Tom Gliatto and Paul Chi
June 09, 2014 12:00 PM

MALEFICENT

Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning | PG |

FANTASY

What sort of creature is this winged thing, Maleficent? “You might take her for a girl,” says the narrator (Janet McTeer), but that misses the point. Because the live-action retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the sorceress’s perspective is about what it means to be a woman—a powerful, vengeful, vulnerable one. The film, though, isn’t as formidable as its heroine.

Love drives Maleficent (Jolie), protector of the fairy realm, toward the dark side. She falls for human Stefan (Copley, miscast), only to be dismayed by the man he becomes, particularly after a horrific violation he inflicts on her. (The subtext should elude kids.) But after putting the sleep curse on Stefan’s baby, Aurora (Fanning), Maleficent gets to know the naïve young princess, and we watch as the wry, sly Jolie, her horns sheathed in leather and her cheeks bladed, softens.

From the martial to the maternal, the film nails the facets of womanhood, as threatened men work to destroy Maleficent. But the movie can’t find a consistent tone, swinging from farce to melodrama as Jolie straddles the two. What your kids will see is a magical land created by director (and art direction Oscar winner) Robert Stromberg that’s a tad heavy on the effects. What you’ll see is something deeply imperfect, but deeper, nonetheless.

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A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST

Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron| R |

COMEDY

Seth MacFarlane’s western send-up is a stampede of raunchy jokes that slams into you and knocks you down into the cow pats. It’s coarsely stupid – surprised? – but also energetic, boisterous and, more often than not, funny. As a gun-shy sheep farmer emboldened by the love of an outlaw’s wife (Theron), MacFarlane seems to be doing a Woody Allen nebbish thing. This is odd, given that his humor is closer to Adam Sandler’s and his unlined boyishness suggests Tintin or a Pixar hero. But everyone else, including Sarah Silverman as a prostitute with a heart of gold and brains of sawdust, is good filthy company.

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