SLIGHTLY LIMP FANTASY TALE

DISNEY BRINGS ITS 1959 ANIMATED CLASSIC SLEEPING BEAUTY TO LIFE ON THE BIG SCREEN IN A CHARMING TALE OF BETRAYAL AND REDEMPTION, BUT ONE THAT FALLS SHORT AS A BIG SCREEN MOVIE

DIRECTOR:  Robert Stromberg

STARRING:  Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley

STUDIO:  Disney

RATED:  PG

RUNNING TIME:  1 Hr, 37 Min

     The entire kingdom rejoices at the birth of the princess Aurora and the celebrations draw dignitaries and nobles from across all the known lands, including three fairies who represent the enchanted folk of the realm. Unfortunately the party is crashed by one most welcome visitor as the evil Maleficent, the most powerful fairy in the world, arrives to curse the child, dooming her to fall into a death like sleep on her sixteenth birthday, a slumber that can only be ended by true love’s kiss. The king does everything in his power to protect her, entrusting her to the three good fairies until the day after her sixteenth birthday and destroying everything that could trigger the curse. Unfortunately, Princes Aurora can’t escape and falls into an eternal sleep, only to be rescued by Prince Charming, who wakes the damsel in distress with a kiss, slays Maleficent and marries the sixteen year old for good measure (who does he think he is, that creepy old guy from Duck Dynasty?). And that’s the story of Maleficent. Or it was, in 1959’s animated Sleeping Beauty, the story that inspired Disney’s new live action Maleficent, starring and produced by Angelina Jolie. Maleficent tells the story of the villainous fairy and how she became the mistress of evil who cursed the royal child, but Disney wisely updated the story, tossing out the time worn and obsolete idea that all women are villains, victims or damsels in distress who need rescuing that has dominated the House of the Mouse’s storytelling for most of its history. Unfortunately, Maleficent doesn’t find strong enough legs to stand on it’s own as a big screen adaptation.

     Disney found plenty of success in 2010’s billion dollar blockbuster Alice in Wonderland, a sequel to Lewis Carroll’s classic (that Disney also adapted to an animated feature in 1951) and Universal Studios made a bucket of cash in 2012 with Snow White and the Huntsman (the two movies shared the same producer and have both been green lit for sequels). So you really can’t fault the folks at Disney for trying again with one of their most popular and cherished properties in Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent retells the tale (originally adopted from the much darker Grimm’s Fairy Tale) from the time Maleficent is a girl who meets and subsequently befriends a young boy from the hostile human kingdom next door, to her rise as her land’s chief guardian and the first line of defense from the invading human armies. But following a brutal betrayal she abandons all hope before taking her revenge by cursing the princess to fall into an eternal slumber (that can only be ended by true love’s kiss) by her sixteenth birthday. But the innocent young princess, full of wonder and unconditional happiness, slowly begins to thaw the dark fairy queen’s heart and the two form an unlikely friendship, not only the beneath the shadow of Maleficent’s unbreakable curse, but also beneath the growing greed and instability of Aurora’s father, King Stefan.

Angelina Jolie was the perfect choice to play Maleficent and by the time the end credits roll you can’t imagine anyone else owning the role the way she did.   Jolie devours the part, whether it’s during Maleficent’s numerous moments of resolute strength, her occasional moments of doubt and fragility or when she’s being deliciously wicked. Elle Fanning more then fills the role of the sixteen year old princess Aurora with sugar and saccharine (actually a little too much) and Sam Riley is efficient as Malefient’s occasionally comical sidekick Diaval. But the truth is everyone pales next to Jolie, who truly captures the core of Maleficent.

     Maleficent isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t a memorable one either.  It felt more like a really good made-for-TV movie and seemed to be lacking the big screen feel. It not only failed to reach for any epic feel, it didn’t even seem like it was trying. But despite its flaws, I enjoyed Maleficent enough to justify the price of admission.  Every year I find a gem or two that I really like but that fail to find purchase with movie going audiences at large. Last year it was the animated Epic, a few years ago it was Super 8 and it looks like Maleficent, a nice, harmless little flick that will probably be lost among the shuffle of big, bright summer blockbusters, will be this year’s addition to that list. I have to admit that what I found the most refreshing about Maleficent was that the female characters weren’t mere set pieces or plot devices to motivate the mandatory male hero into action. Disney seems to be moving more and more in this direction (Tangled, Brave, Frozen) and hopefully other studios will follow suit. With luck, Maleficent’s most likely humble box office return won’t endanger the movement to allow strong female characters to stretch their legs in roles with actual range and not be relegated to mere victims who need protection or rescuing.

Shayne Kempton

X MARKS THE SPOT

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST IS THE RARE SEQUEL THAT SURPASSES THE ORIGINAL AND TAKES ITS PLACE AS THE BEST MOVIE IN THE X-MEN FRANCHISE SO FAR

DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer

STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore

STUDIO: Twentieth Century Fox

RATED: PG  

RUNNING TIME: 2 HRS, 11 MIN

When Twentieth Century Fox tapped Mat Vaughn to direct X-Men: First Class in 2011, it breathed new life into the merry mutant franchise following the critical and fan disappointment of 2006’s X3 The Last Stand. While First Class was a profitable fan hit for Fox, it raised the bar for future X movies and left both fans and critics alike wondering if producers could continue to produce fan pleasing films or if they’d fail the way X3 did, and the disappointing Wolverine movies did little to inspire confidence in many movie-goers. Fortunately, the smartly written, well directed and perfectly performed Days of Future Past clears the hurdles set up by First Class and raises the bar even higher.

Loosely adapted from one of the X-Men’s most popular stories, Days of Future Past begins ten years into the future.  It’s is a bleak place, and not just for mutants. The mutant exterminating Sentinels have evolved to the point where they are virtually unstoppable, and have also begun targeting humans who could potentially give birth to mutant children, as well as any humans who dared protect mutants from the escalating genocide. Both humans and mutants alike face extinction and the X-men are reduced to a rag tag group of resistance fighters constantly on the run, any attempt to make a stand destined to fail. Things are so dire that Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen reprising their roles from the original X films) find themselves fighting side by side once again, though both know that defeat and death is only a matter of time. A desperate plan is hatched to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman playing the clawed Canuck for the seventh time) back in time to a pivotal point in history to prevent the creation of the Sentinels and keep the war from ever starting. In order to succeed, Wolverine will have to recruit a young Professor X (James McAvoy), who’s abandoned his powers and fallen into a severe drunken depression, and a young Magneto (Michael Fassbender), whose terrorist tactics have gotten him locked up in the most impenetrable prison on the planet. The few followers Xavier and Magneto each had following First Class are gone, many having met with gruesome ends.

     Future Past offers one of the best ensemble casts in recent memory, and perhaps the best one of any comic book movie.   Fassbender’s portrayal of Magneto is just as excellent as it was in First Class. Magneto is perhaps the most sympathetic villain in all of comicdom; a Holocaust survivor who has witnessed first hand the horrific suffering human beings can eagerly inflict on each other. He’s gone from using his powers to hunt down Nazi war criminals to declaring himself Mutantkind’s protector and it’s leader to the top of the evolutionary food chain. And he kind of has a point since in every X-Men movie its apparent that most of the powers that be would exterminate every mutant they could get their hands on without losing a wink of sleep. Fassbender plays the Master of Magnetism with just the right blend of pathos and confident villainy, you want to root against him but can’t help empathizing with his motives at the same time. McAvoy is more than convincing as a young, depressed Xavier who wants for all the world to simply hide in his broken down, abandoned school and is terrified of taking responsibility for anything ever again. Jennifer Lawrence steals her fair share of scenes as Mystique, who spends a large portion of the movie being the chief badass and the focal point of the plot. Keep an eye on Game of Thrones favourite misanthrope Peter Dinklage, whose portrayal of sentinel inventor Bolivar Trask is equally memorable. Instead of making Trask a bigot bent on the destruction of the emerging mutant race, he professes admiration for them and sees them as the adversary that will unite humanity. But despite all that, he never refers to a mutant by name, referring to them only as “one” or “it,” experimenting ruthlessly and dispassionately on them for his own ends. Many of the (surviving) original characters return as battle hardened freedom fighters, giving just enough gravitas to their roles to stress that their time really has run out. And Jackman as Wolverine? You need to ask?

Singer does an excellent job balancing the story as it unfolds in the past while showing how events in the future are affected. Time travel is a tricky plot device, and it’s always been one of my pet peeves, but Future Past is smartly written, proving that the film-makers decided that the story should be just as important as the special effects; a refreshing change for a summer blockbuster. And the story injects plenty of humour in appropriate paces (without detracting from the idea that a genocidal future hangs in the balance). The inclusion of Piotr Maximoff (Evan Peters), the mutant speedster known as Quicksilver (a name Fox couldn’t use because Marvel studios owns that name as a member of the Avengers) was worth it’s weight in comedic gold and was perhaps the best display of super speed on the silver screen. Ever.

     Future Past still leaves some questions unanswered, like how the X-Men figured out how to time travel in the first place. Or how Wolverine’s claws are once again laced with adamantium (they were reduced to naked bone during last summer’s The Wolverine). And what about Professor X’s resurrection (the last time we saw the good professor he was inhabiting a human vegetable after his original body had been destroyed by the Dark Phoenix in X3)? But given how smartly the story is written to address larger concerns, you can forgive those (I did, and I’m a huge stickler for story). The action is riveting, the effects are top notch and the movie offers plenty of Easter eggs and nods to fans along the way. And as usual, there’s a nice little cut scene at the end of the credits setting up 2016’s X-Men: Age of Apocalypse (whether or not Singer will return considering his current underage sex scandal remains to be seen). In the meantime though, X-Men: Days of Future Past will keep your comic book movie appetite satisfied until August’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

Shayne Kempton

FANTASTIC FOUR

IT’S DOWN TO JUST FOUR TEAMS CHASING THE NHL’S ULTIMATE PRIZE AND THERE ARE SOME FAMILIAR FACES ALONG WITH SOME SURPRISING NEW ONES

      And then there were four. Four teams are all that remain in the hunt for the Stanley Cup and each offers plenty of intrigue and questions. While the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings clashing for the second consecutive season to represent the West in the Stanley Cup Final probably doesn’t surprise a lot of hockey fans, the fact that the East is up for grabs between the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens blows more than a few predictions out of the water (mine included). There are three original six teams included among the Final Four, as well as the first Canadian team in seven years, the defending Stanley Cup champions, the 2012 Stanley Cup champions, the team that won the Cup twenty years ago (the Rangers) and the team that won it twenty seasons ago (Montreal, adjusted for the 2005 lockout that scrapped that year’s post season). And each remaining roster includes at least two members from Canada’s gold medal winning team from the Sochi Winter Games, meaning that no matter what happens over the next few weeks, a couple of players will accomplish the incredible feat of winning both an Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup ring in the same year. Its gonna be an awesome end to the 2013-2014 campaign.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: No team is a better example of excellence and champion building in today’s NHL than the Chicago Blackhawks. A decade ago, the Blackhawks were consistently written off as perennial losers and the only time they were ever mentioned in the same sentence as the playoffs was as the punch line of a joke. But through smart drafting, patient development, shrewd trades and a handful of brilliant free agency signings, the Blackhawks are on the cusp of being a modern day dynasty. They had to strip some parts after their Stanley Cup parade in 2010 for salary cap reasons, but were still playoff worthy in 2011 and 2012 before winning the Cup again last spring. It should come as no surprise that the Hawks were tied with Detroit and St. Louis for sending the most players to the Olympics (including Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith to wear the Maple Leaf) or that this is their third appearance in the NHL’s Final Four in the past five years. Nor should it come as any surprise that they remain most people’s favourites for the 2014 Stanley Cup

 LOS ANGELES KINGS: 2012’s Stanley Cup winners are looking to avenge their 2013 elimination by Chi-town this spring and get some of that Dynasty recognition for themselves. They are perhaps the only team in the League right now that can challenge Chicago in terms of depth and playoff caliber talent. Despite some big names up front, the Kings did have some scoring difficulties during the regular season. That was until they added sniper Marion Gaborik at the trade deadline and now roll three lines that are a danger to score at any time. With Drew Doughty leading a deep blue line and franchise goalie Jonathan Quick as the last line of defense between the pipes, the Kings are a super power. And if anyone doubts the Kings’ emotional resolve, well you can just ask the San Jose Sharks, who jumped out to a commanding 3-0 lead during their first round matchup, only to watch L.A. storm back and become just the fourth team in NHL history to overcome such a deficit and win their series. What turned the tide during that matchup? For the first three games, Quick wasn’t on his game. For the last four he was unbeatable. Now the Kings are contending for the Cup and San Jose is doing a full post mortem on their entire organization. Enough said.

 MONTREAL CANADIENS: I have to hand it to the Habs; I didn’t give them much of a chance against the Boston Bruins in their second round series. Boston was the East’s answer to the Chicago Blackhawks, tailor built for playoff success from the ground up with one of the best goalies, one of the best defensemen and one of the best two-way forwards in the game all wearing Bruins’ jerseys. Good thing nobody told Les Habitants that. Anyone who doesn’t believe that Carey Price and P.K. Subban are now prime time talents in today’s NHL clearly wasn’t paying attention. The Bruins made a habit of outshooting and out chancing the Habs early in the series, but Price routinely made game-saving stops while Subban increasingly dominated the ice, challenging the Bruins as often as he could, refusing to back down when they challenged him and putting more than his fair share of pucks behind Tuuka Rask. Meanwhile, Montreal’s forwards adapted to Boston’s bigger yet less mobile defense, allowing them to gradually take the lead in shots and scoring chances. Montreal proved they wouldn’t be intimidated by either the odds or bigger teams and through perseverance and self-confidence now find themselves the first team representing the Great white North in the Final Four since the Ottawa Senators in 2007 (and 20 seasons after they won it all in 1993, over Wayne Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings no less). And while losing Price to a knee injury is a devastating blow, if there’s one team that seems destined to overcome such enormous adversity this spring, it’s Montreal. Does another goalie rise to the occasion in Price’s absence? Does Peter Budaj rekindle his days as a starter? Or does an unheralded prospect like Dustin Tokarski get in touch with his inner Bill Ranford and emerge as the team’s savior? This could be interesting.

 NEW YORK RANGERS: At the beginning of the season, would anyone outside of New York’s dressing room have thought the Rangers would still be playing meaningful hockey in mid-May? Even at the beginning of the playoffs, no one outside the most optimistic Rangers fan thought they’d get this far. And when Pittsburgh jumped out to a 3-1 lead in their second round series, the Rangers were given up for dead by just about everyone. But that’ why they play the games. Henrik Lundqvist, who backstopped his native Sweden to silver at Sochi last February, has reasserted himself as The King, keeping his team in games no matter how many shots they give up or how difficult the Rangers attack finds it to score. The Rangers blue line meanwhile, may be the most underrated defense corps in the NHL and the entire team blocks more shots then targets at a shooting range on NRA appreciation day. Scoring on the Rangers sometimes resembles a feat of Herculean proportions (just ask the Philadelphia Flyers, Sidney Crosby and Evengi Malkin). Deadline acquisition Martin St.-Louis not only offers experience (having won the Cup in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning) but an emotional fire as well, playing in tribute to his mother who tragically passed away earlier this month (the Rangers defeated the Penguins in the game St.-Louis missed, embracing the mantra “Win it for Marty,” a win that sparked their comeback). The simple fact is New York is red hot right now with most cylinders firing at warp speed. If Rick Nash can return to form, the Rangers may be this year’s Cinderella team, an unstoppable David that slays all the remaining Goliaths on their path to Stanley Cup glory.

 Shayne Kempton

THE LIPS AND HEARTS OF ALL CHILDREN

TO THE WOMEN WITH THE MOST IMPORTANT JOB IN THE WORLD

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A fuzzy pic of my Mom and super excited niece at Christmas (couldn’t get my niece to stand still any longer)

     One of my earliest (and most vivid) memories is the time my mom almost committed murder to protect my little sister. No joke. I grew up on a horse farm that also briefly raised chickens and our little collection of poultry also included two roosters. One was named Buddy, an honest guy-chicken if there ever was one, a chill, laid back sort who tended the hens and kept his business to himself. A real stand up kind of bird. The other one, well, if he had a name I can’t remember it, but we had plenty of things we called him, none of them good. You see, I’d like to say he was only our token barnyard jerk, but the truth was he was a feathered machete that took great joy in attacking things, everything, including people. And he had the size to back it up. He came close to my father’s knees in height and he was an expert at launching himself talons first at his chosen target. And he ran his corner of the world like a rooster Mafioso, strutting around like he was some kind of chicken king, clucking and bullying and threatening everything that wouldn’t tow his line. He was like a feathered Joe Pesci, and almost as big. I remember shrieking like a little girl on a number of occasions and hightailing it as fast as my kindergartener feet would carry me with this Rooster Pacino close at heel. I’m not sure, but I think he may have even taken a shot or two at horses on occasion. As small as I was, my sister was over two years younger and much smaller prey, so we both had strict instructions from our parents to avoid said rooster at all times unless accompanied by mom or dad. Turns out it would have been wise advice for Rooster Soprano as well.

            One rainy morning the entire Kempton family found itself in the barn for some reason or other when Foghorn Leghorn decided to take a run at my sister. It may sound comical, but remember when I mentioned how big this freaking bird was? And keep in mind that my sister was maybe three years old at the time so when he turned himself into a feathered missile of death, his hunting talons were poised at my sister’s eyes. And all that stood between him and his chosen target was my five-foot tall mother. Sucked to be him.

            My father yelled a warning but he was too far away to help, and I just watched like a helpless little bystander, but mom? Oh boy. At the tender age of five I witnessed my small mother invoke the spirit of Bruce Lee and unleash a roundhouse kick that would have made Jean Claude Van Damme jealous. She kicked this bird in mid flight, inches away from my sister’s shock wide eyes, and launched him skyward with enough velocity to achieve orbit. And I’m pretty sure he would have reached the stratosphere if it hadn’t been for, y’know, the barn’s roof. Foghorn hit a solid wooden beam cranium first with a sick thud before returning to Earth while my mother let lose a torrent of threats and malevolence that made me fear for my life. There wasn’t any profanity that I can remember, but I’m pretty sure the words “boil you alive” and “pluck every one of your feathers with red hot pokers” was included among the threats if he even so much as looked at my sister ever again. After his rather unceremonious landing amidst a cloud of now loose feathers (my mother still threatening his life in highly inventive methods you may only see in a Quentin Tarantino or Eli Roth movie) he laid really, really still while my father and I shared the same thought while our jaws hung somewhere just south of our knees: mom had just murdered our rooster Godfather. And it was by far the coolest thing I had ever seen in my brief life to that point, and remains on my top five list of awesome things to this day.

            Turns out he was still alive and after a minute or so of just lying in a broken heap he got up in a real wobbly kind of way and half-walked, half-limped around in a circle for about an hour or so. He never threatened my sister again after that day. Or me. Or anyone else for that matter. Nor do I think he ever walked in a straight line ever again, but that’s kind of beside the point. The lesson he learned? Don’t mess with the kids when Mom is around (the lesson I took away from it was never to mess with Mom in case she ever decided to get in touch with her inner Chuck Norris at my expense).

            People often talk about how many bad Dads there are, and how grateful they are they have a Father who stuck around after the delivery and stepped up to his responsibilities. The truth is there are a lot of bad mothers out there as well, women who would turn their backs on their children in a heartbeat, crush their hopes and aspirations and dreams out of negligence or contempt, or even abandon them for purely selfish reasons. Which means we should all be just as grateful for the great Mothers in our lives. Mom will be the first person we genuinely, sincerely love, and that will be first of many hats she wears in our lives. Protector. Nurse. Teacher. Cook. Chauffeur. Inspiration. Motivation. A true Mother will always be the first to chase away the nightmares and keep the darkness at bay, to remind us that magic does indeed exist and to forgive us our foolishness and sins. A true Mother wouldn’t hesitate to stand between her children and the raw fury of Hell or throw herself between her kids and the worst storm you could imagine. A quote from one of my favourite movies sums it up perfectly-“Mother is the word for God on the lips and hearts of all children.” Nothing says it any better.

            So to all the Moms out there, and most importantly my own long suffering Mother-Happy Mother’s Day and the very best on your special day. May you be celebrated well and get spoiled rotten. And always remember, you have the most important job in the world.

 And Mom, I know I don’t say it nearly enough, but I Love You.

Shayne Kempton