Sunday, January 25, 2015

Double feature

This past Friday I watched Maleficent.  I'm not a huge Jolie fan, I'm very indifferent to her really.  I have to say I wasn't exactly drawn to watching the movie either by the above poster art.  I thought for a Disney film the poster sure felt like Disney was going all Satanic on us.  Sort of creeped me out.  So at any rate, I ended up watching the film by happenstance really, and I guess it was my mood, but was swiftly swept up in its spell. 

I'll admit it's more style over substance, and I generally prefer a bit more substance to films, but the style was a real eye-catcher.  It's basically just a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, and perhaps the reason it's story-lite is because it's probably made for a younger audience, though I enjoyed it enough too.  I guess the draw for me was just the way many of the scenes in the film were composed to please the eye, and they really achieved that at least in my mind of how a fairy tale should look.  Sure there's tons of CG to the film, but they did a pretty good job of making it all mesh.  What they also did right was add some darkness to the tale, which is why Jolie looks so evil.  She doesn't start out that way though, and that helps to form and inform some empathy with the character, and also gives it a nice Brothers Grimm feel to it.  I thought it felt a bit like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter a bit, but without the underpinnings of all the history, so you get a story that's pretty superficial and pretty to look at, but enjoyable too.  So I'd have to say, it's hard to recommend the film with high merits, but if you're looking for something entertaining, without a lot to think about it would probably work for you.
By contrast, the Disney film, Third Man on the Mountain had both style and substance.  I found it to be a much better film, perhaps even fitting the classic mold.  At any rate, it's a story based on the book, Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman and shot on location in Switzerland.  So you get some beautiful mountain scenery, is devoid of CG effects, because it was made in '59, but there are some really hair raising shots once they show the scenes of climbing the mountain. 

James MacArthur plays a Swiss youth (Rudi Matt) who vows to be the first to scale a formidable Matterhorn-like mountain called the Citadel. MacArthur's father was killed attempting a similar climb, but is seen by all the people in the village as a local hero and one of the best climbers. Though discouraged by his mother and uncle, due to his father's death, they try to steer the young MacArthur into going to school and finding another profession.  But like father like son, his heart is set on being a mountain guide.  The film also stars, Michael Rennie, who played Klaatu in the film, The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Rennie is the mentor to MacArthur, and understands the boy's excitement and love of mountain climbing. He wants him to go with him to scale the Citadel, but his mother and uncle are against it, which sets up the conflict. 

There's also a romance in the story between MacArthur, and one of the local girls in the village.  The only criticism with the film, isn't the story itself, but with the film transfer--looking like it was transferred from VHS, plus no extras.  You'd think Disney would come out with a very good remastering of this film, it certainly deserves it.  Like a lot of the movies from this era, it is full of adventure, some romance, some lighthearted fun, and great scenery.  After watching it I went over to Netflix and added some other early Disney films to my ever-growing list.  


At 7:33 PM, Blogger Richard Bellush said...

If I ever saw Third Man on the Mountain (unlikely) I don't remember it. It's the rare Disney movie of that era that doesn't have some merit though.

I liked Maleficent, too. It is worth re-watching the 1959 Sleeping Beauty to see just how much was borrowed from it -- and then flipped upside down. The dialogue in the scene when Maleficent curses Aurora is almost verbatim. In keeping with modern cynicism, the newer film never questions Maleficent's contention that true love in the romantic sense doesn't exist; this is playfully un-Disney.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

Actually Richard, you ought to watch Third Man on the Mountain. I'd never seen it before either, although I'd heard of the title. I'd disagree that it doesn't have any merit, however, it's wonderfully entertaining, and visually delightful as well. It quickly became one of my favorite films from that era. Another one I like a lot from that era is In Search of the Castaways, and there are a few others from that time that, to me anyway, seem like Disney classics.

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Richard Bellush said...

I phrased myself poorly. I meant that only rarely do Disney films of that era lack merit. I have no reason to assume that this was one of the rare ones, and I trust your judgment that it is good.

At 9:58 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

Thanks Richard--oddly I thought that might have been a typo or something. I agree that era has a special appeal to me too.

At 5:47 PM, Blogger Roman J. Martel said...

I enjoyed "Maleficent", but felt it was a little to calculated in places. Over scripted or maybe just a bit too cynical. Not sure, but it kinda lost me part way through.

The music by James Newton Howard is excellent, one of the best film soundtracks of 2014. Big fantasy moments, lots of heart and some cracker action tracks too.

At 9:50 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

Yes, Roman, I did notice the soundtrack in Maleficent, and I'd agree with your assessment. The soundtrack and the visual effects were one of the things that kept me watching the film. The story itself is a bit light once you figure out where it's going. But all in all a pretty good film.


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