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 


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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? 


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

Thursday, June 5, 2014

X-Men return to X-cellence

With more Mutants, more conflict and more POW! than ever before, X-MEN: Days Of Future Past dazzles and delights more than any X-Film than ever before.


ARTH VADER (AV): It has been said that the  “Days Of Future Past” story arc is one of the best in comics, if not in all of pop fiction. Yes, it’s that good. It’s story is that of one mutant hero sent to the past at a critical point in history, to avert a terrible nightmarish future. And while this film is different enough from the original content, this is one of the instances where I didn’t mind. The creative liberties taken by Bryan “Stop trashing my crappy X-MEN movies” Singer is perfectly balanced and seems to unfold naturally onscreen. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Continuity has always been a major subject with these X-Men films since day one, mainly because they departed from comics almost immediately. That said, continuity between the films is the only real measure left and this film manages to tie up all the loopholes of the previous films, while also delivering an alternate version of a classic X-Men story.


AV: Never have so many A-List actors appeared in one movie have DoFP. Even though this film is crammed with top acting talent from the X-Men film universe with the addition of Peter “Tyrion Lannister” Dinklage and the return of dozens of old familiar faces like Fassbender, MacAvoy, McKellan, Stewart and… ah heck you get the idea. The direction was remarkably seamless for such a complicate screenplay and so many actors to corral. There is a level of cinematography that few movies can aspire to. Lastly, the acting was solid on all fronts. Lesser (or bad) actors had few-to-no lines and characters with substance and depth were allowed to explore the qualities that make the characters great. What did you think, Pontificator? 

TP: I found the pace of the film to be a bit slow at times Vader, stagnant in areas that could have been abbreviated, making room for a bit more action. The casting was well done though, and the cast was vast. There really isn’t much I can say that hasn’t already been said about Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender (easily my favorite performance, again). They know their roles and delivered. Jennifer Lawrence got a great amount of screen time and although she was adequate as Mystique, much of the mystique of the character came from the use of her abilities. It’s hard for me to see Peter Dinklage as anyone but Tyrion Lannister, but of course he gave a great performance as Bolivar Trask anyway. Evan Peters as Quicksilver, was perhaps the biggest breath of fresh air to come around in a long time, and with such a simplistic character, was certainly one of the highlights of the film.


AV: With a full on production budget of more than $180 million, we dang well better get some beautiful set designs, top notch actors and eye-popping special effects. Thankfully, that is pretty much what we got. The vicious conflict between man & mutant is conveyed to horrifying reality on the big screen as we watch X-Man vs machine duke it out to the death. The transitions of Mystique are spectacular and the Sentinel scenes are awesome—in particular the final fight sequence. I was delighted at this film and I am not alone because as the time of this blog writing, the movie has crossed the $500 million mark worldwide and is still going. Well done, Mr. Singer. 

TP: IMAX 3D wasn’t an option for this film, and that is a shame. I still saw it in 3D and it was still a stellar display of special effects, but a film like this needs to be pushed beyond the envelope. That said, the effects displayed in conjunction with the cinematography were awesome, especially the Quicksilver sequence (reminiscent of the Nightcrawler display in X2). I thought the future Sentinels could have been done better, but they still delivered the ominous feel of impending doom, as intended. It should also be pointed out that the sets used were done extremely well and instrumental in establishing the tone of the 70’s and of a future gone horribly wrong.


AV: So when the rubber meets the road, this movie stands as one of the best in it’s genre. The course of events this film leads the audience on quite literally ties up lose ends, resets the history and timeline and threads all the movies together to have a common historical context. What’s more, the film is genuinely fun, even if you don’t watch or care about X-films. Clearly the actors, film production people and everyone affiliated had a great time making this film. What’s more, the laugh-out-loud, scene stealing antics of newcomer Quicksilver makes his part of the film a… wait for it… run away hit. The scene is so good it’s almost worthy the price of admission by itself. Seriously. 

TP: Of course this film is going to raise some questions while giving some answers. Firstly, I’d like to know how Kitty Pryde acquired the ability to shunt someone’s consciousness backward in time? Secondly, I’d like to know exactly how Magneto and his Brotherhood got caught? They were brimming with incredible power when we last saw them at the end First Class, so how a bunch of regular humans catch them is beyond me. Thirdly, if experimentation followed by death was the order of the day for the captured mutants, why was Magneto himself spared this fate when he was easily the most dangerous of any of the captured mutants? How is Emma Frost dead, before she is even born? There were a plethora of questions this film brought up that haven’t been answered (yet). Although I enjoyed the film, am I the only one that realized things would have been a lot easier if they simply brought Quicksilver with them?

AV: This is really two solid X-Movies in a row, now Ponty. We can’t really chat about the future of X-Movies without discussing the post credit sequence Pontificator. The throngs of loyal followers screaming out the name of En Sabah Nur (The comic book name of the ultra mutant badass Apocalypse in Marvel comics) as he constructing the great Pyramids and the four horsemen ride into view at the end of the scene. Might I speak for all of comic fan-boy nations and say a resounding (and I quote): “Yeeesss!” Between the events of this movie and the stellar implications of the post-credit scene, the X-Men as a franchise has a strong set of legs to stand on going forward.

TP: There is no question about this Vader, as X-Men: Apocalypse is already in the works… along with X-Force (BOOM!), and I can’t wait to see where they take us next.


ARTH VADER rates X-MEN: Days Of Future Past: There are few franchises that can do a complete turnaround as well as this one clearly does. This movie is action-packed, well written and well delivered. It’s a total package that shows that greatness can come if you keep at it. A stellar cast, magnificent effects and non-stop action compel me to give X-MEN: Days Of Future Past 9 busted blocks that may travel back in time and offer an alternate rating. Who knows? Pontificator… you have the con. Bring it home! 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates X-Men: Days of Future Past: Although I feel it could have been a bit heavier on the action, it was certainly a great story that helped out the franchise tremendously. The acting was solid, along with the special effects making this film an instant classic… able to hunt down and destroy eight (8) mutated busted blocks.

XMEN: Days Of Future Past: 8.5 / 10 Busted Blocks