Monday, June 30, 2014

In Which I Review The Leftovers (1x1)

I have a soft spot for anyone who was once associated with LOST. As a former LOST-a-holic, I try to keep track of where the actors and producers and writers are and check out their new creative projects. Sometimes, it's a success (Once Upon a Time) and sometimes it's a dismal failure (Josh Holloway in Intelligence). Since LOST ended four years ago, co-creator and head writer Damon Lindelof has been off the TV grid, mostly working on the Star Trek movies. His venture back into TV is in the form a book-turned-small screen adaption of life post "Rapture." Going into this episode of TV, I must admit I had little interest. Post-rapture TV has been done before. The world turns gritty and ugly; most of the time this rapture event leaves the world backwards, technology has decayed, people are fighting over wells for water, rusted out shells of cars line the streets. All of which makes little sense since I'm fairly certain the book of Revelation makes no mention a technological standstill. The post rapture, post apocalyptic world is a hellscape to remind viewers, and characters in the show, of a life that once was, a better life. And maybe that's all well and good but it's deadly dull when each new "post" world is exactly the same. You can also expect some heavy handed metaphysical musings from the characters about God, divine wrath, sin, the Devil, ect. What is refreshing about The Leftovers, at least from the first episode, is that none of this really happened. The secular and pious voices come from the TV channels, which, over the course of the hour Pilot, vacillate from scientists who have no answers to religious leaders who have no answers. The post apocalyptic landscape looks a lot like our present day, just with less people. Technology still works, kids go to school, adults go to work, cars run, iPods play. The metaphsyical nature of a rapture is left to the talking heads on screen because what the characters in the story care about is how this event personally affected them; and more to the point, how they, the Leftovers, are coping with it. Hint: most of them are coping with it badly. 

Three years ago, 2% of the world's population suddenly vanished. There was neither rhyme nor reason; they just simply left the earth. This "rapture" took all sorts of people: celebrities known for excessive living, newborn babies, fathers, mothers, the old and infirm, the young and healthy, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist. We aren't given much in way of the confusion that surely followed, but rather we move forward in time three years to how everyone is dealing now. It's a small town and the mayor, following a federal mandate, is insisting that everyone is ready to move on. It's time to remember the heroes (even if their heroic quality is simply being taken) and have parades and celebrations. We have a tendency in America to celebrate and "remember" tragic events. Anniversaries of days gone by are brought up annually with picnics, parades, balloons, fireworks. It's...bizarre. At the same time that you're supposed to be moving on, you're forced to continually relive the event in question, as if we are worried that moving on means forgetting. And it's something Police Chief Kevin is against. He doesn't think three years is enough time for people to start feeling better. Kevin thinks that the town is basically trying to put a shiny spin on the tragic loss and move on, as if suddenly having millions upon millions of people vanish can ever be moved on from, especially when there are no answers to be had.

Kevin himself is an interesting guy. Father, husband, cop. He is small town America personified, except I think it's quite possible that he's loosing his mind in the wake of loosing those he loved. None of Kevin's immediate family was taken three years ago, but yet somehow he lost them. His son, Tommy, has joined up with a mysterious guru who claims he can help people unburden themselves but comes across as a dangerous warlord who enjoys flashing knives at people in the dark--and just so happens to have many Asian bikini-clad women lounging around a pool. Kevin's daughter, Jill, was once a straight-A student who is now numb and angry. She lashes out violently at times, and then moves to dissociation during acts of sexual violence (chocking a guy while he masturbates and all she can do is stare and the ceiling and let one tear fall). And Kevin's wife, Laurie, has decided to join up with a fascinatingly disturbing cult that might be the reason to keep tuning in, if only to learn what the heck his Guilty Remnant wants and why they act the way they do. More on them in a minute. Kevin, though, is obviously angry but trying his best to keep it together. He drinks quite a bit and I think is sleep walking, during which time he destroys his kitchen. He blames it on a deer though, so that's okay. There is a feral threat lurking around every corner--mobs, rabid dogs, sharpshooters, but most of all... men. Kevin's daughter might think that he'd never hurt a dog, but by episodes end, he's tearfully unloading his handgun into a pack of rabid dogs who came out of nowhere to take down a deer. The wild things that hurt the innocent--it's a motif in the show. Just as the wild dogs attacked something that was simply standing there, the angry mob attacked the cult even though they were leading a peaceful protest. And, of course, just as human kind was going through their day to day lives, someone or something decided to pluck 2% of them away.

Cults are a typical occurrence in any kind of "post" world. Upheaval always forces people to reexamine their lives and make drastic turns. Laurie, Kevin's wife, made her choice at some point after the rapture. She has taken up with the Guilty Remanent, a cult living in the suburbs. I like that they are in the suburbs; it drives home the point that these were all normal people until something happened to the world in which they live. Normally, the cult would be out on some desolate farm, cut off from the rest of the world. But these specters in white live amongst everyone else, even though they aren't welcome. Their cultic practices are unique to say the least. Dressing in all white doesn't seem too far off the path, but the chain smoking is. Boards with quoteables line the hallways, "we do not smoke for our enjoyment. We smoke as a demonstration of our faith." We learn little about the cult, mostly because no one is allowed to talk; they use paper and pen to communicate. At the remembrance memorial, they appear with signs telling people to stop wasting their breath. The cult was probably the most interesting part of the episode. Part of their duties include following unsuspecting people around, silently, smoking, and staring. It unhinges a woman name Meg who decides to join them instead of having them follow her anymore. What they believe in, or don't believe in, has yet to be made clear but it's something to look forward to.

There are a lot of other goodies in the show but for a pilot episode, it's more important to get the main cast down--the family who didn't loose each other in the rapture but are lost to one another anyway. It's possible that the show may delve into the more theological aspects of a "post" world--God, angels, demons, and Satan may appear, but I somehow doubt it. The show doesn't much care for the how of the rapture and maybe not even the why, but the what now question. The people taken will likely never come back and the characters still around will never get an answer as to why they were left over. It's how they learn to deal with and live in the new world that matters.

Or maybe it's aliens. This is Lindelof after all.

 Miscellaneous Notes on the Pilot

--I'd encourage people to check the show out. It's an interesting hour of TV.

--There are a lot of characters so far and it's hard to keep them straight, but that's very LOST. There are also some flashbacks, but unlike with LOST and ONCE, they aren't important yet.

--Christopher Eccleston plays an American preacher. He'll always be the 9th Doctor to me, so it's a bit odd but I really want to know what caused him to start spewing information about those taken.

--Lot of interesting musical elements in the show--classical piano motifs cut in at intervals of violence or upheaval.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

In Which I Review The Fault in our Stars (Movie)

Some infinities are bigger than others

Over a year ago, when this blog was brand new, I did a series of books reviews. One of the fist books I talked about was John Green's "The Fault in our Stars." I gave it an A- and a rave review. I admit I am biased when it comes to John Green products. I've been a big fan of his for a long time, both as an author and as a vlogger. When I heard that Hollywood was adapting his New York Times best selling novel, I was both thrilled and incredibly apprehensive. How could they possibly hope to match the beautiful story John Green wrote? They couldn't manage to cast people who would do Hazel and Gus justice, right? Most of my fears were assuaged when I saw the trailer for the film--if the 1 minute long trailer could make me cry, then it had to be on the right track. You should know going in that this is going to be a rave. Honestly, this might be one of the most faithful adaptations of a novel I've seen in years. But, fair warning, if you go to see the film, take some tissues, you'll need them. 

Hashing the Plot

Let's do a quick overview of the plot before I get into what I liked and didn't like. Hazel Grace Lancaster is 16 years old and dying. She was diagnosed very young with cancer, stage 4. She wasn't expected to survive long but went through all the treatment options we assoiciate with cancer: chemo, radiation, more chemo, and finally a "miracle" drug that managed to prevent the cancer from spreading any further. Despite the miracle, Hazel is still dying, just more slowly now. Her lungs "suck at being lungs" and she needs a constant stream of oxygen supplied by a tank. When the film picks up, Hazel is just living her life day-to-day as one might expect: she watches TV, she goes to the doctor, she hangs out with her parents. But her mother and father are worried that she's depressed, a side of effect of the cancer. Hazel's voice over tells us that it's a side effect of dying, but almost everything is. Her doctor and her mother encourage her to go to a support group. The group serves as a cliche piece of any "cancer story" you read about--a group of young people who must strive to find the beauty in life despite all the odds. They sit in the literal heart of Jesus Christ and talk about how they are doing today. Hazel hates every second of it. Unlike the plucky young heroine of other cancer novels, who's illness causes them to struggle admirably, Hazel has accepted that she is going to die and that oblivion is inevitable. Then Augustus Waters bumps into her.

Augustus Waters is a boy who lives for the symbolic and the metaphorical. Take the cigarette, put it between your teeth but never light up, thus taking away the power it has to kill you. Augustus Waters, trying to take back control of his life, one non-puff at a time. Gus is both like and not-like Hazel. He had cancer but has been cancer-free for over a year; he lost half a leg because of the disease but for the most part he sees his life "on a roller coaster that only goes up." His only fear? Oblivion, which is cute and pretentious, but so is Gus. This is a boy who only does something if it's symbolic and metaphorical, after all. Hazel finds this fear of the oblivion silly and tells him so at their first meeting while sitting in the Literal Heart of Jesus: there will come a day when all of humanity is wiped out and everyone and everything will be forgotten. But if this bothers you, just ignore it. That's what everyone else does. Gus is drawn to Hazel instantly but Hazel is more reticent. She wants to just be friends because Hazel sees herself as a grenade, and one day she's going to explode and harm everyone around her. It's her responsibility to lessen the casualties. But as Gus smiles and says, "you keeping your distance from me in no way lessens my feelings for you." And so, a friendship is formed. One of the ways they bond is over the novel "An Imperial Infliction" by one Peter van Houten. Hazel swears by this book; it's her totem that she carries around because it accurately describes what it's like to die but the author is someone still alive, something Hazel responds to as she lives her in-between life. The book ends mid-sentence because that's how life goes, but that doesn't stop Hazel from wishing she knew what happened to the character's friends and family. Sadly, Mr. Houten refuses to speak to his fans and lives a life of solitude in Amsterdam.

The world is not a wish granting factory, but sometimes you do get what you desire. Augustus arranges it so that he, Hazel, and Hazel's mother can visit Amsterdam to speak with Peter van Houten in his home, and hopefully get answers to what happens to family members after someone dies of cancer. Gus does the big bold romantic gestures a lot and you fall in love with him because of it--slowly, and then all at once. Amsterdam is both a success and a failure. On the one hand, Hazel and Gus grow closer and Hazel decides that despite life being a shout into the void, this is the only life she gets and she wants to spend it with Gus. On the other hand, it turns out that Peter van Houten, the man with the answers, is a drunk hack who refuses to speak to the pair or give them any sort of answers. He is, as Hazel so rightly put it, a douchepants.

I am going to stop the plot hashing here because I do not want to spoil the movie. Rather, go see it yourself or read the book or do both! To go any further means giving away some things that are very spoilery and this is a movie/book you should savor without knowing what happens next.

What I Did Not Like 

I have almost nothing to put here. Really. I have maybe 3 very tiny nitpicky things but that's it.

--There was one conversation between Hazel and her dad about the universe that I thought should have been left in, but it's not a reason to hate on the film as a whole.

--If you haven't read the novel, it might be hard to understand what "An Imperial Affliction" is and why Hazel and Gus love it. In the book "The Fault in Our Stars" Hazel uses it a lot as a benchmark of her life. She related to the lead, Anna, quite a bit (something that is important to van Houten as well).  For example, the line "the risen sun too bright in her loosing eyes" is a phrase that Hazel and Gus discuss frequently, but the movie doesn't spend a lot of time focusing on the fictional novel within a fictional novel. I think it works well for the movie if you haven't read the book, but as a book reader, you do notice it.

--This critque is to Hollywood in general: do yourself a favor and find a scholar who can speak Greek and Latin in order to teach your actors how to say things in that language. It is not pronounced "harm-may-sha" it's "harm-ma-tea-ah." It only bothers me as someone who reads Greek and Latin.

What I Liked

--Everything. My sad paltry useless words cannot accurately convey how beautiful this movie was. The movie was an almost word-for-word adaptation of the novel, which is what I was hoping for. Why change something when it works so well? There is a lot of pain in this film, make no mistake. I lost count of the number of times I cried. But if there is one lesson (there are several) in this book/film: that's the thing about pain, it demands to be felt.

--Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgot. Casting for TFIOS needed to be impeccable and it was. When Ansel was cast as Gus Waters, I was very apprehensive. He wasn't quite what I pictured from the book, but he sold it in this film. Clad in leather, with a beautiful smile and kind eyes, but moving through life from metaphor to metaphor, he did it perfectly. Shailene has really proven herself in the past few years of being able to do anything. Her history with the book is well known; she wrote a letter to John Green expressing her love for the novel long before the movie was cast. She brought Hazel to life

--The smaller story line of Isaac was given just enough space to make Isaac a fleshed out character but not to detract from Gus and Hazel. He was also some much needed comic relief without being simply comedic. In particular, I loved the basement scene where Isaac is raging against the world while Hazel and Gus try to have a serious conversation.

--The soundtrack is also really good and I enjoyed seeing the pair in Amsterdam for real.

Overall rating: A

Just go see it. You have no reason not to. This isn't just another YA adaptation. This isn't another life affiriming sick movie. This is something more.
So go see it.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

In Which I Review Maleficent

And yes I know it's true that visions are seldom what they seem...

When I was younger, Sleeping Beauty was a classic favorite. Like most young girls growing up in the middle of the Disney Renascence, I loved the songs and the story and I found Maleficent to be particularly terrifying. To this day, I would still rank her among the scariest Disney villains. The wicked fairy who turned into a larger than life dragon is still quite the iconic image for Disney. The latest venture back into the world of classic stories is another in a long line of revisionist films in which the villain is transformed into a misunderstood anti-hero and the "real" story is told through the eyes of a character who was previously denied a voice in their original tale. The last example, in theaters at least, was Oz the Great and Powerful in which we learned how the Wicked Witch became wicked and of course, Once Upon a Time has been doing the villain into anti-hero into hero take for three seasons now. Most of these ideas are following in the rather large footsteps of Gregory Magurie's "Wicked" saga in which the Wicked Witch of the West is given a name and a voice and a story that cannot be reduced to "ugly witch tries to kill a good girl." Where Maguire succeeds is in his character of Elphaba--that her story is outside of normal anti-hero woman tropes; her love life factors in, but only much later. How she became "evil" is a series of events beginning with her birth. And this is what Disney--be it Oz the Great and Powerful or Maleficent--fails at. They are still stuck in 1959. The moral of this new bright and shiny Maleficent movie? Don't have sex. Sex is bad. Virginity is good. 

Hashing the Plot

I want to do a quick, down and dirty plot explanation before moving into the problems I have with this film--and, to be fair, what I did like about the picture. Be aware that this is NOT spoiler-free. We are told from the first few moments that this is not the story we have been told before, but that what we are about to see is the true version of events. Long ago, there were two kingdoms, the human one and the fairy kingdom (called for some inexplicable reason The Moors). The two kingdoms were incredibly different--the human or "real" kingdom was populated by men who warred and were gluttonous and envious and revengeful. The mythic fairy kingdom--the realm of the divine--was beautiful and glorious, an inner sanctum only accessible by those who were magical and pure themselves. The king of the human land hated the fairies and wished to see them destroyed, but a tentative peace has been established at the start of the film. Inside the divine realm lived a little fairy by the name of Maleficent who was--as you might expect--good and kind and proper. She heals trees and is friends with the various mythic inhabitants that live in her realm. She's also an orphan because this is Disney and all heroes are orphans or have lost at least one parent (no, I'm not kidding. You tell me one famous Disney figure who has both parents living happily with them). When she is still quite young, a human boy wanders past the threshold of the mortal and into the divine. Heads up--in mythology, transgression into the divine never ends well.

The young boy--who is also an orphan, shockingly enough--is named Stephan and he and Maleficent become fast friends as children. Stephan visits Maleficent and the divine realm often and as they grow up together, the nature of their relationship changes. Before her 16th birthday, Stephan gives Maleficent a kiss and tells her, it is a true love's kiss. But Stephan, being a mortal boy, goes back to the mortal world to seek out his fame and fortune and gradually he begins to visit the divine realm and Maleficent less and less. But don't worry, Maleficent just gets over him. No, I'm just kidding, of course she doesn't. Because all women are weak and silly and the only thing that could possibly make them interesting is a man. But I'll come back to this later. For reasons that don't make a lot of sense, the king of the human world decides to go to war with the divine realm, which is now under the protection of Maleficent herself. The two sides engage in battle and Maleficent decimates the king's army using the Ent's from Tolkein. Well, at least that's what they look like. At the same time, she does some harmful damage to the king and the king is now at death's door. The king has no heir, only a daughter (and women are weak and foolish and cannot rule without a man), so he promises to marry of his child to the man who can kill Maleficent and bring back proof. Stephan, during all this, has become a close ally to the king, though we do not know how an orphan boy with no money or skills or talents ended up being the servant to the king. Stephan has grown ambitious in his years away from the divine and so seeks out to kill his former friend, Maleficent.

Stephan returns to the divine realm, bearing a sleeping potion. After he has lulled Maleficent into a false sense of security, he gives her the drink that will put her under and then takes out his knife, determined to end her life. But at the last second, he cannot do it, so instead, he violently removes her wings and leaves her in the woods. And yes, you are supposed to read this as sexual and yes, to be technical and CORRECT, it's a metaphorical rape and a loss of innocence. Maleficent awakens in pain and grieving for her lost wings but also her lost love who has betrayed her. This sexual awakening and trauma changes Maleficent and she determines to seek revenge on Stephan. Because Maleficent has changed, the divine realm changes. It grows dark and gloomy and the creatures grow fearful of their new dark queen, who is the Mistress of All Evil. Because she can no longer fly, Maleficent saves a raven from death and the raven swears allegiance to Maleficent, and can now turn from raven to man at Maleficent's will. After a short period of time, Stephan and the new Queen have a baby girl and there is to be a celebration in the kingdom.

From here, the film is incredibly derivative of the Disney animated classic and so this is going to go fairly quickly. At the party, Maleficent shows up and curses baby Aurora--on the babe's 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into a death like sleep, never to be awoken except by True Love's Kiss, which Maleficent does not believe exists after Stephan's betrayal. Fearing for their child's safety, baby Aurora is sent to live with the three good (and incredibly annoying) fairies in a remote part of the forest until they day after her 16th birthday. The child grows up unaware of who she really is, and the whole time Maleficent stands guard over the child, watching. Because the fairies are incredibly ignorant on the ways of child-rearing, Maleficent finds herself, more often than not, taking care of Aurora and she comes to care for the child to the point where Maleficent tries to remove the curse, unsuccessfully. Maleficent and Aurora grow closer and Aurora wishes to come live with Maleficent in the Moors, which prospers once again under Aurora's hands (cause virginity is good and the divine can only be handled by the sacred feminine). But when Aurora learns her true identity, she returns to Stephan's castle. Stephan has become increasingly paranoid and has no reaction to his daughter except to lock her up. There, driven by the curse laid upon her, Aurora stumbles across a room full of spinning wheels and pricks her finger, thus subcumming to the a death-like sleep.

Prince Philip, a totally colorless character if ever there was one, tries unsuccessfully to wake the Sleeping Beauty. But there appears to be no hope for poor Princess Aurora when Philip's lips fail. Maleficent, overcome by grief that she could not stop the curse, promises the sleeping girl that she will stand guard over her and let no harm fall upon her. And then Emma Maleficent gives Henry Aurora a kiss on the forehead and the curse breaks because there is nothing more powerful than a mother's love (we get it Disney. You like Once Upon a Time and Once Upon a Time likes you. You're glad that they have decided to fan-wank to you for the past three seasons. You don't need to pay homage to a show that pays homage to you. It's redundant). The mother-daughter pair try to leave only to be stopped by Stephan who is determined to kill Maleficent once and for all. Maleficent turns her raven into a dragon and there is a very loud battle. Whilst this happens, Aurora stumbled upon the room in which Stephan has kept Maleficent's wings, locked in a cage, but apparently still working. Aurora frees the wings, which return to Maleficent and she defeats Stephan. Crisis resolved, Aurora unites the kingdom and they all live happily ever after. 

What I Liked

 --The visuals ARE stunning. There's no denying that most of the budge for this film went into making it as beautiful as possible. The land of the fairies is exactly what you think it will be, full of color and life and a sort of dream-like mythic reality that humanity can never hope to penetrate. There are some instances where I thought it was a little much, as if they threw in color and light just for the sake of it.

--Angelina Jolie was born to play this role. When this movie was announced and you heard who would play the lead, I bet most of you said, "of course." She is deliciously wicked and broken in the role. She wears the leather costumes with ease and those prosthetic cheekbones fit her to a T. You can tell that Jolie had a lot of fun with this role, really sinking her teeth into doing some good ol' fashioned scene chewing.

--The costumes are to die for. Or at least Maleficent's are. The snake skin horned head wrap is stunning and I imagine there will be an Oscar nomination for the film's costuming department. The costuming for Aurora is perfunctory; it gets the job done. The princess is rendered in soft virginal hues of pink, peach, gold, and blue.

--The curse scene was the best in the film. Straight up Disney brought to life, and I'm not going to complain. Jolie had a ton of fun filming that one, and it works for her. 

What I Didn't Like

--Let's talk about sex. This movie is predicated on the fact that sex is wrong and virginity is to be celebrated. I gave this deceleration to my mother as we left the theater, to which she responded "what?!" What essentially happens to Maleficent, her driving motive for the whole film, is a loss of sexual innocence and purity. The removal of her wings as she sleeps is a stand in for both the wedding night and, as I mentioned, rape. It is this incident that turns Maleficent into the mistress of all evil; while she was still virginal and pure, even though she knew the ways of the world and the wickedness of man, she was still "good." The writer of this film decided that they only way to make Maleficent an interesting character was through sex, motherhood, and most damning of all, a man. Once she meets Stephan, her entire center becomes the love she bears for this man. We are told nothing about her life in between Stephan's visits, only that when he is gone, she mourns for him. And when he robs her of her sexual power--takes her divine feminine--she becomes a leather clad, staff wielding, baddie. The land of the divine, the fairy land, becomes dark and sinister, thorns overtaking the flowers and peaceful nature because Maleficent has lost her heart (and virginity). The woodland creatures live in fear of what Maleficent has become, a sexually aware woman who's entire modus operandi is focused on a man. Now, I am not trying to diminish rape even in the slightest, but this movie is one giant fail of the Bechdel test because everything revolves around a man: be it the dying and vengeful king; young boy Stephan; teenage heartthrob Stephan; horrible father Stephan; and crazed Stephan who must die. You almost expect Maleficent to pull out a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream and her Adele "21" CD and sing "Someone Like You."  It is only when Maleficent if gifted her sexual power back--in the form of her divine angelic wings--does she manage to conquer the man who stole it from her in the first place.

The only time a man is not in control? Virginal Aurora. Philip is reduced to a side character who has maybe 10 lines, which is ironic given that the Disney animated film is really his story, not Sleeping Beauty's. Aurora is the perpetual virgin queen that was promised, if not on film than in the mythic reality in which this film operates and from the archetypal world from which it draws. True love's kiss from a man does not work on Aurora, her father has little emotional effect on her, and in the end we aren't sure what the status of Philip and Aurora even are. When Aurora enters the fairy land, it springs to life in the wake of her purity and innocence. The final shot of the film is Aurora, bathed in gold (the same color, mind of you, of the divine light that radiates from Maleficent's wings once they are returned to her) being crowned queen of both the mortal and the divine realm. Philip is there but only in the last few seconds, and the movie leave it vague what their relationship is. Are they to be friends as once Maleficent and Stephan were, thereby breaking the violent cycle? Are they to be lovers? Partners? We are not sure. Disney canon will, of course, say that they are lovers and will be wed, but Disney canon also said that Philip's true love kiss would wake Aurora from her curse. Aurora is not made the queen of the realms because she is a good ruler or even because she has a strict "right" to them (the mortal one perhaps though that is complicated since the sexist overtones of the movie make it impossible to believe that the kingdom would let a woman rule, but not the divine. Maleficent was the ruler because she was the "best" of them all). Aurora rules because she is the essence of purity and sexual innocence. Her interactions with Philip, when they meet, are timid and shy; she can barely speak to him.She is the perfect example of being demurely feminine.

What saves Maleficent, in the end, is motherhood, not that evil and revenge are wrong, because she has no problem still going after Stephan. When Aurora is still a screaming babe, and the fairies are too inept to take care of her, Maleficent sends the raven to the baby with a milk flower from which Aurora suckles. It may be through a middle man, but Maleficent gives the baby suck, which is something that is not even subtly about motherhood. While I understand that THIS is the new take on the Sleeping Beauty story, it's not new. It's the same idea you would have found in 1950s and 1960s Disney and outside Disney. Women are saved because their nature is to be nurturing mothers who love their children. I don't want to call it propaganda but Maleficent's entire center is first based on sexual loss and then on being a mother, or, if you want to get rather un-puritanical, grin and bear your husbands affections because your children are your reward.  And if you want to extend this metaphor, consider this: Aurora is played by several younger actresses until Elle Fanning takes over. The actress who plays the 2-3 yr old Aurora? Jolie's own daughter.

It's a bit un-post modern and it's not really revisionist: the only way for a woman to be powerful is to be either a virgin (Aurora) or a mother (Maleficent), though the virgin clearly trumps all. In a way, Maleficent becomes the Sleeping Beauty who who has something taken from her and only returned through true love. There are a few images that reinforce what I've been saying that I'll just touch on them quickly: the potion Stephan gives Maleficent is blood red and we only see it steadily dripping on to the ground like the blood that would have occurred during the breaking of the hymen; the metaphor is taken further by the wings being on display, like a bloody sheet that would have been hung up to prove that a marriage was consummated. There is a lot of phallic imagery, from the way Stephan constantly weilds his knife, to the many swords used to take down Maleficent to the staff Maleficent uses after the assault as a crutch (metaphor alert: Maleficent uses the representation of the male sex organ because her own sexual power has been taken!). I suspect some will claim that Maleficent gets her sexual power back (her wings) and thus defeats Stephan but I find his problematic for two reasons. First, Maleficent does not retrieve her wings, they are given back to her by Aurora. And second, even with her recovered wings, Maleficent can not be the queen of the divine realm; that position now belongs to virginal Aurora.

--Aurora. Oh boy, where to start? Well, for one, they kept her very Disney-fied. She's a simpering moron with little to say or do. Elle Fanning's job in this movie to be pretty. She is to stand quietly and smile and look pretty. Like in Disney, she is granted gifts from the fairies: beauty and grace. Because that is all a woman is supposed to offer this world, I suppose. A true revision would have given her some smarts so she didn't do idiotic things like think the leather clad woman with horns was her fairy godmother (not kidding).  I suppose since all that was required was to be pretty, she did it well. You can add Philip to this list as well as an essentially useless character who's role was to simply be there because nostalgia dictates it.

--The three fairies, who were the best part of the Disney move, are incredibly annoying and shrill. They are the comic relief of the film and spend more time shrieking and fighting with each other than they do anything else. In the Disney film, they are actually quite helpful and powerful. Another case of turning women into simpering idiots, I suppose.

--A lot of quiet moments of no action or advancement. Now, I complimented Jolie in this role and I meant it. But too much of this film is the director having Maleficent sitting or standing and simply looking. She spends a lot of time watching and gazing and the director takes advantage of Jolie's looks and makeup and costuming to find ways to light her and angle his camera to capture her beauty. It was fine the first few times because she does look incredible, but after awhile, I began to get annoyed with the constant close ups and focus on her cheekbones and eyes. 

--Maleficent doesn't turn into a dragon. I am going to repeat that. Maleficent doesn't turn into a dragon. Good lord--even ONCE got that part right!

Over all grade and thoughts:  I'm going to give it a C. The film is visually stunning and Jolie is divine looking in the costuming. But the not so revisionist "revision" and really sexist plot line take away a lot of the enjoyment I expected from this film. There is little in the way of laughter, though the film tries with the three fairies and occasionally the raven, who was a good character if very underused.  It's a very short film, for a summer flick, so it may be worth the money to go see it, but I'd wait until your local theater offers cheaper tickets.