Monday, July 14, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: Maleficent (Blu-ray)

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Maleficent (Blu-ray) Blu-ray ~ Angelina Jolie

3.0 out of 5 stars Pales in comparison to Frozen, July 14, 2014

This review is from: Maleficent (Blu-ray) (Blu-ray)

My family has a special relationship with the character of “Maleficent.” My wife has long used the eponymous villain from "Sleeping Beauty" as an avatar for games and web sites alike. This was back when Disney villains received little attention and merchandise featuring their likenesses was rare. As a result, we have virtually everything with Maleficent on it (at least, Maleficent only without Aurora). As Disney has begun to reimagine its vast archive of characters on shows like Once Upon a Time and even the Wicked Witch of the West gets a fair shake in “Wicked,” it was perhaps inevitable that Maleficent would get the same treatment. We approached the film with some trepidation.

It’s helpful to understand that “Maleficent” is about Maleficent first and foremost. That means that if something happens in the plot of “Sleeping Beauty” that doesn’t focus on Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), the scriptwriters simply discarded it. The motivation for Maleficent’s curse was originally about not being invited to the christening of Aurora (played in this film by Elle Fanning), but by the time “Maleficent” gets to the same point as the animated film she has quite a bit of baggage to unload in that single curse.

In short, Maleficent was violated by a man, King Stefan (Sharlto Copley). Other bloggers have pointed out how this reduces Maleficent to a “woman scorned” and that’s definitely a problem for the film. Maleficent’s hatred for Aurora changes over time as she comes to realize she has no beef with the girl; the three fairies charged with protecting her are frighteningly incompetent (at least twice it’s clear Aurora would have died without Maleficent’s intervention). In other words, everyone but Maleficent is a moron.

There’s also an addition of her crow Diaval (Sam Riley), who Maleficent turns into other shapes at a whim: wolf, horse, man, or even a dragon. No special effects budget is spared in this portrayal, which makes all of these forms crow-like. Along with the faerie realm that Maleficent decides to take over in her vengeance, the CGI is breathtaking.

The other problem is that Maleficent never really gets the emotional resolution we hope for. Her conflict with Stefan isn’t really about him at all – it’s about saving Aurora. There’s no dialogue between Maleficent and Stefan that gives us the satisfaction that she's able to moved one. Jolie seems to play Maleficent so aloof as to make her mostly mute, so we have to settle for smiles and glares to fill in the blanks.

In the end, “Maleficent”’s biggest challenge is in being different from other Disney films. The conclusion would be revolutionary if it weren’t for the fact that “Frozen” did it first and better.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: Zero Charisma

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Zero Charisma DVD ~ Sam Eidson

3.0 out of 5 stars Only a minor stat boost, July 13, 2014

This review is from: Zero Charisma (DVD)

"Zero Charisma" was a crowdsourced film, presumably by geeks who long to see a role-playing game true to the spirit of gamers everywhere. The good news is that “Zero Charisma” gets a lot of things right. The bad news is it gets so many things right that there are several plot threads that are never really resolved that make for an unsatisfying ending.

Scott Weidemeyer (Sam Eidson) is the old school game master everyone loves to hate. If you've ever played Dungeons & Dragons, you know him well: the DM who house rules everything, argues on message boards, gets thrown out of hobby stores, and rules over his players with an iron fist. Scott's not particularly lucky with the ladies, but he’s got a place to game (his grandmother’s house) and he’s not afraid to use it.

The players around the table are all gaming archetypes: the hopeless nerd, the aspiring creative types, the guy with a family who is constantly battling with his spouse over his game time. When that player realizes that it’s the game or his spouse, he gives up the game. Worse, Scott's mom has returned and has plans to take over his grandmother’s house and move her into a home. Scott's sweet gaming pad is about to disappear. Reality, in essence, comes crashing into the long-standing fantasy world Scott has so meticulously created.

Thus begins a quest to find a new player. This is no easy feat, and there are plenty of opportunities to sneer at younger generations of players who came to D&D fantasy tropes by way of World of Warcraft. In the end, it’s a different archetype that finds his way into the gaming group: the hipster douche in the form of Miles (Garrett Graham).

This new breed of gamer has a successful career in a creative field, runs a popular blog, has a hot girlfriend, and treats D&D like a fun past time the same way other people treat a card game. He doesn’t take it too seriously.

Mile's acceptance in the group soon overshadows Scott, who inevitably finds himself compared to someone with much higher Charisma…and failing the opposed roll. Miles is everything Scott is not, and it’s not long before this rift comes to a head that involves a Gary Gygax stand-in, a philosophical argument over the purpose of playing role-playing games, and a lot of heavy metal.

The problem with “Zero Charisma” is that because of how it was edited, it shambles unevenly along. Considerable attention is paid to glances from Mile's girlfriend, who at one point appears to be flirting with our anti-hero. This plot point goes nowhere, despite the camera frequently zooming in on her expressions. There's also a lot of emphasis on people filming the climactic battle between Miles and Scott that again, goes nowhere.

The climax, which takes place at Miles' party, is meant to reveal the true douchery by showing that while Miles is happy to game with the nerds, he doesn’t really consider them friends. This isn’t really so much said as implied, as not all the other players are invited to the party. It begs the question though: so what? Is it really that big a deal if Miles doesn’t invite people to hang out socially? Additionally, the rest of the players never find out they weren’t invited. What should be a climactic emotional showdown becomes something of a slap fight.

Like the film “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Zero Charisma” asks what kind of happy ending can there possibly be for the mistfits of the world. Unlike that film, “Zero Charisma” has an answer and it’s not particularly satisfying. Instead of growing as a person, Miles keeps the game the same and just changes out the players.

“Zero Charisma” is a fun film for gamers, but it could be so much more. In the end our hero only raises his Charisma a point or two.