of passage. We hear about it on the news, another precious human has taken their own life because of bullying. Everyone stands up briefly and shouts about how wrong it is. They call for change. They agree this should never happen again.
Then the victim blaming begins. The victim started it. They were just as responsible. They should have told someone. Just ignore it and it will go away. It can’t have been THAT bad!
The media stops reporting. The world moves on, and a shattered family is left with the ashes of their ruined lives.
The sad fact is that bullying is not something that ‘goes away’ when you grow up. Adults can be bullies, and be bullied. We live in a world that allows and encourages lying and cheating your way to the top. We watch reality shows that purposely puts awful human beings against each other in the name of entertainment. I can think of at least one prominent example of a bully with a huge platform….

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Not naming any names, of course

In 2011, Australian teen Casey Heynes became an international hero when mobile footage of him standing up to a bully went viral. After being brutally punched in the jaw, Casey physically lifted his assailant over his head, slamming him into the ground. Despite being suspended, he was applauded all over the world. Today, Casey is still an anti-bullying advocate with no plans to slow down.
2011 was also the year that an American documentary film Bully was released, amid a rating controversy, and became an instant hit. Critics and audiences alike called it “essential viewing” for children. I disagree. It’s essential viewing for every person in the world, regardless of age or gender.

When Bully was released, I wanted to see it, but I knew it wasn’t a good idea just yet. I was 19 and still very damaged by the relentless bullying I’d experienced in school. But now, in my early 20s, I’ve finally seen it. And I’m glad I didn’t see the film in theatres. There’s little doubt in my mind that I would have ended up under the seats in a sobbing mess.

Bully follows the lives of five young victims of bullying. Alex Libby, a sweet-natured 13 year old with social and learning difficulties is tormented beyond belief on the school bus. Kelby Johnson, 16, is ostracised by her Bible Belt town when she comes out as a lesbian. The teachers at her school join in with the tormenting and she tells of being purposely hit by a minivan containing six boys from her school. Ja’Meya, 14, faces felony charges after bringing her mother’s gun on the school bus, attempting to intimidate the bullies into leaving her alone.
But the most tragic of the five are the two children we never meet, as they have taken their own lives. 17 year old Tyler Long hung himself after being harassed and abused for years. He was shoved into lockers and had his clothes taken while showering. Finally, there is Ty Smalley, who committed suicide aged only 11.

Bully is not easy to sit through. During the scenes where Alex is being stabbed while the bus driver doesn’t even look, you find yourself fighting the urge to jump up and do something about it. The filmmakers ended up showing footage to the school and Alex’s parents, only for the assistant principal to give a plastic smile and a promise to do something.
“That’s what she said in the fall,” Alex’s mother says tearfully. “She’s not going to do anything,”
The administrators and teachers at the school are shown to be apparently oblivious/uncaring to the widespread bullying problem. In perhaps the most infuriating scene of all, a boy identified only as “Cole” is pulled aside by the aforementioned assistant principal with a boy who has been bullying him terribly. She orders the boy to shake hands and make up. The bully, who has the smile of a snake oil salesman, sticks out his hand. Cole refuses to accept it. The assistant principal berates Cole for not accepting an apology. “You’re just as bad as him!” she claims. The audience shouts at the screen at this idiotic woman. She simply refuses to see the truth. Instead, she launches into the victim blaming. Why is Cole hanging out with this kid. “I’m not,” Cole says, close to tears. “He comes and finds me,”

Bully isn’t interested in lecturing anyone. It’s not interested in giving a definitive answer. It just wants to show real life, and it wants to give hope. And I love documentaries that do that. Instead of launching straight into scenes of violence, the film is very clever about drawing us into this world, creating connections with these children and their families, allowing us to see the truth.

The biggest lie/misconception is that ALL bullies bully because they feel bad about themselves. And I don’t believe it for a second. The bully who has been tormenting Cole is about as sincere as Kanye West being happy for Taylor Swift at the Grammys. You look at his face. You look at his grin. You see the meaningless handshake. The assistant principal watches the young ones get on the bus to go home. “My little cherubs,” she smiles fondly. The film then cuts to those ‘little cherubs’ stabbing Alex with pencils. Choking him. Punching him. Slamming his head into the back of the seat while others shout encouragement. Later, shown telling outright lies about what went down.
Bullies don’t always have a self-esteem issue. They have a lack of empathy. That is their problem. They don’t care about how other people feel. They’re narcissistic. They only think of themselves. They enjoy the power.
Bullying isn’t just physical. It’s psychological, social, emotion, verbal. Bullying is not just isolated to the school building anymore. The power of the internet has given rise to cyber bullying and the anonymity of such attacks gives even more sense of power. Bullying is everywhere now. In schools, homes, the internet, the workplace. And it needs to stop.

Bully has been criticised for apparently offering no solutions to the problem. And that’s perfectly true. The documentary simply shows what the problem is. It shows the truth, raw and brutal, of how bad bullying can get. But that’s only half the story.
My day job is touring to schools all around Australia, performing anti-bullying plays to primary and high schools. During the Q&A sessions I share my experiences with the kids and teach them how they can stop bullying. And as a prop for one of the shows, I use a book. It’s called Bully.

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Yes, it’s the companion book to the film. Several hundred pages of information and strategies to combat bullying. And the best thing about it? It does NOT blame the victim. On the contrary, it emphasises that the victim is not at fault. I want to see a world where bullying isn’t tolerated or dismissed as harmless. I want to see a world where victims can report without fear of being disbelieved or being told they brought it upon themselves.

Bully is five years old now, but everyone needs to see it. It’s raw, hard-hitting and difficult to stomach at times. You’ll be fighting the urge to throw things at the screen. You’ll want to shake those adults and make them come to their senses. You’ll want to rip those brats off Alex while they stab him. But it contains truth that you just don’t see normally. They don’t talk at the kids. They show them the brutality of schoolyard life. But they also show hope. The final moments of the film show the foundation Ty Smalley’s parents set up, Stand for the Silent. Balloons are released for children who lost hope and committed suicide. Ty’s father delivers an emotional speech where he vows to fight bullying forever, because his son “will be 11 years old forever,”

This is an issue that isn’t going away any time soon, and the only way to fight it is by standing up against it as a community.

For more information on the film and the anti-bullying movement, visit  http://www.thebullyproject.com/

Next Blog: Bully Part 2-My Story

Disaster Films: Maleficent

Right now I’m on tour, performing theatre in schools around the country. Touring is a mixed blessing. It’s a great job, but you are away from home a lot. You have to get used to moving constantly and I can’t say living out of a suitcase is the most ideal of clothing situations. But on the plus side, I’m doing what I love, I’m travelling and I’m getting to meet a lot of really incredible kids.

Two weeks ago, while in my motel room, I discovered the joys of Foxtel Disney. So many classics at my fingertips! I watched Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Big Hero 6, Beauty and the Beast….I was in heaven.

And then Maleficent came on.

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Don’t be fooled by the smile. This movie is AWFUL.

When I heard about Maleficent, I was entirely indifferent. She was a cool villain but Sleeping Beauty wasn’t my favourite Disney movie and I hadn’t seen it in years. Plus, looking at the trailers it was painfully obvious that they were trying to rip off Wicked. As a result, I didn’t see it.
But last year I re-visited Sleeping Beauty and found myself quite enjoying it. Well, aspects of it anyway. The side characters are great fun, the fairies are wonderful, the climax is one of Disney’s best and Maleficent is a PHENOMENAL villain. She doesn’t have a lot of motivation, but the lengths she’ll go to seek revenge are so high you can’t help but be riveted. She’s given a perfect amount of air time. So why did she need her own film?
Short answer, she didn’t.
Long answer….? Well, I advise you to get comfortable. There’s a fair bit to talk about.

And by the way, there will be spoilers.

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God shoot me. What a waste of celluloid.

In the film, Maleficent is given a backstory that will likely send any fan of the original animated film into a foaming rage. Or maybe that was just me. Anyway, apparently as a child Maleficent lived in the forest on the edge of an evil kingdom (why is it evil? Never explained. Does it have any real impact or necessity to the story? Nope). She had wings and fell in love with a young boy named Stefan. Years later, Stefan has become corrupt with ambition (you’re not fooling me, movie. I know he’s going to grow up to be Aurora’s father and I am spoiling that with no shame whatsoever) and Maleficent is the official guardian of the Moors. Stefan is told if he kills Maleficent he will take the throne. Apparently this is all the reason he needs to kill the woman he loved for years, but he can’t bring himself to do it and instead cuts off her wings. This scene is meant to be subtle in its symbolism, but it’s about as subtle as a stab in the eye with a salad fork. Have fun explaining that scene to your kids.
Stefan takes power, and you know what happens next. He doesn’t invite Maleficent to the christening out of spite (strike one in continuity, originally it was just an oversight), she turns up and curses the baby, the three fairies take the baby into hiding, you know it.

The scene at the christening is so rife with idiotic mistakes I can only do one of my lists.

  1. The three fairies were Flora, Fauna and Merryweather. Not Knotgrass, Thistlewit and Flittle.
  2. Flora and Fauna gave Aurora the gifts of beauty and song, not whatever they gave her in the remake.
  3. Maleficent curses the baby to DIE when she pricks her finger, not fall asleep
  4. Merryweather was the fairy who softened the curse from death to sleeping until true love’s kiss.
  5. Maleficent’s raven is actually a human? ….What?

That’s just the christening scene. What follows is an affront to art itself.
Apparently Maleficent ALWAYS knows where Aurora is. She follows her around and gains Aurora’s trust. They actually have a friendship. Eventually Maleficent doesn’t want the girl to die and tries to revoke the curse, then cause Prince Phillip to kiss her.
Do I even need to explain why this is beyond stupid?

Maleficent isn’t the only character who got shredded to pieces in this movie. Everyone did. Especially the fairies.

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Holy Tinkerbell, Disney. What were you thinking?

In Sleeping Beauty, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather are some of the most likeable comedic characters the studio has ever produced. They’re memorable, unique and a lot of fun. They get plenty of laughs, but they also have a lot of intelligence, resourcefulness and bravery.
Here, Knotgrass, Thistlewit and Flittle (ugh!) are dumber than a pile of bricks. They spend most of the film bickering, getting into fistfights and straight up neglecting the kid they’re supposed to be protecting. Because that’s what we all wanted to see, right? The three fairies as idiotic morons with juvenile antics bordering on teenage girl drama. Good grief, this is some of the worst character development I have ever seen. It’s downright insulting to the original film. And there is absolutely no reason for it.

In Sleeping Beauty, King Stefan and King Hubert were really charming. In Maleficent, King Hubert doesn’t even exist and Stefan is just a run of the mill douchebag. To make things worse, actor Sharlto Copley’s performance reminds me of a train wreck at an excruciatingly slow pace.

I’ve never been president of the Princess Aurora Fan Club and the way she’s portrayed here doesn’t help. If anything, I dislike the character more. She keeps having ‘girl talk’ conversations with Maleficent and stupidly believes Maleficent to be her fairy godmother.

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Because that’s totally what I would think too.

Of course, she finds out the truth and runs away in fear, but as soon as she wakes up, she somehow doesn’t care that Maleficent tried to doom her to a fate worse than death. She smiles sweetly and even helps to take down her own father.
Oh, and with the whole ‘true love’s kiss’? Yeah, they try to put a stupid twist on that too. I won’t spoil it here but let’s just say you can see it doing the fan dance from a mile off. It’s also stupid beyond all reason.

This movie, as a whole, is so unnecessary it’s laughable. Like Cars 2, Cars 3, or Monster’s UniversityMaleficent didn’t need to be made. It’s trying to be Wicked without trying anything new or creative. On the contrary, it seems hell bent on extracting anything we liked about these characters to begin with. We don’t need to see a good Maleficent. She’s a wonderful villain. The three fairies were brilliant, they don’t need to be degraded to this point. The kings were fun, why make him the villain?
Wicked worked because it was carefully constructed. It was well written. It had great characters to disguise any flaws in the story. The music was wonderful and to be fair, it was pretty much the first time we’d seen anything like it. Taking a story we thought we knew and giving us a fresh perspective was something that hadn’t really been done before. But it wasn’t trying to change Wizard of Oz. It was paying homage to the imagination and wonder of a classic and it knew exactly where to focus the drama and comedy. Maleficent doesn’t do this. It’s dark, depressing, pretty insulting to the original and overall just trying to cash in on what Wicked did so well.
But what shocked me the most was when the credits started rolling. At first, this was cause for momentary celebration until the writer was named.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the screenwriter for Maleficent was Linda Woolverton, the writer of Beauty and the Beast, arguably Disney’s best animated fairytale, and The Lion King. The Lion King!!!!

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She also wrote Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. What else is there to say?

How did she sink to this level? She goes from writing Disney’s finest, to sinking below the bottom of the barrel. What happened? How did this script ever get approved without someone saying “Hang on, are we taking a blowtorch to a classic?” I’ll never know. Some mysteries in life are best left unsolved.

I probably hate this movie a lot more than it deserves. I can’t say it’s a bad influence or saying anything morally wrong. I just really can’t stand it when Hollywood comes along and tries to butcher a really great film. Especially when it does well commercially because it just encourages the trend of making worse and worse entertainment.

Sadly, Maleficent’s success at the box office has led to the announcement of a sequel. This means once again, the Mistress of All Evil is going to be whitewashed into a misunderstood antihero. And I’m going to be sitting at home, drinking champagne, watching Sleeping Beauty and seeing Maleficent as she should be portrayed.

And I advise you all to do the same.

Brooklyn delivers where The Dressmaker failed

I don’t care about Valentine’s Day much and neither does my partner. However, neither of us object to a nice night out at the movies, so that was his Valentine’s Day gift to me this year.

I’ll be honest, I’d heard Brooklyn was a good film, but I didn’t know much about it. In some respects, this allowed me to go in with a very clear mind, free of preconceptions. And heavens alive, did this film deliver.

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I could kiss this movie

Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis Lacey (in an exquisite performance by Saoirse Ronan) as she emigrates from a small Irish town to Brooklyn, leaving behind her mother, sister and a very gossipy neighbourhood. She struggles to adapt to her surroundings, and is faced with the prospect of love.

Right away, this is a great if simple set-up, and the movie accepts it. There’s no attempts to embellish or make the story anything it isn’t. And you know what? Thank the heavens above, because this is enough. Seeing Eilis in this situation is all we need as an audience. It’s not about huge political, social or economical issues, it’s just a slice of life. Eilis seems human. She has real emotions. She’s homesick. She’s lonely. She’s happy. She’s hopeful. She’s scared. She’s conflicted. Eilis’ relationships with her mother, sister and boyfriend are very natural and relatable to everyone.
The other characters are memorable with defined personalities. You remember them all because again, they’re real. There’s no pretense or falseness here. The movie works so well because it’s firmly grounded in reality and therefore, the audience can connect with these characters and stay invested.

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I wish I had that swimsuit

Without giving away too much, the third act of the film centres on a dilemma Eilis has where it appears she needs to choose between the life she truly wants. Again, it’s a very real struggle, and you genuinely don’t know what she’s going to do. But the choice she makes is the right one for her, if somewhat sad, and the ending scene is absolutely perfect, bringing the character arc to a flawless conclusion.

The entire time I was watching Brooklyn I was thinking to myself “This is what The Dressmaker could have been;” and while I don’t know if I fully believe that, I still feel a lot more satisfied by what Brooklyn did. Both films were about two women trying to make a new life. Both were about two small towns with some vindictive members. Both had a love story and both were centred around a certain country.
Now, I loathed The Dressmaker for a number of reasons, notably the unfocused vision and unjustified violence (if you haven’t read my rant on The Dressmaker, click here and knock yourself out). The Dressmaker ultimately didn’t know what the overall theme and message was and instead made a very unsavoury and sub-par film. Brooklyn knows the scope, the audience and the overall tone. It accepts what it has to work with and engulfs itself in the story.
This movie has everything. It’s well paced, beautiful to look at and an engaging story with relatable characters. The acting is perfect and you stay invested every step of the way. I am so grateful that this movie was made, and made so well. It’s a rite of passage/transitional period story told to perfection. It’s a shame it missed out on Oscars, but hopefully it can have a strong DVD life. See it if you haven’t already.

 

Seuss on Screen Part 1: Horton Hears a Who

Is everyone happy now? I caved. I watched Horton Hears a Who. The one Dr Seuss movie I was yet to see. I bought it from Kmart for $9, I sat down with an open mind and pressed play.

Is it good? No. Is it bad? Well…..it’s certainly not horrible. It’s probably the least awful of the Seuss adaptations. But that doesn’t make it a good movie.

Dr Seuss’ work has not been treated kindly by the film industry, with a total of 4 feature length movies based incredibly loosely on his works. The movies began with The Grinch in 2000, The Cat in the Hat infamously portrayed by Mike Myers in 2003, 2008’s Horton Hears a Who and most recently, The Lorax in 2012. Why do these movies, for the most part, fail so spectacularly in bringing the world of Seuss to life?

As a die-hard Seussian, I’m determined to find out. This is my Seuss on Screen series, starting with Horton Hears a Who.

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First, let’s look at the source material. Published in 1954, Horton Hears a Who was actually the second appearance of the titular character, having already starred in 1940’s Horton Hatches the Egg. Horton Hears a Who follows Horton the elephant as he hears the tiny planet of Whoville on a speck of dust. Horton is the only animal in the Jungle of Nool able to hear the Whos. Wishing to protect this tiny population, Horton places the dust speck on a clover, despite the Sour Kangaroo and the Jungle of Nool believing Horton to be out of his mind. Horton stands by his mantra “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” and eventually the Whos are able to prove their existence before being destroyed.

After the success of Horton Hatches the Egg, the sequel came about when Seuss visited Japan post WWII. Having drawn multitudes of political cartoons during the war, Seuss was quite anti-Japanese, but visiting Hiroshima changed his mind dramatically, and he wrote the book as an allegory to how the Japanese were treated in the post-war years. It was even dedicated to a Japanese friend.

It’s a common misconception that the story is a comment on abortion, and several pro-life groups have used the famous line “a person’s a person no matter how small” much to Seuss’ anger. If there’s one thing he hated, it was people twisting his words and stories for their own ends. I shudder to think what he’d do if he saw some of these films…..

The themes of Horton Hears a Who are pretty straightforward. It’s a simple message of looking out for the little guy and opening your mind to believing in something you can’t always see. Easy enough. There’s a fair bit of drama, with the Wickersham brothers and Vlad Vlad-i-koff forcing Horton to search for the clover in a giant field of identical flowers, then the Sour Kangaroo trying to boil the speck in a vat of beezlenut oil. The villains get their redemption, and they’re still not evil. You can definitely see their point of view. The Whos are a creative concept, they’re relateable as the underdogs, and Horton teaches kids to stand by their convictions even if no-one else supports you.

Making a movie out of this doesn’t seem necessary, but there’s still potential in it to be a fun little family film. Sadly, what we got doesn’t meet the mark in all areas.

A major issue I have with the film is the message is totally glanced over. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still there, and that’s great, but it’s constantly shoved aside to make the kids laugh. And nowhere is this more obvious than the characterisation of Horton himself.

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Look at that grin. Kill me now.

In the books, Horton is, at the core, a simple elephant of principle. He’s gentle, kind, loyal and a good role model. He’s engaging and admirable, and both his stories form the basis for the musical Seussical. He is the only one who can hear the Whos, and even at first he’s not sure he did. But on the off chance that there is someone, he does a noble thing and protects the dust speck. Everyone says he’s insane, but he keeps with the clover. In Horton Hatches the Egg, Horton agrees to sit on Mayzie’s egg for a day, but she doesn’t come back. He sticks with the egg for 51 lonely weeks, is laughed at, and gets sold to a circus. But he doesn’t give up, constantly saying “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent,” What wonderful messages to teach kids, and adults too!

In the film, Horton is voiced by Jim Carrey. And heavens alive, is he miscast. I’ve loved Jim Carrey in other projects, but he’s just not right for Horton, or at least, the correct character of Horton. In the film, Horton is made into something of a hyperactive eccentric, and it’s incredibly distracting. I have no problem with the writers giving Horton a bit of a quirky edge to make him more interesting, or give the jungle creatures a reason to mistrust him, but this is downright silly. I imagine they’re trying to do what Carrey did with the Grinch, which worked ok. The Grinch is a grouchy social recluse, so it makes sense that he would be strange. Whereas Horton isn’t meant to be crazy and weird, he’s just a normal elephant. If that makes sense. I mean, I don’t know many elephants personally so I can’t……but I’m sure most elephants are…..

THE POINT IS that making Horton a nutjob is going against what he is. And they’ve done exactly the same thing with the Mayor of Whoville. Steve Carrell, who actually does a pretty good job, is also an knucklehead mcspazatron. Sure, he has a few moments of substance when he isn’t spouting tell-don’t-show dialogue, but he’s clumsy, odd and constantly battling with the evil government who just doesn’t want to believe him about Horton.

Quite honestly, the idea that the Who’s also are skeptical about being a dust speck is a pretty clever idea. It’s what Dr Seuss added to the animated Chuck Jones special back in 1970. But did we really need the big bad establishment? Isn’t a skeptical population enough? Apparently not.

I think of all the voice acting and characters, the best choice by far was Carol Burnett as the Sour Kangaroo. She’s easily the most faithful to the book. The other characters are far too wacky to be relateable, and because they’re constantly played for cheap laughs, the seriousness of the story is severely watered down.

And the pacing. Oh, the pacing.

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To the film’s credit, visually, the book comes to life. Animation is a much more suitable medium for Dr Seuss’ work than live action, and they take full advantage of it. The film looks great, especially the world created for Whoville.  However, I fear that this made the filmmakers panic, and worried about how to best engage the children for eighty minutes. So do they really explore the idea of opening your eyes to what isn’t obvious? No. Ok, do they go into depth on the world of Whoville and make us really connect with these tiny people so we care about them? No. Do we see Horton struggle with being shunned? Nope. We get a bunch of zany antics and cheesy slapstick from beginning to end. I’m serious. I couldn’t count one quiet moment in the film. Animation may give you more freedom to make bold choices, but it isn’t a license to give us all seizures. Horton is crazy. The Mayor is crazy. The Whos are all crazy. The Jungle of Nool is crazy. It’s constant movement, noise, and action for the sake of having things flying by on screen. And the anime references? Why? I just straight up don’t get the purpose of that sequence. It made no sense and the film grounded to a halt! And you know why the movie is loud and borderline obnoxious?

Because the movie is afraid that if they pause for a microsecond the kids will fall asleep.

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Where were the Wickershams?

There’s a widespread belief that children’s entertainment needs to be constantly loud and energetic because kids have short attention spans. And they do, but this approach is completely counterproductive. This is such a dumb concept I don’t even know where to begin saying what’s wrong with it. It’s not only okay to have quiet moments in children’s entertainment, it’s actually important. Children need it to teach them patience and how to appreciate atmosphere. Look at the scene in Mary Poppins where Mr Banks walks down the streets of London. No dialogue, no singing, just some incredible shots of the city and a beautiful instrumental underscore of Feed the Birds. It’s one of the most heavy and adult scenes in a family picture, and it’s one of the most beloved movies of all time.

There was a glimmer of hope at the very end when the Sour Kangaroo realises what she’s done and Horton very graciously forgives her. Finally, it appears we can have a moment! No words necessary, all done through visuals and music and…..nope, Vlad Vlad-i-koff has to loudly point out that this is a touching moment and starts crying in the most obnoxious fashion imaginable. That’s the entire summation of where Horton Hears a Who falls flat as a picture. It is afraid of it’s own message. It shoves it to the side so the kids can keep giggling at the slapstick. The comedy is spoon fed to the audience. There’s a few clever moments, but for the most part I could predict the punchline to almost every joke. The characters are all in the same vein so there’s no variety. The tone is constantly loud and bizarre which sucks out the weight of the message. They’re afraid to see the target audience as thinking human beings who deserve to be treated as such.

It’s definitely not a terrible movie and I don’t think I’d encourage people to boycott the film. It’s relatively harmless. I disagree with the overall tone, but it probably is the closest to Seuss’ world being realised on film as we’re likely to get. But it’s worth remembering what Dr Seuss’ mindset was about children:

I write for myself. Children are just as smart as you are. The main difference is they don’t know so many words. If your story is simple, you can tell it just as if you’re telling it to adults,”

Horton may have been a critical and financial success, but as for me, I will always revere the book on my shelf.

Next week: The Grinch!