Friday, May 30, 2014

Maleficent - Angelina Jolie is Magnificent (Spoiler Free)

Disney has created many wonderful animated movie, fully of memorable characters, some good some evil.  One of the most memorable characters from a Disney movie - Sleeping Beauty - is Maleficent, the villain of that story.  On May 30, 2014, the live action movie Maleficent was released.

I am only going to briefly discuss the plot of Maleficent.  I will probably mention some things that could be spoilers for people who haven’t seen Sleeping Beauty or who don’t know the story. 

** Minor Plot Discussion **
A young and powerful fairy, Maleficent, lives in the magical land of The Moors which is next to a human kingdom.  The two lands do not get along and the people of each have no contact with each other.  One day Maleficent meets a boy, Stefan and they develop a friendship that lasts for years.  Stefan eventually betrays her in order to be named the next king.  Maleficent turns darker which causes changes to The Moors.  When she learns that Stefan, now the king, has a daughter, Maleficent shows up uninvited and curses Aurora.  Maleficent and Stefan spend the next sixteen years dealing with the consequences of the curse.
** End of Minor Plot Discussion **

Maleficent is being shown in 3D and 2D.  I ended up seeing the movie in 3D because of when the show times were.  The 3D is more subtle, which could disappoint some viewers.  It mainly adds depth to the various scenes, especially the ones set outside.  There really aren’t any images coming out of the screen, something else that could be disappointing to some people.  Personally, I like when that is done in 3D and think it looks cool.  There are definitely points in the movie when that could have been done.

This movie is based on Disney’s animated Sleeping Beauty as well as a few fairytale versions of the story.  I have seen the animated movie several times - it is actually one of my favorites - but I have never read any of the fairytales.  The movie is definitely connected to the animated movie, telling the same main story focused on Maleficent instead of Aurora, but there are differences as well.  Some people may not like the differences or that certain things have been changed.  I really enjoyed the movie and like the different take on the character.  I guess I am able to look at this as a different version of the story, so I am able to appreciate the changes the story take.  Other people may not be able to do that.  I have had issues with that sort of thing in other movies, but I think it works well this time.

The movie starts by showing Maleficent as a child before showing the betrayal that ultimately causes her to curse Aurora.  I have always thought that Maleficent was intriguing, so I have been interested in seeing this movie since I first heard about it.  A few younger versions of her are briefly shown early in the movie.  She is an adult for the majority of the movie.  I had thought that her horns were just part of a headdress when watching the animated movie.  This movie shows that the horns are part of her.  Younger versions of Aurora are in a few scenes, with the older version seen the most for her too.  Slightly different versions of other characters from Sleeping Beauty turn up as well, including King Stefan, who is shown at different ages.  Versions of Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather appear as well, though they have different names - Knotgrass, Thistletwit, and  Flittle - and they are pixies.  I remember them being called fairies in the animated movie.  I think the story is straightforward and makes sense, though others may not agree.  It is interesting and entertaining.  The story is somewhat dark, so parents should keep that in mind when making a choice for this movie.  It is possible that some people won’t think that the movie is dark enough.

Special effects are used throughout Maleficent to show magic different characters use as well as to show fairies, pixies, and other magical creatures of The Moors flying.  Certain parts of the movie wouldn’t have worked without the special effects.  They were done well overall, though one thing seemed a little off or odd.  The pixies start off small and then later in the movie they make themselves human size to blend in.  When they are small, something with their heads look a little off.  Action turns up in some scenes as well without making the movie action packed. 

The characters are interesting overall, though some of them, like the Queen, are barely shown and have no development.  The pixies seem to mean well, but they are far from the best caretakers for a child.  Stefan seems to be nice at first, but his ambition takes over, twisting him into someone different.  Aurora is shown to be sweet, loving, curious, kind, and gentle even though she doesn’t receive as much development.  In this version of the story, she is more of a supporting character.  Elle Fanning is good in the part.  Diaval is a crow who becomes Maleficent’s servant when she saves him.  She uses magic to transform him into a man or any other creature that would be helpful in a situation.

This version of Maleficent is much more complex than the version from the animated movie.  While that version is one of the great Disney villains, she really is kind of flat.  That is not the case here.  She starts off kind and trusting before she is betrayed.  She is justifiably angry while also showing a softer side every so often.  Angelina Jolie is absolutely stunning and magnificent as Maleficent.  She is perfect in the part and makes the movie.  I honestly don’t think anyone else could have portrayed this character.  I know that some people don’t care for Jolie, so those people may want to avoid this movie.

Maleficent is a very entertaining movie that gives a different take on a classic Disney movie.  Some may not like that difference, but I think it is well worth checking out.  Angelina Jolie is absolutely magnificent as Maleficent.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past - Time Travel and a Naked Hugh Jackman

The X-Men have been popular Marvel characters for years.  I use to watch a cartoon, which is where I first learned about the characters.  I have read a few of the comics over the years and I eventually picked up a book that has a lot of information about the various characters and storylines.  I have seen all the movies and enjoyed them to varying degrees.  I have been interested in seeing X-Men: Days of Future Past since I found out it was being made.

There have been three X-Men movies that were sequels to each other, a prequel, X-Men: First Class which is set back in the 1960s, and two movies focused on Wolverine.  X- Men: Days of Future Past is sort of a sequel to all the movies and also a prequel for the original three X-Men movies, depending on what is happening, because of the time travel aspect of the plot.  It can be a little confusing, especially how certain things and events were already changed in X-Men: First Class.  Some of what I mention while discussing X-Men: Days of Future Past will be spoilers for people who haven’t seen the previous movies.  Read at your own risk.

In the future, mutants are being hunted by large robots called Sentinels.  A group of seven, including Kitty Pryde find a way to deal with the situation by constantly sending the consciousness of  Bishop back in time to himself.  The group meets up with Professor Charles Xavier, Magneto, Storm, Iceman, and Wolverine to discuss a plan.  The consciousness of Wolverine will be sent back to 1973 while the others stand guard in case of a Sentinel attack.  He is then to find Charles and Erik so they can stop Mystique from doing something that leads to the creation of the Sentinels. 

There is a short scene after the end of the credits.  It is definitely a big hint at what is to come in another X-Men movie. 

I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past in 3D because of the start time.  There is one scene early in the movie that has falling snow.  It very briefly looks like the snow is falling out over the audience.  That is really the only 3D effect that I noticed, so there really isn’t any reason to see that version of the movie.  

Days of Future Past is one of the more well known stories from the X-Men comics.  I haven’t read the original comics featuring that story, but I do know the basics of it so I am aware of some of the changes made for the movie.  Logan/Wolverine is the one who does the time travel thing back to his younger self instead of Kitty.  It is said that Logan is the only one who would be able to survive traveling back as far as is required for their plan because of his ability to heal.  He has to go back to 1973, an earlier time than from the original story as well.  I think those changes work for the movie overall. 

While I really enjoyed X-Men: Days of Future Past, I did have issues with a few things.  Those things were mostly connected to things changed by X-Men: First Class that resulted in changing backstories for Charles and Mystique in kind of a big way by making them meet as children and then basically grow up together.  It seems to have been done just to find a reason to have Mystique running around in her naked blue form.  That didn’t come up too much in this movie, though in a few scenes, it seems like a love triangle including Charles, Mystique, and Erik is hinted at.  I just don’t care for that change so I was happy when it didn’t play too much of a part in the plot. 

Certain parts of the plot for the movie can get a little confusing because of the part that time travel plays.  When the movie begins, it is in the future - I’m not sure what year it is, but it is made clear that it is the future.  That part of the movie, when Kitty is helping Logan do the mind time travel thing, takes place after the previous X-Men movies.  The events in 1973 are set after X-Men: First Class, but before all the other X-Men movies, including the two Wolverine movies.  In that part, Logan is back to just having bone claws.  What happens in 1973 may or may not change future events for the different characters, including things that happened in the other movies.  It is entirely possible that a certain mess from one of the previous movies has now never happened because of what is done in 1973.  I’m being deliberately vague about this in an attempt to avoid saying too much.  Some may not like that or the fact that time travel plays such a big role in what is going on.

There is a decent amount of action throughout the movie which helps to keep the pace moving.  Within the first few minutes, there is a fight between a few mutants and the Sentinels in the future.  When Logan wakes up in the past, naked, he barely gets his pants on before he is in a fight.  The water bed is the first casualty, but he quickly deals with the guys who show up right after.  Different mutant characters are involved in different fights throughout the movie.  Those scenes do require a lot of special effects, mostly tied to the use of the different mutant powers.  I do think the effects were done well.  

There are a lot of characters in X-Men: Days of Future Past, something that has happened in the other X-Men movies as well.  Unfortunately, because of that, some characters end up with very little to do.  While that is disappointing, I would rather see that and have the story handled well than have too many subplots crammed in as an attempt to give more characters more to do.  That has not worked well in the past. 

Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen return to play the older versions of Professor Charles Xavier and Erik/Magneto.  I love them in those parts, so it was really nice to see them again even though the younger versions of the characters had more to do.  James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are fine as the younger Charles and Erik, but they are no Stewart or McKellen.  The young Erik is a massive jerk, which is sort of expected for the character.  The younger Charles has turned into a massive jerk in his own right, which is a big contrast from how the character has been portrayed before.  I don’t really like jerk Charles, though I can see how he becomes the older Charles that is more familiar. 

Logan/Wolverine may end up with the most to do and he more fully connects the future and past portions of the movie.  Logan is the one who travels mentally back in time and it is up to him to find the younger Charles and Xavier and convince them he is from the future and what they need to do.  Logan is back to having his bone claws in the past, and that is a little different since I’m more use to seeing him with the adamantium claws.    Hugh Jackman has played the character several times now, and I think he is very good in the part.  Once again he is in crazy good shape, which is put on display when he emerges from bed naked.  He is seen fully from behind and a lot of his front is shown then as well.  Mystique spends a lot of time in her naked blue form.  Something about the look of her in that blue form looks slightly off to me this time.  It could be because they came up with a new method for the makeup involving a body suit.  Mystique does have a useful ability that helps her in several situations.  In this movie, she is able to take on the appearance of anyone she sees.  I thought that she had to touch them to do that, but I could be wrong about that.  Jennifer Lawrence is fine in the part. 

Hank McCoy/Beast is back as well, mostly in 1973.  Evidently, in this version of the story, Hank came up with some kind of serum or something that allowed him to revert back to looking fully human instead of being furry and blue.  That just doesn’t seem right to me since Hank/Beast has always stayed furry and blue once he took on that appearance.  Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver is a new young mutant that is recruited to help get to Erik.  Peter can run really, really fast.  So fast, that he seems to just disappear at one place and reappear in the next.  He doesn’t get much to do, though there is a really cool sequence done with him moving at his super speed. 

Kitty, Bobby/Iceman, Colossus, Blink, Sunspot, Warpath, and Bishop take part in the future part of the movie.  I had not heard of Blink, Sunspot, or Warpath before.  I have no idea if they are characters from the comics or created specifically for the movie.  Havok and Toad turn up briefly, but they end up with not much to do.  A few other more well known characters also briefly appear.  I’m not going to say who because I don’t want to spoil anything for people who haven’t seen the movie yet.

Bolivar Trask is the scientist who designs the Sentinels.  He is trying to get the government to use the Sentinels to protect people from mutants.  Trask has experimented on mutants as part of the development of the Sentinels and he has military contacts.  Trask fully believes in what he is doing, believing that what he is doing is a good thing.  He is rather arrogant.  He will try to manipulate different situations to help his cause if possible.  Peter Dinklage is very good in the part.  A younger William Stryker turns up, helping to hunt down mutants and send them off to Trask to experiment on. 

X-Men: Days of Future Past is a very entertaining movie.  I do think it is one of the better comic book movies that I have seen.  People that are more familiar with the comic books may not like some of the changes.  People who have enjoyed the previous X-Men movies should give this one a chance.  I plan to add the movie to my collection once it is available no Blu-ray.

This review is part of Elvisdo’s 7th Annual Funny Pages Write Off.  Elvisdo is another former Epinions member, and he hosted this write off there for six years.  It was something that several members - myself included - looked forward to each year.  I am very happy that he has decided to do it again.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The End of My Movie Drought

I love movies and I enjoy going to the theater to see new movies, even when I get annoyed by rude people sitting near me.  For the first several months of this year, I wasn’t able to make it to the theater.  Work was crazy for a while but the extremely bad winter here also played a part.  There were a few times when I had a day off that I wanted to go see a movie.  Then the winter weather struck again, dumping more snow, ice, freezing rain, or a combination of all three.  When the weather was better, I either didn’t have days off or there were no movies that I wanted to see.

At the end of March, I was finally able to end my movie drought when I went to see Muppets Most Wanted.  I have loved the Muppets since I was a child and there was no way I was going to miss seeing that movie in the theater.  Since then I have managed to see a few more.  I have been meaning to write about them, but that hasn’t happened so far.  Hopefully I will get motivated to write again and fix that.  I have a fairly large movie collection as well as a lot of tv shows on DVD.  In the past, I would at least take the time to watch some of those even when I wasn’t able to get to the theater.  I didn’t watch many of those in the last several months either, but I have started to fix that as well.