Maleficent

Like many of the fairy tales we heard as youngsters, Disney’s Maleficent contains some plot elements that are head-scratchers.

We meet the young Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) when she’s an innocent girl fairy, living an idyllic life of flapping her wings and flying around an apparent paradise. She shares this happy universe with a number of creatures that look like refugees from Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies.

She forms a friendship with a human from the neighboring land of kings and queens, young Stefan (Michael Higgins). As they grow into teenagers, they continue as chums. But when they become adults, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie with cheeks sharp enough to slice bread) and Stefan (Sharlto Copley, who we met in District 9) see their relationship take a strange turn.

The dictionary definition of maleficent (“doing evil or harm; harmfully malicious”) gives a clue that things may not always continue to be goodness and light for her.

The king of Stefan’s home kingdom leads an ill-fated invasion of the fairyland and his guys are turned back thanks to Maleficent’s power. The king declares that whoever gets Maleficent’s wings will be king when he dies. Stefan, her old friend, sneaks in and manages to do the dirty deed and gains power while Maleficent loses some, but not all, of hers.

She places a curse on Stefan’s daughter Aurora (the remarkably cute Elle Fanning) that dooms her to go to sleep at age 16 and not be awakened until she gets a kiss that comes from true love. Aurora is raised in the woods by 3 fairies, characters that should be charming and memorable, but somehow lack those qualities.

Maleficent is always hovering nearby, monitoring the child’s growth. She has her sidekick Diavil (Sam Riley) alongside, turning him into whatever creature she fancies. He could pass for Orlando Bloom’s less good-looking younger brother.

Eventually, most of the characters live happily and others get by as they can. As mentioned, some of the things that happen are head-scratchers. For instance, just when we think we have Maleficent figured out, she changes her mind—like with that curse thing.

Maleficent is a good-not-great movie, with many wonderful and amazing images. Director Robert Stromberg’s lengthy movie resume is mainly as an effects guy. He does an excellent job of mixing live action by human actors with computer-generated effects.

But the big question remains: Is this movie too scary for little kids? I say yes. As an overprotective dad, I might’ve rated Maleficent PG-13. But it has been deemed PG. This ensures that a good number of little kids will have nightmares. Thank the MPAA, mom and dad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elysium

Elysium looks great. Director Neill Blomkamp who delivered the excellent sci-fi District 9 in ’09 impresses us again with settings and characters that illustrate an extreme political/economic division.

But, while District 9 had a distinctive, creative visual style and delivered numerous surprises, as soon as Elysium sets up its story, it is easy to guess how it will likely end. Getting from start to finish should’ve been a better ride.

Matt Damon plays Max who is lucky to have his tedious factory gig in Los Angeles in 2154. The city resembles present day third world slums in places like Rio or Mumbai. When his industrial machine malfunctions, he steps inside to undo a glitch. He is trapped and exposed to radiation. When his robotic doc tells him he has cancer and will die in five days, he takes action.

While the poor schlubs labor on earth, the planet’s wealthy have taken refuge on Elysium, a giant space station. The pristine mansions and verdant landscapes look like those you might see in Palm Beach or certain wealthy Arab enclaves, such as Dubai. The real attraction of Elysium to the earthbound is access to healing machines that vanquish all diseases.

Max’s childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) has a daughter with leukemia who could benefit from a ride up to Elysium. Flashbacks reveal Max and Frey’s early bonding.

Meanwhile on Elysium, government operative Delacourt (Jodie Foster) monitors situations on earth (and keeps out the earthly lowlifes) while participating in political maneuverings at the space place. Foster has succeeded in the past playing fierce femmes, but her performance in Elysium is distractingly flat.

Sharlto Copley who was amazing in District 9 is passable here as violent government agent Kruger, who does everything he can to keep Max from making it to Elysium.

Director Blomkamp has stated in interviews that Elysium depicts not just the future, but also the present. The movie’s message is about as subtle as a 2X4 to the head. Yes, we do currently have those economic extremes presented in the movie, but most of the world’s citizens are somewhere in between.

After a spring and summer of good but not outstanding sci-fi films, I was hopeful that Elysium might be the one that would be outstanding. Sadly, it is not. But it looks great!