It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – Hymns of Celebration

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Some movies just make you go Awww. You end up forgetting real life and start appreciating the wonder of reel-life. Frank Capra’s epic, It’s a Wonderful Life, is one such movie.

Well reputed for its repeat value as a feel good Christmas drama, it holds a television record during holiday season for all the wrong reasons. A copyright booboo consequently enabled television stations to endless hours of free screening on TV. But, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Frank Capra’s melodrama as the failure to renew its copyright in 1975 arced as the sole reason It’s a Wonderful Life has become the quintessential Christmas carol. Not surprising at all, It’s a Wonderful Life is a sweetie that’s sappy and splendid – taking you to the land of fairytales again.

Capra had already won three Oscars by the time he co-wrote, directed, and produced It’s a Wonderful Life. Sadly, the movie bombed at the box-office. It was celebrated in the Oscars though—receiving five nominations, winning only one. A shame, but considering it clashed with William Wyler’s Best Years of our Lives, it’s not surprising, a bit saddening. Still the movie ranks today as one of the greatest films made—a personal favorite of Frank Capra and James Stewart, who stars in this sentimental drama as George Bailey.

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The movie spans 26 years starting 1919 when George was merely 12 years young and ending at around 1945, with George now happy and merry at 38. Incidentally, that was Stewart’s real age when he came about doing It’s a Wonderful Life. Considering that he plays an 18-year-old here, it’s amazing how Stewart doesn’t look that old for his role as young and enthusiastic, George Bailey. His youthfulness and enthusiasm never really fades—a trait that keeps George going despite his rough life amidst tough times. As they say, what a time to be alive!

For George and his virtuous wife, Mary Bailey (played by the charming, Donna Reed), this period starting from George’s early part-time work at a Pharmacist’s until his responsibilities as the Chairperson of Bailey Bros. Building and Loan Association—becomes a romantic period that sees them bloom, whither, and shine again making a jolly family of six. In these 26 years, they grow to cherish their smalltime Bedford Falls turning this small town into a haven. George spends his time serving his hometown, and keeping it off the sordid hands of slumlord, Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore) – saving the day many times for the hardworking and oppressed citizens of Bedford Falls.

Yet, one has to pose the question, what happens when this local messiah in flesh and blood faces trouble and finds himself in the corner? How can he go on protecting his fellas when he, himself, is done and dusted? That’s the catch, but have no fear friends for AS2, Angel Second Class, passionate admirer of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is here to save the day. His name is Clarence Odbody, played with jest by Henry Travers.

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Clarence’s favorite novel, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer knits a mawkish metaphor in Wonderful Life. Like Tom, George’s overriding guilt of saving the day and undoing the wrong forms the basis and very like Tom and his pal, Huck, George is also an adventurer at heart wanting to visit Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. Of course, this remains unfulfilled for he has to grow up at a young age and takeover as the Chairman of his father and uncle’s association. Not to let his people down and to ensure that Potter is kept at hand’s reach, George reluctantly agrees and once he does, his adventures only begin within the confines of this small town.

It’s a Wonderful Life might be longer than it appears for today’s viewers. At over 2 hours, the movie is slow taking its time as it skims over 26 years. Not to say it’s boring, which it isn’t, it can feel a bit tedious at times, but the splendor we see on screen, Capra’s tight direction, and the droll life and times of the Bailey couple keep it refreshing and amusing. It’s one of those movies you’d enjoy in a cold night wrapped around warm blankets with your family, which is also why It’s a Wonderful Life has become a nostalgic fair.

For people who’ve grown up reading and watching fairytales, it’s a wonderful throwback to those times, and only augments one’s deep-rooted desire for fantasy, goodness, and the celebration that’s life. And for Capra, celebration it was. After returning from his time away during the Second World War, Capra envisioned a movie that would celebrate life amidst the gory world he’d witnessed. James Stewart was on the same boat. Together, they created magic – delivering a movie that has become reminiscent with celebration and the joy of living. It’s a mad, mad, mad world—and Capra uses his wit and humor to tell a story of innate divinity behind the madness that appears.

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Under the mask of fantasy though, Capra uses this film to shed light on the manipulation of proprietors, capitalistic powers, and the chi of commercialization. He throws light on all these issues loosely, but doesn’t go into details as Wonderful Life isn’t really about life’s negativity, it’s about optimism, about human endeavor, and the value of individual lives. What’s important for Capra is to put these into effect and make this world one wonderful place – appreciating the wonder of life.

When George finds himself in the all-new Bedford thanks to Clarence, the movie takes a sharp noir turn, with low-key lighting, degenerative locales, and power-hungry maniacs ravaging the city, now renamed Pottersville. In the scene when the never-born, never-here George Bailey visits his dilapidated house, Capra throws sharp shadows in George’s face, and creates a depleted environment. Even if it’s for a tiny portion of the movie, we get a feel of a genuine film noir and the sad part – it could be the actual representation of an increasingly commercial America in the post-war scenario.

Nonetheless, we don’t suffer too much in such a noir-ish setting as Capra brings us right back into his fantasy. Perhaps he was clinging on to those values that made him the Frank Capra, and perhaps that’s why we all love him and his movies.

Looking back, It’s a Wonderful Life is the zenith’s of Capra’s career. How ironic that it led to his downfall, whilst being perhaps his best effort and one of the most glorious films ever made. Capra went on to direct five more movies after Wonderful Life. While they’re impressive in their own ways, none match the joie de vivre of It’s a Wonderful Life.

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It’s a Wonderful Life is heart-warming. Filled with Capra-ian ebullience, it highlights all the wonderful aspects of life, love, and the world. There may be few bad apples, but not all apples are the same. One just needs to realize the goodness in people, and strive to accept life a celebratory journey than a power-driven game. Maybe a bit too utopian, but a man (read person) doesn’t get into a situation like this always, right?

I’ll leave you with a quote from Capra when asked about the legacy of the movie:

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen. The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

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Ah, it is a wonderful life.

Maleficent (2014) – The Tenant of the Moors

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Cast

Angelina Jolie as Maleficent
Elle Fanning as Aurora
Sharlto Copley as Stefan
Sam Riley as Diaval
Imelda Staunton as Knotgrass
Lesley Manville as Flittle
Juno Temple as Thistletwit
Isobelle Molloy as Young Maleficent
Michael Higgins as Young Stefan

Every moment has a long trace behind it. What our eyes see is hardly closer to the imperial realities leading to that moment. Keeping that in mind, Poe approved, “Believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see.” The story of Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault is the version all of us have heard, read, and seen. The old fairytale about Princess Aurora’s 100 years a sleep slave is revamped in this new version of Sleeping Beauty, this time from the perspective of Maleficent, going back to her roots and learning about her, a bit, and discovering that she is not exactly the preacher of evil as portrayed in the original fairytale.

As such tales usually start, once upon a time, there lived a fairy by the name of Maleficent who protected the Moors from humans, utterly savage humans enslaved by greed and lust. She was the generous Queen Fairy who befell into humanly love with a mortal, Stefan—the future ruler of the Kingdom and father of Princess Aurora. In his lust for power, Stefan betrays Maleficent using her weakness against metals and detaching her wings from her body—turning her into the Dark Mistress of All Evil that she went to be known as—from the original Compassionate Fairy and Protector of the Moors that she was. As the fairytale has it, Maleficent curses Princess Aurora on her christening to fall in a deep sleep after pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel on her 16th birthday. The rest, as they say, is history—but not quite in this reinvigorated tale of Maleficent directed by Robert Stromberg and prudently adapted by Linda Woolverton.

The basic premise remains the same to the fairytale, but this live-action epic retells the story of Princess Aurora from Maleficent’s point of view. The narration by Janet McTeer (as the elderly Princess Aurora) embezzles the movie with an almost bookish, fairytale-esque aura—rekindling the warmth of the classic fairytale that we have all felt in our childhood. The same warmth in McTeer’s voice carries on to the screen showing us young Maleficent bubbling in her own charms filled with innocence, and falling for a meager human, Stefan.

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Going to a period before Maleficent became The Maleficent; the backstory is detailed and has a comprehensiveness to tell us what really happened, why it happened, and how did it all come to a head in the grand finale. Very convincing, we ultimately feel for her predicament and as evil as she turns out, every drip of pain and anguish in Maleficent’s life caused by King Stefan shakes the viewer in support for her and in sympathy towards her degeneration from the sunny protector fairy to the dreaded, almost gothic, dark mistress of evil.

For somebody who grew up reading these tales, Maleficent will be another trip back to those nostalgic lanes. With a plot that ventures into the psychology of the Dark Angel, the story is rich in allegory. A critic gives life to art, said Wilde, and taking that liberty—in this aesthetic restating of an immortal story, the themes of politics and democracy live subtly within. After all, Maleficent protected her Kingdom from humans and by hook or crook, in this retelling, she manages to unify the Moors and the Kingdom into one utopia  under a compassionate, noble, and worthy Princess, later Queen, Aurora. It could count as a master class lesson of chess by the tactical genius within Maleficent, no doubt, but the story might be a bit deeper for the fairytale that is Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent is without question profounder than the archetypical children fantasy, and that makes it stand out as a unique recycling, whilst bestowing a fresh life into this universal classic.

Angelina Jolie as Maleficent overpowers the ginormous special effects, dazzling in its own right, with the role of the enigmatic mistress giving her a much-needed reprise as an actor. There are several scenes in the movie featuring Jolie, not being specific to maintain sobriety, which makes you feel for her loneliness, with the pain visible in her mannerisms and the grief in her expressions. The transformation of the Moors swiftly reverberating Maleficent’s transformation from the bright, sundry angel to the dark, twisted fairy makes it a sight to watch, which along with the dark composition vindicates the change, in turn inventing the movie as an emotional rollercoaster and an engaging watch, rich at times, gloomy at others—but thoroughly enjoyable at all times.

Many were skeptical about Sleeping Beauty getting a makeover, yet Maleficent is not only just a makeover relevant to this time and age, it also reveals the inner conscience and psychology of a woman left to shreds. It is like peeling the layers of an onion going a notch deeper exploring human nature and psychology—why events turn out to be as they are and how everything is an effect of some cause that is never visible, yet the effect is always pronounced. In that way, Maleficent is stark, philosophical, and reflects the graver aspects, which is why it seems many have not been able to digest the gravity of the matter here.

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With some of the best CGI and special effects complimented by a strong performance by Jolie and a joyous flip of an old story, Maleficent is Disney’s classic feel-good tale that tells about love, forgiveness, redemption, and the virtue of goodness. Maleficent makes you emotional with the story showing that love exists at all levels—not merely as described in original fairytales or in the glamorous world of romance. A complete family extravaganza full of emotions, and with a strong message of transformation attached to it, do thyself a favor: watch Maleficent. It will really make you feel good.

Epic – A Grand Epic of Mother Nature (2013)

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Released in the US on May 24, 2013, EPIC is a visual stunner with a seamless elaboration of the epic beauties of ecology—cinematizing Mother Nature at the height of its grandeur and reiterating our part as one with Nature and not isolated away from the all-embracing body. Loosely based on The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs by writer William Joyce, director Christ Wedge brings forth an animated adventure comedy with the hearty message of the dangers surrounding ecology and the consequent aftermath, if humans do not intervene in protecting what they are part of and what they are, most certainly. From the perspective of computer-generated animation movies, Epic is truly epic; rarely has Mother Nature’s green portions appeared so majestic and illustrious in the history of animated cinema.

Epic stands on the boots of a typical teenager, Mary Katherine aka MK (Amanda Seyfried)—in the all so typical format of recovering from the loss of a parent and voyaging into a new relationship with the remaining, eccentric parent—caught in a different world. In such a world, that she or anybody was unaware of, and a dimension unknown to humankind until MK found herself amidst a rivalry between Nature’s nurturers and Nature’s plague.

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With one but all-pervading task assigned to MK by the dying Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles), MK has now a mission to save the forests and the world with the help of forest militia led by Ronin (Colin Farrell)—the love interest of the luminous Queen Tara and the Chief of the Leaf Men force. Joined by Ronin’s protégé Nod (Josh Hutcherson) and an assembled crew of a Mub (Aziz Ansari), Grub (Chris O’Dowd), Nim Gallu (Steven Tyler) on the side of Nature, whilst a faction led by Mandrake (Christopher Waltz) and his son Dagda (Blake Anderson), the Boggans remain intent in destroying Earth with rot and everything lifeless. The scenario is that of a typical good vs. bad—noble vs. evil.

Decoding the message of Epic, the movie is a grand presentation of the state of our planet, Queen Tara could be the symbolic representation here and she’s all deceased—handing over the heritage to a new world, fresh and alive again. The roles humans play in this epic of Epic remain the predominant, yet it also suggests that without human cooperation and realization, our planet would soon decay and become lifeless unless humans realize their part as one with Nature. The whole movie is one colossal concoction of metaphor and simile. The metaphor that humans and everything beyond—need to share a complimentary relationship and work with one another, and a simile that Wedge and his team try to enforce through this wonderful experience of MK, Ronin, Nod, and co with the aid of sensational animation and graphics. It is no surprise that chief antagonist of this visual brilliance is indeed MAN-Drake.

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Epic movie encompasses life’s typicality and uses the same old material—only with a sanguine presentation and a heart touching message. For the younger audience, Epic would provide an extravagant journey and one omnipotent message, whilst for the adults; the computer-generated animations would thrill them with the portrayal of Beauty and the Beast in a new bottle. Mother Nature would so be proud of Epic for it shows why Mother Nature is. For the world in a path of destruction, Epic serves, also, as a reminder that we work for each other and are not alone unless and until we realize our Mother’s reason for being.