Monday, August 11, 2014

Lucy: A hot mess of intelligent musings

A smart thriller with little identity and poor execution puts Lucy on the road to nowhere.

ON CONTINUITY

ARTH VADER (AV): Get some aggressive,action-packed trailers to showcase a sci-fi / fantasy sweetheart Scarlet Johannsen with super-powers and the magic just happens. Doesn’t it? An original (sounding) idea and a big budget sci-fi screenplay with a couple of heavy box office hitters should have been gold but the story of “Lucy” is a solid swing and a miss. and if we are talking about the continuity of the trailer’s promise and the final film, that would be strike two. What do you say, Ponty? Did you have any Continuity thoughts for this movie

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Lucy seems to be an original story Vader…but I was very much reminded of “Transcendence,” even down to the Morgan Freeman appearance. Apparently going “everywhere” is all the rage these days… everybody’s doing it.

ACTING, DIRECTING AND CASTING 

AV: Lucy needed a complete screenplay re-write to become a movie that would matter. The pacing was a mess. The tempo was a train wreck and the direction, oh P-Man, the direction. While the concept was VERY good, running complimentary imagery to run in tandem with the  storytelling was a truly unique idea. One that was handled very badly. The fast cuts, the out-of-synch pacing made what could have been movie gold a veritable train wreck. Morgan “Voice of God” Freeman and Scarlet “Black Widow” Johansen are two box office titans who could have almost carried this murky movie idea forward. 

TP: Honestly, I like Scarlett Johansson better when she’s wearing black tights and hanging out with Captain America. This role just didn’t have enough depth for her to shine (except for the very beginning) and her performance seemed somewhat flat as the film progressed. I get that she was becoming something more than human, but she didn’t make me care. It seems these days Morgan Freeman is being used just to fill theater seats. His role was (once again) cursory and didn’t allow for the use of his considerable acting skills. Most of all what was wrong with this film began and ended with the script and not even the best talent can overcome that. 


AV: Expected effects for Lucy I’m afraid old friend. There are a few moments of visual effects brilliance, but for the most part there were the standard, entry level effects that did little more than push the story forward. The ‘super AI ultra computer’ that moved amorphously in black with ominous red back lighting was cool but did little for the film in the end. 


TP: The special effects were good, but nothing we haven’t seen before. I think they made better use of the analogous footage of wildlife than they did with the actual effects. Some of the scenery clips were amazing, but didn’t really advance the story (as if anything could). With no breakthroughs in effects, no really breathtaking effects… I think this part of the film was a missed opportunity to compensate for the story.

TAKING A DEEPER LOOK

AV: Lucy was a movie that just wasn’t finished baking, Pontificator. Yep, director Luc “The Professional” Besson could have had a stellar flick on his hands but this film just felt rushed and thrown together. Hardly Scarlet or Morgan’s finest hour, this movie toyed with some great concepts that were never quite realized. The onscreen countdown to the amount of brain capacity Lucy was able to access throughout the film became predictable and annoying. It would have been better as a running count-up clock that was cycling up at the lower right corner of the screen. 

Whether it was the techinicolor space explosions in Scarlet’s bloodstream or her decomposing cell-restructuring in an airplane lavatory, the movie just seemed like it was a bunch of first or second takes. An excellent story arc in these days of the coming singularity, we get no sense of impending danger of any kind. The poor plot and dialed-in acting made for a movie that was one the summer’s biggest disappointments. Even the film’s end message was cryptically frustrating… “[we were gifted with life a million years ago now you know what to do with it.]” No, Lucy. No, I don’t. Unless, of course, it is to NOT make a poorly written, under performing film. 

TP: I can only imagine the number of people that just didn’t get this film Vader. There were people actually walking out of the theater during the film when I went to see it. The science (or pseudo science) was very heavy and detracted from the overall enjoyment. I mean, if I have to sit and ponder what I’m being told, it’s taking away from the following seen (cause I’m pondering). Some parts of the film just didn’t make sense…like why even leave the drug kingpin alive after you kill all his personal guards, stick knives in both his hands, and rape his mind for information? Increased brain power and intellect makes this a good idea? How about later when you are nearing godhood, and you don’t just wipe put all the bad guys so you can conduct your business unmolested? Instead you leave the task to an ill-equipped and outgunned police force? Speaking of guns…should I take this film as a sign that in Europe you can walk around with guns visible and nobody will even blink at the spectacle? I’m sorry, but there is no amount of explosions or displays of power that can cover up such huge plot holes.

ON SEQUELS

AV: What would be the point? Seriously? Just... no.  


TP: I’m hoping they let this one rest in peace and don’t attempt to clarify this film with another one. Leave us all confused and scratching our heads… so at least that way we are thinking about it instead of it being forgotten as soon as we leave the theater.

RATE IT!

ARTH VADER rates Lucy: In the footprint of this movie one can easily see the earmark of greatness. But no one watches a movie for what it could have been. The movie is somewhat entertaining but is a mere shadow of what the movie’s trailers and ad campaign had promised. The bogus screenplay coupled with yawn-inducing dialogue and nothing-new visual effects forces me to use only 10% of my brain’s capacity and give Lucy on 30% (3) of our total capacity of Busted Blocks. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Lucy: With plot holes big enough to drive a truck through and a shoddy script, there was no amount of talent available to improve this film. Despite some great scenery shots and interesting use of file footage, this film could only evolve five (5) busted blocks… leaving the other five lost somewhere in the script. 

Lucy: 4 / 10 Busted Blocks

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Serious Monkey Business

Apes make audiences go bananas in the powerfully
well-told Dawn of The Planet of The Apes

ON CONTINUITY

ARTH VADER (AV): Picking up ten years where the last film (Rise of The Planet of The Apes) leaves off, this movie does indeed borrow from iconic imagery from classic Ape films but quickly makes this universe it’s own. The Apes in past franchise installments, we learned that the Apes took over the Earth, but we never got to know why. Now we have those answers and it’s terrifying because of the possibility of how close to reality the prospect of this story really is. Read on to learn my theory that will blow your mind. Pontificator, what were your thoughts on the new Ape flick? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Picking up ten years after the first film, this film flows seamlessly in continuing the story of the world on the verge of man being replaced by apes as the dominant species. While being a departure from the story of the original films of the 1970’s, there are a number of nods to that series for fans of the original series to enjoy. 

CASTING, DIRECTING & ACTING

AV: The amazing Andy “Golum!” Serkis reprises his role as the infamous Cesar, wise and terrible ruler of the Ape nation. The performance of Serkis is worth the prices of admission alone. Gary “Commish Gordon” Oldman is a disappointment as the mostly stale leader of the human colony in San Francisco. He simply doesn’t deliver the passion we all know he’s capable of. But he doesn’t matter as the cinematography is breathtaking. What’s more the film making masterwork of Matt “Let Me In” Reeves is truly breathtaking, P-man. The opening and closing cinematic sequences are so cool my heart skipped a beat. Seriously. And my favorite sequence, during the first Ape attack, involving the blood-lustful Koba riding a bradley fighting vehicle, whose turret is spinning wildly to of control, is some of the most amazing film -making I have seen in a long time. The camera pans the battlefield along with the turret. Like I said old friend, breathtaking. 

TP: Agreed Vader. Andy Serkis leads the cast with a brilliant performance as Caesar. He has become a master at captivating our attention and conveying character information using only his eyes. Jason Clarke does well in his role as the “sympathetic human,” Malcolm, trying to find his way in a world torn us under by plague and warfare. Gary Oldman is always a great actor to watch and drives home the role of that human (Dreyfus) willing to do whatever he has to in order for humanity to remain dominant. Of course there is an ape antagonist matching this role (Koba), and he is brilliantly played by Toby Kebbell. Dare I say, he was just as interesting and engaging as Serkis…  a testament to his tremendous talent. 

SPECIAL EFFECTS

AV: Oh my stars and garters, this movie is the CGI event of 2014. Yep, you read it hear first folks. It would not surprise me if this film doesn’t win some awards for it’s visual effects. Every one of the thousands of Apes are individually rendered, no visible duplicates. The Redwoods are rendered and the scenes of the post-famine San Francisco are beyond description. And then, then there are the Apes. My God in heaven, this is a CGI spectacle. You know I always state old friend, I’m only impressed with visual effects that give me something I haven’t seen before–and this film delivers, in spades! It’s stunning how larger-than-life the Apes are throughout. As the viewers, we accept them as living, breathing beings. That is the earmark of greatness. 

TP: Let me sum up the special effects of this film in one word; awesome. The best CGI is the CGI you never knew was there. Watching this film, it never occurred to me that there was CGI in some of the more obvious places where it would have to be used. That’s how great the film was, and how awesome the CGI was. It looked like every animal in the film was real, and I don’t think a single one was. Kudos to the set designer’s also as the settings for this movie only added to it’s realism…as if the 3D weren’t enough. This film was a shining example of using special effects to further the story, and hit a home run with the experience.
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK

AV: I can say with every certainty, this is the first Apes film, in the entire genre, that is told from the perspective of the Apes. The iconic opening to this film pits the Apes hunting using only eye movements and sign language. The opening sequence is over 10 minutes long and involves the Apes hunting and immersing us in their world. The world of the Apes, driven by Ceasar’s philosophy of strength in numbers and family loyalty are mirrored at times on the human side but we are quite bit more deficient in those thoughts as a species. What is a grand–and very human, if not intelligent revelation Cesar makes is the disappointed realization of how alike Apes are to humans.

TP: There was a lot going on in this film, and while much of it could be described as cliché, the presentation was so powerful that I never felt cheated. Of course we were presented with the parallels between the human and the apes to contrast and compare and ultimately come to the conclusion that they are much more similar than they are different. Caesar is the wise ape, careful in his decisions, a parallel to Malcolm. We also have the antagonists, Koba for the apes and Carver for the humans, both having a deep disdain for the other species and willing to do things to further their personal beliefs. Ironically, it was the “humanizing” of the apes that made this film as great as it was. On another note, the many nods to the original films was just a great touch for the real hardcore fans of the film franchise. I won’t go into any of them here, but if you are a fan like I am, you know exactly what they were.

ARTH VADER’S SPECIAL APES THEORY: So here it is the brilliance of these films. Unlike the largely disastrous Tim “Batman” Burton Planet Of The Apes, starring Marky “I think we’ve found a  Transformer!” Mark Wahlberg, this (soon-to-be) trilogy, fits quite nicely into the continuity of the Apes movies of the late 1960’s through the 1970’s. In my theory (yes Ponty, it’s MINE!) Charlton “You blew it up!” Heston and his two astro-cronies are still out in space somewhere. In the original Planet Of The Apes, three astronauts land on a planet ruled by Apes–which we later discover is Earth, but we are told HOW the Apes took control. At the end of this present series, Chuck Heston & his space-buds can  still land, thousands of years from now. Mind: Blown. 

TP: Interesting theory O’ Dark One, but methinks the “how” of the original apes ascension was covered in “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” where it is said the ape revolution is led by a talking ape named Aldo that revolted against his human masters. Of course, that could just be the faulty recollection, and your theory could be the actual truth as events and “recorded” events often differ depending on who is in charge at the time of the recollection.

ON SEQUELS

AV: As I understand things, the writing of the third installment of this series is well underway. My only hang-up with this series so far is that the two films are mislabeled. The first flick should have been Dawn and the one should have been Rise. That said, whatever the sequel offers us, it is highly anticipated and if it follows suite in style, tone, cadence, and depth of story, we'll have another stellar winner on our hands.

TP: I am very excited about what will be offered next. With a human army on the march, and Caesar preparing his apes for war, I get goosebumps just thinking about where they will go next to finally present us with an Earth solely in the domain of the apes.
RATE IT!

ARTH VADER rates Dawn of The Planet of The Apes: There’s so much to love, even if you are NOT familiar with other Apes flicks. The story, the quality of the movies making and the over-the-top awesome visual effects are the stuff of great entertainment. The screenplay alone is reason-enough to see this flick but if you were wondering why or how the Apes came to power, this movie is a must. For that I say this film swings 10 Busted Blocks from the branches.

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: With a great story, brilliant acting by the lead apes, and awesome special effects, this film was truly a gem on the silver screen. It was the type of film that had me thinking profoundly when it was done, easily dominating eight (8) busted blocks, by Caesar’s command.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes: 9 /10 Busted Blocks

Monday, July 21, 2014

Putting the 'Stink' in Extinction

Michael Bay spares no expense keeping the Autobots on their heels with new friends and old adversaries in the noticeably terrible Transformers: Age Of Extinction

ON CONTINUITY

ARTH VADER (AV): The Transformers are changing before our eyes. They are morphing,altering their DNA, becoming newer, bigger and badder. It’s downright Darwinian, Ponty. Moving the established Transformers cinematic universe (TCU) forward. Director Michael Bay introduces a whole new strain of enemies (and some ancient allies) to offer 2 hours and 45 minutes of some of the most beautiful eye-gasming, hi-tech, empty-headed disaster porn this side of Day After Tomorrow (ply or minus one hunky, frosty Dennis Quaid). The action is intense and it shows so many flags and lens flares, you would think J.J. Abrams got together with Betsy Ross. And indeed, in this fourth installment of the TCU, we are bombarded with hi-tech (and other!) eye candy.  

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Ah yes…another Transformers film has graced the silver screen, be still my beating heart Vader. Picking up where the last film left off, the continuity seems to be intact for the previous films (for the most part) if you can overlook Optimus Prime’s new arm and new ability to suddenly fly, I’m just not sure I even care anymore.  

CASTING, DIRECTING & ACTING

AV: So after three blockbuster TCU movies, actor-turned-whack-a-do-head case, Shiaf LaBouff is done. So is Megan “Hey, my eyes are up here” Fox, letting us in on a whole new cast of dim-witted robo-sidekicks. Heading up this new list of TCU humans is Mark “Good Vibrations” Wahlberg as the new leading guy with immortal words “I think we’ve found a transformer” (I think so, too, btw). Wonderfully perplexing actor extraordinaire Kelsey Grammar is the evil G-Man who hates transformers as Stan "I am the 1%" Tucci uses his tech and skills (and some help from some not-so-nice off-worlders) make Optimus Prime's life a poo-storm. 


TP: There was a LOT of talent in this cast. Leading off with Mark Wahlberg with support by Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer, it was hard for me to fathom why this film didn’t absolutely blow me away. Add the voice talents of John Goodman and Ken Wantanabe and all you really have to do is provide great material for a hit. Granted, this was not the type of film that was ever going to win Oscar’s for acting, but it certainly could have been better with a better script and more focused directing.

SPECIAL EFFECTS

AV: If I was in the turd-shinning business, I would be rich beyond my wildest dreams working on the visual effects for this movie, old friend. Say what you will about this film's attempt at a plot but this movie looks incredible! The ships, the fights, the Dinobots, a second Transformer invasion of Chicago–not to mention the incredible interiors on the adversaries giant spaceship simply take your breath away.


TP: Special effects is the bread and butter of this film and for the most part they blew me away…as expected. What I didn’t expect was to see any hint or sign of shoddy CGI work anywhere on the screen…after all, this is the fourth Transformers film and if they can’t figure it out now, something is wrong. Well, something is wrong. I was flabbergasted that in the scene where Yeager (Wahlberg) is being chased down the side of a high rise building in China by Savoy (Titus Welliver) it looked as fake on the pullback shot as the first few years of film CGI. Really…?

TAKING A DEEPER LOOK


AV: Okay so if it's not evident by now, I was not a fan of this movie. It did not have a plot, a story that mattered, waaay too many flags and lens flares for my liking and I have learned not to expect much from these films and got exactly that…not much. How many Autobots are there? Every film says there only a few but we have dozens in each film. According to this film, the Transformers were 'seeded' to Earth by a race of cybernetic-enhanced beings. Where did they come from? Are there others? Were they defeated? Why the hell can Optimus Prime Fly all of a sudden? And why couldn't he just do so in the past? So Megatron is now Galvatron? Ugh! This stuff is so frustrating–I can suspend disbelief only so far. This movie goes way beyond that line. 

TP: Let me sum this film up in one word: cliché. There was so much that was unoriginal in this film that it became predictable to the point of being boring and all the explosions and destruction just added to the agony when the film reached this level. Some examples are the scene where Tessa (Nicola Peltz) can’t figure out which direction to run to avoid the danger of the Optimus Prime/ Galvatron/ Lockdown fight…and runs in every direction instead of directly to her father (who is obviously in no danger as he sits and gives her the ridiculous instruction to run everywhere else). There was no doubt in my mind she was going to be taken at that point. The scene where they are all doing their best tightrope impression to escape the alien ship…as if nobody could predict the cables were gonna break. The scene where they are just about to get Joyce (Tucci) and the seed aboard their ship, and they form a human chain to do it (instead of Bumblebee just jumping down, grabbing both, and jumping back in the craft) when (oh surprise!) a lucky shot shakes them all off the ship and into further peril. There were so many moments like this in the film that it was impossible to be thrilled, knowing exactly what was going to happen in the next scene…sigh. 

ON SEQUELS

AV: I am sure there is another in the works already. Don't know how excited I am for it, though. I mean honestly, if this film was the 'Age of Extinction' –who died? No one became extinct. I know, don' t be so literal. I get it, P–Man, I really do. It's a misnomer, not a title. TV Commercial director-turned-Hollywood blockbuster madman, Michael Bay has such a love for the military, scantily clad skirts on near-underage fillies and American flags, he will be busy, I'm sure, getting hard to work on T5: Age of (yawn) .. oh who cares at this point. Pontificator? 

TP: So I hear that this film was the first in the next trilogy of Transformer’s films (groan) with Transformers: 5 set to debut in 2016. Truthfully, when I saw Galvitron (Megatron) escape, I knew I was in for another film…but another two? I didn’t think it was possible to have action-film overload, but here it is…me, overloaded and dreading more films like this one. 

RATE IT!

ARTH VADER rates Transformers: Age Of Extinction: At two hours and 45 minutes runtime, there is very little positive I can say about his film. It's long, cumbersome, horribly cliché and full of itself in so many way its too hard to suggest otherwise. At an expensive of more than $220 million, you could hire a few writers. Shame on you Mr. Bay and shame on Hollywood. Nearly 3-hours and $220 million and we are none the worse for wear. (Sigh) So Transformers: Age Of Extinction morphs two (2) busted blocks into energon cubes with just enough power to make me want to know, begrudgingly, where the Dinobots ran off too. Scratch that, I don't want to know. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Transformers:Age of Extinction: Although this film was loaded with action and big budget effects, that was the only entertainment value it held for me. A film full of cliché’s just isn’t fun for me. With such a talented cast, I don’t think the idea should be to make the film even more mindless than usual and thus, only transform six (6) busted blocks. 

Transformers: Age Of Extinction: 4 / 10 Busted Blocks 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Cruise To The Edge Of Greatness

An alien invasion is no match for the dynamic duo of Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow

ON CONTINUITY

ARTH VADER (AV): Derived from the wildly popular Manga graphic novel “All you need is kill” heralding from Japan, Edge of Tomorrow shares a gritty and intriguing story of a soldier rushed to the front-line of an intergalactic war between humanity and a horrifying alien invader who seem to know every move even before we make it. I firmly believe “All You Need is Kill” is likely a poor translation of the Japanese mother IP (Intellectual Property), the story is compelling, pitting the Major William Cage (Cruise) against a ticking clock that resets every time he is killed. Pontificator, this movie has infinite storytelling potential and I am not sure this one wasn’t one of my favorites of the year. What did you think? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Based on the novel “All You Need is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, this film is a loose adaption of the book, keeping the general premise, but changing many details. Although there are changes, the film is still very entertaining even though very different from the novel Vader.

CASTING, DIRECTING  & ACTING

AV: Cruise and Blunt are phenomenal to be sure, but one of my favorite characters in this film is Maj. Sergeant Farell played by Bill Paxton. Playing one of the most predictably atypical archetypes of the over-the-top American drill Sgt. who will bust heads, bust balls and bust a move on any enlisted man who steps out of line. Directed by Doug “Bourne Identity” Liman, this movie has a distinctive look and photographic essence that is unique to this film. Liman’s choice not to start each new ‘day’’ systematically makes for a surprisingly fresh visual approach that kept me guessing if this day is new for us or new for the character. And need I say, Brandon “Braveheart” Gleeson plays the stalwart General Brigham and is a totally solid character that adds nothing but depth and character color.


TP: Tom Cruise is still a box office draw and is able to deliver in the capacity of “action hero” with his own brand of wit and those coveted “Cruise” moments. Emily Blunt is great at playing a hardcore role and really sells her character, even better than Cruise. It was also fun to see Bill Paxton, adding to his trend of recent exposure. The film moved at a quick pace, never staying too long in one place and stayed interesting even as it revisited the same situations.

SPECIAL EFFECTS

AV: Edge of Tomorrow is a visual spectacular, worthy of 3D and certainly worth a look. If you like big-budget films, lots of action and some grounded and clever writing, then this film has them all. The onscreen presence of the mimics (the aliens) is terrifying and awe-inspiring. The combat suits are classically cool and action sequences where the human counterattack is the main plot point, are visually spectacular and add to the nail-biting intensity. What’s more, the visual effects are a tool to the storytelling and not the primary focal point. Thoughts, Ponty? 

TP: A science-fiction film with great actors and an excellent story that doesn’t deliver equally great special effects is a travesty to sci-fi fans everywhere Vader. Fortunately this movie wasn’t one of those films. The special effects were solid and delivered interesting aliens peppered between all the mayhem and explosions. There were a lot of opportunities to go wrong here, but everything stayed on track, right down to the costuming and robotic harnesses.

TAKING A CLOSER LOOK

AV: Here’s what I loved, Pontificator. I loved watching an American big budget movie go way out on a limb to tell a very unexpected and quite frankly, very non-american story. I loved watching the untold depths of rich content in the international graphic novel arena deliver surprisingly good content to American audiences. I also loved that this movie does NOT show a traditional Hollywood ‘Happy Ending’ unless you chose to interpret it that way. What I hated was; poor marketing, a misunderstood film premise and a bad choice of movie title. Honestly, this movie could be anything; Star Wars: Episode VIII Edge of Tomorrow. Star Trek III: Edge of Tomorrow, Ian Fleming’s James Bond in Edge of Tomorrow. See? The title isn’t a title, it’s nondescript. I am convinced audiences didn’t know what the heck an “Edge of Tomorrow” was. 

TP: Right off the bat I was reminded that I’d seen all this before, although not quite in the same way. I’m talking about “Groundhog Day” and “Source Code.” The idea of living a day over and over again isn’t a new one so I was intrigued on how they were going to make this an interesting film. It was an easy recipe though, throw in some aliens bent on destroying humanity, Tom Cruise, and a lot of death and explosions… and voila!  The various paths the story takes from reliving one day are certainly more diverse than of the films I mentioned previously, which say a lot since the goal of the film never changed. Also the number of times the day was repeated was brilliantly handled as it was so many more times than any of the other films, without ever having us on the hook of actually having to go through the entire experience in detail. In short—this film was brilliantly handled.

ON SEQUELS

AV: There is no sequel to this story. Though a caveat to this could be to continue to port over original graphic novels and foreign fiction from around the world. Though given the mediocre reception this film received, that may be a tall order. 

TP: I have heard that the novel will be getting a sequel, but seeing that it is so different than the film, part two might not make it to the big screen… especially when they wrapped the ending up so neatly.

RATE IT!

ARTH VADER rates Edge Of Tomorrow: Going out on a limb here but intelligent action movies tend NOT to fair well in American cinema. This is one such case. If you like your sci-fi with action, comic relief, a strong female and male lead, tons of effects and ‘splosions, then you need look no further than Edge of Tomorrow. That’s why I am giving this movie seven (7) solid busted blocks. And when I wake up tomorrow, I plan to give it the same, all over again.

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Edge of Tomorrow: Although skeptical at first, I was quickly converted to the side of “fan.” This film takes an old and already done idea (reliving a day) and breathes new life into it with its unique approach and brilliant formula for success. This film easily and repeatedly destroys eight (8) busted blocks. 



Edge Of Tomorrow: 7.5 / 10 Busted Blocks


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Maleficent plays well with others (sort of)

Disney reimagines yet another of its cherished properties with a darker, richer take on the antagonist to Sleeping Beauty 

ON CONTINUITY

ARTH VADER (AV): In 1959, Disney’s classic tale of a young girl deceived by a malevolent sorceress became a an instant classic with children, specifically with young adolescent and teen girls. The classic victim/damsel in distress tale captured the hearts and minds of generations and has spurned a whole new take by the creators themselves. As for this film’s alignment with it’s original manifestation, it’s close enough and does a compelling job of updating the fable with new actors, new effects and a new take on an old tale. As for continuity, it is the second in what looks to be an ongoing series of re-boots of classic Disney properties including the upcoming Cinderella in 2015 and John Faveraau’s The Jungle Book already in production. Personally, I think this is all exciting stuff for Disney whose properties, quite frankly, have grown stale. P-Man?

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): “Sleeping Beauty” has never been told like this! In life I have found it true that there is always another side to a story, sometimes, many sides. This film tells the other side of this classic tale and enlightens the audience that everything isn’t a clear cut case of “good versus evil.”

CASTING, DIRECTING & ACTING

AV: For me, there is only one name that matters in this film and that’s Angelina Jolie. While not a brilliant performance, her characterization was richly portrayed and she brought a confusingly complex and delightfully troubled woman to the screen. Gone are the days when a character is defined by one simple, one-dimensional character trait (read: ‘she’s evil’). Maleficent is a kaleidoscope of personality contradictions. And that is exactly how we are all made. Most characters in the film run a steady faucet of either chaotic good to untempered rage while Jolie’s Maleficent is often merciful and other times ruthless, bitter when she need be and oddly forgiving and even whimsical to downright playful. Director Robert “ hunger Games” Stromberg brought continuously volatile camerawork to bear to devastating 3D-enhancing effect to the world of Maleficent, would you agree Pontificator? 

TP: Agreed VaderAngelina Jolie is the only name you need to know here and for good reason. She is absolutely electric in her role as Maleficent. Her character grabs hold and never releases as we see her progress from “good” to “evil” and back to “good’ again. She convinced me of the tragedy of her story and had me questioning who the real villain was. Elle Fanning also delivered in her role as Aurora. Being the real life daughter of Jolie and Pitt, I should have expected as much. Sharlto Copley (first seen by me in “A-Team”) surely added some enlightenment by his role as King Stefan (I just have yet to grasp it). The fact that I had such disdain for the character tells me he either did his job or his role was garbage.

SPECIAL EFFECTS

AV: Castles and fairy-folk and woodland creatures live aplenty in Stromberg’s Maleficent. While none are trend-setting or ‘next-generation defining’, all are handsomely handled and bring the magical world of this film right into the viewer’s psyche. It may be that both my daughter and I both have an affinity for dragons, we were beside ourselves with the dragon sequence. The enchanted environment came to life in small part due to exceptional visual effects.

TP: Never passing up an opportunity to watch a film in 3D, I watched this one in that medium and was happy I did. The effects where very nice with bright and flowing scenery, just the sort of look I’d expect from a Disney film. The effects added some depth to the overall story, but never overshadowed the performance of Jolie or detracted from message of the film. There was no new ground broken, just special effects done right.

TAKING A DEEPER LOOK

AV: Like Alice in Wonderland before it, Disney seems to be doubling down on its core properties with re-boots and “re-imaginings” of their ‘princess properties.’ This is a necessary effort in this world of Disney-owned super-IP’s like Star Wars & Marvel studios. Classic IP’s like Cinderella, Snow White and all of them really, run the very real risk of becoming obsolete. In an age of digital animation, high-gloss visual effects and a notoriously endless number of re-boots and re-imaginings. While I would strongly question the staying power of these films in the mind space of their core audience (namely pre-teen and early teen girls), these films keep these characters in the hearts and on the lips of us all. And while the screenplay could use a bit more polishing, I think it handsomely accomplishes its task of staying relevant in an increasingly attention-deficient world. 

TP: The line between good and evil, became very blurred in this film and totally skewed if we are to believe the original version of Sleeping Beauty. Although I loved the performance of Jolie, I just couldn’t get a handle on Stefan. I couldn’t connect with him at all and I suppose that’s par for the course seeing the armies of men besiege their neighbors for no reason at all save for the prospect of new land with untold wealth. It made no sense (as mankind mirrors in real life) and was only compounded when Stefan does a complete one-eighty about how he feels about Maleficent. He grows up with her, falls in love with her (or so we think) only to later become the most tragic and un-relatable character to ever grace the silver screen. Anyone not on the side of Maleficent just didn’t have a heart as we all understand the pain of loss and yearning for retribution. We also understand forgiveness and a willingness to move on. Maleficent may have been the one with horns and wings, but King Stefan was the least human character of all, a sad reflection of how some of can be in reality.

ON SEQUELS

AV: Having pulled more than $500 million in box office revenue worldwide (as of the writing of this post), Maleficent 2 is presently undergoing initial script writing. Disney is in the business of entertainment and nearly 20 million people the world over saw great value in this film, and Disney is hot to strike while the proverbial fire is hot. This film needed to be re-made and for the greater part of things, that part was done well. I am pretty unconvinced that a follow-up is necessary at all and would rather see that money and effort go to the development of original properties and additional ‘re-boots.’ Our daughters are hungrily consuming far lesser-quality movies and franchises, so a Maleficent sequels isn’t the worst idea I’ve ever heard. 

TP: This film doesn’t need, nor should have a sequel. The story is told with complete resolution as just another way of looking at events we are already familiar with. That said, I’m not surprised part two is already in the works. I mean, why let a story stand alone as a classic when you can keep milking the box office cow right? 

RATE IT!

ARTH VADER rates Maleficent: This movie is entertaining is if you can keep your composure through almost two hours of intensive emoting, voiceover and dialogue, the action sequence are compelling and the story, while familiar, is told well. There are moments of greatness tempered by moments of sheer boredom. The presence of Jolie onscreen is impressive but the comic relief to the three fairy Godmothers is just this side of bearable. Still, fun with something everyone and a strong, if not heavy-handed re-boot, Maleficent casts its spell over eight (8) magical busted blocks and starts something wickedly wonderful.

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Maleficent: One of the most tragic stories to come along in a long time, this certainly will appeal to female audiences as it is all about the heart and paints men in a way they are all too familiar with. While the effects and performance of the cast were stellar, there was just a level about the film that I couldn’t relate to and that left me wishing it could break more than seven (7) magical blocks. 

Maleficent: 7.5 / 10 Busted Blocks