Maleficent is one of Disney’s most famous villains. Think back to 1959’s “Sleeping Beauty,” and you’ll likely conjure up an image of the horned, green-skinned villain with a grumpy black raven perpetually perched on her shoulder with ease. In theaters now, Disney is retelling the beloved story, and all from the iconic villain’s deliciously wicked point of view in “Maleficent.”
Angelina Jolie plays the title character, with “On The Road” star Sam Riley taking on the role of her trusty raven sidekick. Riley, who is accustomed to making small indie films rather than blockbusters alongside one of the most famous actresses in the world, plays Diaval, a raven/human shapeshifter, and Maleficent’s only true companion and confidant. The charming British actor recently made a press tour stop in Miami, where we discussed the surreal nature of working with Jolie and his favorite movie villains.
How did you and Angelina go about developing the relationship between your characters?
Set in a gossipy little town in eastern Texas in 1989, “Cold In July” is the story of a frame shop owner named Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall), the trouble that always seems to find him, and what he (sort of) decides to do about it. Really, he only follows the lead of a mysterious stranger (Sam Shepard) who is searching for his convict son who’s thought dead until Dane discovers the dead man is an imposter. The stranger, Russell, in turn hires an investigator (Don Johnson) to help sort through the mess.
Unfortunately, though fittingly, the movie itself is a mess. It suffers from, among other problems, plot developments that are both hasty and overly convenient. “Cold In July” isn’t so much fast paced as it is preposterous. So much so that it verges on B-movie camp. Disappointingly, it does not dare and ends up too self-serious to be fun and not good enough to be taken seriously. Camp can be mixed with real crime drama, as in the Argentinean film “The Body” (2013), and for a crime thriller with dark humor you would do much better with the Coen brothers (1984’s “Blood Simple” is the prime example).
The tightly knit stories in the Mexican film “Heli” center on the titular character, a low-key young man who works at the local automobile manufacturing plant in the town of Guanajuato. He lives with his wife, father, little sister, and infant son. Though they live just above the poverty line, the household is pleasant and mostly functional—until Heli discovers two bricks of cocaine taped up in brown paper inside the family’s rooftop water tank. The “drug wars” as international news stories are well known, but this film is about the personal side; the individuals involved, willingly or not.
At the outset, you’re greeted with co-writer/director Amat Escalante’s palette of washed out colors. Some shots, as of concrete buildings, verge on black and white. Then comes a thoroughly harrowing opening sequence. Though it ought not to be labeled a “violent film” overall, “Heli” features a half-dozen horrific scenes of torture, brutality, and disturbing assemblages of the kind drug gangs leave behind for observers.
Coming to Blu-Ray in a collector’s edition this week is Dreamworks’ “How to Train Your Dragon,” the movie about Vikings with Scottish accents. Seriously, if it wasn’t for the fact that their children all talked in American accents, it would beg the question: Are these Vikings or Dwarfs?
The fact that the above is the worst and only gripe I can make is a great thing. The film stars the voice of Jay Baruchel, who sounds a lot like Christian Slater if all you get is the voice, as Hiccup. Apparently, Vikings believe that giving children terrible names will ward away evil. In the opening scene, a battle against dragons is taking place and Hiccup manages to shoot one down and wound it. He later finds the dragon, befriends it, names it Toothless (you’ll see why), and trains it to be his loyal companion. Hiccup lives his life in the shadow of his brave and legendary warrior father Stoick (voice of Gerard Butler), and he keeps his dragon friend a secret for as long he can, since his father is expecting him to be a dragon slayer, not a dragon tamer.
The challenges of “X-Men: Days of Future Past” are enormous. On top of being a glossy, effects-filled $250 million Hollywood production, the film combines the actors and characters from the first “X-Men” trilogy with the newer, younger cast of Matthew Vaughn’s stellar “X-Men: First Class” (2011). Moreover, the story weaves an intricate tale of time travel, social upheaval and desperate survival, and is a strong commentary on the mindset of 2014 America.
Not an easy task for even the most accomplished auteur. But the film, thanks to director Bryan Singer (“X2: X-Men United”) and writer Simon Kinberg, is splendid for a number of reasons. However, in addition to everything it does well are the lingering ramifications of the ending. At the risk of spoilers more will not be revealed, but suffice to say the conclusion works in terms of this film but not necessarily for the franchise as a whole.
The hazy opening sequence of “The Immigrant” features the Statue of Liberty as seen from behind. It’s an impressive symbol with its back turned, and one that repeats effectively later incarnate. It’s autumn 1921, and Ewa, pronounced like “Eva,” (Marion Cotillard) and her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan, “A Good Old Fashioned Orgy”) have arrived on Ellis Island from Poland. The processing center for new arrivals functions much the same way as the one depicted in “The Godfather Part II” (1974)—at least on the surface. Magda is whisked away by officials on suspicion of carrying tuberculosis. When she objects, Ewa is “reassured” by the men that Magda will “be kept at the infirmary on the island for six months and, if her condition improves, she’ll be released.” Here, the questions carry weighty implications (“Do you have any money?”), and the accusations are far-reaching (“It says here that your behavior on the ship signals that you may be a woman of low morals.”)
Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix), a “businessman,” is chummy with immigration officials, and you see right away that he maintains interests at the point of entry, though it’s not clear what those are. The matron of a nightclub where “Bruno and his Doves” headline comically, euphemistically describes her offerings as “a lot of singing and magic.” Soon you see that the club is in an area of New York rife with bribes, prostitution, illegal booze, and of course, show business.
Adam Sandler has played so many idiotic characters that it’s difficult to take the messages of his films seriously. He was pro-gay in “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” (2007) and the film was quickly dismissed. He even pled for peace vis-a-vis the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in “You Don’t Miss With The Zohan” (2008), which had people wondering why he’d “go there” amidst all the hummus jokes.
His latest, “Blended,” is by no means a serious film, but it does clearly want single parents to know there’s still someone out there for them if they open their hearts. Sandler plays Jim, a father of three girls whose wife died of cancer. Jim is a loving and dedicated father, but daughters Hilary (Bella Thorne), Espn (Emma Fuhrmann) and Lou (Alyvia Alyn Lind) are tomboys in desperate need of a mother. Drew Barrymore’s Lauren is divorced from distant scumbag Mark (Joel McHale), leaving her boys Brendan (Braxton Beckham) and Tyler (Kyle Red Silverstein) in desperate need of a father.
Jim and Lauren are set up on a blind date. It goes horribly.
For Richard (Pierce Brosnan), life couldn’t be better. He’s about to begin a grand retirement full of travel, golf and relaxation, he has flings with women at least 20 years younger than he is, and he just sold his company for a cool $10 million. Sure his ex-wife Kate (Emma Thompson) hates him for his philandering, but her vitriol is a small price to pay for bohemian freedom.
Yup, this is the sweet life for Richard. Until (because a movie about an old dude retiring is boring, even if he’s played by Pierce Brosnan) he gets to work and realizes his company’s been liquidated. Everything – from the office building to employee pensions to his and Kate’s retirement funds – is gone. The company to which Richard sold his business decided it was a liability rather than asset and unceremoniously dumped everything.