Interview: Charlie Lyne, wri/dir of ‘Beyond Clueless’

beyond-clueless

Narrated by cult teen star Fairuza Balk, writer/director Charlie Lyne’s first film Beyond Clueless is an epic visual odyssey through teen movies of the late ’90s/early 2000s, taking in over 200 films to explore the issues and themes at the heart of the genre.

Stacy Grouden caught up with Charlie ahead of its release and a special Q&A screening at the Light House Cinema this Sunday.

 

In terms of form, Beyond Clueless is quite unusual: kind of a visual essay with documentary elements. How would you describe it to someone? And what inspired you to use this form to explore this material?

The teen genre is really good at simultaneously fulfilling the most basic emotional needs of teenagers and also throwing some pretty subversive, challenging ideas at them. I wanted to attempt something similar by making a movie that could function as both an analysis of teen movies, and a teen movie in its own right.

How are you defining a ‘teen movie’, for your purposes?

I favour as broad a definition as possible, because I think any restrictions you put in place end up ruling out some really interesting, worthwhile films. My only criterion was that all of the movies in Beyond Clueless had to address — in one way or another — what it is to be an adolescent; what it is to be caught in that strange state between childhood and adulthood.

It’s clear there are iconographic elements common to teen movies of this era – which is on display in the film’s wonderful montages, and the structure being almost the same as a school year – even when the theme and tone of these movies appear wildly different. For example, Jawbreaker and She’s All That are in some ways worlds apart, but you get the transformative ‘plain-girl’ makeover in both. I guess I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on whether the largely-visual tropes of the genre inform its ideology, and unify teen movies that way? Is the overall message the same, because they look the same, even when on a broader generic level you could be dealing with films as different as Scream to Can’t Hardly Wait?

I think it’s more that the tropes and iconography create a jumping-off point for all that teen movies are capable of. The second you see that high-school corridor, those red party cups, or that prom queen tiara, you immediately recognise the world you’re being thrust into, which I think allows each individual film a certain amount of leeway in where they go from there. You can get away with a lot when people think they have you pegged.

You’ve featured over 200 films in Beyond Clueless, released from the mid-’90s onwards. With such a huge range of teen films to choose from, how did you decide which films to focus on in greater depth – were they films you particularly liked, or felt had common themes you wanted to explore in the film?

The first thing I did was map out how I wanted the film to work thematically, and from there it was just a question of finding the films that suited each of those themes best. And in practice, these tended not to be the most critically respected or financially successful films, but instead films that were a bit broken, or a bit crap, but had one element that really, really worked.

Can you tell me a little bit about Summer Camp’s soundtrack for the film? Did you communicate much about the kind of music you wanted for the film?

Summer Camp were practically my co-directors on the film. They were involved from the word go and took the lead on some of the sequences, while I took the lead on others. It was a collaborative process in the purest sense of the word — never a question of them fulfilling a brief, but us working together to work out how the film should look and feel.
 
What are your plans beyond Beyond Clueless? Are you hoping to make more films?

Yes! Boring answer I know but I’m forbidden from talking about it at the moment. I can promise you it will feature far less Devon Sawa than my first film though.

 

Beyond Clueless is released 23rdJanuary. Director Charlie Lyne will take part in a special Q&A screening of the film at 4pm on Sunday, 25th January at the Light House Cinema, Dublin, which will be followed by classic teen horror The Craft at 6.30pm.

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The Grandmaster

The Grandmaster Zhang Ziyi

DIR: Kar Wai Wong • WRI: Kar Wai Wong, Jingzhi Zou, Haofeng Xu • PRO. Kar Wai Wong, Jacky Pang Yee Wah •  DOP: Phillipe Le Sourd • ED:William Chang, Benjamin Courtine, Hung Poon  • CAST: Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Jin Zhang

After a rapturous awards season reception earlier this year, seeing it collect over 40 awards and two Oscar nominations, Wong Kar Wai’s latest film The Grandmaster is finally getting an Irish cinema release this week – and for fans of the Hong Kong-based filmmaker’s sumptuously-paced set pieces, it will be well worth the wait to see it on the big screen.

The Grandmaster of the title is the legendary Chinese martial artist Ip Man, (Leung), the film offering a non-linear portrait of the man who would popularise the art of Wing Chun throughout the world and famously train Bruce Lee. A decade in the making, over a year of that just in the editing suite – not to mention the daily four-hour Wing Chun sessions star Tony Leung took for a year in advance of the role – The Grandmaster is an obvious passion project for Wong Kar Wai and writer-director’s trademark style flows through it like Ip Man’s philosophy manifests in his movement. The subject matter of The Grandmaster initially seems like an odd fit for someone who made his name with languorously-paced romantic drama and especial use of the disruptive step-printing technique (or ‘fast motion’ – shooting at a low frame rate so action is sped up on playback) to imbue scenes with a dreamlike haziness.

Yet nothing is lost to these idiosyncrasies. From the breathtaking opening sequence in which Ip Man beats down on a gang of combatants, as brutally and naturally elemental as the accompanying rain, to his exhilarating encounters with other martial arts masters – those with the enigmatic Gong Er (Ziyi) recall the restraint and passionate tension of the director’s most successful work in In the Mood for Love and Chungking Express – Kar Wai presents an art-house kung fu movie all his own, thematically and visually, and for the most part, it works.

However, the film’s storytelling is as erratic as a step-printed scene, jumping around time and space and utilising title cards as well as occasional first-person narration from Ip Man. This is another common trait of Kar Wai’s films, but the inconsistency unfortunately has the effect of making the film’s attempt to balance its slickly-shot fight sequences with Ip Man’s characterisation feel all the more uneven. The fascinating details of Ip Man’s life – the hardships endured due to a refusal to collaborate during wartime; his relationship with his teachers and later, his own students; – are barely told, and their hasty juxtaposition with the more visually-focused elements of the film (not just fight scenes, but also the introspective or poetic moments) feels like something of a slight. It may be worth noting though that the Weinstein Company, distributing the film in the West, has heavily cut The Grandmaster by about 20 minutes – having not seen them, how crucial they are in addressing these shortcomings is not for me to say.

Yet in its wildest moments, it is so easy to overlook these failures, when its successes are so glorious. Phillipe La Sourd’s cinematography is flooring, whether it’s capturing the eight kicks of Wing Chun or a static, tearful Gong Er in the snow. Ip Man’s kung fu is rendered with a sleek, deliberate power enhanced by the world-ending charisma of star Tony Leung, one of the most expressive yet subtle movie stars in probably all of contemporary cinema. (Rumours that the original title was Leung Fu Fighting have so far been unconfirmed.)

While it’s far from the usual kung fu romp, that might be as much its benefit as to its disadvantage. Captivating and thrilling, if narratively meandering and slapdash, The Grandmaster is a visual triumph.

 

Stacy Grouden

15A
108 minutes.
The Grandmaster
is released 5th December.

The Grandmaster – Official Website

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The Grand Seduction

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DIR: Don McKellar • WRI: Ken Scott, Michael Dowse • PRO: Barbara Doran, Roger Frappier • DOP: Douglas Koch • ED: Dominique Fortin • CAST: Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Liane Balaban, Gordon Pinsent

Based on Seducing Doctor Lewis, a French-Canadian film from 2003, The Grand Seduction’s title change suggests perhaps a more genteel sensibility in its marketing, a romantic appeal to bygone values, which curiously extends throughout the film’s attitudes to the politics of gender, work, and blue-collar living, to mixed results.

Opening with a chorus of orgasms reminiscent of Jean Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie, protagonist Murray (Gleeson) recalls how his hometown of Tickle Head, Newfoundland was once a tight-knit, hard-working community of fishermen, directly linking the difficult physical labour undertaken by the townsmen to their virility and domestic satisfaction. Times have changed, however, as the only person who appears to have a comfortable job there anymore is the postmistress Kathleen, doling out welfare cheques to any and every man in town. Things are so dire in the harbour town that Murray’s wife relocates to the city to take a job to support the couple, if you can imagine something so shocking. Amidst this economic strife, a multinational oil company is scouting locations for its new petro-chemical plant, but Tickle Head’s chances of winning the plant are slim to none without a doctor residing there. Enter Dr. Lewis (Kitsch). Caught with cocaine at a nearby airport by the town’s former mayor, he is offered a highly unusual way out of a drug charge – to move to Tickle Head for a month, while the plant is being negotiated.

Once word of Dr. Lewis’ impending arrival reaches the town, Murray leads the residents in conspiratorial hoodwinks to ‘seduce’ the doctor into staying put for good which, Murray lies, will guarantee them the plant. From here on in, the name of the game is farce, with the hockey-loving Newfies attempting to learn the rules of Lewis’ favourite sport, cricket, encouraging a flirtation with what appears to be the town’s only single young woman (Kathleen the postmistress again), tapping his phone to gauge how to improve his experience of the town, and in one of the funnier running jokes, leaving random banknotes for him to find on the pier, because people love finding money unexpectedly.

The ‘small-town conspiracy to fool Big Business’ plot recalls Waking Ned, and the humour is similarly gentle and formulaic, but effective, due to the strength of the performers involved. A number of set-pieces, such as an impromptu census by the oil company and an attempted cricket match, will raise a chuckle, but it is the cast that elevate the material. It’s a nice change to see Kitsch play in front of the naturally beautiful landscape of Newfoundland rather than the green screens of Mars, and with talented, lively actors rather than world-crushing aliens, and he makes for a convincing straight man equally amused and bemused by the Tickle Head locals. As in almost everything he does, Gleeson imbues his stuffy character with enough heart and good intention that it’s easier to overlook his questionable actions and attitudes.
Yet it is the latter point that gives me pause. While ‘old-fashioned’ as an adjective is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to comedy, the film’s most effective beats evoking classic sitcoms and ’30s screwball flicks, the politics of masculinity, multinationals, and economic survival at play in The Grand Seduction seem anachronistic in a way that goes unchallenged. That the best a former fishing village can hope for is the arrival of a huge corporation to engage the local economy in more unskilled, finite work – and that this itself is dependent on an American investment, so to speak, in the form of Dr. Lewis’ residency – is a bleaker message than the general tone of the film’s ending seems to suggest. Not to mention that most of the film’s action is driven over anxiety over female control: the only reason Murray ends up at the fateful town meeting in which he decides to bid for the plant is to avoid a fight over his wife’s decision to get a job, which naturally gives rise to jokes about how she will soon dominate him sexually as well. It’s as if the feminist movement never happened.

Nevertheless The Grand Seduction is an old-fashioned farce elevated by triumphant, charismatic performers. As with many a grand seduction, the best part is not the destination, but the journey, the enticement, the lead-in, and the film offers plenty of easy laughs and delightful moments along the way to its big finish.

Stacy Grouden

12A (See IFCO for details)

113 minutes

The Grand Seduction is released 29th August

Obvious Child –  Official Website

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What If

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DIR: Michael Dowse • WRI: Elan Mastai • PRO: David Gross, Macdara Kelleher, Marc Stephenson • ED: Yvann Thibaudeau  • DOP: Rogier Stoffers •  Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis, Rafe Spall, Megan Park

 


What If
is a title just as suggestive and open to interpretation, if in a somewhat different register, as the original name for this film, The F Word. While the latter, former title hints at the raunchy humour that cuts through its sweetness, like the bacon in a Fool’s Gold Loaf sandwich, What If suggests the longing, romantic potential of unrealised desire which motivates the film’s leads.

What If you met a woman with whom you have an instant, mutual attraction but she is already in a happy, long-term relationship? This is a situation which Wallace (Radcliffe), a somewhat morose medical-school drop-out with trust issues, initially views as a dilemma after he clicks with the shy, betrothed animator Chantry (Kazan) at a party.  After she rightly calls him out on not wanting to be friends because she has a boyfriend (Spall), the two embark on a fun-filled and engaging platonic friendship, frequently tested by increasingly ludicrous situations (two of which involve partial nudity), Chantry’s boyfriend’s relocation from Canada to Ireland, and their growing emotional connection.

Comparisons to (500) Days of Summer have been rife, and it’s easy to see why – the films share a quirky sensibility, a former child actor and indie darling as its stars, and forego some of the traditional beats and expectations of the genre. What If also manages the sadly rare feat of being a romantic comedy that is both convincingly romantic and actually funny.

With the central concern of the film’s plot  – can men and women be friends? – so reminiscent of a certain Rob Reiner comedy, and the frequently unlikely sources of deadpan humour, this could just have been When Harry (Potter) Met Sally, 2.0. What If, however, gives us slightly younger leads and takes some risks with its storytelling to make us second-guess the generically foregone conclusion. For example, the temptation to make Chantry’s boyfriend Ben a boring, careless loser we root for her to lose to be with Wallace is avoided. Instead, he is successful, intelligent, handsome, and a largely reasonable fella – complicating the rom-com route from A to B a little more than usual. Similarly, the intense parallel relationship of Allan (Driver) and Nicole (Davis) is another that has a less-than-fairytale structure, which makes it all the more interesting to watch its rapid development.

Occasionally, the film’s quirkiness is a bit cloying: Its animated interludes, non-sequitur in-jokes and hallucinated sequences are somewhat hit and miss. Similarly, the increasingly contrived situations ‘testing’ Wallace and Chandry’s friendship do detract from the naturalistic scenes where they just casually hang out and have believable, if earnest, conversations – scenes fizzing with good humour due to Kazan and Radcliffe’s effervescent chemistry.

The performances carry this film even through its weak points – these two light each other up, and the ultimate emotional denouement between the two is a really moving moment.  Kazan fleshes out her dithery character as a somewhat overwhelmed young woman with a lot of choices and potential, making her decisions or lack of decisions understandable and relatable. It’s great to see Radcliffe not only coming on as a talented comedic actor, but in a contemporary setting for once, even if the larger-than-life rising star Adam Driver, at 6 ft. 3, overshadows him both figuratively and literally as his flatmate. The unlikely presence of gawky Girls star Driver as a brash alpha-male actually sums up the type of romantic comedy What If is trying to be and what films in this recently weak, uncertain genre need to do to succeed – challenge expectations, balance romance and comedy, and have a deep bench of supporting players. Of these supporting players, as aforementioned, Rafe Spall makes for a winning spanner in the works; while Megan Park as Chantry’s sister Dalia, eschews the ditzy blonde stereotype she initially appears to fill in favour of quick, well-timed comedic relief; and Jemima Rooper, in a brief appearance as Wallace’s sister Ellie, has an impressively high laughs-to-screen-time ratio.

What If asks if we think these kinds of relationships can ever work, and is surprisingly mature in presenting its answers, even if the conclusion does feel a little neater than the sum of its parts and the complex, grey, follow-up questions.
What If your best friend is the love of your life? What If you went to see this smart, quirky and emotionally-engaging film, with sparkling lead performances, to find out?

 

Stacy Grouden

15A (See  IFCO for details)

101 minutes

What If is released 22nd August 

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Who is Dayani Cristal?

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DIR: Marc Silver • WRI: Mark Monroe • PRO: Thomas Benski, Gael Garcia Bernal, Lucas Ochoa, Marc Silver • DOP: Marc Silver ED: Martin Singer, James Smith-Rewse • MUS: Leonardo Heiblum, Jacobo Lieberman •
CAST: Gael Garcia Bernal
 
‘In life he was considered invisible, an illegal. Now in death, he is a mystery to be solved.’

Who is Dayani Cristal? These words, tattooed on a dead man in the Arizona desert, are the only clue to his identity, and ask the first question posed to us by Marc Silver and Gael Garcia Bernal’s latest project, but not necessarily the last. Delving into the complex and timely issue of illegal immigration to the United States from South America, and the large number of missing-presumed-dead immigrants who never make it either home or away, this film takes an interesting approach in combining investigative documentary and dramatic retelling. Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal’s dramatic recreation of the migrant’s last days and his encounters with others on each step of the same journey are juxtaposed with interviews with those who knew the deceased, shots of American officials on the other side attempting to identify and trace the dead man, and information about  the treacherous trek across the border.

This is a fascinating and important story, (if not, sadly, a unique one) and the combination of different forms of storytelling employed here works to varying degrees of success.  The basic, forensic detail of examining and tracing the body and the interviews presented with the border authorities and aid workers are compelling and shocking, presenting a troubling view of the American immigration system without ever being over the top. Bernal’s occasional narration complements the unobtrusive nature of Silver’s direction and photography,  allowing what is presented on screen to speak for itself and rarely imposing any kind of authoritative, partisan opinion onto the narrative, instead neatly summarising what we have already been shown. This is largely effective: Between statistics on migrant mortality, the painstaking process of tracing undocumented missing persons, and the poignant backstory of the deceased’s life, no further comment is needed – the reality is striking enough.

The presence of Bernal on-screen and his attempts to retrace the steps of the deceased, however, is a curious storytelling decision. While a charming on-screen presence, at ease singing on a train or playing football, these segments lead to some narrative dissonance. Although Bernal encounters migrants at every stage of the journey who tell him about the obstacles to crossing the border and the many dangerous elements at play, this danger is never truly palpable, no matter how many news reports about missing or dead migrants we see him absorb.

There is also a curious spiritual element to this film, bookended with ‘The Migrant’s Prayer,’ an appeal for faithful travellers to a God who also knew the force and necessity of migration. The presence of religious missions at shelters for migrants, peppered along train tracks like ‘secret railway stations,’ as Bernal calls them, is at best a celebration of the goodwill and faith of the church. At worst, however, it waxes a little too lyrically about the difficult situation of these migrants, romanticising poverty with statements like ‘poor people are the spiritual reserve of the world,’ so to then close the film on a spiritual, funereal note is slightly jarring for the wrong reasons.

Immigration between North and South America has been a thorny topic for American cinema, which tends to mask the complexities of this issue by depicting those south of the border as dangerous Mexican drug lords, intent only on pushing their product into the States, from Breaking Bad to Machete Kills. Who is Dayani Cristal? is a welcome counter-narrative to hysterical Hollywood fictions, alongside Diego Quemada-Díez’s recent film The Golden Dream, based on the reported experiences of over 600 migrants from South America about the journey across the border.

Who is Dayani Cristal? is maybe a little over-ambitious in its structure, attempting to combine different modes of storytelling and generic convention to present the case of Dayani Cristal from different angles and perspectives.  While it doesn’t fully succeed on all counts, it is an engaging, intelligent and important film, for as we learn, the story of this one man is sadly that of many, many anonymous others as well.

Stacy Grouden

12A (See IFCO for details)
84 mins

Who is Dayani Cristal? is released on 25th July 2014

Who is Dayani Cristal? – Official Website

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Under The Rainbow

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DIR: Agnès Jaoui  • WRI: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Agnès Jaoui •  PRO: Alexandre Mallet-Guy • DOP. Lubomir Bakchev •  ED: Fabrice Rouaud •  MUS: Fernando Fiszbein •  CAST: Agathe Bonitzer, Arthur Dupont, Agnès Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Benjamin Biolay

The reimagining of fairytales is everywhere this decade – it feels like only yesterday (but was in fact, this time last month) that I was contemplating how Maleficent, alongside Frozen, Snow White and the Huntsman and Red Riding Hood, is playing out this trend on the Hollywood mainstage, to varying degrees of success. But lest we forget the point of origin, European filmmakers have been playing with convention, too – last year’s Blancanieves from Spain gave the story of Snow White a number of quirky twists and updates, and now the formidable French satirists Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri present their take, Under the Rainbow.

Under the Rainbow suggests a wittier, more subversive approach to the fairytale elements it plays with – even the title, presented in a whimsical font, literally grounds the story beneath the aspirational horizons of folkloric projection and in ‘the real world.’  Lovelorn Laura encounters the shy composer Sandro at a glamorous ball exactly in the style of a dream she has had. But as their families meet and mix, and the mysterious Maxime fatefully enters the fold, will the two live happily ever after?

Agnes Jaoui infuses the film with a distinctive visual style, peppering the film with impressionistic paintings which fade into the drab surroundings of the world of the film – the entrance to the driving school, a concrete slab of a building – neatly linking into the film’s idea that romance fades into humdrum mediocrity. Under the Rainbow is not subtle with its allusions – the man we view as the primary antagonist is named Maxime Wolff, first encountered when advising the red-haired, red-hooded Laura which route to take at a forked path in the forest. There are also a number of visual gags referencing old stories such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, which do little for developing the story and feel a little inconsequential.

There is a slight but pleasing distraction of a subplot between Laura’s aunt Marianne and Sandro’s father Pierre (played by co-writers Jaoui and Bacri) when the latter offers to teach the former to drive. Although this development between the two pays dividends at the denouement of the film, it does sometimes feel as if it was scrapped in from another film, its themes linking only tangentially to the rest of Under the Rainbow, affording the writers (and director) to show some of the film’s subtler character development.

There are a number of interesting ideas that Jaoui and Bacri throw at the wall that could have stuck with a little more work – Laura’s mother’s attempts to be ‘the fairest of them all’ through cosmetic creams and surgeries; Marianne’s daughter’s preoccupation with the Bible, a funny counterpoint to other children’s love of fairytales. Jaoui and Bacri have form in dealing with these kinds of characters and ideologies clashing and complementing each other in unexpected ways, but the wit is slight, underdeveloped, like  jokes without punchlines or parables without a lesson to learn at the end.

This feels applicable to the film’s ending, too, subverting the expected tropes of both the fairytale and its contemporary counterpart, the romantic comedy. In theory, it’s a bold move and a pleasant surprise, but the way in which it is executed, with little to no build-up, almost causes the film to lean back the other way: ending the way it does is as unbelievable as the fairytales the rest of the film tears apart.

Stylish and witty, Under the Rainbow has some interesting notions about the stories we tell and the influence of those stories on our actions and behaviour, though they are rather undeveloped and lack the edge of Jaoui and Bacri’s previous outings. Nobody ever asks to see a second draft of a fairytale, but with some revision, this could have been a slicker, neater takedown of those classic, simple tropes, and why the world shouldn’t get too carried away in their narratives. Somewhere, Under the Rainbow, the meeting of reality and fairytale could have had a bite as deliciously poisonous as Snow White once took from an apple.

Stacy Grouden

15A See IFCO for details)
112 Minutes
Under the Rainbow is released 27thJune  2014

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Tea with the Dead

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Stacy Grouden attended a recent screening of Tea with the Dead, in which a gentle embalmer from Connemara shares cups of tea and chats with his mortuary arrivals.

On Friday. 6th June 2014, up-and-coming Irish animation company Wiggleywoo celebrated the completion of its latest project, Tea with the Dead, with a special screening in the wonderfully atmospheric surroundings of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. Spirits ran high in the room on the night, while spirits of another kind came (back) to life on screen courtesy of the skeleton crew of talented animators and voice actors who worked on the production.

Subtitled ‘Life, Death and a Packet of Digestives,’ Tea with the Dead animates a series of conversations between Frank, a friendly, gentle embalmer from Connemara, (voiced by frequent Wiggleywoo collaborator Frank Kelly) and the recently-departed souls who pass through his mortuary. Taking place over the course of a working week, Frank treats every body that arrives in his parlour with the same attention and respect – which in an Irish context could only mean, asking if they will have a cup of tea. When met with predictably deathly silence, Frank cheerfully responds with, ‘I’ll take that as a yes.’

Once in his kitchen, each person’s ghostly presence warms up to Frank as quickly as it takes a kettle to boil, and a variety of stories are recounted: of first loves, of last loves, of mothers, and fathers, JFK and Dickie Rock.

By times silly, poignant, heartbreakingly sad and deeply, darkly funny, Tea with the Dead presents an engaging anthology of Irish life – and death – focusing on the singular formative relationships that make (or made) life worth living. By combining quirky, distinctive 2D animation and powerful, naturalistic voice acting and dialogue, Tea with the Dead resurrects the spirit of old Irish storytelling with a compelling 21st century twist.

Eight months in the making with only about ten staff members, Tea with the Dead is undoubtedly a passion project for Wiggleywoo, a small but increasingly prolific company founded by Susan Broe, Gary ‘Gilly’ Gill and Alan Foley in March 2012. All five of the stories featured in the film are rooted in the experiences of the friends and family of the cast and crew. The project, Broe explained, was inspired by creative director Gill’s mother’s tale of tracing her own biological mother. ‘I remember sitting down to transcribe her story, for about three days, and I was crying most of the time,’ Broe laughed before the screening, before adding later that, amazingly, all of the other touching, life-affirming stories came from just within the small Wiggleywoo crew.

Following the screening, Bernie Dermody, who voiced Frank’s wife and closed the film with a haunting old Irish ballad, enthralled the audience once more with a live encore performance, ensuring that not a living (or dead) soul remained dry-eyed in the cathedral and palpably reinforcing the much-deserved passion and goodwill for the project in the room.

Wiggleywoo will be bringing a 30-minute cut of Tea with the Dead onto the worldwide festival circuit, before its first domestic airing on TG4 this Christmas 2014. Its other active projects include MYA GO and The Day Henry Met?  They can be found at www.wiggleywoo.com/

 

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Maleficent

Maleficent-Dream-Trailer-2014

DIR: Robert Stromberg • WRI: Linda Woolverton • PRO: Joe Roth, Scott Murray • ED: Dylan Cole, Gary Freeman • DOP. Dean Semler • DES: Chris Lebenzon, Richard Pearson • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Reilly, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville

‘Star power’ is a curious thing these days, selling more gossip magazines than movie tickets. In an era when franchises, reboots, prequels, sequels and spin-offs dominate the box office, established characters are more important than established actors in producing a hit. While Maleficent seems consistent with this trend at first, retelling the familiar story of Sleeping Beauty with the antagonistic dark fairy as protagonist, the film’s marketing tells another story. ‘Angelina Jolie is Maleficent’ scream the teaser trailers, with posters, banner pop-ups and bus panels solely focused on her name and darkly-horned, chiselled white head. Jolie, whose biggest role in recent years has been a voice in the Kung Fu Panda movies, could not make a more visible return to the big screen than as Maleficent, a larger-than-life presence with an iconic costume and an unmatched capacity for throwing shade.

Taking obvious cues from Wicked, with a nod to Snow White and the Huntsman and marching to the same beat as the phenomenal Frozen, Disney’s Maleficent capitalises on a desire for alternate perspectives on well-known stories, as well as a concurrent trend for difficult, anti-heroic protagonists whose chaotic evil ultimately restores the balance of a difficult world. The film opens with a young, spirited Maleficent ruling over an enchanted moor, the idyllic home of many a magical creature. When invading forces from a nearby kingdom threaten the harmony of her land, Maleficent’s forceful retaliation ultimately results in a devastating betrayal, triggering the chain of events familiar to audiences from Sleeping Beauty. The film recasts the evil spell cast on Princess Aurora (Fanning) as an act of revenge by Maleficent against the king (Copley), and follows the aftermath of this curse on Maleficent herself, the princess and her three fairy guardians (Staunton, Manville, Temple), and the princess’ father, King Stefan.

Maleficent is directed by Robert Stromberg, better known for his Oscar-winning work in visual effects and production design – his talents neither wasted nor unnoticed in how beautifully-rendered, shot and designed Maleficent is throughout. The world of the film, from the colourful, lively moor of Maleficent’s childhood to the grey, thorny forest after Stefan’s betrayal, is well-realised, and simpler moments like the ‘True Love’s Kiss’ are as quiet and visually simple as the battles or Maleficent’s spell-casting are over-the-top. Maleficent’s reveal at the christening, as well as her later appearance to Aurora in the forest, are glitteringly gothic and breathtakingly lovely, emphasised by Jolie’s cool performance and dangerous, velvety tones.

Jolie is pitch-perfect, in every wicked smile, agonised scream, and expression of concern, ranging from dispassionate to urgently needful. Her glowering at the adorable baby Aurora and later curt dismissal of her affection are highlights, with the growing affection she feels towards the child subtly progressed and played, even if it is loosely-motivated by the script. The film plays with her image too, with Jolie’s ground-sweeping gown inexplicably transformed into a catsuit by the time the action scenes roll around; and a curious line about how the man who loves her is willing to cast off the ring he wears just to hold her hand is interesting in the light of how she met her current beau.

Elsewhere, Elle Fanning is cheerful, bubbly and pretty, perfect for a princess, if rather vacant – the fairies wished for her to be beautiful and happy, but couldn’t they have wished for a personality, too? Speaking of the fairies, even if all three were combined into one fairy character, she’d still have little to do, but Imelda Staunton, Leslie Manville and Juno Temple  regardless do their best to be funny and charming. Sam Reilly as Maleficent’s shape-shifting minion, Dioval, is quietly impressive, while Sharlto Copley as Stefan (with, for some reason, a Scottish accent replacing his native South African tones) makes for an enjoyable villain. Not quite as deranged as his last bad-guy role in Elysium, Copley’s paranoia and blinkered bloodlust is convincing, if never very well-developed.

Credited to Linda Woolverton, with ten ‘based on’ credits from other sources, the greatest issue is the rather weak script. An inconsistency within the tone, structure, even the language used suggests either a great deal of revision or poor attention to detail.  Many threads feel unfinished or disorganised – the third fairy never grants Aurora a wish (no excuse for that lack of personality I joked about above); The fairies are sometimes interchangeably referred to as ‘pixies;’ and the motivation behind several key moments appears to serve the visuals rather than the plot. Most bafflingly, the final battle between Maleficent, Dioval and the King’s men takes place at an utterly needless time, when what they are fighting for is no longer really an issue, except the film needs an impressive climactic set-piece, and nobody pays to see peace in 3D.

Rather like Frozen, the ending of Maleficent contains a welcome, well-intentioned appeal to female solidarity and sorority, which is just grounded enough in the world of the film to succeed where other plot points fail to take hold. Even if the structure and focus of this film and its characters are easily confused or sacrificed to the visual splendour of its production, its premise and performances are strong, the lead performance particularly transcendental: Jolie really is magnificent as the malevolent Maleficent.

Stacy Grouden

PG (See IFCO for details)
97 mins

Maleficent is released on 28th May 2014

Maleficent – Official Website

 

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