Screening Room: “Maleficent,” “A Million Ways to Die in the West”

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Welcome to the Screening Room. I'm Russ Simmons. Shawn Edwards is on assignment and will be back with us next week.

1) MALEFICENT (PG)
Walt Disney Pictures

It’s hard to imagine just who the target audience is for Disney’s big budget fantasy, “Maleficent,” a re-imagining of the “Sleeping Beauty” story. It’s too dark, brooding and violent for little kids and a bit too wishy-washy for adults.

This new live-action version takes the classic 1959 Disney animated movie and turns it on its ear in a move similar to what the book and musical “Wicked” did with “The Wizard of Oz.” Angelina Jolie is terrific in the title role, that of an elf living in enchanted moors near a human kingdom. After a human wrongs her, she vows revenge and turns to the dark side. Or does she?

The production values are outstanding and the eye candy is impressive. In his directorial debut, special effects designer Robert Stromberg gets the visuals right, but fails to infuse the movie with any sense of fun.

But it’s Jolie’s confident performance that propels the film, making up for some weaknesses in the script and execution. “Maleficent’s” magic is hers alone.

RUSS: 3 Popcorn Bags

2) A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (R)
Universal

Writer/director Seth McFarlane of “The Family Guy” fame makes the leap in front of the camera with “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” a “Blazing Saddles” wannabe that fails in almost every respect.

A terrific cast is wasted in McFarlane’s meandering comic Western that’s filled with f-bombs and sleazy sex jokes. McFarlane plays a depressed sheep farmer, jilted by his girlfriend, who has to find his courage when he falls for the abused wife of a nasty gunslinger.

The cast includes Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris and Sarah Silverman…and they may well have been having a lot of fun by slumming with McFarlane. Little of that fun is shared by the audience, however. There are a million ways to die at the Cineplex, too,and this is one of them.

RUSS: 2 Popcorn Bags

ALSO OPENING THIS WEEK:

-"Cold in July" is a suspense drama starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard and Don Johnson.

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