An evil witch returns and a good cause worth remembering

There’s a telling scene toward the beginning of “Maleficent,” a revisionist retelling of “Sleeping Beauty,” from Disney, the same studio that made the classic fairy tale famous again with its animated version in 1959.

For a brief moment, outside the contrived conflict that surrounds this revenge-turned-sweet story, the young faery Maleficent (played as an adult by Angelina Jolie) doesn’t really have anything to do. She’s already met the man of her dreams — a young boy whom she grew close with and has since disappeared into the world of humans — so all she does is fly around Faeryland saying "hi" to everyone while she pines for her lost love.

The next time he sees her, he performs an act of extreme cruelty that alters her life forever.


There’s several moments in the PG-rated, live-action but heavily CGI “Maleficent” where the titular character sits around watching other people and waiting for things to happen. That could be because in order to re-invent the Brothers Grimm fairy tale (and original Disney version) from the villainess’s point of view, there were bound to be a lot of things that don’t make sense, such as believable motivations.

Although it may sound like I’m getting too “deep” for a kid’s movie, some kind of internal life for the main character would have been nice. You can’t cheat, even when you’re aiming for a younger audience. Children can tell when something’s amiss in the storytelling department.

The heavy lifting in the character department, then, is all done by Jolie because Maleficent has little more than a couple of thinly developed and somewhat jarring plot points to turn her from innocent faery to malevolent witch.

On the positive side, all is not completely lost. “Maleficent” has its charms, however shallow they may be. Jolie’s already angular features are emphasized by Rick Baker’s makeup effects and caricatured even further by impressive digital sculpting to recall the classic animated look of the 1959 movie. As Princess Aurora, Elle Fanning is her usual ebullient self, and Sam Riley is credible and surprisingly warm for the barely-there role of Diaval, Maleficent’s asexual raven-turned-human companion.

But the script, at least partially written (and endlessly revised, according to reports) by Linda Woolverton (who wrote “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast”) leaves the actors and digital artists to try to make movie magic out of nothing.

Local film 'Erasure' screening at LAC to benefit charity

The day Lawrence resident Austin Snell turned his living room into a prison cell was an interesting one.

Snell wrote and directed “Erasure,” a psychological drama about a man trying to erase the memory of his wife’s tragic death, and the self-funded feature-length film has scenes that required another location. Luckily his friend Scott Burr, known for designing and creating impressive window displays at Game Nut and The Burger Stand, said he could help. A little ingenuity and $200 worth of materials later, Snell had his prison cell.

“Erasure,” which was filmed mostly in Topeka with actors and crew from northeast Kansas and Verve Media, will have its Lawrence premiere at 7:30 p.m. June 6 at the Lawrence Arts Center. There’s no admission fee, but there is a suggested donation of $2 per person at the door, and all proceeds go to the Douglas County food bank Just Food.

“My goal with ‘Erasure’ was to make a film for very little money in order to raise funds for worthwhile causes. This is the baseline for every film I put out from now on,” Snell says. “I don't intend to make films about these issues or causes, however. I make the films I want to make. Serving a higher cause with the finished product is just a bonus.”

Verve Media Filmmakers is a collective of people Snell has been making films with since he was a freshman at Topeka High School. The members are now divided up across the country, with some working professionally in the film industry. “Erasure” is Snell’s debut feature, and was inspired by an article in “Wired” about fringe scientific experiments with selective memory erasure that are happening right now in real life. The concept may sound similar to the Oscar-winning “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” but Snell says his movie isn’t whimsical at all.

“It’s very dark, and takes the real science a little further than ‘Eternal’ does,” he says. “Think David Fincher directing an episode of ‘Louie.’”


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