CHICAGO – Mention the name Harry Lennix, and images of his many character roles are bound to emerge – Harold Cooper in the TV series “The Blacklist,” General Swanwick from “Batman v Superman” and Commissioner Blades from Spike Lee’s recent “Chi-Raq.” The deeply knowledgeable Lennix brings his years of dramatic expertise, as he directs the Congo Square Theatre Company’s world premiere stage play “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red.’
‘Maleficent’ is All Dressed Up With No Story to Tell
CHICAGO – If “Maleficent” were an actual fairy tale storybook, I’d say it has beautiful illustrations but not much story to tell. As the title character, Angelina Jolie is a towering presence with an unforgettable look, but the film itself is all dressed up with nowhere to go. “Maleficent” the movie’s story moves so slowly it makes a sloth look like a cheetah.
This live action re-imagining of “Sleeping Beauty” stars Jolie as Maleficent – a fairy with giant wings. She falls for a human boy named Stefan (Sharlto Copley) from a neighboring kingdom when they are both still children, but his lust for power leads him to betray her. Then she becomes consumed with hatred and revenge. As an adult Copley eventually becomes king and has a daughter. So Jolie makes her big entrance and casts a spell upon the princess. On her 16th birthday she will prick her finger and fall into a deep sleep, and only true love’s kiss can break the spell.
Angelina Jolie is the Title Character in ‘Maleficent’
Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures
The King sends his daughter into hiding in the woods in the care of three bumbling old fairies (Leslie Manville, Imelda Staunton, and Juno Temple). The fairies are largely inept at child-rearing, which made me wonder how she learned anything at all spending her whole life cooped up in the forest. But then again you’re not supposed to think of those things in fairy tales, at least ones that capture your interest anyway. Jolie keeps a watchful eye on the cursed youngster. She protests not to like children, but she keeps the child out of trouble when the bumbling fairies aren’t paying attention.
There are magical beasts everywhere and the film always looks like a rich and lush fairy tale come to life. But for all the CGI creatures that abound in this storybook land come to life, the most visually arresting image is Angelina Jolie’s cheekbones. The film spends what seems like a third of its running time just staring at those prosthetic cheekbones, while giving Jolie and everyone else precious little to actually do. Those expecting Jolie to chew the considerable scenery surrounding her are going to be sorely disappointed. She’s not exactly one of Disney’s all time villains either. Jolie softens the character considerably and turns her from evil enchantress into something akin to a fairy godmother although one with major dysfunctional family issues.
Jolie’s look is nearly flawless. She never ceases to look stunning, and her costumes are elaborate and very well done. But aside from one brief sequence of sneers, and evil laughter she keeps it relatively reserved preferring to shoot glances at the camera in her elaborately framed closeups. Elle Fanning makes a winning presence as Sleeping Beauty herself. She’s beautiful, sweet, and brings the princess to life even though she’s stuck like everyone else running through sets and then staring at things. She and Jolie have a nice yin and yang chemistry in their scenes together, with young warmth threatening to thaw the icy cold heart of a broken fairy. Meanwhile, Copley is an odd choice for the king who broke Maleficent’s heart. He grumbles and mutters beneath an increasingly raggedy beard as he plans his final showdown with Jolie but seems out of his league in their scenes together.
Elle Fanning is Aurora in ‘Maleficent’
Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures
First-time director Robert Stromberg gets a little too enchanted with his own scenery. He lets flights through the fairy lands stretch on a little too long, and he seemingly can’t stop staring at Jolie. The film suffers from a common ailment in young adult adaptations that I like to call the “Twilight” curse. We get stares and glares instead of swords and sorcery as characters engage in epic staring contests while allowing the ones and zeros of the computer programs at the special effects house take care of all the heavy lifting.
This becomes a huge problem in the film’s third act where Stromberg’s action scenes are workmanlike at best. The sequences never really build up a head of steam and develop much momentum, instead they just kind of ramble around. When a fire-breathing dragon attacking a castle is less than remarkable – you’ve got problems not even Angelina’s cheekbones can fix.