‘Maleficent’: When happily after does not go smoothly

By Tom Von Malder | Jan 20, 2020
Photo by: Walt Disney Home Entertainment "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil" stars Michele Pfeiffer, Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning.

Owls Head — Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (Disney, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 118 min.). The previous film, 2014’s “Maleficent,” told the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale from the viewpoint of the evil godmother, with Maleficent (Angelina Jolie both times) as a volatile antihero, subjecting the land to her will. In this sequel, Aurora (Elle Fanning), aka Sleeping Beauty, has been awaken by Prince Philip’s true love kiss and is now queen of the Moors and all the fairy and other non-human creatures that live there.

As the new film opens, men have been sneaking onto the Moors at night to steal fairies as subjects for the experiments of Lickspittle (Warwick Davis of “Willow”), who has been tasked by Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), Philip’s mother, to come up with a chemical weapon that will destroy the fairies and other non-humans. On the positive side, Prince Philip finally asks Aurora to marry him, which will unite the human kingdom of Ulstead, ruled by King John (Robert Lindsay), with the kingdom of the Moors. On the negative side, Queen Ingrith wants to use the wedding as a trap to kill all the non-humans.

A side plot explores Maleficent’s heritage, as she is wounded and rescued by fellow Dark Fey Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor of “12 Years a Slave”) and taken to where the remaining survivors of her species, after many were hunted down and killed by humans, live in caves, the “nest of origin.” Conall would rather live apart from humans and not provoke them, whereas Borra (Ed Skrein of “Deadpool,” “Alita: Battle Angel”) wants to bring war to the humans and believes he may now have an ally in Maleficent.

The film, directed by Joaquim Ronnig, is very special-effects heavy, but those special effects work wonderfully and you will believe the Dark Fey can fly. There is a surprisingly large battle scene, with numerous deaths, that probably is too intense for younger viewers – hence the PG rating.

Jolie as Maleficent is all razor-sharp, prosthetic cheekbones, large horns and wide wings. She, of course, lets her temper get the better of her … at least for a while. Her main support, and sometime comic relief, is her raven Diaval, whom she sometimes transforms into a human (Sam Riley of “Maleficent,” “Control”). Fanning (“Maleficent,” “Super 8”) as Aurora mostly runs around looking for people. In many ways Dickinson, who was so outstanding in “Beach Rats,” “Postcards from London” and the miniseries “Trust,” is pretty much wasted as only being asked to look handsome as Prince Philip. Overall, though, the film succeeds as entertainment.

Extras include a look at the origins of the fey (3:02) and Aurora’s wedding (2:31); a fine piece on the rig, cable and tuning fork work behind the special effects (4:15); a solid visual effects reel (2:11); two extended scenes (3:41); outtakes (1:55); and a Bebe Rexha music video of the closing credits song, “You Can’t Stop the Girl” (2:43). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 2.25 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Gemini Man (Paramount, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 117 min.). It seems digitally de-aging actors is all the rage now, as it not only plays a large part in this film, but also in “The Irishman,” “It Chapter Two” and “Avengers: Endgame.” In “Gemini Man,” Will Smith plays both a 51-year-old, just-retired assassin and the 23-year-old cloned version of himself, which has been tasked with killing him.

While there are some character beats in this latest film from director Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain,” “The Life of Pi”), it mostly works as an action film, including one incredible motorcycle chase sequence that sometimes seems to put the viewer on one of the bikes.

The film opens with sniper Henry Brogan (Smith) making a rifle kill of a target on a moving train – moving at 238 kilometers per hour, no less – from a distance of 2 kilometers. (The alternate opening, 5:49, shows the same sequence but intercut with Smith’s younger version doing a similar sniper hit elsewhere, thus giving away the clone angle right away.) That is Brogan’s 72nd kill for a clandestine U.S. government agency and he decides it will be his last.

Retirement does not go as planned. Brogan learns his target was a molecular biologist rather than a terrorist as he was told and the friend who told him that news (Douglas Hodge as Jack Willis) is killed. There also is an attempt on Brogan’s life. Dragged into helping Brogan as he battles to stay alive is undercover agent Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead of “Live Free or Die Hard”), who had been tasked with keeping an eye on Brogan, but now is a target herself.

By 35 minutes in, Brogan has seen that the assassin sent after him is a younger version of himself (called Junior). Brogan and Zakarweski’s travels take them to Cartagena, Colombia (scene of the motorcycle chase) and Budapest, where a thankfully fictional catacomb of ancient skeletons gets partially destroyed. It turns out, Junior is part of a rogue project undertaken by Del Patterson (Ralph Brown) and Janet Lassiter (Linda Emond), with Clay Verris (Clive Owen of “The Pink Panther,” “Gosford Park”), who operates a private military, raising Junior as if he were his own son.

Additional extras include an excellent featurette on the technology used to create Junior and accomplish the motorcycle chase and the catacomb fight (18:32; Junior was based on Smith in the first “Bad Boys” film in 1995); how Smith managed to face his younger self by using a facial digital camera (5:40); two deleted scenes (4:34); the genesis of the film, whose idea began 20 to 25 years ago, but the technology did not exist to make the filmt (2:54); a look at the film’s action, including Winstead’s fight training  and the locations (15:46); a production designer tour of the catacombs set (3:45); and a piece on director Lee’s vision (6:04). Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.75 stars

The Shed (RLJE, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 97 min.). This highly enjoyable film has a simple premise. Joe Bane (Frank Whaley of “The Doors,” “Pulp Fiction”) is out hunting when he is bitten by a vampire, which devolves into nothingness after passing on the curse. As he starts to burn from the sun, Bane takes refuge in a neighbor’s shed. That shed belongs to Ellis (Timothy Bottoms of “The Last Picture Show”), the mean grandfather of Stanley (Jay Jay Warren of “Bosch”).

Stanley, who has a background of juvenile detention and no parents, needs to avoid another strike, so he mostly accepts the bullying he and his pal (Cody Kostro as Dommer) are subjected to by Marble (Chris Petrovski of TV’s “Madam Secretary”) and his two goon friends. A further complication is that Roxy (Sophia Happonen), whom Stanley has had a crush on for years, is dating Marble.

When Stanley learns of Bane’s presence –via the death of Ellis’ dog – he locks Bane up in the shed. However, when Dommer learns about Bane, he wants to lure Marble and the two goons to the shed so the vampire can kill them.

While the film relies a bit too much on dream scares, they are effectively filmed and, as a whole, the film has good suspense. The special makeup effects are very good. It was written and directed by Frank Sabatella (“Blood Night”). There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3 stars

Girl on the Third Floor (Dark Sky, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 92 min.). Phil “C.M. Punk” Brooks, a former WWE legend I am told, stars in this weak, badly named horror film. Brooks, whose acting consists of just staring or taking off his shirt a lot to show his multitude of tattoos, plays Don Koch, who has just bought a house that needs a lot of repairs in a small town. While his pregnant wife (Trieste Kelly Dunn as Liz) stays home in Chicago, Koch settles in the house for a week of repair work. Naturally, the first thing he does is pop open a beer.

Some of the holes in the walls hold really gross materials and there are lot of marbles dropping out and rolling throughout the house. A mysterious female (neighbor?) called Sarah (Sarah Brooks of TV’s “Chicago Med” and Brooks’ real-life wife) shows up in the yard and Koch has sex with her the second time she shows up. Sarah continues to pop up, sometimes inside the house, but Koch decides one infidelity is enough.

Viewers can easily see where the story is going, although Koch proves too stupid to leave in time. A bartender reveals the house used to be a brothel 100 years ago, something the Protestant minister (Karen Woditsch as Ellie Mueller) of the church down the road fails to mention. Travis Delgado plays Milo, the ill-fated friend who comes to help Koch during the weekend.

The film, written, directed and produced by Travis Stevens, does have a couple of fun bits in a shower scene and a horror sex scene, but after turning creepy when one of the marbles enters Koch’s leg, the film just turns bizarre. The only bonus feature is audio commentary by first-time director Stevens. Grade: film 2.25 stars; extra 2 stars

Holiday (1938, Criterion Collection Blu-ray, NR, 95 min.). The film is presented in a new 4k digital restoration. Directed by George Cukor, starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, and written by Donald Ogden Stewart – the quartet would go on to make the more celebrated “The Philadelphia Story,” which earned six Oscar nominations and won two statuettes two years later – the film is based on a stage play by Philip Barry, who also wrote “The Philadelphia Story” stage play. “Holiday” received an Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction.

The film opens with a jubilant Johnny Case (Grant) arriving at his friends, the Potters (Edward Everett Horton, who played the same role in the earlier 1930 film version, and Jean Dixon as Nick and Susan) after a holiday (vacation). He drops the bombshell that he has gotten engaged to Julia Seton (Doris Nolan) and they are to be married within weeks. Johnny admits he knows little about Julia’s family, but she shares his ideas and they are in love. One of those ideas is pivotal to the plot. Johnny, who is successful in the finance world wants to quit when he has enough money, enjoy life and then return to work when he knows what he wants to do for the rest of his life.

When Johnny shows up at Julia’s family home, he enters through the servants’ entrance and is amazed at how vast the dwelling is. It even has an elevator. Julia’s father (Henry Kolker as Edward Seton) proves to be large in the financial world and is all about making money – the exact opposite of Johnny. Johnny gets to meet Julia’s sister Linda (Hepburn), who describes herself as the black sheep of the family and who is more of a seeker like Johnny, and Julia’s brother Ned (Lew Ayres of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” the “Dr. Kildare” films), a would-be musician who appears a bit of a failure in life. Linda’s reaction is that Johnny is “a breath of fresh air.”

Indeed, Johnny is played by Grant as breezy fun; he even does four backward flips in the film, one with Hepburn. Hepburn’s character adds the film’s melancholy underpinning, as this is not a straight-out comedy. The performances are all solid.

Extras include a new conversation by film critic Michael Sragow and filmmaker-distributor Michael Schlesinger about the film (34:35); an audio excerpt of a Cukor interview for the American Film Institute from 1971-72 (21:13); a gallery of the costumes by Kalloch, who favored long, slim lines; and the 1930 film version with Mary Astor as Julia, Ann Hardy as Linda and Robert Ames as Johnny (91 min.). Both Hardy and writer Horace Jackson were nominated for Oscars. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3 stars

Santa Fake (Indion DVD, NR, 86 min.). This arrived late, so the review is late for the Christmas-themed movie with the unfortunate name. I am guessing it is called “Santa Fake” to tie in with the Santa Fe setting. Surely all of Santa’s helpers who greet children at malls cannot be called fakes; that is much too harsh.

What is delightful about this movie is that it stars Damian McGinty in a role he was born to play. McGinty (TV’s “Glee,” the vocal group Celtic Thunder) plays a Northern Irish immigrant with a lovely singing voice. Although he has no papers, Patrick (McGinty) is taken in by restauranteur Joe O’Brien (John Rhys-Davies of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), who gives him a job. What Patrick does not know is that O’Brien is a crime boss, involved in money laundering.

One day, O’Brien asks Patrick to deliver two suitcases to a man a few blocks away, for which he will be paid $10,000; however, Patrick panics when he is seemingly followed by both police and suspicious characters. Patrick bolts for the bus station and takes the next bus out, which brings him to Santa Fe. There, he stays at a bed and breakfast run by Mrs. Ortega (Soledad St. Hilaire), befriending her in the process. When Patrick finally gets around to opening the suitcases – which amazingly are not even locked – he finds $330,002, $10,000 of which he figures is his anyway.

When Patrick goes to the mall to buy new clothes, he literally bumps into Emily (Heather Morris, also of “Glee”), who is in charge of the mall’s promotions, including the visiting Santa who has not shown up for work. Emily asks Patrick to fill in, which he does so successfully that it becomes his new job. The charming Patrick is a hit with the children and he sometimes sings Christmas songs to them. (The film features six songs and there is a CD of the songs available separately, as well as a companion children’s book and a CD soundtrack.)

Meanwhile, O’Brien knows Patrick is in Santa Fe due to Patrick calling him. He sends two goons, played by Jeff Fahey (TV’s “Lost,” “The Lawnmower Man”) and Judd Nelson (“The Breakfast Club,” “St. Elmo’s Fire”), to retrieve the money and do away with Patrick. The FBI had a wiretap on O’Brien’s phone, so they send two agents to Santa Fe as well. Meanwhile, in Santa Fe, Patrick has significant conversations with Father Estaban (Tony Amendola of “Annabelle,” TV’s “Stargate SC-1”), whose church has not had enough donations this year to buy Christmas toys for underprivileged children.

The film’s plot is very obvious – including using Fahey and Nelson as comic relief – but the performances are winning. It also is very cool to see McGinty and Morris back together again. In “Glee,” he played Irish exchange student Rory, whom Morris’ Brittany referred to as her personal leprechaun. The film was written and directed by first-timer J.M. Burris. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3 stars

Krypton: The Complete Second & Final Season (DC/Warner Bros., 2 Blu-rays, NR, 435 min.). This is another solid science fiction prequel series that ended much to soon. Much of season two deals with the warfare between General Dru-Zod, who has taken command of Kandor and is ruthlessly rebuilding Krypton as a first step to conquering the universe, and the resistance, which has taken refuge on one of Krypton’s moons. Seg-El, who is Superman’s grandfather, has had his mind invaded by super-villain Brainiac. Initially, when he escapes from the Phantom Zone, he is trapped on a world where Lobo takes a liking to torturing him. Meanwhile, Adam Strange, the time traveler from Superman’s time, finds himself working with the resistance and confronted by the super destructive Doomsday, whom Dru-Zod helped create. Of course, due to the time traveling, the fact is that Seg-El’s future son is Dru-Zod, who actually is older than he is in the series.

Bonus features include executive producer David S. Goyer discussing Kal-El’s (Superman’s) lineage. There also is a repeat of the “Villains: Modes of Persuasion” featurette that appeared on many of the CW’s shows box sets of their 2018-19 seasons. Grade: season 3.25 stars; extras 2 stars

Doctor Who: Jon Pertwee: Compete Season Four (1972-73, BBC, 6 Blu-ray discs, NR, 650 min.). The BBC continues to restore old “Doctor Who” episodes and release them on Blu-ray for the first time as complete seasons. Pertwee served as the third Doctor, at a time when the series had limited budgets and there was not much space exploration. The special effects are sometimes laughable, but technology was not as advanced back then and there was not a lot of money available. The multi-part stories included are “The Three Doctors,” “Carnival of Monsters,” “Frontier in Space,” “Planet of the Daleks” and “The Green Death.”

All episodes come with the previously released DVD bonus material. New bonus material includes optional updated special effects and 5.1 Surround Sound for “Planet of the Daleks”; “Doctor Who and the Third Man,” a feature-length documentary on the Pertwee era (93 min.); “Keeping Up with the Jones,” in which companions Katy Manning and Stewart Bevan return to Wales, where the season was shot (31 min.); “Looking for Lennie,” which covers the life and career of director Lennie Mayne (42 min.); “The Green Death” 1973 Omnibus repeat (89 min.); and a special Blu-ray trailer with the return of Jo and Cliff Jones. Grade: season 2.5 stars; extras 5 stars

The Loudest Voice (Showtime/CBS, 3 DVDs, NR, 5 hours 50 min.). The miniseries tells the story of Fox News founder Roger Ailes, played here by Russell Crowe, who recently won a Golden Globe for his performance. The seven-part drama is based on extensive reporting by Gabriel Sherman in his bestselling book, “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” which includes interviews with more than people and Sherman’s reporting for New York Magazine.

The late Ailes molded Fox News into a force that changed the conversation about the highest levels of government. The miniseries also delves into the events that led to the rise of the modern Republican Party. It also covers his experiences with world leaders that gave birth to his political career and the sexual harassment accusations and settlements that brought his Fox News reign to an end.

The series also stars Naomi Watts as Ailes’ wife Elizabeth, Seth MacFarlane as former Fox News PR chief Brian Lewis, Simon McBurney as News Corp leader Rupert Murdoch, Annabelle Wallis as former Fox News booker Laurie Luhn and Aleksa Palladino as Ailes’ longtime assistant Judy Laterza. Guest stars include Josh Charles as Casey Close, Gretchen Carlson’s husband, and Josh Stamberg as former Fox executive Bill Shine.

Each episode is based on a different year: 1995, 2001, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2016. The only extra is a look at creating the series.

Inspector Morse: The Complete Case Files (1986-2000, BBC, 17 DVDs, NR, 3,300 min.). This British detective drama, based on the novels of Colin Dexter, consists of 33 100-minute cases. An interesting note is that Dexter made uncredited cameos in 30 of the cases. John Thaw plays Detective Chief Inspector Endeavour Morse, a super sleuth with an ear for music (opera in particular), a taste for British real ale and a nose for crime. He is assisted by Detective Sgt. Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whately). The other main character is Chief Supt. Strange (James Grout). Morse, who only once in the series mentions his first name, often arrests the wrong person. He also is a well-known flirt, without much success. He is known for his cynicism as well.

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