TBT – Shrek Forever After (2010)

animation, fairy tale, films, fucking awful, meh, reviews, sequel, TBT

Sometimes I hate this blog, specifically the TBT feature. It forces me to remember how quickly time is passing. I remember seeing Shrek Forever After with my friends from University and, it turns out, that was about 7 years ago. It feels like yesterday. I came to re-watch this after finding it on Netflix recently and having no clue what to write for today. I try to link my Tuesday review with my Thursday one but I was finding a companion for The Best of Adam Sharp a bit of a pain. I think the fourth Shrek film works though: instead of a man looking back on his life and imagining “what if?” it’s an ogre. It was also a rather easy thing to watch when I got home from work yesterday. It’d been a hellish day and all I was really capable of was watching a short film intended for children. Although, I do quite like this series of films. The first one is really good and came up with an interesting twist on the classic Disney fairy tale romance. The second film was equally fabulous. Then there was the third film, which super sucked. There’s always something funny to be found though. So, it wasn’t the worst film I could sit down to watch for your benefit I suppose.

Animated movie sequels have traditionally had a bit of a tough time reaching up to the potential of the original film. I mean look at all of Disney’s straight to VHS sequels to its most popular films. Yes, you love The Lion King but its sequel? Didn’t think so. When it came to Shrek it succeeded with Shrek 2, which was a funny and enjoyable romp with a great cast. It was the all-singing, all-dancing film that had Shrek trying to outwit and the evil Fairy Godmother. It was great. I randomly went to see it with friends despite having never seen the first one so it’s sort of become my favourite. Of course, no matter how good the second one was it was unlikely that it could continue. And it didn’t. The third film was utterly abysmal and unnecessary. So, the announcement of a fourth was hardly something to get excited about.

Although, they try to rewrite history to keep things fresh. What we have is basically It’s a Wonderful Life but with an Ogre instead of Jimmy Stewart. Brilliant! After a going through a fair few adventures, Shrek and Fiona have settled into family life with their triplet Ogre children. They are still friends with Donkey, Dragon and their weird hybrid kids. Although, reaching middle age, Shrek is starting to regret how far removed he has become from the Ogre he used to be. No longer the scary monster people were so keen to destroy, he is finding it difficult to adjust to life as a celebrity. So, he makes a deal with a super sketchy guy to have one day as the man he once was. Obviously, of course, there are some pretty dire consequences.

Those consequences create a universe in which Shrek was never born so all of your favourite characters now live a terrible life. Fiona is still cursed, Donkey is still enslaved, Puss is a fat house-cat, Gingey is a cage fighter. Yes, it doesn’t all make sense but it’s fine. As long as someone out there laughs who cares if anything makes sense. You see, the obviously creepy guy was Rumpelstiltskin who has been trying to take over Far Far Away since way before Shrek saved Fiona in the tower. He blames Shrek and plans to trick him out of a day of his life: the day he was born. Then the shit hits the fan and Shrek spends the rest of the film trying to get Fiona to fall back in love with him before it’s too late.

Shrek Forever After is a fairly interesting concept but it lacks so much of what made the original film so good. Shrek came out in 2001 and was, in a way revolutionary. It was taking the piss out of Disney and it’s well-know animated films. Taking pot-shots and being slightly risque whilst still being child-friendly. Shrek Forever After is just a desperate attempt to get back to some of that with constant references to that earlier film. I mean it’s better than the third film but that’s the least amount of comfort we can take from it. There is some heart and emotion here but it’s all taking too much from the first film and offering little of it’s own. The villain is an obvious link to Lord Farquaad but is not developed enough to make him worth fearing or hating too much. This is one of those films that mostly serves up in-jokes and easy nostalgia without taking too many risks. It’s not the worst in the series but, as the last film, it needed to be better.

TBT – The Princess Bride (1987)

fairy tale, films, review, TBT

This week I bought something that I have wanted to own for a fucking age but didn’t let myself get. In finally embraced my love of The Princess Bride and bought my very own “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya” t-shirt. I don’t even have it yet but it’s already one of the greatest things I’ve ever owned. I think I was inspired by the title of my Tuesday review because it’s the only thing that comes into my head whenever I see those bloody “Hello, my name is” stickers. Consequently, I’ve also spent the last few days starting imaginary duels with anyone who crossed my this week. “You ate the last biscuit, prepare to die.” “You’re walking too slowly, prepare to die.” “You cut in front of my in a queue, prepare to die.” That kind of thing. So I absolutely had to watch Rob Reiner’s film adaptation to try and get over my current obsession. Plus, my impression of Inigo could do with some work.

The Princess Bride wasn’t terribly successful on first release but found cult status once it was released on VHS. It’s exactly the kind of film you want to curl up and watch when you’re stuck in bed with flu. Probably because the story begins with a grandfather (Peter Falk) reading his sick grandson a bedtime story. It is the love story of Buttercup (Robin Wright) and farm boy Westley (Carey Elwes) but, don’t worry, it’s not one of those kissing stories.

The Princess Bride takes the conventional fairy tale romance and has some fun with it. Much in the same way he did for This Is Spinal Tap, Reiner really embraces the genre before amping things up as much as he can. It’s a clever and very successful approach that will have children and adults alike entertained. It features swashbuckling strangers, a Spaniard out for revenge, a 6-fingered man, a friendly giant and inconceivable situations. The Princess Bride is exciting, funny and self-aware enough to know what it’s doing.

When Westley goes off to make his fortune his ship is captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts and he is presumed dead. Years later, Buttercup is set to marry Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) until she is kidnapped by a trio of rogues. Their leader, the Sicilian Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) is being paid to start a war between the Prince’s nation and their neighbouring kingdom. He is aided by Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) and gentle giant Fezzik (Andre the Giant). Unfortunately, they are being pursued by the Man in Black who appears to be after Buttercup for his own reasons.

Rob Reiner directs with his tongue constantly in his cheek and William Goldman’s script satirises the world of fairly tales and storytelling. It takes every silly conceit of the stories you were told in your youth and turns it up to 11. It is a world full of silly names, silly dialogue and silly people. However, underneath that runs some decidedly unfunny themes: namely true love, family, honour, suffering and friendship. It always manages to find the perfect mix between serious and comedy and carries it all off with a huge dose of charm and heart.

The Princess Bride is much cleverer than it appears and has fun making itself appear to be a lesser film. The cast play their parts beautifully and manage to be both playful and take the whole thing seriously. The story, littered with gags a-plenty, is played fairly straight but the film fights against realism. The sets are all dodgy, the stunt doubles all obvious, and the continuity is all over the place. It looks like a shoddily made film but it doesn’t matter. The film is fantasy that you are willing to follow. The Princess Bride may not be the greatest film you’ll ever see but it’s inconceivable that you won’t enjoy it. If anyone asks you if you want to watch it you need only answer “As you wish”.

Into the Woods (2015)

Anna Kendrick, boring, Chris Pine, fairy tale, meh, Meryl Streep, musical, review
When it comes to this blog I think I’m starting to come across as a bit of a grump when it comes to musicals. I don’t really understand why as I’m a not so secret lover of the genre. Whilst writing my postgraduate dissertation I listened to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat soundtrack on repeat. I have been known to portray my feelings through the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber (especially when I’d finished the aforementioned dissertation). However, most modern musicals just don’t get me as excited. I see trailers and just get angry. Especially if they star Meryl Streep. Thankfully I have the good sense not to associate with anybody who responded to the release of Into The Woodswith any other attitude than “who the fuck cast Meryl Streep in another musical?” Don’t get me wrong I love the Streep but, you have to admit, it’s a bloody good question. After the travesty that was Mamma Miait’s difficult to see who would have decided casting big names was better than talented singers.

Into the Woodsis a weird fairytale mash-up of the stories of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel. These many strands are tied together through the tale of a baker and hid wife who embark on a quest to lift a curse that has left them childless. In order to get their angry neighbourhood witch to reverse her spell, the pair must enter the titular woods and track down four very specific items from each of the four tales.
The problem with cutting and pasting bits of these existing stories together is that each one ultimately loses a lot of the excitement and become a lot more complicated. Taken singly you can accept the crazy decisions that the characters make but torn into bite size pieces it becomes harder to go along with everything. The mixing of the narratives only succeeds in watering them down without adding any fresh perspectives or humour. It’s all a bit dull and unnecessary.
And fucking repetitive. The problem with musicals as a whole is the needless desire to tell the audience what is happening over and over again. Almost as soon as the baker has rescued Red Riding Hood from the belly of the wolf, she feels the need to sing about it and provide us with a flashback. Clearly targeted at the stupid or those with non-existent short-terms memories, Into the Woodsis a 2+ hour film that probably only has about an hours worth of material in it.
Which considering there has still been something of a narrative cull seems even more ridiculous. The whole plot feels as though it’s full of holes and never feels complete. Take for example the relationship between Cinderella and her Prince Charming: in the stage show Prince Charming tires of Cinders and falls for the sleeping Snow White. In the film, their relationship goes from being happily ever after to soul destroying in the blink of an eye. Despite still being pretty fucking dark compared to Disney’s big hitting musicals, Into the Woods has traded narrative integrity for being family friendly.
There is just not subtlety at work here, which, if we’re honest, is the fucking great thing about stage musicals. They are limited in how they can present their material and so can’t distract from the music and the performances. Into the Woodsis the opposite of this who steamrollers over everything else with its massive production values. The epic sets, costumes and orchestration make it almost impossible to enjoy the witty and clever work of both Sondheim and writer James Lapine, who also wrote the book for the original production.
Into the Woodsis a musical that takes itself too fucking seriously and, considering the general air of the show, is just the most ridiculous decision. I was so bored during the whole film and I say that as someone who’s natural reaction to people singing instead of talking is to jump for joy. That’s not to say that the cast don’t try their hardest and obviously many of them try too hard. Into the Woodsis full to bursting with huge names to the extent that great actors like Simon Russell Beale are mere afterthoughts. With a mix of Hollywood A-listers, musical theatre brats and classical actors, it’s exhausting.
Meryl Streep, despite the fact that I’ll never warm to her as a singer, is fabulous as the desperate witch and Anna Kendrick adds some real legitimacy to proceedings as Cinderella. Emily Blunt and James Corden make a good duo as the Baker and his wife but get sort of lost in the confusion and musical numbers. Most memorable is Chris Pine as the sleazy but charming Prince who wins Cinders’ heart. Pine, who will now forever be Captain Kirk 2.0, channels his best William Shatner for his performance. It’s a role that is a fantastic parody but never really finds its feet on the big screen.
I’m not entirely sure who Into the Woodswas made for. It doesn’t quite work for the lovers of Frozenor the faithful Sondheim audience. It’s simultaneously dumbed-down and over-complicated. The watered down script is still too edgy for children but not dark enough for an older audience. Into the Woods is all pomp and no circumstance. Getting too carried away in the spectacle that it didn’t really think about the content that they were trying to introduce people to. The whole thing just left me cold.

Maleficent (2014)

Angelina Jolie, CGI, Disney, fairy tale, meh, review, rewriting, witch, women

Wicked has an awful lot to answer for these days. The novel that created a back-story for the Wicked Witch of the West and went on to become a runaway success as a stage show has started something of a trend in Hollywood. After last year’s disappointing Oz: the Great and Powerful attempted to explain the origin of the great wizard, Disney have set another much loved family film in their sights. Their big live-action blockbuster Maleficentis the long-awaited rewriting of Sleeping Beauty (1959) from the perspective of the terrifying and terrible witch whose spell sent Aurora to her rest. 

It’s been 55 years since Disney first introduced audiences to the villainous Maleficent in their animated adaptation of Sleeping Beauty and apparently they have decided it was time to rewrite history. In their big live-action blockbuster, the company are willing to let us into the untold story of the fairy who quite probably dominated the nightmares of young children the world over. After all, until Frozen came out last year and blurred the lines, the distinction between good and evil was always crystal clear in the studio’s offerings. Maleficentcontinues the trend by recreating one of the ultimate forces for evil as a much more ambiguous being.
We first meet the titular fairy as a young girl (Ella Purnell) whose main concern is keeping the magical inhabitants of her home happy and safe from the humans who are intent on regaining their land. Unfortunately, Maleficent meets a boy and… well you can guess the rest.  Quickly Mal is swearing vengeance in a scene played out pretty identically to the original film. The new King’s (Sharlto Copely) first born daughter will, on her 16thbirthday, prick her finger and fall into an eternal sleep.
Aurora (Elle Fanning) is sent into hiding to be watched by three good fairies (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple) but in the film’s big twist it is actually Maleficent herself who must protect the child to ensure she survives to the age at which the curse will strike. Quite frankly, the plot from this point is stupid, lazy and dull. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for the underlying feminist message at the core of Maleficentbut I have to admit that it feels pretty outrageous to take this character and make her a mothering presence in Aurora’s life.
I mean this is a character whose name literally means she is capable of producing evil and she is only ever seen doing one bad deed. This is not the original story being told from a different viewpoint this is a different and much less interesting tale. I can only assume that the main character’s name was bestowed upon her as some sort of ironic nickname (you know like really tall people called Tiny and stuff) because the fairy we see on screen is anything but malevolent.
She is, however, magnificent. This marks Angelina Jolie’s first appearance on screen in about four years and she cuts a striking figure thanks to her fetish horns, huge wings and Lady Gaga inspired cheekbones. Jolie is the perfect actress to bring Maleficent to life but the script doesn’t give her anywhere to take the character. No matter what you may have thought about his reimagining of Alice in Wonderland back in 2011, it’s easy to see that this actress, in this costume would have been better off in the strange and darker hands of Tim Burton. The script places its main character in a spectator role and gives her no spark, humour or intensity to make her anywhere near as memorable her animated predecessor. Quite frankly, it is only because the supporting characters are even less inspiring that Maleficent doesn’t disappear completely within her own film.
I understand what Linda Woolverton is attempting to do with the script and the character but there is just little to get excited about. Something that is most probably indebted to the likes of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is just a horrible imitation (and I didn’t even really enjoy reading TBC at uni). The narrative is patchy and full of contradictions and plot-holes. Woolverton also places too much importance on unnecessary references to the original story. If she were so intent on rewriting the tale as a whole then why bother shoehorning in Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) for a whole four minutes or whatever?
I also can’t help but feel that certain clichés just weaken the intended feminist message at its heart. I mean if you wanted to highlight the importance and strength of female relationships then why have every event hinge on the title character getting her heartbroken? I realise “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” but the image of a powerful woman threatening a child because a boy didn’t love her enough isn’t something I feel too comfortable with.
As someone who was really looking forward to this, I found almost everything about the film was disappointing. The cast just don’t have the energy or material to give the audience anything at all. Elle Fanning is horribly forgettable and Sharlto Copely has an insufferably terrible Scottish accent. There is the brief respite in the interaction between the good fairies but you will still have the unshakeable feeling that in the hands of better filmmakers even this could have been more joyous.
That’s not to say there is no fun to be found in Maleficent. Director Robert Stromberg is better known thanks to his production design on Alice in Wonderland and Oz: the Great and Powerful. This is his first time in the director’s chair and you can tell. Part of the reason the production doesn’t seem as slick as it could have is because Stromberg appears to be creating it from the viewpoint of a production designer. The magical world he has created is incredibly detailed and offers the same disappointing lifelessness that caused problems in Oz. There is so much going on visually that is feels as though you are sat starring into the sun and waiting for your eyes to adjust. I can’t say I was a complete fan of Stromberg’s reliance on CGI to create some wonder in his story, especially when it came as the expense of his characters and narrative. Even the positive themes that Copely is ultimately trying to convey are pushed to one side in order to sneak in another human/fairy showdown.
Stromberg owes an awful lot to Angelina Jolie for making this film such a success. It her resilience and sheer determination that ensure this otherwise flaccid representation of a well-known character is even the slightest bit memorable:  if only her role had been given even half the amount of planning as her costume had. If Maleficentis supposed to be the truth behind the lies at the heart of Sleeping Beauty then I for one would much prefer to continue living in ignorance.