Why I Didn't Hate Maleficent

Something unusual happened to me yesterday. My friends and I left the cinema and everyone was bitter and angry and agitated – except for me. Highly opinionated, intellectually snobbish and very emotional, the furious one is usually me. There were countless moments I’d leave the cinema wanting to punch the director and the producer and the whole crew just to get rid of the anger that collected while I watched their offensive trash. This time, I left quite satisfied, I dare even say: mesmerized. “The story didn’t make sense, the first act was completely different, CGI was so cheesy, I wanted to see the story of Maleficent and not Sleeping Beauty retold, what’s with the lesbian connotation, there were so many cheap tricks (including freezing characters to make them shut up)!” My friends were furious.

I stayed quiet, listened to their complaints and wondered why I didn’t hate it. It took me some time to figure it out. But then I got it:

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From Art to Life!

Two amazing movies to see right now. Both European. Both with strong French involvement (one French-Belgian, the other French-Austrian-German). Both about love, but more interestingly: About the physical presence, the influence of our physical being on our relationships and our lives. “Amour” is directed by Michael Haneke. It is a beautiful, deep, true story about love, old age, and death. It tells of a beautiful older couple and their dealing with one of them growing ill and becoming completely dependent on the care of the other. It shows the pain, the patience (but for my taste a bit too less of impatience), the love. Incredible Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva carry the whole movie, not reminding you in even a split-second that what you watching is a movie. Life! It shows death but it is all about life, about how beautiful and short it is and how we should love it, embrace it, enjoy every second of it – while we still can. This is one of those movies that shakes you through and through and leaves you thinking about it even a week later. It moved me so deeply that it actually had a spiritual impact. That is what makes a movie into high-art!

“Rust and Bone” by Jacques Audiard is an amazing story of a boxer and a killer whale trainer. She is working with big, powerful, dangerous beasts, he is one. When she loses her physical power, she starts working on taming him and through this, builds new strength. I have never before seen a movie talking in such depth and passion about of physical power, our physical presence, the joy of being physically capable and living the physical side of life. Without vulgarity, or strangling us with sex or sports. Amazing that a movie about physical power can be so poetical! Bravo to Audiard! The love story is beautiful, the characters fantastic. I can rarely say “I felt those characters” when I see a movie. Marion Cotillard and Mathias Schoenaerts made me not only feel them but become them!

And now let’s go out and dance!


Dear James, I was your biggest fan. I miss you!

You used to be the most incredible man I’ve ever seen. You were handsome, stylish and elegant. You had class. There was an aristocratic air to you. You were the guy a woman wanted to go to an Opera Gala with and then tear off his immaculate tux and have sex with him. You were a spy, full of secrets (and special skills). You had a license to kill. And you killed like a gentleman. What a combination! You spoke languages, had a vast knowledge about most bizarre things. You were clever and witty and funny. You used to talk. You talked to women and to other agents and to the bad guys. You don’t talk anymore. You had incredible outfits, cars, gadgets. Where did your gadgets disappear to? I loved your gadgets. They were sexy. They were full of surprises. And dangerous. And fun. What about a gun that fires only with your fingerprints, and a radio? James, those lame things make you impotent!

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Brave. And Selfish. And Disrespectful.

I simply had to see Brave - it is a story of a tough little medieval princess with gorgeous hair. I also still have a thing for Disney princesses. And fairytales. That incredible cloud of red curls, combined with the magic word “BRAVE” lured me for months from huge billboards all over LA. I was excited about it. I entered the cinema filled with expectation of romantic princess fun mixed with a bit of healthy emancipation. I left the cinema furious, agitated and full of anger. And unfortunately ended going to the only restaurant in the neighborhood where they don’t serve hard liquor. It took two glasses of red wine to get the bear out of my head. Yes, the bear.

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The Tree of Art

Ironically, I watched Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life one day after I came up with the outline for my script about women from my island Zlarin. I wrote the outline for the script writing class at UCLA. It wasn’t easy – what I originally wanted to do was a real “foreign language movie” (that’s what they call them here), but the class was about writing a Hollywood movie. I received my first slap (or two or more) during first five minutes in the class. I heard things like “Why make something that 400 people will see when you can make something 4 mil. people will see?”; “Why make movies that will only show on Sundance?”; “I’m doing this to make money”. I was offended by the lack of recognition that art and entertainment are two different things done out of different drives. But they both deserve respect. 

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Breaking Point(e) - Black Swan

True to Hollywood’s world-conquering strategy of transcending the boundaries between tastes, sexes, age and any other characteristics that might make a person decide NOT to see a movie, Black Swan alchemically achieved being everything for everybody – and in the process nothing to many. It’s ballet movie for horror fans, a female movie for the male audience, an American movie for everyone else on the planet. In this case, the strategy was even prepped with a little extra: unclear expectations. When you don’t know what to expect, it is harder to say no. And in spite of the abundant media coverage, Black Swan was very successful in blurring any expectations. First off, this is not a movie about ballet. This is a movie about that eternally tantalizing war between light and darkness, about the two forces defining the world we live in, just as much as defining who we are. A truly fascinating topic, but unfortunately a bit too clumsily dealt with.

As the great New York Ballet company’s senior ballerina (Winona Ryder) gets forced into retirement, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a young dancer from the corps de ballet is unexpectedly chosen for the main role in the next season’s version of Swan Lake. This legendary ballet tells a story of Odette, a princess turned into White Swan by an evil sorcerer, and her prince charming, who gets seduced by her twin sister Odile, the Black Swan. Both white and black swans are danced by the same ballerina, making this one of the most challenging roles in the ballet repertoire.

Our hero Nina is a perfect white swan. But the artistic director (played by the excellent Vincent Cassel) is deeply unsatisfied with her performance of the Black Swan. So here her task: Nina has to discover the black (swan) inside of her. The director helps her do this in a very strange way – by asking her ballet partner if she was really seductive enough to be fucked (which is cute, considering the fact that in real life, Natalie Portman is actually pregnant with the very same man) and sending her home with instructions to touch herself. A bit low. Very unfair to the world of ballet. And, let’s be honest, perhaps a reason for a law suit?

So the premises are great: A shy, insecure, ballerina of alabaster perfection, until now safely tucked in her pink tulle, is setting off on the fascinating journey of discovering her dark side.

Unfortunately, this is where the film loses it.

Nina’s search for her own black swan goes so many different ways that it leaves the audience confused. The demonic mother (Barbara Hershey), an angry failed ballerina trying to fulfill her dreams through her daughter, tricks us into thinking we are about to see a ballet version of “Rosemary’s Baby.” This turns not to be so. Even if it were, it would be wrong – what we are searching for should be hidden inside, not outside, of Nina.

Then we explore a new potential source of darkness by going through a night of drinking, drugs and lesbian sex – a scene a little too obviously made to lure men into a ballet movie – all under influence of Nina’s wicked  competitor played by Mila Kunis,  with black swan wings tattooed on her back. Too cheap – a night of drugs, booze and sex will probably not sprout black feathers on any white swan. And it will for sure not do anything for her dancing except ruin it.

And then there is the third, and final path towards Nina’s “Black Swan-ness”: She is going crazy. We have some blood splashed in our faces, see some confusing images and are made to wonder what is real and what just a product of Nina’s estranged mind. All in all, we are served a mix of a psycho thriller, splatter and a CGI monster horror film packed into a ballet movie. Too much of everything for ….nothing.

Viewers who know the world of ballet will find Black Swan’s portrayal of this world so wrong that it becomes hilarious. Starting with Portman not even resembling a dancer (being thin does not a ballerina make), you have a company director consciously making wrong casting decisions, a ballerina lacking the strength of character to ever enter a big company, and a mentally and physically bruised dancer who would not survive one single day of rehearsals, let alone make it to the opening night. Also, considering that ballerinas start their brutal training as young as six years old, completely reshaping their bodies so that they can achieve grace required for portraying their roles, computer generated images of a body changing it’s surface to fit the role is just absurd. And offensive. So viewers who know ballet will laugh, and those who expect a horror movie will be disappointed. Those with blurred expectations, though, might enjoy the movie. Aronofsky is a talented storyteller, and the visual interpretation of this claustrophobic world is wonderful; Natalie Portman and her co-stars give very intense and dedicated performances, and there are even a couple of surprises, just so one doesn’t get bored with all that tulle.

Decent entertainment. If you’re not a ballerina, and you don’t think too much.