Tag Archives: Elle Fanning

Live By Night

“This, right here, is heaven. We fucked it up.”

From Ben Affleck, the director of Argo and The Town – and starring Ben Affleck, the star of Argo and The Town – comes an early competitor for most infuriatingly boring film that should never have been so infuriatingly boring: Live By Night.

Maybe my expectations were set a little high? Maybe I was hoping for a little too much? Maybe, the pedestal I’ve put Ben Affleck on in recent years is too lofty for him? But this film – a film that stars Affleck, Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller, Zoe Salanda and Brendan Gleeson, to name but a few – and Affleck on directorial duty; this film disappointed in such a massive way that I felt crushed as I left the screening on Saturday afternoon.

After a stint in prison for his part in a bank robbery, long time petty crook Joe Coughlin (Affleck) hits the streets of Boston a free man with money, power and revenge on his mind. Aligning himself with the head of the Italian mob, the Irishman is sent to Florida to remove certain entities from power and start making the boss some money.

Coughlin uses his smarts and is quickly the top dog in the sunny state, making a fortune selling dark Cuban rum in the height of prohibition America. Of course, working your way up from nickel-and-dime hood to being the most powerful man in Florida brings you an enemy or three and now Coughlin’s found himself on the wrong side of some very powerful people.

Pretty much “30’s Gangster Movie 101”

Based on the novel of the same name by writer Dennis Lahane – writer of books like Shutter Island and Gone Baby Gone (Affleck’s directorial debut) – Live By Night is surprising in its awfulness considering just how good its inspiration is.

Whilst it’s not the worst film Ben Affleck has starred in (not by a long shot) Live By Night is most certainly the weakest of his directorial efforts. By quite a margin. The man has no one else to blame but himself.

Writer, producer, director and star may have been too much for the current Batman to do all by himself this time around as every role that he took responsibility for in the creation of this film suffered a lack of care and attention: This, considering The Town is one of my favourite crime thrillers (I’ll forgive it being an ADD, Boston based remake of Heat), a film I think is beautifully made and superbly paced with excellent acting all around. Affleck’s latest seems to have forgotten all the skill that made his 2010 crime thriller great and has decided to make himself a paint-by-numbers prohibition movie in an age that includes Boardwalk Empire having once been a thing.

Lacklustre, badly paced direction and a beyond poor script do little to take away from the terrible acting in this film. Not just from Affleck, but his whole cast.

Chris Cooper’s police chief, who a penchant for burying his head in the sand, looked bored on screen. As did Elle Fanning – fresh from an excellent performance in The Neon Demon – as the chief’s daughter: A woman with Hollywood bound aspirations. Both Sienna Miller and Zoe Salanda are neither convincing (nor apparently convinced) in their roles as Coughlin’s fancy pieces at various stages. The whole ensemble seem like puppets with someone’s hand up their arses doing the talking. Only their puppet master is asleep at the wheel.

Live By Night takes a tremendously long time to get to its wholly predictable conclusion. Considering how much good quality strong coffee I get through on a standard Saturday and the venti double shot Americano I take in with me to almost every screening, there is no way I should have been dozing off whilst watching this. Yet there I was, nodding off in my chair like your old man after Christmas dinner.

Not bad considering I don’t remember feeling tired when I went in.

Advertisements

The Boxtrolls

The Boxtrolls is good.  It is very good.  It’s just not great.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

boxtrolls… … …dammit.

The Story So Far: I have been spending this year attempting to watch every single non-horror film released in 2014 that comes my way (this, for frame of reference, is my 52nd review of the year for the 78th film I have seen during it), but I have been going out of my way to see every animated film that is released in the year as part of my ongoing life quest to absorb all of the animation ever.  For, as previously mentioned, I adore animation.  It holds a special place in my heart and the medium is one awash with amazing possibilities that, when realised, are nearly unmatched for me in the world of film.  Unfortunately, 2014 has not been a particularly good year for the medium so far.  Sure, we’ve had The Lego Movie and Mr. Peabody & Sherman, I am not disputing and downplaying the extent to which I enjoyed those films, but those were both released in February and, well, nothing else has really come close to great since then.  How To Train Your Dragon 2 was a major disappointment for me (and, yes, I know that I am in the minority with regards to that series), Rio 2 was merely divertingly decent viewing, and everything else has basically sucked miserably.

But all hope was not lost for me!  For the last four months were going to bring forth two saviours who were going to make the crap worthwhile (not three, because Disney’s Big Hero 6 doesn’t hit UK shores until January for literally no good REASON).  The end of October was going to bring The Book Of Life, the debut feature of El Tigre: The Adventures Of Manny Rivera’s Jorge R. Gutierrez and which looks full of charm and visual splendour that nobody else in the animated-feature industry seems willing to try.  But, before that, there would be The Boxtrolls.  Now, I think it would be fair to say that my expectations for The Boxtrolls prior to entry were high: Laika, the company behind the film, are previous of Coraline and ParaNorman, the latter being one of my very favouritist films of 2012 and my second-favourite animated film of all-time.  I actually entered 2014 with The Boxtrolls being my single most anticipated film of the whole year.  Some might say that I had crippled the film before I’d even seen a single frame, putting too much pressure and expectation on a film that it could not possibly live up to.

Maybe those people are true, maybe I built myself up for disappointment.  That, however, is a theory.  You want facts, so here are the facts: The Boxtrolls is good.  The Boxtrolls is very good.  I had a lot of fun with it, I laughed, I gasped up, my heart got a minor stirring from my emotions.  The Boxtrolls is not great.  The reason why The Boxtrolls is not great is down to its messy, unfocussed and sub-par screenplay.  The Boxtrolls, ultimately, is a disappointment, only for legitimate reasons instead of unreasonably high expectations.  And now you know why I started off this review with “… … …dammit.”

Our story concerns the town of Cheesebridge, a Victorian-style place where class structures are everything and everyone has an obsession for cheese that overrides all common senses for some reason.  Residing below the streets of Cheesebridge are a race of creatures known as Boxtrolls (primarily voiced by Dee Bradley Baker and Steve Blum), friendly little scavenger and worker creatures who everyone mistakes for fierce monsters due to the fact that they don’t look normal (yes, we are working towards the same moral that ParaNorman had but in a far clumsier way, more on that shortly).  Not helping matters is the fact that one night, they end up taking a human boy, who they dub Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), from the surface and raise him as one of their own.  This leads to the slimy and opportunistic Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) presenting his Boxtroll exterminator service to the townsfolk with the promise of an entry into the town’s high society if he successfully completes his planned genocide.  A decade or so later, most of the Boxtrolls have been captured and Eggs decides to try and rescue them.  Tagging along is a human girl, named Winnie (Elle Fanning), with a perverse fascination for the violent Boxtroll stories that Snatcher has been perpetuating (or maybe it’s just Boxtrolls in general, it’s rather unclear).

Right, the good first.  As is par for the course, by this point, the animation is fantastic.  It’s much less busy than Coraline and ParaNorman, even when madcap chase scenes abound, but it’s no less detailed and no less convincing.  The folks over at Laika have done an outstanding job with the look and feel of Cheesebridge, excellently evoking the mood of a Victorian town with its cobbled roads, tight streets and towering buildings.  There’s a good sense of scale.  Character movements are even more fluid than in ParaNorman and facial expressions have never been more perfectly expressive.  Snatcher, in particular, can go from humorously ineffectual-looking to menacing through a change in position, facial expression and camera placement, especially when the film reveals the identity he’s been using to ingratiate himself into high society.  It’s all really charming, too, that natural stop-motion love seeping through every frame.  Lighting is fantastic, shadows are very convincing, with an early scene at night reminding easily reminding all that Laika are the kings at atmosphere in the animated realm.

Occasionally, though, the film does revert to CG to animate more complex movements and the like.  I wouldn’t bring this up if it was near-seamless, like in ParaNorman, but it really isn’t.  The quality is very low, excess motion blur poorly hides said low-quality, it gels badly with the non-CG’d stuff and a lot of it feels extraneous, animations that would have been possible to perform in stop-motion but were probably assigned CG duty due to encroaching deadlines and the like.  It’s not enough to bring the film down, after all I will be remembering the exceptional character animations and facial work long after this movie has left the cinemas, but it is enough to be noticeable and warrant a mild calling out.  I have no problem with CG being used to enhance your stop-motion, Laika, ParaNorman did it fantastically, but it needs to be of a higher standard than this.

Character designs, meanwhile, are very strong.  The film has to walk a thin line between “ugly cute” and “just plain ugly”, in order to both convey the grimy Victorian time period design and be able to play the titular characters as alternately cute and menacing depending on whose point of view we’re looking at, but it manages to do so with aplomb.  The Boxtrolls themselves all have minor individual yet distinctive designs that make it easy to tell apart who is who, and they are honestly really rather adorable, especially when they start moving.  As previously mentioned, Snatcher has a design that easily lends itself to whatever tone the material he is involved in takes.  Eggs and Winnie also have distinctive designs, even if Eggs is sometimes a bit too dirty to be 100% pleasant to look at and Winnie’s design never seems to quite escape the pompous scowl that she mostly holds.  I must, however, applaud the character designers’ choice to have Winnie have a noticeably fuller body type than is usually displayed in kids’ films.  You might think this means little and is rather inconsequential, but I guarantee that there will be some young girl out there who sees something like that, something that is not made fun of once I must add, and will find it a huge self-esteem boost.  Trust me, it’ll mean more than you think to somebody.

Speaking of kids, now seems as good a time as any to put to bed a couple of things that other critics have been saying about the film.  No, the character designs are not too ugly for kids to love.  I know this for a fact because my screening was rammed full of families and the kids there loved the little Boxtrolls.  Many of them even audibly and visually got very excited at the standee for the film that was situated near me whilst I did some reviewing between films; one even got their parent to take a picture of them with it.  The other thing is that some critics have claimed that the film, and the finale especially, will be too scary for children.  Not only is it demonstrably false (again, I was in a screening filled with kids and they all loved it and weren’t bothered by its darker moments in the slightest), it both shows a severe underestimation on the part of critics with regards to their thoughts on children and gives off the suspicion that none of them have seen Laika’s prior work.  Compared to Coraline, which basically was just a straight horror film for kids, The Boxtrolls is more along the lines of James & The Giant Peach.  In fact, that was even the distinct feeling I had when I got out of the film, a strong recollection of the movie of James & The Giant Peach.

So, if you really do have to judge an animated movie based solely on the insulting criteria of whether kids will love it: rest easy.  I was in a screening full of them and they were all audibly having a tremendous time, loving every character and not being traumatised in the slightest.  Normally I wouldn’t take the time out to mention this, but I thought I’d nip some misconceptions in the bud before they become commonplace.

Anyways, back to what the film does right: The Boxtrolls is a lot of fun.  The action scenes are exciting, the film is well-paced if awkwardly plotted and structured (we’ll get to that), and its jokes are fast, frequent and very funny.  Much like with ParaNorman, the jokes cover the whole spectrum, but they are a bit broader, like everyone involved is cutting loose due to not being constrained by a horror aesthetic this time.  Slapstick is brilliantly staged and deployed (finally!), a piece of grotesque body horror actually ends up as one of the film’s funnier gags, there’s a segment where Eggs is attempting to fit into a high society banquet and, whilst they are rather obvious and very telegraphed, the jokes there are some of the film’s best, Snatcher’s secret side-identity is a very easy gag but I still laughed because Ben Kingsley takes it all the way (in fact, I’m just going to go ahead and single out Ben Kingsley from the very good voice cast now because it saves me a paragraph in a minute), and then there are Mr. Pickles and Mr. Trout.  Mr. Pickles and Mr. Trout are two of Snatcher’s henchmen, voiced by Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost respectively, and they are both having existential quandaries about their place in the universe and the good vs. evil narrative they’re partaking in.  As you can probably guess, their material is some of the funniest in the film, in particular because Ayoade and Frost rattle it all off near-flawlessly.

boxtrolls 2

And yet, despite those last few paragraphs of points in its favour, and the fact that it easily slots into the highest echelons of the year’s animated films, I was still disappointed with The Boxtrolls.  Why?  No, it’s not because I am “a hard-to-please-killjoy”.  It all comes back to the screenplay.  Yes, it’s very funny and well-paced.  It is also a huge mess: trying to do too much in too little time, giving most everyone the short ends of various sticks, never quite grasping who most of the characters actually are, and clumsily re-treading ground that ParaNorman covered two years ago.  With the characters, the villains are all really well drawn and defined and easy to get a handle on, but the leads are mostly lightweight and not as detailed.  Winnie, in particular, never seems to be a completely defined character and I never did quite figure out whether her interest in the Boxtrolls was because of them, the gruesome stories that Cheesebridge perpetuates about them, or whether it’s just her attempting to get attention from her neglectful parents.  Incidentally, Cheesbridge’s extreme obsession with cheese never really amounts to anything, as if it’s just supposed to stand in for their entire character.  Also, notice how the titular Boxtrolls seem to get the short shrift, barely being relevant outside of their being a plot device?  Yeah, that’s the problem here.

We get to know Fish because he’s Eggs’ adopted father, and Shoe gets a tiny bit of screen-time, but that’s about it.  They may all look distinct and individual, but most of the Boxtrolls are interchangeable when it comes to personalities.  We learn that they scavenge and are peaceful and that they sleep by stacking themselves one on top of another in the most adorable thing you will see all weekend, but I never felt like I learnt anything about them.  They’re important because they’re cute, they’re important to Eggs and nobody wants to see a genocide, and that’s about the extent of it.  You know how Despicable Me 2 had us spend a lot of time with the Minions to make the eventual happenings that occur to them carry genuine weight beyond just “nobody wants to see the cute things hurt”?  Yeah, the same isn’t true of the Boxtrolls.  They mostly just sit in the background, as, in fact, do most of the heroes, whilst the villains take centre-stage unless it is absolutely necessary for them to appear.  That’s a damn shame, both because they are really cute and personality-filled, and also because the film’s message of tolerance and inclusivity rings false when, well, they’re mostly kept on the sidelines for the villains.

As for that message of tolerance, inclusivity and acceptance regardless of race, gender, age, physical deformities, sexuality, etc.?  It sounds rather similar to the one that ParaNorman sported, doesn’t it?  That’s the other problem.  A lot of The Boxtrolls’ best moments, its best scenes and emotional beats, were done before in ParaNorman and done much, much better.  ParaNorman had a whole cast of fantastically well-drawn characters that were full of depth, whilst The Boxtrolls kinda doesn’t and that really ends up hurting it.  There’s no real emotional centre, nothing connects like it should, the big moments don’t resonate.  Winnie’s arc with her parents neglecting or just straight up ignoring her was done way better in ParaNorman, working that neglect into actual character reasons rather than just irritating absurdity.  That film’s message of tolerance and acceptance was woven right into its DNA and addressed, again, through actual character work instead of just plot mechanics.  But when The Boxtrolls goes for its own path, it falls down even harder.  The middle of the film reveals how Eggs got into the hands of Fish and Shoe and it’s based around an action that really ratchets up the menace for Snatcher at just the time he needs it… but then there’s a twist at the three-quarters mark that undoes that for no real reason than to just give Eggs everything at the ending.  There is no plot reason for this change in course.  It just feels like the film wimping out, something that Coraline and ParaNorman never even dreamt of doing.

Then, much like this part of the review, there’s the awkward structure.  As you may have noticed, we spend a large amount of time in the presence of the film’s villains and, whilst they are very entertaining, it ends up reducing the already underwritten heroes even more and highlighting that problem in bright colours that could be seen from the moon.  They really need reduced screen time, time that we should instead be spending with Eggs as he goes through his identity crisis, or even just the Boxtrolls themselves so that we can actually fear for their plight.  Meanwhile, the film’s decision to start right as the Boxtrolls take in Eggs gives us no real status-quo.  There’s no real indication as to how things were before the bad times started, we get no real idea as to how the Boxtrolls act in their downtime (read: not being chased and captured) and, again, this all feeds into the hollow emotional centre.  Besides their cuteness, I know nothing about them and I have no clue what things were like for them before they started having to truly fear for their lives.  The film also starts off really awkwardly, taking too long to set things up properly and not finding its footing for at least 15 minutes, and I could practically see the gears creak (pun kind of intended) when it came to moving things into place for the finale.  This screenplay, as you may have gathered, is a mess and badly needed substantial rewrites before the film entered production; shame it never got them.

The Boxtrolls is a highly entertaining ride, I will admit.  I had a lot of fun and, as is the usual case for Laika productions, the animation is gorgeous and the voice work is splendid.  But it lacks the giant beating heart that Coraline and ParaNorman had.  Its screenplay is too messy, short-changing too many characters and being too muddled in its overall aims.  When it cribs from ParaNorman, which is does a lot, it only serves to show how bereft of genuine depth this film has and how badly the screenplay needed major rewrites.  Whereas those prior films really connected on a strong emotional level, in ways that stick with me to this day (ParaNorman, especially), The Boxtrolls instead just entertains and will likely fade from my memory soon enough.  A lot of effort has clearly gone in here, it’s one of the year’s better animated features and it’s still very good.  Unfortunately, seeing as we’re talking about Laika here, “very good” isn’t good enough for me.  You could probably give them credit for already reaching the “good enough isn’t good enough” point after only two prior films, but it only stands to show the fact that, despite the large amounts of fun I had with it, The Boxtrolls ultimately disappointed me.  Dammit.

OK, The Book Of Life.  It’s all on you now.  Don’t mess up.

Callum Petch should have just named you Laika.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Maleficent

Maleficent is both far better than it sounds and nowhere near as good as it promises to be.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

maleficent‘“The movie is gorgeous to look at, and the last 75 minutes are really entertaining,” [producer Joe Roth] says.  The issue is the opening, which is being reshot over eight days.’

That was from an article posted on The Hollywood Reporter back in October concerning reshoots for Maleficent.  I’m really rather hoping that Disney didn’t pay too much for those reshoots because the first 30 minutes of Maleficent are really not good.  When your film begins by featuring a child actress who is straining so very, very hard to act with every fibre of her being, whilst her character is being sickeningly nice and sweet as that “acting” is going on, first impressions are not going to be very favourable.  Fortunately for all involved, Maleficent does get better.  In fact, you can pretty much pinpoint the exact minute the film starts getting good, when it settles into its groove and starts doing the stuff it clearly wanted to do from the beginning.

Unfortunately, though, Maleficent has been cut down to within an inch of its life.  Running at a svelte 96 minutes with credits, and with a really poor opening 30, this is a film that breathlessly sprints through everything it has to offer at 300MPH and only laying the barest groundwork necessary for its big emotional arc and switcheroo finale to work; instead relying on Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning to carry them through.  It almost works.  When the film settles into its groove, it’s a very good re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty and its emotional beats do land.  Unfortunately, that groundwork is full of bags of potential that never get realised because of the poor opening and the extreme shortness of its runtime.

That opening, for those that are interested, concerns a child Maleficent who lives in the forest kingdom and is the kindest and nicest fairy who ever lived a life of being kind and nice.  One day, she encounters a human child, Stefan, who snuck into the forest kingdom and the two become friends, apparently, and later lovers, apparently.  The years go by, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and Stefan (Sharlto Copley) grow older and further apart, with Maleficent leading the defence force of the forest kingdom from a human army who wish to wipe them out because… humans are dicks?  Anyways, the king, on his deathbed after a battle with Maleficent, puts out a hit on her and the opportunistic Stefan uses his old friendship with her as a way in.  Unable to pull the trigger and straight kill her, Stefan instead steals her wings, takes the throne based on a lie and leaves Maleficent a woman scorned and determined for revenge.

Yes, that does sound like the film bending over backwards and then some in an attempt to make Maleficent a sympathetic protagonist.  Stay with me, we’re almost at the part where it starts getting good.  King Stefan and his wife eventually give birth to Aurora (who eventually grows up to be Elle Fanning) and Maleficent shows up and curses the child to fall into a deep sleep if she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel any time before the day after her sixteenth birthday, from which only a true love’s kiss can rouse her.  Stefan panics, because both he and Maleficent don’t believe in such a thing and sends the girl away to a remote cottage near the forest kingdom to be raised by three fairies.  Maleficent, however, follows, discovers where the baby is being kept and becomes sort of a far-distance trickster godmother to Aurora until, one day, their mutual curiosity leads to a face-to-face meeting and you can probably guess the rest.

Here’s the thing, that part of the film is great!  I mean, I’m a sucker for this kind of plotline anyway (ones that focus on mother-daughter relationships just kind of get to me), but Maleficent still pulls it off with aplomb thanks mainly to Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning.  Jolie looks like she’s been building to this role for her entire life and she mostly nails it.  Not only does she look the part (seriously, the work made to get her to look like the title character is superb), she’s also mostly fantastic.  She’s weakest in the beginning (what a surprise), but as soon as she appears at Aurora’s christening she is off to the races.  When she needs to be the loud hammy villain, Jolie hits those notes excellently, equal parts dead straight and having the time of her life.  When she needs to sell the growing affection she has for Aurora, she sells it totally, as note-perfect deadpan gives way to genuine warmth.  The film puts the attempted curse revoking far too early in the narrative’s chronology for it to register as genuine, but Jolie still gives it her all, regardless.  She’s a commanding screen presence, equally convincing when making humans tremble in fear as when she’s shrinking back into herself when surrounded by lethal iron.  It’s that instance of dream casting where the performance ends up exactly as great as it sounded on paper; I can’t imagine anyone else playing this part in live-action now.

Jolie will get a lot of much deserved plaudits and praise thrown her way, but hopefully that won’t mean that Elle Fanning is left out in the cold, either.  I mean, after all, it takes two to sell a maternal relationship and Fanning is more subdued than her co-star but no less great.  See, Fanning has to be happy and cheerful practically all of the time, a saint in all but name, and that can often lead into precociously annoying (after all, it happened with child Maleficent at the beginning of the film).  Fanning, however, finds that sweet-spot where she’s both believably nice and cheery and friendly, and not punch-ably-annoying.  She’s endearing so, even though the film short-changes the whole relationship (we will get back to that, hang in there), it’s still easily understandable how Maleficent would start defrosting due to spending time with her.  I really do wish that the film spent more time on this part, but Jolie and Fanning still force a section that would otherwise operate at half-strength (at best) come close to the level of most films that spend way longer on such character relationships.

Similarly recovering from a poor start is the character of King Stefan who spends the movie succumbing to his paranoia regarding Maleficent’s curse.  We don’t check in with him too much, but we do so enough to both nail down both the tragic aspect of his villainy and how his paranoid delusions turn him into a horrible, selfish and often vile human being.  He doesn’t just turn evil so that we can have our final setpiece, his slide into what he becomes remains rooted in character work set up beforehand which keeps it from feeling jarring (unlike certain other blockbusters that I don’t much care to mention).  A nod of approval should also be thrown Sharlto Copley’s way, too.  Unlike his villain turn in last year’s Elysium, he resists the urge to go full-ham and instead pitches his performance as more of a pathetic and weasely character who only got into his position through greed and whose paranoia seems to be just as much, if not more so, rooted in his own wellbeing than that of his daughter.  At first I was disappointed (I actually really like Copley’s hammier turns), but the more I reflect the more I grow to like it.  It’s understated, and I can dig that.

Oh, it would also be remiss of me to not mention the fairies that look after Aurora (played by Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville).  Well, I say “look after”.  In Maleficent, they’re very self-absorbed and care more about the fact that they’re, direct quote, “wasting the best years of our lives” on their charge.  They’re also sometimes comic relief, although that mainly comes from Maleficent messing with them than jokes about their negligence in raising Aurora (that, surprisingly, is a well they only go to once and it’s required to set up the beginning of her and Maleficent’s relationship).  It’s a rather fun deconstruction, in all honesty, and it fits well with the mildly deconstructive nature of the rest of the film, too.  Ditto the stuff with Prince Phillip which is short, and cribs from Frozen, but is still very much appreciated.

See, all of this stuff is good.  Great, even!  However, it’s also cut to within an inch of its life.  There is the bare minimum of content to each of these themes and plots and scenarios which works fine for King Stefan (it checks in precisely enough times to get the message across), the fairies and Prince Phillip (whose ideas and themes benefit from the reduced screen-time as it keeps them from being beaten over the audience’s head), but is almost killer for Maleficent and Aurora.  Again, it hits the bare minimum of points and scenes in order to make the emotional beats connect at least partially, and even then it’s mainly down to Jolie and Fanning to do most of that heavy lifting, but that’s it.  It goes no further.  For an example, it takes pretty much one scene after the two meet for Maleficent to defrost to Aurora when she’s brought to the forest kingdom.  It’s that kind of speedy manoeuvring of plot pieces that makes what should be a huge, giant heartwarming ending, the kind that leaves a glow of pure joy emanating from my heart for hours on end, instead a mildly uplifting one.  The power isn’t there because the time hasn’t been put in.

Instead, we spend the opening 30 minutes very, very, very awkwardly setting up Maleficent’s back-story.  It’s got everything!  Dreadful child actors, poor attempts at Lord Of The Rings-style fantasy battlefield action so that there’s something in the advertisements to hook the boys in with, montage after montage after montage, clunky foreshadowing, “a woman scorned” as the primary motive for the lead’s descent into darkness (although the film quickly distances itself from this after the 30 minute mark, so I’m not as bothered as I could have been), extremely clunky explanations of how [x iconic character] got [y iconic accessory] (Diaval was saved from hunters by Maleficent and is now her humble servant, if you were just dying to know)…  They’re all present and they’re all correct and, dear Maker, they are so badly done and so at odds with the rest of the film.  These go more for fantasy epic than the smaller scale relationship-focussed story the film pivots on after the first half-hour, and the switch between the two is equivalent to a really bad truck driver awkwardly attempting to shift gears.  They’re that at odds with each other and in terms of both tone and quality.

And it sucks up so much precious time!  Look, Maleficent never drags, that’s the beauty of its 96 minute length, but the film did not need to waste half-a-gorram-hour very awkwardly and painfully setting up Maleficent’s back-story, because it takes away from the central relationship that drives it!  If Disney and the filmmakers wanted the film to be 96 minutes, they should have started the story at the point in which Maleficent crashes the coronation and left her back-story to be a mid-film reveal, summed up in a five minute montage.  It would get the point across, we’d lose nothing because the film is that bad at the entire section as it is, and it would have left more room for development of the Maleficent/Aurora relationship.  You could even catch viewers off-guard by slowly subverting the typical Maleficent and Stefan images before hitting the audience with the back-story to make the tragedy of it all sting that much more.  But, no, instead it takes about 30 minutes for the film to get out of its rut and get to the bloody point, which is a third of the film wasted!

Look, Maleficent is a mess.  I will not dispute that.  The overly-streamlined runtime coupled with the drastically different opening third creates a film that seems to be either the product of a whole bunch of people trying to make separate films and only successfully getting on each other’s page for its final third (where it applies the Sleeping Beauty story to the universe we’ve spent the last hour in, and which is way better than that sounds), or the product of filmmakers who got bored a third of the way into their uninspired Lord of the Rings cribbing and, realising that you can’t just throw that kind of money away, decided to staple it onto the first third of a much better film, instead.  You can practically see the seams at the exact minute that the film comes alive.

But when the film comes alive, it displays so much potential that it realises just enough of to be a satisfying film, but not enough to keep me from being disappointed.  This should have been an excellent film; Maleficent is a whole bunch of scenes that are likely currently residing on the cutting room floor and a good editor who knows what to keep, what to toss and what to re-attach away from being a damn great film.  The blueprint is there, the framework is there, say the word and it will go straight for the emotional jugular!  But those opening 30 minutes are bad and they’ve stolen away the 30 minutes required to make Maleficent a great film instead of a maddeningly good one.  Jolie is excellent, Fanning is nearly on that level, Copley is superb, the story and script are clearly wanting to go great places, but the sum is not greater than or equal to those parts, I’m afraid.

So, so maddeningly close.

Callum Petch walked with you once upon a dream.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!