By Ian Brockway
Special effects maestro Robert Stromberg, known as Uncle Rob, has rendered a great experience in his directorial debut, which unfolds as a classic Disney liquid sky of dreams pulsing with heart, energy and something of old Hollywood allure that has not been seen since “The Wizard of Oz.”
Angelina Jolie is electric in the title role as the anti-hero dominatrix Maleficent. Here she is a dark queen par excellence, who gives Tim Curry’s Darkness — as depicted in Ridley Scott’s “Legend” — a run for his money.
Maleficent’s origins are lusty, benevolent and big hearted in strength, as she starts out as queen of the moors, having dominion over the faeries and all things green and rooted.
As an ivory-blushed teen played by Ella Purnell, she is an emerald honey-drop with skin fairer than fair and eyes that speak of opiate kingdoms without words. With great arcing forest-colored, espresso-dappled wings, Maleficent towers above all as a cool fever dream painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and inked by Disney himself.
The smolderingly icy Maleficent burns unconditionally, giving and hot when smitten by the teen Stefan (Michael Higgins) and the bounds of loved are forged, although anemically, without iron.
But alas, the tensions between humans and faeries increase and the two lovers part feathers and extremities without explanation.
A grizzled argentine King Henry (Kenneth Cranham) becomes absorbed by envy and strikes a war with the faeries. Sadly, he entices Stefan to do his bidding in exchange for nobility.
While at first intending to warn his beloved, Stefan becomes possessed in selfishness and does some unthinkable clipping.
Suffice to say our young bejeweled Juliet is bereft and betrayed and she transforms into a sable seductress, grown mature in a viscous oily absence of light, only now malleable in hate.
She crashes a darling infant’s christening and under the guise of a gift, utters a curse, all due to a once lovely and winged lover shorn with scorn.
The cherubic cutie in the cradle is no other than Sleeping Beauty and you will be hard pressed to find a more photogenic baby anywhere (except perhaps in the recent “Neighbors”). This cooing darling even sneezes adorably as periwinkle blue butterflies alight on her nose.
You can’t beat that.
As baby Aurora grows up, she believes Maleficent to be her Faery Godmother. A push and pull develops.
Does Maleficent go all evil in overdrive to protect herself, or does she become an antihero guardian to this young princess who is the epitome of golden-eyed positivity with eyes of sky and stream?
“Malificent” the film is richly wondrous and multi-layered with echoes of Dante, Faust and the masterful epic poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In this film we have a brambling brouhaha of nature in revolt, a Disney version of Edmund Burke’s Sublime as an awesome jolt — confusingly chaotic in terror, a place without a bottom or top.
This is what rejection can bring.
The repulsively sweaty and snarling adult Stefan (the villainous actor Sharlito Copley from District 9) is more horrible than Malificent can ever be. When she is under chains, Jolie takes the form of all of our most beloved and sympathetic creatures from The Wicked Witch, to Irina in 1942’s “Cat People” and King Kong. In torment, weight and sadness, she covers it all.
Angelina Jolie’s last crowning in “Maleficent” is that she has shown this woman-entity to be more than the purple and green shades found in her Walt Disney complexion. She reveals the spite under her hero and the sadness beneath the Grim Domme’s objectivist splendor. Above all, her Maleficent is humanist and earthy. And this fetishistic Maxfield Parrish tale of faeries and All Hallow’s Eve hearts, ripped and torn asunder, is all the better for her. Jolie’s conjurer’s art through gesture and expression almost reaches the heights of lysergic acid even without the tasteful flourish of 3D.
Jaws. The very sound of the title evokes so many images. Most potently, I am brought back to when I was little Ian at 10 years old, going to Cape May and loving the water, making castles with a metal pail. Even my own frail body seemingly made of beach sand.
I had heard about the film and I had to see it. I was sitting between my dad’s two girlfriends in a Volkswagen bug. They giggled and tickled me with wild abandon.
I didn’t know what I was getting into.
I recall the dark and moody first scene. The hyper-realism of the gun-metal gray ocean and the horrible, wrenching and frightening death of Chrissie (Susan Backlinie) as she is swept under darkness with great violence — a parallel to Marion Crane’s murder in “Psycho”.
Like Hitchcock, this initial scene is quite scary, having its own motion and poetry almost like ballet.
In a later scene, Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) spins his wife (Lorraine Gary) around in saying goodbye as if to mimic the previous tragic scene. What was unimaginable just moments before, has now turned to erotic foreplay.
The iconic characters are present on the big screen once more in a digitally restored version of the 1975 classic.
The mealy mouthed Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) is as always, the one you love to hate (or feel pathetic about), his comically garish anchor jacket eerie, offensive and ludicrous under the grim circumstances of Something under the water eating residents.
The toothy terror strikes irrationally without mercy or reason very much like the diabolical attack of cute tiny Regan in “The Exorcist”. This was after all, the era of Watergate and Vietnam. Both ‘70s films attempt to address those inexplicable and sudden tragedies.
The salty and physical Quint (Robert Shaw) is brought in as a kind of healer/killer to exorcise the resort town of a primordial Evil. The shark is drawn on a chalkboard in the manner of a veve, or religious fetish, jagged and primitive.
Director Steven Spielberg accomplishes all these angles with great speed and grace, despite the perils of working with a mechanical shark on the open water of an often inclement Martha’s Vineyard.
“Jaws” is both a social commentary on the ills of tourism run rampant and a tingling thriller that points to “E.T.” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” given its leaps of flourishing music by John Williams and its striking closeups of shocking gore which remind one of the frequent skulls and snakes of the Indiana Jones films.
Spielberg is a young master at portraying this resort town in red, white and blue and illustrating the fear in every person. Many of the shots zoom in on sunburned legs and fat white bellies giving some grim gallows humor as to what might become a human “smorgasbord.”
This is a town literally coming undone at its flag-seams, where tourists arrive in droves, munching ice cream and chattering, and sometimes even oblivious to a shark seen at the next beach. Perhaps “Jaws” is even a commentary on the permissiveness of the hippies. The early victims are shown nonchalantly dismembering a lobster and smoking pot.
Eat and be eaten.
The biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) although helpful, frequently hyperventilates and becomes ineffectual. He rambles, going on tangents almost reminiscent of early Woody Allen. At times, Hooper’s staccato boomings are comical and kitsch in retrospect (This is no boat accident … this isn’t Jack the Ripper … it’s a shark!) but this is all to the better.
The next day after seeing the film for the first time, with those frightful images of a severed goggle-eyed head still in mind, I somehow kicked my skinny, hook-like feet in a shallow Jersey Shore sea.
Now after 39 years, I can jumpily report that “Jaws” still has all its teeth.
Write Ian at email@example.com