Friday, June 6, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past and Maleificent


Forward, Into the Past
           
   Review by Ken Burke      X-Men: Days of Future Past
              
The world’s most well-known mutants take the screen again in a time-travel adventure to prevent their own destruction before it happens, with astounding special effects.
             
                                                            Maleficent
           
Disney reimagines their own classic, Sleeping Beauty, helping us better understand the wickedest fairy of them all's motivations, allowing for a new ending to this old tale.
              
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In this review we’ll explore 2 variations of the Fantasy genre in movies, in which we see strong examples of the main subgenres—those stories that attempt to give some scientific explanation to the extraordinary characteristics of their superheroes and supervillains (in the tradition of Superman, Spiderman, etc.) vs. those that simply accept that some sort of special powers exist in the story’s universe with the protagonists and their antagonists in access of some version of the “magic” to be commanded (in the tradition of The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc.), although there are some clumsy realities that have to be faced when members of those distinct traditions find themselves in the same storylines (i.e. Wonder Woman and Green Lantern co-existing with the more “rationally”-based members of DC Comics’ Justice League, Thor joining in with the Avengers [although those movies do try to explain him as some sort of powerful alien rather than the actual Thunder God of Norse mythology to better avoid that conceptual conflict]) or when fully-human-crimefighters such as Batman (with his embraced-by-the-law-vigilante status and wealth of technological support) or Daredevil (with his highly-honed-senses to balance his blindness, although the movie hero is blinded by being exposed to toxic waste which possibly has less impact on his physical attributes than does the ever-common-radiation for the original Marvel comics character)—note how I’m trying to build a comfortable context for Ben Affleck to be accepted as the Caped Crusader when we finally get Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Zack Snyder, set for 2016)—conceptually belong more in a genre of Supercops (such as James Bond, Dirty Harry, and the Mission: Impossible agents) but need to be categorized in with their actual Fantasy colleagues because they occupy the same arenas even without any superhuman abilities.  Well, you won’t find any of those complications in this post’s to-be-reviewed-movies (if I ever get the actual review started; please be patient, the Ritalin hasn’t kicked in yet) because each is a pure representative of the former and latter concepts of screen-based (often comic-book-derived, however) Fantasy, with Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Passed (Bryan Singer) offering the “science”-rationalization-approach (although I still haven’t figured out how a mutation within a single human body can allow control over the outside environmental world such as the weather and sheets of ice, but that’s why I think these stories work better as Fantasy than any form of true Science-Fiction) and Disney’s Maleficent (Robert Stromberg) embodying the fundamental tenets of magic-as-accepted-existence, even though only unique beings normally have access to it.

While both of these latest additions to their respective franchises (Maleficent’s not part of an ongoing Sleeping Beauty series, but if fairy-tales-with-female-protagonists doesn’t define a franchise within the Disney empire then we need some better definitions within our economics dictionaries) are racking up big bucks at the box-office (with the dark-clad-evil-fairy’s story having bumped the mutants off of the #1 pedestal last weekend with a whopping $69.4 domestic opening but the X-Men are grandly successful as well, racking up a huge $162 million debut after only 2 weeks), I’m going to start with X-Men: Days of Future Past because it’s now been out long enough that I can assume most of the avid attendees have already seen it (it did suffer a 64% drop-off in income for its second week) so that my usual Spoiler inclusions shouldn’t make too much difference because there's probably not much about it that you don't already know by now.

While all of the unusual folks pictured above the above paragraphs (Need a Google map to find that?) occupy their proper places within the complex ... Days of Future Past narrative, the primary focus is on the different-aged-versions of Charles Xavier (Professor X, played by Patrick Stewart as the older man we find in most of these X-Men movies and James McAvoy as his younger self, both here and in the previous prequel, X-Men: First Class [Matthew Vaughn, 2011]), Erik Lensherr (Magneto, older man played as usual by Ian McKellen, younger one by Michael Fassbender here and in that prequel), and Logan (Wolverine, who doesn’t age much because of his mysterious regenerative abilities so Hugh Jackman looks roughly the same even when he travels from present day back to 1973).  The basic plotline of this movie is an interesting conception—that is, if you haven’t seen Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Leonard Nimoy, 1986), Back to the Future II (Robert Zemeckis, 1989), or Terminator 2: Judgment Day (James Cameron, 1991)—where a primary character travels to the past in order to prevent some occurrence from happening (a tactic that comes from more truly authentic Sci-Fi, with fiction writers and theoretical physicists debating over whether past events can be changed [as in the Back to the Future series where ultimately everything keeps getting set right for Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd)] or whether events are set by fate so that somehow they will occur even if the circumstances are changed [as in the Terminator series where the human race is seemingly saved from a future attack by intelligent machines at the end of #2 but the attack happens anyway via a different scenario in #3 (Jonathan Mostow, 2003)]).  In this case, the goal is for Wolverine (the only mutant whose almost-indestructible-body can stand the rigors of the procedure, although it’s not his body but rather his consciousness that makes the trip; now we’re not going to let that little detail derail us, are we?) to return to the early ‘70s where his task is to recruit colleagues that he hasn’t met yet, the younger manifestations of Xavier (back then, a cynic who mourns both the loss of mobility in his legs from the last prequel’s plot and the foster-sibling-bond he’d developed with the shape-shifting Raven [Jennifer Lawrence, the other most-used-character in this mutant-packed-plot) and Lehnsherr (being held in a maximum-security-glass-and-plastic-prison far below the Pentagon, arrested as the assassin of JFK, although some far-too-quick-dialogue later in … Future Past seems to exonerate him but he's still on Xavier’s s**t list for having convinced Raven in the previous prequel to join up with Magneto in her persona of the evil Mystique as he readied some of the early mutants to fight back against humanity’s initial rejection of their kind, even as former friend Xavier wanted to work for better understanding between their “species” [if you can call them that, given their various genetic diversities] and ours) in order to keep Mystique from killing the chief-mutant-hunter of the Nixon-era, Dr. Oliver Trask (Peter Dinklage), a guy she detests because of the mutants already dead from his various experiments on some of them.

Trask is trying to develop Sentinels, a form of anti-mutant-robot that proves to be a superior foe for the X-Men as it adapts individually to each of their powers and is responsible for almost eliminating all of them in the not-too-distant-future from our present day.  Mystique’s outright murder of Trask in 1973 set him up as a martyr for the preservation of humankind, along with deep resentment among certain factions of society who continued to develop the Sentinels as an attack force against the hated mutants (these evil “robocops” also are programmed to kill humans, if they or their children would manifest as mutants, as well as people who simply defend the mutants) using the exquisite DNA from Mystique, captured after killing Trask.  So, in addition to the well-honored-time-travel-trope being explored here we also have a reminder of a related story where important characters from one era interact with those from an earlier time, such as in Star Trek Generations (David Carson, 1994) as Captain Kirk (William Shatner) enters a time warp that allows him to meet another famous commander of the Federation starship Enterprise, even though he’s from Kirk’s future, Captain Picard (Stewart—so it’s hard for me to not think of this earlier movie when seeing him again in the present X-Men episode).

Moral questions abound as Wolverine, Xavier, and Magneto are determined to kill Mystique in order to keep her from killing Trask (which they try to do but fail in Paris at the peace talks between envoys of the Americans and the Vietnamese, intended to end the Vietnam War), an option she finally can execute after a wild sequence in Washington, D.C. that culminates with Magneto levitating RFK Memorial Stadium to drop it as a protective ring around the White House, allowing him to confront Mystique, disguised as part of Nixon’s entourage.  However, she overpowers him, even as Xavier is trapped beneath debris from the previous carnage in these adrenaline-pumping-scenes and Wolverine has seemingly been sent to his demise in the Potomac River.  Xavier ultimately saves the day, though, by appealing to Mystique telepathically, encouraging her to spare Trask, which she does.  This leads to a new social appreciation for the willingness of these mutants to work with humanity for our mutual betterment, the arrest of Trask for selling military secrets to our enemies (he originally wasn’t getting American support for his Sentinel project so he was shopping it overseas), the rescue of Wolverine from the river, and a new future where all of the mutants killed in the present time of this movie are still alive (which would have included Xavier, Magneto, and Wolverine because the Sentinels had finally blasted their way into the remote Chinese monastery where the last mutants took refuge and Logan’s consciousness was sent back to 1973 by the power of Kitty Pryde [Ellen Page]—taking a “page” from the Matrix series where those killer machines were using human bodies to produce energy sources for their benefit while channeling humans' consciousness into the cyber-world of the Matrix where people only thought they were living in another environment).  Had Mystique not had a last-second-change-of-heart, all that we know of the X-Men and their supporters would have been obliterated but instead the Sentinel program was discontinued; how that changed timeline into our present impacts what we’ve come to know of these unique folks in their previous movies from X-Men (Singer, 2000) to The Wolverine (James Mangold, 2013; review in our August 8, 2013 posting) isn’t clear yet, but with Logan-love-interest Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) now alive again we have very interesting situations set up for the sequels planned for 2016 and 2017 release.

I also assume we’ll learn then what happened to Magneto and Mystique over all of these intervening years, as Xavier could have used his mind-control-powers to force them to turn themselves in back in 1973 but instead allowed them to escape; I can’t imagine that they haven’t been causing some kind of havoc, but if the mutant-prejudice-attitude was snipped in its Watergate-era-bud then it’s currently unclear to me what events have occupied Professor Xavier and his brood for the last 40 years (maybe this is all just like the Star Trek [J.J. Abrams, 2009] reboot where older Spock comes to the present time of that story [still in the future for us] through a black hole with a corresponding explanation that this anomaly will potentially change previously-occurred-events in older Spock’s existence, thereby giving the 21st-century-storytellers creative freedom to disregard past timeline events [just as the DC Comics guys do periodically when they reboot their whole universe through some catastrophic crisis]; however, movie sequels were invented to answer such questions so you can spend the next couple of years just trying to figure out why none of these superguys/gals ever show up when Spiderman or the Avengers need them, although Jackman has stated that he’d like for Wolverine to be in the next Avengers adventure [see this article, assuming that you can; I’ve completely forgotten whether I pay anything to see variety.com or not] so maybe you should follow some combination of Variety and the Wall Street Journal to see what rights-holders Fox and Disney could work out about that inter-franchise-possibility).  If all of the above seems like a lot of complex plotting, I haven’t even begun to note the many other mutants running all over this movie, with the ones that caught my attention the most being Storm (Halle Berry), one of the defenders of the last stand at the Chinese sanctuary; Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), who does his best to defend Professor Xavier from harm even during his most despondent, drunken days; and Peter/Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a Flash-like-speedster who can move so fast that time and motion seem to suspend around him (see the third suggested link for this movie far below for a facsimile of Quicksilver in probably the most creative scene in all of X-Men: Days of Future Past, although others are a lot more violent and bombastic).  However, the sheer volume of all of these characters running around in constant-crisis-mode, my confusion over why there’s been almost no mention in the previous X-Men movies of this Sentinel militia even though they were operational since 1973 yet they only start wiping out nearly everything with any trace of humanity just after our present day, and my surprise at how close to death Wolverine comes after being punctured with structural rebar after all of his other miraculous self-healings leaves me a bit on the outside looking in concerning the mythology of these elevated beings (that I admit I’m not nearly as familiar with as I am where the histories of Superman and Batman are involved, although I’ve seen every cinematic episode in the X-Men timeline so far).

For me, The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012; review in our May 12, 2012 posting) was just barely able to be successful in balancing a large cast of dominating characters so that they each had reasonable screen time but still contributed to an overall-coherent-story, yet there were only 7 primary protagonists to keep up with there (Thor, the Incredible Hulk, Ironman, Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Widow [the last 2 more strictly human heroes—like DC’s Green Arrow and Black Canary—forced to do battle in the same arenas as their superhuman colleagues without correspondingly-enhanced-powers], and Nick Fury [another pure human, tough but more of a commanding officer than a battlefield force, at least as he’s been used in these movies so far) whereas in all of the X-Men on-screen-adventures there’s so much need to get all of these superhumans—good and bad—into the action that it just becomes more than I care to keep up with at times.  This current story does a commendable job of juggling all of its locations, participants, and past-era-depictions (especially with the spot-on-soundtrack that gives American Hustle [David O. Russell, 2013; review in our December 27, 2013 posting] a run for its illicit money in that area), but for me, in the end the been-there-done-that-premises (time travel, history transformations) and distracting new characters (especially Quicksilver who seems all too much like The Flash, but I see that he’s had a long history in Marvel Comics although I also read that another actor is signed to play him in Avengers: Age of Ultron [Whedon, 2015] just as he’s intended to appear as well in X-Men: Apocalypse [Singer, 2016] so once again we may get some corporate-confusion over this character, especially when the long-awaited DC-based Justice League movie finally debuts, giving us reasons for comparisons between Quicksilver and Flash—but maybe many of us will have sunk beneath rising ocean waters by then and any special effects Oscars for either of these franchises will have to be handed out in Kansas City) seemed just too recycled, even though “marvel”ously-executed on screen.  While I always enjoy a well-produced-comic-book-based-superhero-romp (and this one has much to enjoy in the performances of those who get adequate screen time—Jackman, McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, and Dinklage especially), I just can’t say (contrasting with my Rotten Tomatoes X-Men-enchanted-brethren, who collectively give 92% positive reviews to X-Men: Days of Future Past) that this movie holds together throughout as well as it does when Jackman is predominant, McAvoy is struggling with the decision to keep using a serum that allows him to walk again but at the cost of vastly diminished telepathic powers, or Lawrence is shifting personalities as easily as she alters physical appearances (and, as much as I still detest even the memory of Richard Nixon, Mark Camacho does a splendid job of impersonating him, with his shifting sociopolitical-allegiances that nicely mirror the bodily transformations of Lawrence as the deadly Mystique); thus, I fall more in with the Metacritcs, whose average score of 74% is much closer to my own 3½ stars of 5, indicating an entertaining couple of hours in the movie house but one that will likely be forgotten when the next major superhero story, Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn), comes later this summer (August 1, 2014), adding more to the Avengers-focused Marvel mythology where X-Men don't seem to exist.

It's very clear this Beatles photo was taken "Yesterday"
I’ll cap this off with a Musical Metaphor that speaks to the need in X-Men: Days of Future Past to reclaim what has previously gone wrong, make it better, answer its unresolved questions, and lead on to a better present and future; what else could that be but The Beatles’ (truly just McCartney, but corporate necessity impacted their song-authorship-attributions as well) “Yesterday” (from the 1965 Help! album, as well as the 1966 U.S.-only-album, Yesterday and Today; in the second music link just below George Harrison introduces the song, saying that it’s on their 1964 British album, Beatles for Sale [most of which came out in the U.S. at the same time as Beatles ‘65], but that’s not the case if you check the track listings for all of these albums), one of the most recorded songs in all pop music history, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONXp-vpE9eU and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r Ren3jDqViI (solo performance date and location unknown to me; second one with full-Beatles-backing done on some unknown date in Germany), which speaks to “troubles … being here to stay,” the hunted mutants not being “half the man [or woman] I used to be,” and Raven’s departure from Xavier to enter the evil orbit of Magneto being paralleled with the line, “Why she had to go I don’t know she wouldn’t say,” just as Professor X’s then-descent-into-near-oblivion feels much like “Now I need a place to hide away, Oh, I believe in yesterday.”  (OK, maybe this isn’t as impactful as synching up The Wizard of Oz [Victor Fleming, 1939] to Pink Floyd’s 1973 Dark Side of the Moon album—see this for details and this to watch it [runs 42:47 with very low audio at the beginning until the first song comes up to full volume]—but give me some credit for creative thinking, would you?  My Google-denied, non-existent ad revenue doesn't compensate much for the effort expended here as sunrise approaches once again, so these flights of my own warped fantasies are about all I've got to show for these endlessly-convoluted-postings.)

But if you really want a taste of yesterday, come centuries back to some feuding lands, a kingdom of war-obsessed-humans and their neighbors in The Moors, where fantastic creatures attempt to live in delightful harmony with nature even as the adjoining kingdom is constantly attempting to invade their territory in Disney’s updating of its own animated classic, Sleeping Beauty (Clyde Geronimi, Les Clark, Eric Larson, Wolfgang Reitherman; 1959), in the newest telling of Princess Aurora’s traumatic 16th birthday with Maleficent, where the once-feared-evil-fairy who rules her magical land is given center stage to present her side of the story, as told to us from years later by Aurora herself, although her identity isn’t revealed until the very end of this movie.  While not as critically-embraced as is X-Men: Days of Future Past (Maleficent garnered only 50% positive from Rotten Tomatoes and a 55% score from Metacritics), I find it to be enjoyable to watch, with a fine performance by Angelina Jolie as the most dominating presence in either the natural or supernatural realms; charming computer-generated-imagery of the fantastical beings that live in The Moors but with whimsical appearances that mimic both older Disney animated features and the Dreamworks’ Shrek movies that parody them (which should be appealing for the many likely-younger-children in the audience); and a good number of differences in the telling of the tale—even from Disney’s own older version—that give much more context to Maleficent, ultimately turning her into the hero of the tale with the former-kindly-King Stefan now turned into a desperate, demanding monarch (played by Sharito Copley, an actor whose non-heroic adult appearance and mannerisms make him seem an unlikely attraction for Maleficent, even though they were quite enamored of each other when they were teenagers [played by Isobelle Molloy and Michael Higgens] as he sneaked into her heavily-guarded realm to further a sincere romance with her).

There are considerably more alterations to the original in Maleficent, even though Jolie’s appearance as the title character draws successfully on Sleeping Beauty, except for the green skin of the evil fairy in the animated version (the justification for retaining this hue is there in the 1959 imagery—although, ironically, the side-by-side comparison in this photo doesn't show the animated version with her green skin, although I have no control over the images that the Disney folks construct for their own PR purposes—but perhaps this retelling needs to maintain a more appealing appearance for this powerful creature when we come to understand her as being the true guardian of the princess, despite her curse delivered at the baby’s christening, plus we wouldn’t want to confuse her with Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, well-known now to many audiences through a good number of international productions of the play [debuted on Broadway at the Gershwin Theatre in 2003, after a run at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre; slated to finally be adapted to a cinematic version but with no firm productions and release dates yet]).  The most noticeable—and dramatic—alterations of this tale of Aurora’s travails include the shift to the backstory of Maleficent so that we can appreciate her sorrows as well, the expansion of the role of King Stefan to have a significant presence with Maleficent in their younger years only to throw it all away in his greedy desires for the throne of his kingdom, and the reduction of the status of Prince Phillip, who finally does connect romantically with Aurora by the end of this story but is not the needed salvation from her cursed sleep by the traditional understandings of “true love’s kiss.”  The presence of the little pastel-colored-fairies from the animated original has been reduced as well, plus their names have been changed (possibly to protect the innocent because these current pixies are bumbleheads attempting to raise Aurora in seclusion in the woods) from Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather to Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistewit (Juno Temple), and Flittle (Lesley Manville); in the first Disney version it was Merryweather who tempered Maleficent’s curse that the young princess would prick her finger on a spinning wheel before the conclusion of her 16th birthday, whereupon she’d die, with the good fairy’s adjustment that Aurora would simply sleep until that fated first kiss, but here even the original curse is less ominous because it’s Maleficent herself who calls for the sleep-until-kissed-curse but with her private, cynical understanding that there’s no such thing as true love so she wasn’t worried about any sort of smooching-savior anyway.

To the shock of anyone who’s been exposed to Disney villains with the consistent presentation that they seemed to have been born to the evil nature that they use to torment protagonists from Snow White (1937) up until almost the present (in Frozen [Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, 2013; review in our January 24, 2014 posting] the Snow Queen, Elsa [voice of Idina Menzel—famous, among other roles, for playing Elphaba on Broadway], isn’t even evil at all, just driven almost mad by a “curse” that she was born with, the ability to turn everything she touches to ice as well as conjure up blizzard conditions, so her initial isolation is for the good of her subjects while her eventual rehabilitation into society comes through her heartfelt response to her sister Anna‘s [voice of Kristen Bell] determination to bring Elsa back from her lonely frozen palace in the mountains), Maleficent is born as a cute and cuddly creature, whose horns and wings are just part of her high-flying, joyous identity which soon makes her beloved of the forest creatures that she shares her realm with, even though there are fierce guardian beasts to keep curious or dangerous humans from wandering into their territory, given the animosity espoused by old King Henry (Kenneth Cranham), who’s determined someday to conquer The Moors, just because such victories go with the sense of greed and power-desire that corrupts this monarch and far too many of his subjects.  Still, lowly peasant’s son Stefan comes into these enchanted woods purely out of innocent curiosity, then befriends Maleficent with the intention of truly committing himself to her only to renege on that youthful infatuation as he grows older, more desirous of taking the throne himself (Henry quickly mentions a daughter at one point, I think, but mostly chastises his attending nobles for lusting after his crown but not being brave enough to attack the powerful winged fairy who, along with her fierce-tree-like-warriors, prevented Henry’s assault on The Moors, then wounded him to a state of imminent demise).  Stefan seizes his best opportunity, returns to The Moors to woo Maleficent but instead drugs her (maybe this isn’t such an ancient tale after all), then uses an iron knife (essentially kryptonite to fairies in this version of the tale, as the pseudo-science and magical aspects of these separate-but-related-Fantasy-subgenres find their parallels) to cut off her wings while she sleeps to convince Henry that he’s killed her (which he attempted to do but just couldn’t bring himself to an act of that level of atrocity, as with the huntsman who can’t kill Snow White as commanded in that earlier seminal Disney cinematic fairy-tale).  The physically-and-psychically-wounded Maleficent allows a vengeful evil nature to grow within her, turns a raven, Diaval (Sam Riley), whose life she saved into her shape-shifted-companion (mostly bird or young man but other animals as the situation requires), then decides to visit Stefan after her years of brooding isolation in order to lay her curse upon his new baby daughter, with her dark, flowing costume now resembling the fearsome fairy we’ve come to know from the animated Disney version, all black and foreboding.

In an unexpected twist of fate, though, after the clueless pixies take the baby into the woods for her protection (and her father burns all of the kingdom’s spinning wheels in another attempt to thwart the curse), Maleficent begins to watch over the child (played in various stages by Jolie’s own daughter, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, then Eleanor Worthington-Cox) when the now-human-sized-pixies prove ignorant and incompetent as guardians (the implication is that Maleficent doesn't want the child to accidently die before she turns 16 so that she'll then have to suffer the eternal-sleep-spell that's waiting for her) but refuse to resort to magic so as to not reveal the identity of Princess Aurora (laughable in retrospect, given that the main one they’re hiding her from knew where she was from the start).  As the girl becomes aware of the watchful, striking presence of her tall, horned observer, Aurora mistakes Maleficent for a protective fairy godfather, which ultimately leads to the child being allowed to travel to The Moors, a place of wondrous fascination which Aurora (now played by Elle Fanning) aspires to move to upon her 16th birthday, a decision accepted by Maleficent who’s (unintentionally) grown quite fond of Aurora and now wants to save the girl from her own curse as she’s been unable to reverse its secret shadow hovering over the innocent princess.  However, when Aurora tells her “aunts” that she’s about to move off to The Moors they feel compelled to reveal everything to her which comes not only as an existential shock but also as a betrayal from her “godmother,” so she heads back to the castle to seek shelter from her father.  Maleficent and Diaval come along clandestinely, moving carefully through the iron barricade that Stephan has constructed around his kingdom’s center, bringing with her in a trance Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) whom Aurora also met on that faithful day because we all assume that he’ll be able to deliver that needed “true love” kiss should the curse somehow triumph over Stefan’s fanatically-protective plans to prevent Maleficent's evil from harming his daughter.

Triumph it does, though, as the curse seems to have a life of its own that supersedes even Maleficent’s attempts to keep Aurora from the harm that she willed upon the child back in the day when she was furious at Aurora’s father for rejecting and mutilating her, the inspiration for years of her wicked persona as evil queen of The Moors until her heart was softened by the charm of sweet Aurora, whose gifts of beauty and joy from the pixies (although the third wish was interrupted at the ceremony by Maleficent’s sudden presence so in this version of the story we never know what other wonderful attribute was bestowed upon her, although willingness toward forgiveness certainly seems a possibility) have given Aurora an aura of decency and openness to wonder that makes her easily charming enough to bring even this cruel villain back from the Dark Side (it’s alright, no copyright problems; remember, Disney owns the Lucas catalogue too) of her immense magical abilities (which, as I noted before, simply exist as a reality in this environment with no need for any further rationalization nor explanation as in the X-Men stories).  However, Phillip’s kiss accomplishes nothing; it’s only when a remorseful Maleficent gives a gentle kiss to Aurora’s forehead as part of her promise to constantly watch over the “sleeping beauty” that the princess wakes, showing us once again (in Frozen it was loving-sister Elsa who rescued Anna from an icy fate rather than the hulky guy we’ve been conditioned to assume would be her savior) that the truest love may be of the familial rather than the romantic kind, a nice lesson for the children (and the rest of us) in the audience to learn, as we come to cherish those who care for us with a blood (or blood-like) bond just as much, if not more, than those to whom we will later choose to share our lives with as we move from one family structure to another.

Unfortunately for Aurora, in this version of her story her father is not overjoyed that she’s been released from her curse but instead is more focused on revenge against the one who originally created that evil so he sets his forces on Maleficent, intent on capturing and killing her both from a sense of a parent's fury for the previous peril to his daughter and to remove the powerful fairy as the most functional obstacle in preventing him from finally annexing the bountiful land of The Moors.  Maleficent and Diaval put up a good fight for a bit (Prince Phillip is just too young and overwhelmed to be of any help) but soon the dark fairy is captured in an iron net which begins to burn her as tries to pull it off, while Stefan and the guards are dressed in iron armor, carrying iron weapons so the outcome of the battle offers little hope for the character who has now evolved from antagonist to protagonist until she turns Diaval into a huge fire-breathing-dragon (just as Maleficent transformed herself into such when battling Phillip as he tried to reach Aurora to awaken her in the long-ago Disney original, as shown in the image above which is just too striking and colorful not to use) who pulls the net off Maleficent and keeps the guards at bay as she tries to find a strategy for dealing with those iron swords.  The answer comes with her returned wings which seem to have a consciousness of their own (well, this is magical Fantasy after all) as Aurora discovers them moving around in a glass case, liberates them, then watches as they fly to Maleficent, reattaching themselves to her which now gives her a fighting advantage over Stefan and his troops.  Fierce fairy and desperate king battle one-on-one on the outer castle walls until he’s thrown to his death (not fully intentionally, but given that she’s the only one who could have flown down to save him she wasn’t too concerned about his likely fate during the descent), after which a truce emerges between the warring parties, followed by Maleficent returning to the Moors as she removes the huge wall of thorns she’d previously conjured up to keep humans out of her domain (in the original Disney animation she caused the thorn wall to grow up around Stefan’s castle in order to prevent Phillip from rousing Aurora, but he sliced through it with a charmed sword provided by the little fairies, the same sword he used to finally kill Maleficent in her dragon persona).

Aurora, now an orphan (her mother died of natural causes years ago while the princess was hidden in the woods), seemingly inherits the run of her country but prefers to take on the role of queen of The Moors, uniting the formerly-warring-entities, celebrating her happiness with the magical denizens of the woods with what seems to be no sorrow at the death of her father, given that she’d long ago given herself over to caring more about Maleficent even though her emotions were given quite a workout during the final hours of her 16th birthday as she went from unbridled joy to despair to unconsciousness to fear for the life of her “fairy godmother,” without getting even one bite of birthday cake (God only knows what’s in store for her when she turns 21).  Phillip shows up again at the end so we assume that romance will bloom there after the credits roll (actually, it’s a nice twist on the old tale, showing that “true love” isn’t something you can experience after one 5-minute-chance-meeting in a forest, that it’s something that needs at least a little time to grow into a reality, even if you do feel those “love at first sight” stirrings because they need to be nurtured a bit before becoming valid, especially for a impetuous 16-year-old who’d probably never laid eyes on any man before, having been raised in various realms of the woods where her only companions were her addle-brained-“aunts” and the fanciful creatures of The Moors) while Maleficent and Diaval seem content to simply observe the girl’s happiness as they begin a Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)-like “beautiful friendship” of their own.  But before we completely escape from our long-understood-image of Maleficent as the embodiment of evil, now that the much older Aurora has set us straight with her narration of a different version of her story, let me leave you with a marvelous Musical Metaphor, the compelling rhythms of “Black Magic Woman” (written by Peter Green, first appeared on Fleetwood Mac recordings in 1968-’69) by Santana, a live version that mirrors the fiery-feeling of the recording on their 1970 Araxes album, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ij4gc8iBDaI.  Hopefully, that will keep you mesmerized—just as the magical/Force/Power Lantern-inspired type of Fantasy movies have set out to do at least since Walt Disney sent Snow White to that wishing well so many decades ago—until we meet again.  If you’re older than about 8 I’m not sure how totally mesmerized you’ll be by Maleficent, as it’s still just an alternate-reality-fairy-tale with a very big budget, but Jolie’s performance is powerfully compelling in her many motivated moods, the concept of female empowerment is juxtaposed nicely to the older concepts of benevolent kings and necessary handsome prince saviors, and Fanning as Aurora will likely charm you as if she’s truly enchanted herself so I do recommend seeing Maleficent, even if you’re not accompanying someone who still believes in those fairies.

      Finally, while I've enjoyed writing my extensive comments about the goings-on in these current examples of the movies' Fantasy genre (as I await Thor's return), I must agree with my colleague, Richard Parker, from San Antonio (and my loving, patient wife, Nina, who says she's tired sometimes of only seeing the back of my head as I wile away my days sitting at the computer) that these "double helpings" of cinematic analysis take their toll on me in the writing and posting process (as they must to you in reading them) so I'm going to put my thoughts on a bit of an analytical diet for a bit, just doing single-film-commentary in each posting for the foreseeable future, hopefully in a somewhat shorter format even for the just-one-subject-per-posting-format.  Once my cinematic calorie count's down some I may toss in the occasional double-feature but in general I'm going to try to be more concise at least while summer approaches and there are so many other wonderful things to do (such as watching Oakland Athletics baseball games) in addition to typing into the wee hours of the morning a couple of days a week.  If you start to feel undernourished reading my upcoming reviews, just Google search for some older analyses by Pauline Kael (here's a start with summaries of her writings but you'll need to dig further to get the full articles); not only are hers marvelously written but also, like me, she rarely knew a word that she didn't want to use multiple times in her extensive essays.  My only advantage over the brilliant Ms. Kael is that I'm still alive (I hope, but illusions can be deceiving) so that I can cover more current films than she's been able to get to for awhile, in least in sources that we mere mortals have access to.

If you’d like to know more about X-Men: Days of Future Past here are some recommendations:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNWVxTAsHD4 (1:35 poor visual quality artifact of the single best scene in the movie where Quicksilver [Evan Peters] moves so fast as bullets are being fired that everything else seems to freeze as he prepares an unintended outcome, set to the Jim Croce song “Time in a Bottle”; sorry I couldn’t get a better version of this for now but I felt that you just had to see this wonderful conception)



If you’d like to know more about Maleficent here are some suggested links:



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=we05tIhdJFU (25:14 interview with actors Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning)


             
As noted above, we encourage you to look over our home page (ABOUT THE BLOG), found as the first one in our December 2011 postings, to get more information on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, including our formatting forewarning about inconsistencies among web browser software which we do our best to correct but may still cause some visual problems beyond our control.

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

10 comments:

  1. While the latest X-Men (and Jennifer) and Maleificent (with Angelina) are worthwhile and certainly better than most fantasy flicks offered this year, if you only have time for one, I would skip both and recommend Edge of Tomorrow (Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt with much appreciated help from Bill Paxton).

    X-Persons missed the standard time travel opportunity by not fully demonstrating the changes Jackman causes in his travels (in the manner of the original 1960 The Time Machine or the first Back to the Future (although Christopher Lloyd and the Delorean show up in Million Ways to Die...[one of which is to watch a Million Ways to Die]).

    Maleificent continues a disturbing Hollywood trend of marketing violence and mayhem to kids. While not as graphic as heads exploding on HBO's Game of Thrones, both are too accessible to youngsters. Otherwise an adequate Disney re-imagining for adults.

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  2. Hi rj (and anyone who takes his advice on these movies) Excellent comments on X-Men: Days of Future Past and Maleficent. I'll have a review of Edge of Tomorrow (which I also liked) posted sometime later this week. Ken

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  3. http://freedownloadmovies600.blogspot.com/2014/07/x-men-days-of-future-past-2014-tsv2xvid.html

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  4. The above link from Sujan Joy is supposedly for a free download of X-Men: Days of Future Past, for which I take no responsibility for use or results. If anyone encounters a problem, please let me know and I'll remove the link. If this is a useful service I thank Sujan for sharing it with us. Ken

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  5. Review by Ken Burke X-Men: Days of Future Past. The world's most well-known mutants take the screen again in a time-travel adventure to ... watch-xmen.blogspot.com

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    1. I'm not fully sure what this post from Ewald is all about but it appears to offer you links to further info on the latest X-Men movie so I'll leave it in hopes it's helpful to any of you. If problems arise please let me know and I'll remove the link. Ken

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  6. This film is stuffed with some of my absolute favorite actors, so it's a shame that it's merely very good and not great

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  8. Hi Daren, Thanks for the comment; I'll leave it to other readers as to whether you want to explore Wordpress Themes or not, as I have no connection to it. Ken

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