Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Grace of Monaco


  • Released Internationally on 14/05/14
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 18/06/14
Review (18/06/14)
3-word review: Just a fairytale. 
It was a modern-day fairytale with all the right ingredients - a celebrated actress, fresh from an Oscar win, gives up her acting career and moves to Monaco to marry Prince Ranier and live a regal life in one of the most sumptuous places on earth. Of course, there must have been dark moments and behind-the-scenes drama, and there was a fair share of tragedy too, with her unfortunate death after an accident. But the royal family of Monaco has been so upset by the portrayal in this film that they want nothing to do with it, and the film starts with the ominous statement that what we are about to see is a fictional account based on true events. So before the first scene, my interest had already plummeted.
Unlikely to be definitive
Once you’ve lost your credibility, it’s hard to pull off a biopic and keep the audience hooked. Yes, we want to see stories about the stars, but we also want to know there’s some truth in them. If I wanted to see a fictional story I’d hop into the adjacent cinema and watch Maleficent. So although the events as they unfold in this film are interesting enough, you might find yourself trawling through Wikipedia afterwards trying to filter fact from fiction. It does tend to ruin the moment, and it definitely robs the film of a lot of gravitas. It’s uncannily similar to the situation a few months ago with Naomi Watts’ portrayal in Diana. 
Key moments
The film starts by focusing on Alfred Hitchcock’s attempts to convince Grace Kelly to return to Hollywood and star in his film Marnie. This is mostly true, I guess, but it seems to be given huge national importance here. We then shift to the politics of French President De Gaulle trying to force Monaco to pay taxes. Tim Roth (The Legend of 1900, Pulp Fiction) negotiates and looks immensely bored as Prince Ranier, while Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon, Good Night and Good Luck) is the local friar who acts as confidant and advisor to the princess. There’s some marital tension of course, and some sibling rivalry, but somehow Grace manages to solve everything in the end by throwing a ball and giving a soppy speech. Whether things happened like this or whether they even happened in the same decade needs some investigation, but the filmmakers don’t seem to care.

In the end
It’s pretty to look at, but once the slight magic wears off you’re left with a boring drama that is too artificial to be labelled as biographical, and too mundane to be labelled as a fairytale. It’s June, so do yourself a favour and watch the World Cup instead.



Saturday, June 07, 2014


  • Released Internationally on 28/05/14
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 04/06/14
Review (01/06/14)
3-word review: Disney’s Dark Side. 
Name the last big film you saw Angelina Jolie starring in. Not that easy, is it? Salt, I guess, would be mine. Not exactly a hugely memorable role, or film. But you'd have to go back six years to find Changeling or Wanted. Which shows how much of her immense star power is due to her humanitarian work, her looks, and her famous family. Not necessarily in that order. She broke into the limelight in 1999, with her role in The Bone Collector and her Oscar for Girl, Interrupted, and she also had starring roles as Lara Croft. But it feels like ages since we've had a proper Angelina Jolie film to enjoy, and this one is most definitely all about her.

Not your average Disney film
If you had any doubt that you wouldn't be watching a normal family film, the Disney logo doesn't feature the usual castle, but a darker, less symmetrical one. It does turn out to be Sleeping Beauty's castle after all, but this is the story as seen from a different angle. Jolie stars as the wonderfully-named Maleficent, whom you might remember as the horned evil witch with a crow as a pet, from Sleeping Beauty. This is very much her story, and as with all decent tales of redemption, the best way to understand a baddie is to start from childhood, where the lovely young Maleficent was innocent, lovely and cute.
Back story
Along comes the not-so-wonderfully-named Stefan (Sharlto Copley, District 13, Elysium), who forms a childhood friendship with Maleficent, but who really just wants to become king, at all costs. Things get ugly as the kingdom (where Stefan lives) tries to conquer the Moors (the nearby magical woods, where Maleficent and co. live), and we even get a few large-scale scenes of battle and brutality, whilst keeping everything PG-13. Eventually we reach adulthood, where Stefan has been crowned king and is throwing a party for his gorgeous baby princess Aurora. Maleficent turns up uninvited, and the fairytale you might remember from your childhood comes into play.

Plot holes and awkward moments
The film manages to maintain the aura of dread and mystery that was established so well in the trailers (see the wonderful teaser trailer below), with lots of moody lighting and numerous scenes involving hardly any dialogue at all - just smouldering looks and impossible cheekbones (augmented even further in this case) from Maleficent as she watches over the growing Aurora (Elle Fanning, Super 8), and grows fond of her. But the middle of the film gets dragging, while the ending feels rushed, and Aurora's all-important slumber seems more like a power nap in this version. The carte blanche resulting from the undetermined magical powers mean that it's hard to be surprised by anything that happens, and this origin story loses its charm by the end.

In the end
It's quite significant that this film was made, and it establishes an interesting new direction for Disney to take, now that they might seem to have run out of classic fairytales to adapt. Jolie fits the role like a glove, with looks and a laugh that make Maleficent a wonderfully evil character, despite us now knowing about her soft core and motherly instincts. It's entertaining enough, but nothing special.