Tag Archives: Maleficent

All Hail the Bad-Ass Ladies of Summer

We all know the drill when it comes to the summer movie season.

Summer is popcorn time. Time to switch off the brain and have some fun. Time for explosions. Time for action. Time for Michael Bay to assault us with giant fireballs, urban destruction and noise. Time for action heroes, like Hugh Jackman and Tom Cruise, to run around, look worried, flash massive biceps and DO THEIR OWN STUNTS.

Yes, summer is an exciting time with a potential blockbuster we will all love, so help us, lurking around the corner EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND.

This year, the season is winding to a close after fulfilling all the traditional requirements described above. But something unusual happened, too, something worth noting and celebrating.

In those months that typically overflow with testosterone, more than a few of the BIG MOVIES were headlined by women. And these women delivered amazing performances, proving themselves every bit as — in some cases even more — entertaining than the dudes who usually dominate the summer movie landscape.

So I’m calling it: Summer 2014 was The Summer of Bad-Ass Ladies. Below, we pay tribute to the baddest of them all. Nobody deserves it more.

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Angelina Jolie in “Maleficent”: As one of the most famous people in the world, Jolie is celebrated for her benevolent activism, charity work and super-sized family with husband Brad Pitt, but there’s always been something slightly unnerving about her, too. Maybe that’s why she’s perfectly cast in Disney’s reboot of 1959 animated classic “Sleeping Beauty.” With those celebrated cheekbones sharpened to a knife’s point and all that slinky black leather, Jolie isn’t just striking to look at, she succeeds in transforming one of Disney’s scariest villains into a complicated, funny, tragic figure worth rooting for. Creepy yet playful, right down to that silky purr and killer sneer, her Maleficent is sinister and sexy, outshining every visual effect in a movie that’s built almost exclusively on optical bedazzlement.

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Shailene Woodley in “The Fault in Our Stars”: Hollywood’s latest go-to girl for movies targeted at the coveted teen demographic proved herself a capable action heroine in March’s “Divergent.” Two months later, she took on the risky role of Hazel Grace Lancaster, the beloved protagonist of John Green’s best-selling YA novel. What’s remarkable about Woodley’s performance is her unsentimental naturalism, portraying a 16-year-old girl who isn’t in love with a vampire or fighting for survival in a dystopian death arena. Aside from the harsh fact she’s dying of terminal cancer, Hazel is an ordinary young woman. Woodley embodies her sharp wit and candor with charm and a refreshing absence of glamor. In the film’s opening weekend, a largely female audience showed their appreciation to the tune of $48 million.

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Emily Blunt in “Edge of Tomorrow”: If we were to crown a queen of the Bad-Ass Ladies of Summer, that honor would belong, without question, to Emily Blunt. What’s that you say? You didn’t bother seeing “Edge of Tomorrow”? You’re not the only one. Director Doug Liman’s twisty sci-fi thriller under-performed at the box office, probably because of its resemblance to Tom Cruise’s previous twisty sci-fi thriller, “Oblivion.” The irony is that Cruise isn’t the true star of “Edge.” He may enjoy more screen time, but he plays second fiddle to Blunt, who brings a marvelous mix of toughness and vulnerability to the role of the alien-slaughtering, mech-suit-rocking Rita Vrtaski, aka the Full Metal Bitch. Blunt’s character is the last hope for humanity against slithery outerspace invaders who can control time, resulting in Cruise reliving the same day over and over. I know. It sounds like “Groundhog Day,” but the movie is far more clever than you’d ever guess and Blunt is its most winning asset.

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Scarlett Johansson in “Lucy”: We all knew ScarJo could kick some butt. As the only female member of “The Avengers,” she’s presided over some impressive stunt sequences, proving she’s more than just a hot chick in a catsuit. But Johansson takes it to another level in Luc Besson’s goofy, wannabe-existential actioner, playing a naive college girl who gains instant access to 100% of her cerebral powers when exposed to an experimental drug. At first, Lucy’s evolution manifests itself in lethal martial arts skills but by the end of the film, she simply has to flick her wrist to immobilize an entire gang of stereotypical Asian baddies. I liked the old Scarlett, so sweetly befuddled in “Lost in Translation,” but I love this new Scarlett — so cool, calm and controlled she’s barely human. Of course, Johansson has evolved enough as an actress to make sure her character’s humanity still comes through.

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Zoe Saldana in “Guardians of the Galaxy”: Here is another intriguing actress who has never let her beauty stand in the way of a versatile career. The characters she plays may be wildly different — whether in indie dramas or comic book adaptations — but they’re always satisfyingly strong-willed. As green-skinned warrior Gamora in “Guardians,” Saldana displays strength and humor, holding her own against the formidably funny Chris Pratt. Pratt, of course, plays Star-Lord Peter Quill, leader of Marvel’s unlikely band of galactic superheroes. Refreshingly, director James Gunn grants Saldana equal screen time to her male co-stars. Gamora shows her stuff in several epic fight scenes and she’s by far the most intelligent member of the Guardians. She may flirt with Quill but she never succumbs to his pelvic sorcery. She’s no damsel in distress.

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This Weekend, See ‘Maleficent,’ Skip ‘A Million Ways’

Maleficent
Two and a half stars (out of four)
Rating: PG (Fantasy action and violence, frightening images)
98 minutes

Angelina Jolie has always kinda scared me. Not because she used to wear vials of blood around her neck and sleep with knives under her pillow, but because she’s always been something of a goddess, so chilly and unapproachable. Maybe that’s why she’s perfect as the iconic villain of Disney’s “Maleficent,” a revisionist history of the studio’s own classic animated film “Sleeping Beauty.”

As a kid, the sorceress and her eerie, horned silhouette struck terror into my heart. Jolie melts into the stuff of my childhood nightmares so effortlessly, with cheekbones Marlene Dietrich would kill for and a purr that’s pure, silky evil. “Maleficent” is a surprisingly sympathetic take on the object of my youthful fears, putting a clever enough spin on the gorgeously animated 1959 “Sleeping Beauty” with a refreshingly feminist twist.

The movie imagines a colorful back story for the fairy tale’s famous baddie, envisioning her as the winged, nature-loving guardian of an enchanted forest whose betrayal at the hand’s of an ambitious lover drives her to cast that notorious narcoleptic curse upon an innocent princess. This alternate myth gives Jolie ample opportunity to display many facets of an intriguing character. Clad in leathery black, there’s something of the sexy dominatrix about her but she’s also vulnerable and funny and downright tragic with a magnificent sneer and a killer villain’s laugh.

Unlike co-stars Sharlto Copley, who plays the maniacally paranoid King Stephan, and Elle Fanning, as the simpering Aurora (apparently, it is too much to ask to have two interesting female characters in one movie), Jolie ingeniously underplays what could have been an unbearably hammy performance.

“Maleficent” is heavy on visual effects. It was directed by first-timer Robert Stromberg, a former VFX artist and supervisor. He’s populated the film with an ensemble of obnoxious CGI fairies and cutesy woodland critters. Not all of them are convincing, but Jolie is the only special effect this movie really needs.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

 A Million Ways to Die in the West
One and a half stars
Rating: R (strong crude and sexual content, language, violence and drug material)
116 minutes

There may be “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” but there are only a handful of jokes hilarious enough to send yer whiskey snortin’ out yer nose, pardner.

Writer-director Seth MacFarlane seems to be on to something by playing this Western parody mostly straight. As the title suggests, the film pokes fun at the often lethal living conditions of the 1800s frontier, but the concept proves limited. This ain’t no “Blazing Saddles.”

At first, the sight of villagers in the tiny Arizona outpost of Old Stump perishing in sudden and random ways — getting squashed by a block of ice or gored by a runaway bull —  is mighty amusing, but the well of laughs quickly runs dry. What’s left is a fairly predictable story about a misfit sheep farmer (played by MacFarlane) who befriends a like-minded, sharp-shootin’ cowgirl (a game Charlize Theron), only to run afoul of her outlaw husband (Liam Neeson).

The film’s gags are just as irreverent, raunchy and politically incorrect as you’d expect from the creator of “Family Guy” and “Ted” and the Oscar’s most controversial host. There’s a running joke involving the town virgin (Giovanni Ribisi) dating the town whore (Sarah Silverman) and Neil Patrick Harris does unspeakable things to a couple of dandy bowler hats, but there is a general dearth of laugh-out-loud moments. Even a moustache-themed dance number doesn’t feel nearly as clever or strange as it should.

There’s a reason MacFarlane doesn’t usually star in his own films. He’s just too smug to play the sarcastic but likable everyman. But the ubiquitous Harris is a hoot as his romantic rival, the preening proprietor of the local moustachery. There’s also a priceless joke that almost makes sitting through this overlong, underwritten comedy worthwhile, at least for “Back to the Future” fans.

 Photos by Disney, Lorey Sebastian