Movie Review: “Maleficent”

Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple
Robert Stromberg

“Maleficent” seems scared of itself. There is a dark beauty that occasionally escapes, only to be squashed by clumsy and completely unnecessary attempts at humor. This is not to say that the movie had no business trying to be funny, but rather that the tone of the jokes is all wrong. They went for slapstick, even though the material is screaming for a dry wit. There is a movie to be had here, but the film plays out like a teen Elsa locked up in her castle: it’s eager to please, but lacks the confidence to stand on its own. This is not the only thing “Maleficent” has in common with “Frozen,” but we’re not about the spoil the other one.

The story is “Sleeping Beauty” in a parallel universe. Maleficent is a fairy that lives in the enchanted moors with a wealth of fantastical creatures. One day she meets a boy named Stefan from the nearby kingdom. Though the humans and woodland creatures stay away from each other, they become friends, and ultimately more than that as they grow older, but Stefan (played as an adult by Sharlto Copley) thirsts for the throne and, knowing the king’s desire to conquer the moors and exploit its untold riches in gems, leverages his boyhood romance with Maleficent (played as an adult by Angelina Jolie) in order to betray her – he cuts off her wings – and succeeds the king upon his death. When Stefan and his wife have a baby girl, an embittered Maleficent exacts her revenge: she places a curse on the baby that will cause her to fall into an endless sleep on her 16th birthday. Stefan entrusts three pixies (long story) to take care of daughter Aurora (played as a teen by Elle Fanning) and to hide her away until after she turns 16, thus outlasting Maleficent’s curse, but Maleficent finds her rather quickly, and watches her from the shadows. Before long, Maleficent finds herself serving as Aurora’s unofficial guardian (the pixies are idiots, basically), even saving her life on more than one occasion. Maleficent eventually grows fond of Aurora, and this, naturally, complicates things.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Eight Years of “House” Guests

With “House” coming to its conclusion on Monday after an eight-year run, it’s fair to say that quite a few regular cast members have seen their way in and out of the doors of Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, but their number can’t hold a candle to how many guest stars – we’re talking people who were on the show for a single-digit number of times – have turned up over the years. This isn’t all of them, but it’s a start…

Season 1

Robin Tunney (Ep. 1.1, “Pilot”)
Character: a kindergarten teacher who becomes dysphasic and starts having seizures. Turns out she’s invested with tapeworms.

Sam Trammell (Ep. 1.4, “Maternity”)
Character: the father of a baby girl that’s not even out of the maternity ward and already on death’s door from a virus.

Elizabeth Mitchell (Ep. 1.5, “Damned If you Don’t”)
Character: a nun who looks like she’s suffering from stigmata but is later discovered to be suffering an allergic reaction to a copper cross IUD left over from her, uh, wilder days.

Dominic Purcell (Ep. 1.6, “Fidelity”)
Character: a husband whose wife – the Patient of the Week – turns out to have been unfaithful.

Amanda Seyfried (Ep. 1.11, “Detox”)
Character: girlfriend to the Patient of the Week.

Scott Foley (Ep. 1.12, “Sports Medicine”)
Character: a baseball player suffering cadmium poisoning from all the pot he’s been smoking.

Joe Morton (Ep. 1.17, “Role Model”)
Character: a senator suffering the after-effects of an epilepsy treatment from childhood

John Cho (Ep. 1.20, “Love Hurts”)
Character: a guy who, after spilling apple juice on House’s clothes, ends up being diagnosed by him as having had a stroke. Upon further investigation, it’s determined that he has a trauma-induced aneurysm as a result of a preference for sadomasochism.

Carmen Electra (Ep. 1.21, “Three Stories”)
Character: While begrudgingly lecturing a classroom of medical students about a past patient who is depicted as looking like Carmen Electra playing miniature golf. In reality, the patient was actually a male golfer…and he played regular golf, by the way. (Who knew miniature golf could be so sexy?)

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Best Action Sequence of 2011: The train crash from “Super 8″

It has been outgrossed by 15 other movies so far this year – even “Rio” and “The Smurfs,” God help us, made more money – but there isn’t a moment to hit the multiplexes this year that was as jaw-dropping, as pulse-pounding, as the scene J.J. Abrams stages in “Super 8,” where his plucky filmmakers witness a collision between a military train and a pickup truck that ends all sorts of ugly for everyone involved. Well, the kids get out unscathed, at least physically. Mentally, they all officially came of age, whether they wanted it or not.

Back to the point, though: that train scene beats the hell out of the latest “Transformers” movie when it comes to packing the thrills. Sure, there was that one sweet scene with Sam getting jettisoned out of, and back into, Bumblebee, but for a two-and-a-half-hour movie, your best scene should be longer than 10 seconds, don’t you think? Abrams certainly thought so, which is why he made sure the train crash packed a wallop.

Come on, you didn’t think we’d show you the whole thing, did you?

Seriously, if you didn’t see “Super 8,” it is definitely worth picking up when it hits shelves next week for this scene alone – there is even a massive bonus feature dedicated to every possible aspect of the train sequence that you can imagine, along with a few you can’t imagine – but while the boys and the alien are the main focus of the story, just try to take your eyes off of Elle Fanning, as she basically takes the entire cast to school with no less than three showstopping scenes, which are (Warning! Spoilers ahead):

1. Her first rehearsal for Charles’ movie is so powerful that the extra who’s supposed to be talking on the phone in the background forgets to keep talking and instead stares at Alice (Fanning’s character), mouth agape.

2. Her zombie impression. Flawless.

3. Her tearful confession to Joe that his mom took her dad’s shift after he had called in drunk.

While we didn’t know anyone, ANYONE, who used the word ‘mint’ as slang for cool or great back then (or even now), Abrams captured something special with “Super 8.” It would be a pity for the movie to get lost in the shuffle.


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