5 Ways Will Smith Can Recover His Star Power

Avoid the Shayamalan. At all costs, avoid the Shayamalan.

Popcorn Whiskey

Will Smith is one of the biggest names in Hollywood. In fact, in 2007, Newsweek named Smith the most powerful actor in Hollywood. But it’s no longer 2007 and Smith is no longer the mega star that he once was. Will Smith’s Highest grossing film of all time was back in 1996 with Independence Day. His last major film ranks 16 in Will Smith’s highest grossing films list, a major disappointment. In fact, of the top 10 highest grossing Smith films, Hancook which came out in July 2008 is the most recent film on the list. So clearly, Smith is not the movie star he once was. And with After Earth receiving an incredibly bad score of 11% he needs to make a move soon. There are rumors that Smith will star in a movie about the concussions of the NFL, but we are not sure that is the right…

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Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: The Musical

Let me start off by giving props to the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. It is a spectacular venue for music, live performances, and more, and if you live in Vienna or visit sometime in the near future, you should definitely check it out and give your support! It is certainly a staple of my summer 🙂

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Also, major props to the cast, crew, and creative team behind Beauty and the Beast! Adapting and performing any show for Broadway is a difficult task that requires a lot of talent and creativity. No matter what is said in this review, I assure you that I mean no disrespect to the people who worked their hardest to make this show what it is. It was fun to watch, and looked like fun to put on.

Without these two groups, I could not have watched last night’s show. 🙂

On and off-Broadway, I’ve seen Phantom of the Opera, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Les Miserables, If/Then, and snippets of many assorted ones at my high school (the night of a show, they’d do little previews all day in the theatre. If you were lucky enough, your teacher was nice and let you go watch them). I’ve only been in one musical myself, in Bye Bye Birdie in middle school, and that was just as an adult chorus member/concerned parent.

Suffice it to say, you probably won’t see many reviews like this one from me, but media is media, and the stage is a unique arena of entertainment that a lot of people overlook. It requires more volume and more expression, as the actors try to reach the back row and be heard and understood by everyone.

While I may compare this to the movie here and there, rest assured that I understand the limits of the different mediums. Changes must be made, and the movie and show are not one and the same, nor should they be regarded as such.

With that said…

What I liked:

The music was very good. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the new songs added in, particularly “If I Can’t Love Her.” Personally, I felt that “Human Again” was much more useful to the musical than it was in the movie. Definitely not as redundant.

I know that “Be Our Guest” is supposed to be the big show stopper (it was the top contender for my favorite in the film), and there are a couple other particularly big numbers to go up against it, but the song that captured my heart and attention was “Gaston.” The dancing, the energy, the people clinking their beers and cheering, and the outstanding performances of both Gaston and LeFou were just so enthralling. I could probably recommend the show on that song alone.

But come on. It’s Gaston. No one says no to Gaston.

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The sets were very colorful, sometimes bordering on sugar high levels. But it could also become dark and foreboding in the blink of an eye; the fairytale screen and border around the stage could be transformed for scenes in the creepy forest very easily, with just the right lighting. The props and set pieces, particularly Maurice’s bike/wood-choppy thingamajig were all very nice, and the actors and stage hands moved them pretty fluidly. The first half of the show took place at sunset, so I especially applaud the lighting guys for still making that part of the show work well despite conditions and limitations.

The stand-out actors and actresses for me were those for Belle (Hilary Maiberger), Gaston (Tim Rogan), LeFou (Jordan Aragon), and Mrs. Potts (Kristin Stewart….no, thankfully not that Kristen Stewart). All of them felt like their movie counterparts, although Belle had a lot more spunky attitude. She was still patient, but sometimes more sarcastic than I would have imagined Belle being, but surprisingly, I thought it worked. Every girl needs attitude 🙂

I also liked a couple of the story changes from the movie. Maurice’s brief reminiscing about Belle’s mother was cute, and the Beast trying to “act like a gentleman” and bring Belle dinner after he told her she couldn’t eat without him was a nice little touch. Despite being delightfully creeped out by the cold, serious, and menacing Monsieur D’Arque in the original film, I was intrigued by his portrayal in this production as much more silly, possibly mad himself. His laugh reminded me of the hyenas from The Lion King, and I chuckled at his introduction, where he analyzed both Gaston and LeFou as crazies themselves, before they het the chance to tell him what they really called him for.

Beast listening to Belle read to him, and talking about how they both feel like outcasts that no one gives a chance to, was brilliant. It was a really powerful moment that made clear exactly how they were bonding, and what they were beginning to feel for each other. It was them realizing how alike they were, and how much they needed each other, not just in a romantic way.

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One last big thing that stuck out to me: the changes to the spell and the time limit. Instead of saying, “it would bloom until his twenty-first year,” the narrator said, “it would bloom for many years.” That nicely hand-waved away the rather screwed up element that Beast was about 10-ish years old when the Enchantress cursed him. Because yeah, kids can be bratty and selfish. Not sure that’s a good enough reason to curse someone.

The servants admitted to themselves that they were cursed because they let the prince become the way that he was, which was a nice couple of lines. I really liked that as time passed and the servants became more one-note and despairing, that they would grow more like actual objects before eventually turning into to un-enchanted ones. That was great.

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Cogsworth was okay. Decently done, and funny from time to time. Not as dry as the original, I think, but it was fine.

Some lines ripped straight from the movie were still pretty funny. Definitely delivered with different speeds and inflections, as you would expect, there were only a few misses.

And one last random thing: for some reason, I thought Maurice looked like Mr. Miyagi. I have no clue why; I just looked at a picture of him in the program before the show started, and thought that. He was still the cute and bumbling inventor character, but even more silly and benign than before.

What I didn’t like so much:

Most of what bothered me, you can boil down to the humor. And no, I’m not dissing LeFou. He was great.

It was a lot of slapstick (I think I described it to my friend as Beauty and the Beast meets Vaudeville during the intermission), and pointless sexuality and innuendo.

There is nothing wrong with a little of the former, but it was very overplayed and ham-fisted. The latter, which also would have been great in small doses, was very much the same. Other than the brief Lumiere and Babette (feather duster lady) scene they tweaked from the movie (which was already pretty risqué, now made more overt, I think), a lot of it seemed like Lumiere, Babette, and Madame de la Grande Bouche (wardrobe lady) pelvic-thrusting, spazzing, and slurring their words, sometimes right out of nowhere. A lot of silly, pointless insinuation for cheap laughs. It all seemed so incredibly deliberate and unnatural.

I didn’t find those characters all that funny, but the rest of the audience and their kids seemed to. So what do I know?

I understood making Beast a bit more childish, but it sucked the fear of his character, for both the audience and the other characters, right out of the room. I didn’t buy it at all, not even when he got violent towards Belle.

Can we talk about this for a minute? Because my first post ever was a defense of the movie.

I hated that he actually put his hands on Belle, although, admittedly, he did it once when she met him in the movie. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that ( I forgot to in the aforementioned rant), but I am loathe to speak of it anyway. After all, in the film, he was grabbing what he thought was an intruder. Here, he grabbed her clearly just to intimidate her.

I don’t like that instead of flipping tables and things, like a kid throwing a temper tantrum, he actually hits her. Scratch that. I hated it. Hate hate hate hate hate. Even if he did try to quickly apologize afterward.

You want to tell me Beast is abusive? I believe it! In trying to close up plot holes, discrepancies, and messed-up stuff from the original movie, the musical just made more. Maybe even some worse ones. If nothing else, it muddled the character.

 

The Picture of Stockholm

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But yeah…moving on…

Overall, Belle was a much stronger character, which cancels out the above stuff, I guess. But the Beast was much weaker; he had a higher voice (though beautiful when he sang), and a roar that never shook the crowd with its loudness and ferocity. He roared because he was the Beast, and for no other reason. That’s what beasts do.

So I didn’t buy her or the servants’ fear of the Beast. At all.

He was still a decently sympathetic character, as he would get nervous, childish, angry, excited, etc. Some of it was played for laughs, though, which, again, wrong! Don’t do that! Subtle moments can still happen, even on stage, and not everything had to be made into a joke!

All we really needed was LeFou, and a little of Lumiere, being the comic relief, and then more subtle jokes, like the Beast doing something unintentionally funny. Or Belle just being awesome. It’s a shame, too, because one of the most powerful and visually stunning scenes from the movie, the “Beauty and the Beast” song, had a lot of awe and magic sucked out of it by Beast being too purposefully derpy and goofy.

Also, the Enchantress was hilarious. What was with the big, willowy puppet that towered over the prince in the beginning? Even behind the screen, it looked ridiculous.

I don’t think I was supposed to laugh at it, but I’m not quite sure.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed watching the show, but this is probably my least favorite of the musicals I’ve seen live.

Again, no disrespect meant to the people who put it together, but the overabundance of low-brow humor was a giant boat anchor that weighed down an otherwise energetic, enchanting production. The original movie was plenty dark and serious at times, even as an animated fairytale. This musical tries to do too many things: aiming for that same tone, while still trying to be light and colorful and “der-her-her funny,” sometimes at the expense of the characters and story. The Little Mermaid: The Musical still had the tone of the movie it was based on (and plenty of dignity and charm). Even if the climax was kind of lame…

Close, Disney, but no cigar.

I still recommend it though, because it was fun, and it’ll please kids a lot. Adults too, though some less than others.

It’s still a tale as old as time…it just might get a little old at times.

*Hey, guess what? I still don’t own any of the content! Not the pics, not the videos, not the character, nothing! Support the official sources and releases

 

THE BOOK THIEF (2014) movie review

Do you kill off characters for a good reason? To show that you can? To make things seem more gritty or realistic?
Can death kill a movie?

Splatter: on FILM

At least with Titanic, you knew the boat would sink.

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This film showed such perseverance of the soul, such hope in desperation, such light in darkness, such freedom breaking out with boldness, bursting through despite fear. It was gorgeous until…

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the-book-thief-movie-ben-schnetzer

the-book-thief-1…until the end.
The end, if you can call it an ending, attempted to jump 80 years or so into the future and relay the deaths of ALL OF THE CHARACTERS!
Never before have I seen a script invest in and develop characters and relationships so delicately, so painstakingly right up until the instant death of almost all.
Sure, there are gruesome war films. But this? Everyone dies horribly, too soon, only to be found by the one girl who loves them all. We have to watch the main character grieve again and again over each one. It was too much.

They all live through wars, but die in a moment?…

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‘Ghostbusters’ to return to theaters in advance of Blu-Ray release

Who you gonna call?

Hero Complex - movies, comics, pop culture - Los Angeles Times

Bill Murray, left, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in "Ghostbusters." (Columbia Pictures) Bill Murray, left, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in “Ghostbusters.” (Columbia Pictures)

Fire up your proton packs, “Ghostbusters” fans: The beloved 1984 comedy classic is set to hit theaters once more.

To celebrate the three decades since Venkman, Stanz, Spengler and Zeddemore toppled the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Sony Pictures will re-release the film in more than 700 locations in the United States and Canada for a limited engagement starting Aug. 29, the studio announced Thursday.

The film has been restored and remastered in 4K for the release.

“Ghostbusters” starred Bill Murray in one of his most iconic roles, playing the charming, wise-cracking Peter Venkman, who, along with fellow parapsychologists Ray Stanz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), find themselves protecting the city of New York from supernatural mayhem. Business grows so brisk, they’re even forced to recruit a fourth member of the team, Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson).

The movie…

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A Meme A Minute: Luigi’s Death Stare

A guide to Mario Kart everything, for newbies:

Right. On we go.

Hey, Nintendo? Can we talk for a minute?

What is this?

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No, really. What is this?

 

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http://www.independent.co.uk/incoming/article9469367.ece/alternates/w620/luigi.JPG

 

Why?…Just…why?

I haven’t even played the game yet, but this image appeared all over my feed. The weirdly intense look of a man with some serious passive-aggressive anger issues, probably the result of his resentment to his brother and overall franchise carrier, Mario. Everyone always loved the red plumber better…

Soon, I’m worried he’s going to pull a Cersei Lannister and arrange a nice little “accident” for his beloved bro. Or anyone else, for that matter.

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https://twitter.com/mario9j/status/474343918319202304/photo/1

This man does not look well.

But yes. I believe my first reaction was like most other people’s’: a laugh, quickly followed by a bemused, “What?”

Hooray for instant replay!

This is the next big meme gone viral: Luigi’s Death Stare, courtesy of Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U.

According to Know Your Meme, this little gem blew up at the tail end of last month, when someone by the username CZbwoi slowed down the footage of one race, adding in an old rap song from way back in 2005.

And now this is everywhere. People are doing their own versions, capturing new footage of the green, eyeing monster as he wreaks havoc on countless new victims. Folks are putting together their own video compilations and gifs, and drawing increasingly terrifying fan art.

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I think the last one is my favorite 🙂

It is pretty funny and surreal, but as far as death stares go, I think the Disney villains have him beat. Especially this famous one:

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Regardless, it adds something to the game for the people taking turns, eagerly waiting on the side lines til they can get behind the wheel and dish out some vengeance. Hopefully it won’t distract the players too much, because this is the kind of game that likes to mess you up right in your moment of glory, even if you are paying close attention.

And that’s just before any of your friends come over. It’s a free for all that can become anybody’s game in the span of seconds. Literally.

So just watch the replays. Don’t squint and try to catch this one full speed, or you’ll find yourself shelled in no time.

But back to the meme itself, Luigi’s eyes are creepy. He’ll probably get a new creepypasta out of that one day. Hopefully, he won’t ever look out through the screen and into your soul.

An odd, probably unintentional little feature that Nintendo can monetize in future endeavors. Accidental hilariousness, or genus foresight?

You be the judge!

As usual, no images belong to me. Put together by other people, content overall belonging to Nintendo, except for the stepmother pic. That belongs to Disney.

Find the links by the pictures for the original sources. All credit for fan art due to their original creators. 

Kids’ T.V. vs. Family T.V.

This is going to be an amendment to some of my previous posts, as well as a look at some of the differences between the categories, some more subtle than others.

I’m not the Lorax. I don’t speak for trees.

Well, I do, but not this time around.

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I’ve been throwing around the term “kids’ movies” a lot lately, despite addressing many “grown up” themes and elements in those movies. Kids’ films can have adult aspects, just as adult films can have childish aspects, but I feel that the better term I could have chosen was “family movies,” because the whole family can find things to enjoy about them.

These are the movies that truly transcend age gaps, and sometimes, that means that family members can watch them on their own, without the kids.

And yet, an obnoxious stigma persists, particularly with things like 2D and hand drawn animations.

I’ve said this before, and it probably won’t be the last time here. I don’t have any patience for adults who regard animation and cartoons as “strictly-for-kids” fare, something that is beneath them (and, sometimes they believe, should be beneath other adults as well). It seems as if, to them, animation cannot be considered art in any capacity; that the medium has nothing of value to offer after you’ve passed a certain age. This attitude sometimes extends into live action as well, in family movies, kids’ movies, family t.v. shows, and kids’ t.v. shows.

Part of this is probably due to the generational gap, which strains and influences many changing opinions. But for others, it’s a condescending attitude, and even hypocritical for some.

“I only watch big boy movies! Like those based on comic books!”

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I also don’t like when people treat video games like they are strictly poisonous and have no value, but that’s a topic for another day.

Now, this is not to be confused with people who just don’t care for the styles and genres. It is possible to dislike something, or find it just not your taste, but still acknowledge that it entertains others and does some good in the world.

But just hating to hate, or hating because it doesn’t specifically appeal to you, is arrogant and obnoxious. It’s still a reason, I guess, just a very stupid one.

And let’s face it: some of us still watch things we watched when we were kids.

Look at the popularity of people like the Nostalgia Critic and Nostalgia Chick; they make a living off of talking about movies and t.v. shows from the 80’s, 90’s, and onward, mixing in some comedy and historical and pop-cultural context.

Some of it is as good as we remember, and a lot of it isn’t. Hell, a few gems here and there are even better than we remember. But in the interest of bettering things for future generations of kids and their families, as well as demanding decent quality for ourselves and the current generation, it’s good to look at the media and their accompanying trends, tropes, clichés, character archetypes, etc. See what went right, what went wrong, and why. Sometimes “Dear God, why?!”

Let’s not get into gender stuff here, or move too far away from Western entertainment. Those can come later. For now, let’s just look at the age factor, and the divide.

Not everything gets nostalgic credibility and protection. After all, new stuff comes out all the time, and it has to have value too. Some things that adults and young adults watch probably deserve a laugh or a suspicious glance from their peers, but saying that you watch The Powerpuff Girls or Dexter’s Laboratory is not the same as saying you watch Ni Hao Kai-lan.

Kid Friendly Scale

 

Forgive the omission of Animaniacs, Freakazoid!, Adventure Time and many notable others. Also, don’t take this as an objective or subjective ranking of any of these shows.  (Looking at it again, I might have put Pixar between Looney Tunes and MLP/Spongebob) This is a basic scale of maturity, for our convenience.

Things to the left on the graph are the shows and movies that adults are less hesitant or embarrassed to admit that they watch. Regardless of the target audience, these media do little to no talking down to their viewers. They also tend to be less “cheesy,” kid pandering, and in some cases, (again, I’ll talk about this later) less specifically gendered. These shows have messages and morals, their own persuasive elements, but they tend to be less obvious, or “spelled out.”

To the right, we have shows and movies that pander more to kids’ interests, as well as their (typically) lower emotional and intellectual maturity. A lot of these tend to be educationally focused, whether the kids are learning to count and spell, to speak a new language, or learn valuable life lessons. To balance the less extreme right, these media often contain subtle references that would sail far over the heads of the children, but any parents or guardians who may be watching with them (perhaps against their will) would recognize and even chuckle at. Both the extreme and less extreme right typically have explicitly stated morals or messages to teach the audience, and they tend to have less complex (but happy and still colorful) characters.

When I say “pandering,” I’m not trying to imply that pandering is bad and should never be done. It shouldn’t be done when it is cheap and lazy and constantly used; if it is the only thing interesting or redeeming about the movie or show. That is when it can be bad.

When it comes to the extreme right, I see adults watching those more ironically, or to reminisce about things they watched when they were very little.

Once, as a college student, I was taking a class in media, when my professor made a joke, scoffing at Spongebob Squarepants.

For those who don’t know, that goofy yellow kitchen sea-sponge had (and to some extent, still has) a significant population of adult fans. People with and without kids. I used to be a part of it myself.

Why? Because of the unique and colorful characters, hilarious and outlandish scenarios, and, most notably, the humor. It had a touch of well-written, mean-spiritedness at times, but also some very clever visual puns, regular puns, references, and subtly-framed adult jokes. Everything had a point (even if it was only for one moment), and it was well executed for the most part.

I even watched a few old episodes with a certain adult I know, who wishes to remain anonymous. This person told me that they actually sort of “got it,” but if I ever told anyone that, they would deny it. 🙂

Anyway, I actually stuck my neck out a bit in this class and said that it had humor and potential once. Once, long ago, before people like Derek Drymon, Sean Charmatz, “Mr. Lawrence,” Zeus Cervas, and yes, even the once great Aaron Springer beat this series like a dead horse, drained all likability from the characters, and even made numerous, morally reprehensible episodes that stink like prime time feces.

See “The Splinter,” “Stuck in the Wringer,” “Squidbaby,” and “A Pal for Gary,” for reference. And that’s just to name a few.

Some other guy in class, of course, scoffed at that and the class laughed.

Yeah, the show is pretty bad nowadays, but it didn’t use to be. That’s part of what’s so sad about it. It went the way of The Simpsons and still refuses to die.

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Let’s bring up another show with a unique fan base: My Little Pony.

If you refer back to the graph above, you will notice that I’ve put two separate My Little Pony series up there, and on different sections of the right (one of which is paired with Mr. Squarepants). Why would I do something like that?

While the shows have always been a glossy, colorful, toy-selling vehicle for Hasbro, the new series has a couple of interesting features that distinguish it from older series, such as the nightmarishly bland “Generation 3.” These have also brought in a large population of adult fans, men and women averaging ages 15-30!

The first episode (technically a two-parter) was written (and the series was developed for television) by Lauren Faust. Just take a look at some of the work she has done as a writer and animator; a lot of it is for shows and movies that are nostalgic and fondly regarded, such as The Powerpuff Girls and Codename: Kids Next Door. Also of note are the voice actors, two major ones being Tara Strong and John de Lancie, who are both loved by fans young, new, and old, for their onscreen and offscreen personalities.

You can find Tara’s twitter here. if you’re interested.

The animation is colorful and employs the use of Adobe Flash, and the effort put into it shines through more often than not. Songs are kid friendly, of course, but thoughtfully written, beautifully scored, and (usually) given good animation sequences to match. Most notable to adult fans (referred to as “bronies” and “pegasisters”) and parents, I think, are the characters. Most of them are female, but they don’t just gush about fashion or moon over boys 24/7. Two of the ponies are successful business owners, they go on grand adventures, they engage in cartoonish sitcoms, they act like real people you know and are friends with. The ponies have siblings and other family relationships that are decently realistic, good but sometimes strained, and no one has to be specifically in the wrong or the “antagonist” in a lot of cases.

This stands in contrast to the ponies of older generations, who lived in bland and sugary worlds devoid of conflict, with vapid, brainless characters only distinguished by flank tattoos and color schemes.

^For those without the time, patience, or stomach to watch the whole thing, the most interesting thing in this review above is probably right at the end (at about 10:19), when he mentions that most of these episodes were written by men. But, as I’ve said, gender stuff is for a whole other day.

Many people are weirded out by these older fans and their interest in something that was written with little girls in mind. There will always be perverts and creepers out there, after all, and this is just so different from the norm.

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Lauren Faust and the other creative team weren’t sure what to make of it at first, but they’ve come to accept and embrace the new fans, even going so far as to name background characters what the fans have suggested.

If you aren’t new to this phenomenon, and you’ve heard the excuse, “I like it because of the story,” that really does seem like the adult fan consensus. They like the nostalgic references and feel of the show; the likable, dynamic characters; and the show’s trend towards avoiding, subverting, and inverting  common tropes and stereotypes. Not just in media aimed at children, but a lot of media. Things that are simple and like to quietly reinforce the status quo, knowingly or not, for better or worse.

These episodes have made references to a variety of adult things, like the A Team, Dracula, and even Train Spotting. I’m not kidding about that last one. Look up the episode Baby Cakes and go to the last 5-10 minute. It’s brief, but it’s there.

On top of all this, adult fans argue that the messages about friendship, while sometimes basic, obvious, and worded oddly, are often forgotten by kids and adults alike today. Particularly adults. “Bronies” and “Pegasisters” admire the themes of tolerance, acceptance, and coexistence, and encourage each other (and their non-pony peers) to take those lessons to heart. Remember and make use of them, even when people think they’re too old or too good for them. Because sometimes, even adults need reminding.

Sometimes even simple messages have great power and meaning in people’s’ lives. And sometimes, people can be so focused on a colorful drawing or cheese, girly music, that they don’t notice the value under the surface.

Bugs Bunny doesn’t just beat people up. He outwits them. He and his buddies joke and satirize, and reference Groucho Marx. That’s so cool, and so much more than slapstick, violence, and mean-spiritedness just for its own sake.

I’m not arguing that people should reconsider their opinions on things like Dora the Explorer, Nihao Kai-lan, Lazy Town, and a lot of the 6 and younger shows. They’re really just meant to educate on basic levels anyway. Those are the ones I find are best to be outgrown, thought of only in the fond innocence of childhood memories.

I am a lorax, and I speak for The Powerpuff Girls. I speak for Friendship is Magic, Gravity Falls, Looney Tunes, Daria, Batman the Animated Series, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, even Spongebob Squarepants, if only for what he once was. I speak for the Disney, the Dreamworks, and more.

I speak for these t.v. shows and movies, for they have no tongues themselves. I know some others speak with me, but we need more. The kids’ movies  genre isn’t just a dumping ground/easy money printer; like animation in general, it takes time, effort, and care. There is value there, if you care to look. Fun, escapism, and sometimes a genuinely human experience.

And, sadly, there is a lot of junk. Some of it is truly bad, even damaging, and when not caught or explained by parents, it is left to sink into kiddies’ brains and fester, as they struggle to understand how the world works and how it will treat them when they grow up.

Whether the content is good or bad, it deserves to be questioned. Some media deserve more credit and respect than they receive.

 

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.”

~Theodor Seuss Geisel, The Lorax

 

*Pictures belong to their respective owners. Fox, Hasbro, etc. I drew the Lorax drawing at the start and constructed the graph, but the images and logos in it do not belong to me.

 

Maleficent (2014): An Indepth Review

Special props to Alamo Drafthouse for displaying a respect and love of movies I have seldom seen in other theaters. Please check them out and support their venues, if you can 🙂

Before I get into the new movie, let me just say that the original voice actress, Eleanor Audley, really made the character of Maleficent for me.

She was smooth, cool, calculating, menacing, and she could turn to any emotion she needed on a dime. Her laugh was a chilling wonder to my ears. If I had to give a rough estimate, 40% of her is the character design, 20% is the music, and the remaining 40% was Audley.

Again, for me personally.

Ever since Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, whenever I’ve seen this delightful, demonic dame in anything else (predominantly Kingdom Hearts), all I’ve heard is people doing their best Audley impressions. And, while Susanne Blakslee continues to do the best that she can, I am never completely satisfied. It’s one of the few times I’m hopelessly stubborn, and nothing will help fix it.

What Kingdom Hearts 2 did to Maleficent’s dignity probably didn’t help, but I digress…

photo

So when I saw the casting choices for this movie, I got excited. I really wanted Angelina Jolie to make the character her own, and not just do her best shot at copy-pasting the old identity. It wasn’t just Maleficent anymore, after all. It was her Wicked-esque counterpart, capable, perhaps, of some level of good, and garnering some level of empathy from the audience. There was plenty of room for growth and character development, even for self-proclaimed “Mistress of All Evil.”

I had sort of high hopes for it, but went in as blind as I possibly could for the most natural reaction.

Having just returned from seeing the movie with my mom, still garbed in my Maleficent shirt (courtesy of Hot Topic), I’m eager to talk about what I’ve seen.

*Warning: Spoilers below this point. Skip to the bottom for overall rating

Also, this is not a straight up comparison of the two stories. I’m treating Maleficent as a separate thing from Sleeping Beauty, because that’s how it’s supposed to be anyway. That way, I’ll be guaranteed to nitpick less than I did with Cinderella 3.

The Plot + First Impressions

The story begins by pitting two worlds against one another; the one of the fairies and magical creatures (The Moors), and that of the humans, which for the purposes of this movie we will regard as just one kingdom. The humans don’t seem too concerned with the dealings of other humans anyway, but rather with the powerful and potentially dangerous fairy folk.

Maleficent, who I half expected would adopt the name later and begin with something more pleasant (because it sounds evil right from the start), is a young fairy with horns and big half-eagle, half-dragon wings. She is young, but appears to be the head of her realm, and, at least later, its primary protector.

One day, she finds a boy stealing a gem from a pool near the edge of the realm, and spares him. The two become fast friends and, as time goes on, “something more.”

Two things here:

1) The child actors for both young Maleficent and young Stephan aren’t anything special. I’m not sure if they just aren’t acting well, or if the script doesn’t give them much to work with. Their characters both have one note, which is to prepare the audience for the coming tragedy where they will be forced to part and become enemies. There is nothing wrong with simplicity, but their story together was rushed, and suffered for it by being not very compelling or interesting.

2) Here is where I rolled my eyes in the theatre. Yet another “woman becomes evil because men” plot. Didn’t we see this already in Oz the Great and Powerful last year? And a bunch of other movies before? Do women ever do anything without being compelled to by a man or his actions towards them?

That said, it’s decently done, aside from the aforementioned rushed start.

Stephan burned her by accident during their first meeting. He wore a ring made of iron, which is the only thing that hurts fairies. Not quite sure how that works, but okay. Maleficent was very moved when she told him about it and he immediately threw the ring away, not wanting to hurt his new friend.

But Stephan stops coming around. Right after he sort of kissed her and claimed it was true love (it was kind of on screen, but dark enough to maybe qualify as offscreen too. Meh).

Untitled

Years later, Maleficent fends off an attack from the humans and their king, mortally wounding him in the process. She might have meant to kill him, but whether she did or not, a piece of iron on the king’s armor burned her, leading her to conclude that Stephan betrayed her and her kins’ only weakness to the other humans.

Back with said humans, King Henry is dying. He hesitates to name his successor, but angrily urges his men to avenge him.

Stephan, who has been swayed by greed and lust for power, goes back to Maleficent, seemingly trying to make peace with her. He essentially ruffies her so he can kill her easily, but in the midst of that crucial moment, he just can’t do it. So he does the next best thing.

Maleficent wakes the next day to find that her wings have been cut off. Stephan takes them back to the king, claims that he killed Maleficent, and King Henry gives him his daughter and the kingdom on the spot.

Maleficent responds accordingly.

So the fairy kingdom has sort of become her “Forbidden Mountain” from the original movie. The menace of it is a bit underwhelming, but then, she does pretty much leave the rest of the fairies alone.

My question here is: do they fear her because she’s making things all dark and scary? Or is it because all fairies have wings, and now that hers are gone, “shun the weirdo!”

Maleficent gets a sidekick in the form of a raven named Diaval, who she changes into a human to scare off the man who was about to beat him to death. He swears loyalty, to change as she requires and to be her “wings.”

Some time passes, and King Stephan and his still nameless queen (it was almost as laughable as her treatment in the original) have a baby. Three fairies, who hope to foster peace between their people and the humans, come to give the child magical blessings.

Maleficent comes in and screws things up for everyone.

Things to note here:

1) Being so wary and distrustful of magical creatures as he and his people are, I’m surprised Stephan let the fairies in at all.

2) How were the fairies planning to deal with Maleficent if Stephan accepted? She appears to be the only real thing standing between the peace of the two races…besides, you know, the insatiable greed and dominance of man.

3) What was the point of the third fairy’s gift being cut off in this version? Maleficent creates the condition by which the curse can be broken, though she does it with mocking irony, twisting in the knife that was the “lie” Stephan fed her as a girl. We never find out what the third gift was, and the fairy didn’t even use it to alleviate the spell afterward. So why?

4) Either Stephan had to do some serious trading and importing, or the kingdom must have undergone a serious shortage, with all those spinning wheels burned and locked away.

Anyway…

Maleficent quotes the dialogue from the original, almost word for word, until she’s almost finished casting the curse. Then she taunts King Stephan, making him beg in the sight of his entire kingdom, and curses Aurora anyway.

From here, the story takes an interesting turn.

The fairies, who are for some reason renamed despite almost all of the other major characters retaining their original names, take Aurora to the cottage in the forest. Where Maleficent finds them immediately.

picard-facepalm

The fairies, who were once inept at many things without the use of their magic (but at least didn’t neglect Aurora and almost let her kill herself), are horrible caretakers. Which makes sense, seeing as they’re now a size they aren’t used to, have never cared for infants before, and bicker just as much as their Sleeping Beauty counterparts.

This bickering was funny at times, but nowhere near as funny or endearing as Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather. These new fairies had a lot less personality; just plot props of basic idiocy, bumbling, and slapstick. Not necessarily a bad thing, though.

Maleficent and Diaval, instead of killing, tormenting, or even messing with Aurora, keep her safe and even play with her a little.

Huh…

I was expecting the good-girl-gone-bad backstory, but truthfully, I wasn’t sure how far it would extend into the rest of the movie.

Maleficent, while trying to remain snarky and detached, protects the girl, slowly growing affection for her as time goes on. She does mess with the fairies, though, which is funny. Especially since one of them is played by Dolores Umbridge.

Kill it with fire!
Kill it with fire!

While this happens, Maleficent builds a giant thorny wall (similar to the “forest of thorns” she sets against Philip in the original), keeping her realm separate from Stephan’s. The king, now going mad with fear and desperation, sets his iron workers to the task of building devices he can use to bring the wicked fairy down.

Aurora grows into a 15-year-old, as you do, when Maleficent reveals herself. Maleficent takes her to the Moors, curious to see how she will react, and watches her mingle and play with the other fairy folk within. The two grow closer than ever, and Maleficent worries about the curse she placed, even going so far as to try to undo it one night while Aurora sleeps…

in time!

Sadly, the curse is stronger than her, and she can’t remove it.

Aurora asks to go and live with Maleficent forever in the Moors, and she happily accepts. On the way home, Aurora meets Prince Philip, from the Kingdom of Who Cares, who is off to see Stephan for I forget why (which is basically a footnote in the movie. Though it does have a reason). She asks to see him again sometime, and he says sure.

Could zis be love, perhaps?

Diaval mentions to Maleficent that this boy might be the key to freeing Aurora of the curse, but the fairy rebuffs him, saying that “true love’s kiss” does not exist.

When Aurora gets home, the useless fairies spill the beans. She quickly deduces who the caster of the curse is, and we have a classic 3rd act misunderstanding that separates her from Maleficent. I hate that trope and how often it’s used, especially in kids’ movies, but it’s not too egregious here.

It’s short, but manages to keep some of its potency.

While Maleficent knocks Philip out and rides to the castle with him (rather than trying to explain why a suspicious lady with horns is being friendly with him), King Stephan is preparing for her coming. Aurora comes in, and Stephan barely acknowledges her with a kind word or two, before locking her in her room until everything is over. The spell then calls to Aurora, leading her to the room where the spinning wheels were burned and magicking up a brand new one for her convenience.

Maleficent feels it as the spell enacts, but she is more determined than ever to get Philip there so he can try his kiss on her.

Surprise, surprise. Philip’s kiss doesn’t work!

Again!
Again!

Oh, Disney. You and you’re predictable unpredictability…

In the same vein as Frozen, Disney is determined to teach the kiddies that true love isn’t just a spouse/significant other thing. If you detect some sarcasm here, it is not me saying that it’s a bad message in any way. Just a trend I predict will keep on happening in as many ways as Disney can figure out.

Maleficent developed a sort of motherly affection for Aurora throughout the years, and she realized that she was hurting an innocent person, when she had only intended to wound the man who had wounded her. Her rage and hatred clouded her judgment and took hold of her, but it could not change the person she really was.

Maleficent kisses Aurora (on the forehead, lest you think what I thought for a split second in the theatre), which wakes her. Together, they leave to live in the Moors together, Aurora feeling no connection to a home and a father she never knew anyway.

Stephan intervenes, trapping Maleficent in a net of iron. As she severely weakens from her burns, she set Diaval on the soldiers, turning her confidant into a dragon.

Yay! Kind of random and it felt last-minute, but I’ll take it! Fight! Fight! Fight!

Aurora escapes into another room to avoid the fire and carnage, and she comes across Maleficent’s old wings, strung up like a trophy on Stephan’s wall. She frees them, and they fuse back onto their owner, giving her back strength and power.

She and Stephan fight a bit before she subdues him, giving him the oft-used “it’s over” line, before turning away.

Little did she know that the only way to stamp out a threat is to kill it. Don’t leave your enemies alive to plot and scheme or, worse, assume they’ll “reform.”

Stephan tries to kill her, they plummet to the ground together, and Maleficent throws him off at nearly the last second.

Yet another Disney villain(?) goes to gravity.

R.I.P.

Maleficent steps down as Queen of the Moors and hands that title over to Aurora, basically uniting the two lands and making things bright and sunshiny again. With her wings back, she is free to fly again too.

And the elderly narrator was Aurora.

The End!

Pros, Cons, and Other Details

Angelina Jolie plays Maleficent very well, neither trying to be exactly like the original character nor straying too far from what made her awesome to begin with…well, except when she’s being “good.”

She brought some charm and class with her accent alone, adding in some freaky-contact eye rolling, widening, and creepy smiles for extra fun. Her enjoyment of the role definitely shines through.

Really, my only complaints with the acting are with the children, minus Aurora because none of her actresses got enough lines to really emote or convey much besides child-like wonder and whimsy. Or, when she’s a baby, pooping and crying. I’m torn about whether it is the fault of the kids or the director, but kids have more of an excuse by the very nature of them being kids.

It wasn’t a terribly big deal, but it did make the already short backstory a lot less strong than it could have been.

Some plot elements are vague, but they aren’t too distracting most of the time.

The music is very nice; the score was done by James Newton Howard, who most recently gave us the score for Hunger Games: Catching Fire. It’s epic, whimsical, and fantastical, at times reminding me of the Sleeping Beauty score, particularly in “ooh, Maleficent’s evil” songs.

The album can be found on iTunes and other streaming places. I definitely recommend “Maleficent Suite” and “Maleficent Flies.”

The story feels very small, somehow even smaller than the original, but that isn’t bad or even an odd thing. The story is meant to be a reimagining with a specific POV on the villain, who is not really a villain but a victim of cruel fate and circumstance. Wicked has begun a trend of stories, most recently and notably Frozen, where the supposed villainess is not what she seems, and a bunch of coincidental misunderstandings put her at odds with the other good people.

Maleficent does become genuinely evil for a portion of this movie, as she does cruel and hurtful things to deserving and undeserving people, but it’s very short-lived. She’s only a villain for maybe five minutes, before receding back into more of an anti-hero role. She’s funny, and we cheered for her plenty of times, Mom and I. Some of that was the novelty of her playing sarcastic babysitter to Aurora, but she did get some funny lines, and seemed neither too crotchety nor too loose and whimsical.

She does have some reputation to uphold, you know.

We get to see some powers, which are totally awesome. But I get the feeling that people will call it fan-pandering. I didn’t mind so much because: hey, powers. This movie would have been just a lot of talking otherwise.

The effects are really good; well-blended. They look pretty standard decent CG. If you’ve seen any movie in the last few years, these effects are right on par. I’m curious to see how much further CG can go, because these days it feels like it’s just spinning its wheels (haha, pun), not getting much better but not worse either, unless it’s a crap movie.

I think it was a wise decision to not make Jolie’s skin green. As we saw in Oz the Great and Powerful, it might make you look more silly than threatening.

Some elements from the original story seemed to be tossed aside for no better reason than “we couldn’t find time/a way to work it in,” but that’s adaptation in a nutshell.

For Parents

You can bring your kids to this one; there were certainly kids in my theatre, oohing and awing at the effects. Be warned though: there is some nightmare fodder here. The main one that stood out to me was wolf Diaval, but just look at the star of the film. Maleficent. Mistress of All Evil.

Nuff said
Nuff said

You’ll definitely want to accompany your younger, more easily spooked offspring. I wasn’t scared of Maleficent as a kid (barring that one scene ^), but I knew a lot of kids who were.

Just a suggestion.

Final Thoughts

As I left the theatre with my mom, we were discussing Angelina Jolie’s recent surgeries.

Upon discovering that she had a gene that would increase her odds of breast cancer, the very same cancer that her mother had died of, she decided to remove her breasts, and later her ovaries.

We wondered together whether or not agreeing to star in this movie was a sort of symbolic speech; if she sympathized with the characterization of Maleficent, whose wings (her initial source of power and identifying feature as one of the fairy folk) were taken from her. Could she be speaking to our American culture on some level, (where big breasts, big hips, and fertility are still regarded by many as the defining characteristics of “womanhood,”) reclaiming and reaffirming her own identity?

In terms of this movie specifically, who knows?

As to my rating of the film overall, it was decent. I had much fun watching it.

I get the sense that plenty will call it underwhelming, an insult to the original character, yada yada yada. Others will say it was fan-pandering. “You want powers? Here! You want dragon? Here you go!”

It was a fun movie-going experience, and an interesting attempt to add a character outside of “mwahahahahahahahahahaha!”

To paraphrase the almighty Nostalgic Critic, new adaptations and reimaginings, however awful they might be, can’t take away value or hype from the original. Even if this new Maleficent isn’t as cool or wicked, it doesn’t change the fact that Sleeping Beauty made her one of the top Disney villains ever.

I’d say definitely check out Maleficent (2014) before you condemn it. It’s a nice mix of Disney, classic fairytale, and gritty reboot, all in one.

*Images/Video that do not belong to Disney are: Anchorman, M. Night Shyamalan, Harry Potter, Spongebob, and Star Trek. Nothing is mine, as usual, though I did take the picture of the movie poster 🙂

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