Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Three Short Takes: Malevolent Queens, Giant Robots & Invading Aliens

For our final 2014 post, here's a brief look at some recent video releases:

Maleficent – Stefan, a young boy, falls in love with Maleficent, a winged fairy. When the human world goes to war with the fairies, he chooses power & personal gain over his feelings for her. She vows revenge, which takes the form of a unique curse on Stefan’s (who is now king) daughter, Aurora. This dark twist on the story of Sleeping Beauty is a handsomely produced fantasy written by Linda Woolverton & directed by Robert Stromberg. The story focuses on the relationship between Maleficent & Aurora, and contrasts the fairy world with Stefan & Aurora’s human one. Are the fairies more just & humane than the humans? This clever tale frames Maleficent as not quite a hero, but something less than a villain. There are good performances by Angelina Jolie in the title role, and Elle Fanning as Aurora. Maleficent is well worth seeing for fantasy & adventure fans, and is now available on DVD, Blu-ray & on demand.

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) – The 4th entry in the Michael Bay directed series is a loud, overlong (it runs almost three hours) mess of a film that’s essentially a series of pointless car chases & explosions. There are obnoxious characters & a thin plot about an evil corporation trying to use Transformer technology to create their own super-robots. How did Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci & Kelsey Grammer end up in this movie? I’ve got nothing against fun, big budget popcorn flicks, but this is almost insultingly bad, and contemptuous of its audience.  There are filmmakers out there making better, smarter, more well crafted action films (like Captain America; The Winter Soldier or Edge of Tomorrow, see below) that are more deserving of your time.  Unless you’re a real fan of the franchise, skip this one; not recommended. Transformers: Age of Extinction is currently available on DVD, Blu-ray & on demand.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014) – This is an inventive, action-packed sci-fi film from director Doug (The Bourne Identity) Liman. When aliens invade Earth, our forces mount a huge D-Day like strike against the invaders. The general in charge of the operation orders Major William Gage (a public relations officer) to cover the attack. Gage has never seen combat. He objects to going, but is sent to the battle site anyway. During the fight, Gage (played by Tom Cruise) is killed. Or is he? Gage keeps waking up after the moment of his death, and finds he’s been sent back in time before the battle. How is this possible? And what does a tough female sergeant named Rita Vitraski (well played by Emily Blunt) know about all this? Can his odd power be used to save us? Will our heroes be able to stop the aliens before they wipe out humanity? Edge of Tomorrow is a well-made thriller with some great action sequences & cool effects. The film has a strong cast, headed by Cruise and Blunt, and featuring Bill Paxton & Brendan Gleeson. A very pleasant surprise, this one's recommended for action & science fiction fans. Edge of Tomorrow (also called Live. Die. Repeat. on its video release packaging, though the film’s actual title hasn’t been changed) is currently on DVD, Blu-ray & available on demand.

Here are links to the trailers for Maleficent, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-XO4XiRop0, Transformers; Age of Extinction, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbI980iUb78 and Edge of Tomorrow, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUmSVcttXnI.

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