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I, Frankenstein

In the course of a permanent head-to-head competition between Good and Evil, I expect to see some indication of crucial difference in thought, word and action between the two opposing forces.  The fundamental ethical differences between demons and gargoyles is, in this film, fairly muddled.  That muddled opposition leaves no clearly-recognizable razor’s edge for the title character to tread heroically upon.

Bill Nighy plays an eminently-evil prince of darkness quite brilliantly.  Miranda Otto performs her part with equal skill, despite having a lot less screen time, and the burden of delivering preposterous lines of exposition with such persuasive aplomb that the junk she’s stuck with explaining seems remarkably plausible.

The film doesn’t work in spite of the excellent acting talent, the impresive practical make up for the demons and the surprisingly-believable digital effects that let gargoyles fly.  The film doesn’t work because the story is fundamentally flawed in ways that prevent “Adam” Frankenstein from showing us the evolution of an outcast, downtrodden, feral monster into an heroic creature with oversized soul.  And the success of the film depends upon that demonstration.

It’s an ambitious undertaking that Van Helsing, in my opinion, negotiated extremely well. I, Frankenstein, on the other hand missed, whiffed and fucked up an exquisite opportunity to transform a bunch of really-great ideas into a transnarrative masterpiece.  It’s not about the people portrayed in the film, no matter how hard the actors worked to strike the appropriate tones.  I, Frankenstein panders to an audience that recognizes nonsense and avoids it like plague.

Adam and Viktor are like Isaac and Abraham in reversed roles, with no divine reprieve for the Creator — but that’s only the first of a vast number of interesting places that film might have gone instead of the complicated muddle that follows the previously-on voice-over narration from the team that brought us the Underworld franchise I’ve studiously avoided (like plague).

I don’t know, maybe this era is the twilight of cinema.  Outlander is compelling television, and Words and Pictures kicked my butt.  They have in common liberal sprinklings of adult repartee, adult sex and adult humor, attributes completely missing from I, Frankenstein and everything I’ve seen that relates however remotely to Christopher Nolan.

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26 Dec 14 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Maleficent

It’s probably a glaring inevitability that this film would remind me of The Last Temptation of ______ Galadriel, but I wasn’t expecting the wealth of realworld and cultural gracenotes that abound within the pragmatic straightjacket of its 97 minute running time.  The few deleted scenes included in the BD special features provide a bit of the connective tissue that imply the need for a much longer film or a miniseries that would thoroughly embrace thematic references to The Lion in Winter, Macbeth, Downton Babby, Little Big Man, Avatar, Prometheus, Robin Hood, Gandhi, Frozen, and the Fellowship of the Hobbit along with proliferating references to contemporary and eternal conflicts that absolutely belong in a robust, socially-activating transnarrative environment that Hollywood probably isn’t yet ready for.  Wuthering.

Although I don’t much care for dear little muppet-like sylvan creatures nor jarring little turns of narration that probably serve expediently to mate this dynamic retelling to the Disney animated classic film, I still found Maleficent to be a phenomenal adventure in next-level narrative, a genuine advance in the evolution of tale-making.  With more time and money there’d be less tale telling and more tale showing; like the unspoken evolution of the title character’s headgear from faun to dragon to black crepe and back.

Two kingdoms (only one of which had a monarch and the other one had a name):  Henry, the king of the unnamed realm proclaimed his mandate to be the conquest of the envied other place.  An orphan boy named Stefan grandly proclaims his own manifest destiny to be to live in the palace of the king, although he probably wasn’t aspiring to live there in servility, nor to betray his only friend in an act of uncommonly-abominable treachery.  Maelström may not be the radical basis of Maeleficent, but the powerful, swirling remix of familiar icons, associations and metaphors seems like an entirely-appropriate elaboration.

Cool film with fascinating glitches like Henry’s daughter is Stefan’s princess-bride and Aurora’s mother, but nobody spoke her name and her part in this film (in which choices and consequences matter tremendously), though pivotal, was completely inconsequential.

The first half of this film has a non-negotiable obligation to justify the protagonist’s bizarre decision to damn a newborn infant.  Despite coming remarkably close, it failed in that regard.  This crucial, defining moment in this tale of Sleeping Beauty goes down unearned, like a balk with bases loaded.  It’s practically anticlimactic because it’s true to tradition and false in the context of the preceding 30 minutes.  I think the only way the curse makes emotional sense to the viewer is if the child is the product of Stefan’s lust and power-starved rape of Maleficent, which isn’t even close to what happened.  Her envious wistfulness for a discarded storyline in which Stefan chose love/lust for her over his life in the castle isn’t, I think, enough malice, and directing it at the kid still just stinks.  Envy/dominion are explicitly defined as human failings to which Maleficent’s homeland succumbs in consequence of one too many contaminating visits from mankind.   Aurora’s nameless mother feels like an important (corrupting) compromise, a functionless appendix or a plea bargain down from premeditated murder to temporary insanity resulting in drugged mutilation, wing-jacking and recurring abandonment.

Rape and Disney?

Somewhere down the road there’s a vastly darker and far more satisfying version of this revised manifestly-unfairytale.  In the interim, this one’s pretty brilliant as a transitional stepping-stone to an unwritten masterpiece of mature, fully-empowered fablemaking.

If the mission of Maleficent was to take a big artful step in a lot of the right directions while making a buck, mission accomplished.

04 Dec 14 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment