Tag Archives: theaters

Comics writer: Wonder Woman is gay

The writer of the reborn Wonder Woman comics has revealed that the character is gay.

Greg Rucka tells Comicosity that since Wonder Woman comes from the fictional all-female island nation of Themyscira, she “has been in love and had relationships with other women.”

Rucka isn’t ruling out the potential for a romantic relationship with Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman’s love interest in previous incarnations of the character.

Wonder Woman returned to the big screen this year in Batman v. Superman.

A standalone film starring Gal Gadot is set to hit theaters in June of next year.

On the Web

An interview with Greg Rucka on “Queer Narrative and Wonder Woman.”

In ‘Tarzan,’ a questionable return to the jungle

Tarzan has been dusted off, his abs polished and his vocabulary spruced up in David Yates’ handsome but altogether pointless “The Legend of Tarzan,” a chest-thumping resurrection of the Ape Man that fails to find any reason for the iconic character’s continued evolution.

On the one hand, it’s easy to see why Tarzan has yet again swung back into our lives: Tarzan and Hollywood were born almost simultaneously, like conjoined twins of a new pop-culture machine. The first “Tarzan” silent came just a few years after Edgar Rice Burroughs’ initial novel.

More than 50 films have followed. But as time has gone on, Tarzan has ceded his mass-market turf to a new set of brawny, questionably attired do-gooders, who swing not from vines but webs and grappling hooks. Monkey Men are out; Batmen are in.

Tarzan’s relevance has also drifted. He was originally conceived as a pulpy fable for a society feeling nostalgic for nature as it watched Model Ts roll off assembly lines. Burroughs’ tale coincided with the National Parks movement and the creation of the Boy Scouts.

So if properly outfitted for today’s back-to-the-land trends, Tarzan probably should be a thinner, bearded man who can brew a hoppy IPA and lives off-the-grid in Brooklyn coffee shops.

Can such a vestige of imperial-era imaginations — one dreamed up by a man who never set foot in Africa — be updated to today? “The Legend of Tarzan” suggests not, and the film’s main source of suspense is watching it twist and contort a century-old property into something meaningful.

Craig Brewer and Adam Cozad’s script sets the tale a decade after the discovery of Tarzan in West Africa; seen only in flashback is Tarzan’s origin story, including a more violent version of his famously loquacious introduction to Jane. Tarzan or John Clayton III (Alexander Skarsgard) is living in London with his wife, Jane (Margot Robbie). The jungle is far behind him: he’s a Lord, polished and serious but still with ape-like hands that would impress even Donald Trump.

He’s coaxed back to Africa by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), an American and veteran of the Civil War who seeks to uncover what he believes is Belgium’s introduction of slavery to the Congo. The character, loosely based on a real historical figure, is the most intriguing if awkward addition. A better, more realistic movie could have been made about him.

In the Congo is Belgium’s envoy, Capt. Leon Rom, a linen-suited hunter of diamonds to fill Leopold’s coffers. For this symbol of refinement and menace, the filmmakers naturally turn to Christoph Waltz.

The simplistic historical backdrop of late 19th century Congo here is more cartoonish than even Tarzan, himself. But the atmosphere is richly exotic, full of majestic vistas and vivid close-ups. Filming largely on sound stages, Yates, veteran of later “Harry Potter” films, has firm control of the film’s lushly romantic imagery. You feel that Bogie and Bacall could drift down the river at any moment.

But the film, searching for a purpose and some drama, doesn’t deserve the grandeur Yates gives it. Tarzan, played with sufficient muscle and smarts by Skarsgard, leads an uprising through his ability to communicate with animals and the (largely faceless) natives. He’s a Jungle Jesus returned to fight colonial incursion, and among the more ridiculous white saviors you’re likely to see.

The wildlife is also comically over stimulated. The CGI gorillas appear like Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons on steroids. Effort has been made to make Jane more than a damsel in distress, which she literally denies being at one point. The scene-stealing Robbie breaks though the role’s stereotypes even while still being mired in them.

Agility is the prime trait of Tarzan, but “Legend” has little of it. The film strains to juggle the character’s baggage instead of embracing the tale’s innate silliness and spirit of adventure. (Over the years Tarzan fought dinosaurs and Roman gladiators.)

That this is merely another naked attempt to profit from a well-known property is visible even in the film’s title. There, not even hidden by a loin cloth, is a little trademark symbol next to “Tarzan”: King of the Franchise.

A Tale of Two Theaters

Two theaters stood, swaying in the breeze, in danger of becoming as useless as an old VHS player. Without intervention, they could have been forgotten, replaced by home-viewing options like Netflix and HBO.

But both have been given a second chance, by savvy entrepreneurs who realized that with time, energy, and money, these theaters could become great again.

On Mitchell Street is the Modjeska: defunct since 2010, but with an increasing number of lights twinkling in the past few years. The theater is in the process of transitioning into a multi-use venue that hosts concerts, film festivals, craft fairs, and other community events. Although it stands among other historical sites on Mitchell Street, it is perhaps the most prominent, with a vintage facade that can’t be missed.

Further south, on Kinnickinnic Avenue, lies the Avalon, with its impressive entry, grand foyer with Mediterranean columns and a starlit sky fueled by thousands of incandescent bulbs glowing above its interior. It is a spectacular sight to see on the otherwise modest streets of Bay View, surrounded by small businesses and apartments.

The people responsible? Jesus Nañez and Lee Barczak, two entrepreneurs with different goals for their theaters but the same focus on preserving these iconic Milwaukee landmarks.

The
The Modjeska’s facade stands out as a unique historical relic on Mitchell Street. Photo: Arup

MODJESKA

Jesus Nañez’s interest in the Modjeska was sparked by a simple sign: “Volunteers wanted.” As soon as the musician and entrepreneur walked through its doors, he felt the history of the theater, and saw its potential.

Built in 1924, the Modjeska was a bustling venue for vaudeville acts, which catered to the Polish community in the area. The theater thrived for decades until, almost a century later, its crumbling facilities became too expensive to maintain, and the theater was shut down in the late ’00s.

The Modjeska is now owned by a nonprofit called the Mitchell Street Development Opportunities Corporation, which Nañez is now working with. Nañez’s entrepreneurial background allowed him to take the project to the next level, and he began leasing the building at the beginning of 2016. With his help and fundraising efforts, the Modjeska has seen major upgrades such as a new roof, sprinkler system and improved heating and plumbing.

Nañez also had the idea to sell all of the floor-level chairs from the theater, both as a fundraiser and in order to make the performance venue more flexible for multiple types of events. With the elimination of the chairs, the theater can be more than just a place to watch films. Nañez’s vision includes community events and concerts, and the architectural firm Engberg Anderson, Inc. is already planning a three-tiered floor that will make the cavernous space more dynamic.

The dedicated volunteer force from which Nañez got his start has drawn more and more people from the neighborhood. This gives Nañez hope that the new Modjeska will thrive as it once did, and become a community stronghold in the Mitchell Street neighborhood.

The Avalon glows brightly at night on Kinnickinnic Avenue. Photo: Historic Milwaukee
The Avalon glows brightly at night on Kinnickinnic Avenue. Photo: Historic Milwaukee

AVALON

As the Modjeska progresses, the Avalon stands sturdy, also drawing bigger crowds by the minute. But it wasn’t always this strong, as owner Lee Barczak knows all too well.

Barczak (who also owns the Rosebud and Times Cinemas) bought the Avalon in 2005 for $1.1 million. Before that, it had operated continuously since 1929, until its owners were denied a liquor license in 2000 and shut it down. Barczak envisioned a swift restoration of the theater, but proceedings were complicated by the economic recession. Renovations were officially started in January 2014 and the theater opened a year later.

Barczak’s idea was to maintain the historical integrity of the Avalon while integrating a “modern” movie-going experience.

The starry sky, which used to consist of 140 stars, was expanded to 1,400, showcasing an entire galaxy overhead. Unique technology was used to create a projection of a night sky above Granada, Spain, which was chosen because of the theater’s Mediterranean architecture.

Barczak also invested in top-tier screen and sound system equipment in order to create a state-of-the-art viewing experience.

Perhaps the biggest reason to get off the couch and go to the Avalon is its wide variety of high quality food and beverages — way beyond the offerings of a typical theater. There is a full bar and restaurant in the lobby, and moviegoers can even order food from their comfortable seats inside the theater.

By his count, the investments and improvements to the Avalon have paid off — big time. He guessed that the theater would have 1,000 visitors a day, and this number is now exceeded regularly.

Although the two theaters seem different in scope and vision, they share this need for an influx of visitors. The Modjeska requires volunteers to come in, get their hands dirty, and do the work of cleaning and rebuilding an historic building. The Avalon needs people to fully immerse themselves into the experience, selecting the theater for its food and drink offerings rather than going just for the movie.

As theaters like the Modjeska and the Avalon return to prominence in Milwaukee, their biggest goal is to bring people together in unique settings and out of the isolation of their homes. In the age of Netflix, these could be transformative venues.

For more information on these theaters, visit timescinema.com or modjeskatheatermke.com.

Stellar cast boosts stoner comedy ‘Night Before’

Boosted by its stellar cast and playful take on “A Christmas Carol,” “The Night Before” is a coming-of-age stoner-buddy comedy laced with warm holiday cheer.

Make no mistake: it’s still a silly romp thick with dope smoke and dumb jokes, but the performances are solid, and there’s some surprising sentiment behind the wacky antics.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie play best friends bidding farewell to their 10-year tradition of partying together on Christmas Eve. Ethan (Gordon-Levitt) is determined to make their last night epic, especially since Chris (Mackie) is on a hot streak in his football career and Isaac (Rogen) is expecting a baby.

Isaac’s wife, Betsy (the hilarious and soon-to-be everywhere Jillian Bell), gives her husband a special gift in honor of his last Christmas Eve with his pals: a box filled with “every single drug in the whole world.”

Well, you can imagine how things go from there. Isaac dips into the stash as soon as they leave the house. Rogen is predictably over the top as he samples each substance, falling deeper and deeper into a delusional haze. This presents ample opportunity for gross-out moments, like when he barfs in church or lets his nose bleed into a woman’s martini.

Meanwhile, Ethan surprises his friends with tickets to the hottest party in town, the one they’ve dreamed of getting into since their holiday tradition began.

But first, Chris needs to pick up some weed. (Somehow, Betsy left that out of the box.)

This sets the trio on their adventure, bringing them in contact with the mysterious Mr. Green (a brilliant Michael Shannon) for the first of several meetings. He introduces Chris to “the weed of Christmas present.” Later in the film, the weed of Christmas past and future is smoked. (Poor Dickens.)

Along the way, the guys meet up with Ethan’s ex-girlfriend (Lizzy Caplan) and her friend (Mindy Kaling), Chris’ mom (Lorraine Toussaint), and Rebecca Grinch (Ilana Glazer). Each of these actresses’ appearances is a little holiday treat that helps balance the dumb-guy debauchery. Miley Cyrus, James Franco and Tracy Morgan also make welcome, well-played cameos.

Isaac maintains a steady level of wasted-ness throughout the film as he frets about fatherhood. Rogen channels this with ease, and with considerably more maturity than in 2007’s “Knocked Up.”

Chris documents his every move for his social media profile, but secretly feels his popularity may be coming at too high a price. With his Juilliard pedigree and dramatic gravitas, Mackie has poise and charisma to spare, so it’s oddly comic to hear him utter such lines as, “I just fame-(expletive) that hipster chick!”

Gordon-Levitt brings his usual charm and accessibility to Ethan, who faces the hardest holiday challenge: What will Christmas Eve be like without his buddies? They’ve moved on with their lives; why hasn’t he?

Written and directed by Jonathan Levine (“50/50,” “The Wackness”), “The Night Before” is a millennial coming-of-age story cloaked in a cloud of smoke. It’s a druggie comedy, to be sure, but a sweetness about vulnerability, honesty, friends and family cuts through the haze.

Things may be tied up a little too neatly, but it is Christmas, after all. 

Review: ‘Insurgent’ could use more divergence

Given that conformity is the scourge of the “Divergent” series and much of its young-adult ilk, it’s a shame that the films, including the new “Insurgent,” do so little to stray from well-worn YA paths. 

For a series that waves the banner of individualism, they make a poor case for it. Instead of throbbing with a teenage spirit of rebellion — or things like youthful wildness, humor or sex — the two “Divergent” movies are curiously content to eke out a rigid, lifeless fable in drab futuristic environs. 

The answer, here, to the question of what are you rebelling against isn’t “Whaddya got?” but the slightly less visceral “An elaborate, highly metaphorical dystopian system of militaristic control.” 

But even faint, fantastical whiffs of teen insurrection carry enough potency to drive feverish young audiences. Why? Much of it has to do with the stars. 

Say what you will about YA movies, but they’ve been an efficient star-making machine that’s produced Jennifer Lawrence, Kristen Stewart and Shailene Woodley. We should be happy to have them: good actresses all, who easily lead their respective films over their male counterparts. 

The YA men aren’t as fine a bunch but here include the hunky Theo James and the excellent Miles Teller. Predictably providing “Insurgent” with its only lively, comedic moments, Teller looks as if he didn’t get the note that all must be sullen and serious.

A quick summary. Based on Veronica Roth’s trilogy of best-selling novels, the “Divergent” films are set in a walled, post-apocalyptic Chicago, where survivors are ritualistically sorted into five factions. Every 16-year-old is tested for which faction suits them, and then must choose one and remain there forever. 

Tris (Woodley) chose Dauntless, who are known for their bravery and, it seems, their proclivity for train hopping. But her test revealed her to be “divergent” — someone who has no dominant characteristic but a plethora — and this makes her uncontrollable. In “Divergent,” Tris came to embrace her fate, find a boyfriend in Dauntless leader Four (James, who has a natural chemistry with Woodley) and stop a plot by the city’s overlord, Janine (Kate Winslet) to make zombies of its citizens. 

“Insurgent,” the full name of which is the suitably clunky “The Divergent Series: Insurgent,” finds the tale largely spinning its wheels and features many redundant confrontations. Along with an underground revolutionary leader played by an underused Naomi Watts, Tris and Four organize a revolt against Janine. 

Allegiances are in constant flux; Teller’s sarcastic operator switches sides with the wind. The plot (which includes Tris’ brother, played by Ansel Elgort and Jai Courtney’s burly enforcer) progresses less in a forward motion than in a repetitive cycle of escapes, surrenders and rescues, often taking place in the same hallways. Executions at gunpoint and frequently threatened suicide add to the cheery atmosphere. 

Much of the drama of “Insurgent” takes place in a virtual reality in which Tris frequently faces various simulation challenges, forcing her to reconcile her guilt in the death of her parents, as seen in the first installment. These “sims” are where “Insurgent” flashes its fanciest effects, but this dream state just further removes the film from any tangible reality. “Insurgent” is already an allegorical fantasy.

The way of many YA adaptations is to make the first film cheaply and then, once its popularity has been proven, boost the production value in subsequent sequels. That’s the case with the 3-D “Insurgent,” where director Robert Schwentke (“R.I.P.D.”) takes over for “Divergent” helmer Neil Burger. The result is a bigger, glossier and better made action film with less embarrassing fight choreography. But any appeal still depends entirely on the talent of its cast. 

The final “Divergent” book will be split into two movies, a future that is indeed a little dystopian. Much brighter, though, are the blossoming careers of Woodley and Teller, who were best together in the indie “The Spectacular Now.” Movies, thankfully, come in factions, too. 

“The Divergent Series: Insurgent,” a Summit Entertainment release, is rated PG-13 for “intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language.” Running time: 118 minutes. Two stars out of four.

‘Gone Girl’ delicious suburban noir

The predominant image throughout David Fincher’s films, from the uncovered horrors of “Se7en” to the Machiavellian maneuverings of “House of Cards,” has been a flashlight beam cutting through the dark.

In his latest, the Gillian Flynn adaptation “Gone Girl,” he shines it into the deepest depths of not a serial killer’s mind or a schizophrenic’s madness, but on a far more terrifying psychological minefield: Marriage. In “Gone Girl,” Fincher has crafted a portrait of a couple rivaled in toxicity only by “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and one with just as much — if more subtle — roleplaying.

The results are a mixed bag of matrimony mayhem, but an engrossing, wonderfully wicked one. Despite its perspective-shifting, “Gone Girl” may be too male in its viewpoint. And the schematic setup of Flynn’s screenplay does sap some of its force. But in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, “Gone Girl” is delicious suburban noir.

It begins with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) caressing the head of his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), and wondering to himself, “What are you thinking?” It’s the film’s unsolvable mystery: the unknowingness of another, even one who shares your bed.

On a regular morning in North Carthage, Missouri, albeit one begun with an early drink of whiskey at Nick’s bar with his bartender twin sister, Margo (an excellent Carrie Coon as the movie’s voice of reason), Nick returns home to find Amy missing and scenes of a struggle. Even as she cheerfully pledges help, Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) sticks post-it notes around the house, marking areas of suspicion.

As the investigation turns toward Nick, and the high-wattage glare of the TV media finds his concern unconvincing, we get an autopsy on the Dunnes’ marriage. In flashbacks narrated by Amy’s journal, she recalls their fairy tale beginnings and — despite earnest intentions to avoid becoming “that couple” — their gradual dissolution.

Nick is laid off from his magazine writing job. They move from New York to Missouri to be near his family. Amy, the cool New York daughter of a publicity-savvy literary couple who based their bestselling children’s book series “Amazing Amy” on her, recoils at her Midwest McMansion nightmare, finding herself wed to a videogame-playing frat boy who, after a loveless afternoon tryst, suggests the Outback for dinner. She seethes: “I drank canned beer and watched Adam Sandler movies,” and an ocean of empathy washes from Nick to her.

This is the mischievous game of the movie, which hopes to sway your sympathies with each twist in the story.

Their bland suburban house becomes a prison to Nick, its windows lit up with the strobe-light flashes of the swarming media. The manipulation of image, both in public opinion and in private relationships, shapes the story, with Tyler Perry (in a spectacular performance that ought to, by its own strength, incinerate his Madea costume) swooping in as the narrative-controlling defense attorney Tanner Bolt. When Nick pledges the truth will be his defense, Bolt grins with cynical perfection.

Pike, in the fullest performance of her career, struggles to make Amy more than an opaque femme fatale. But _ and it’s a big one _ she does lead the film to its staggering climax, a blood-curdling sex scene: the movie’s piece de resistance, the consummation of its noir nuptials.

Fincher’s sinister slickness and dimly-lit precision has sometimes been considered a double-edged sword, a complaint that strikes me as missing the point. Mastery isn’t a negative.

“Gone Girl” doesn’t give the director the material that the propulsive “The Social Network” did. But you can feel him — aided by the shadowy cinematography of Jeff Cronenweth and the creepy score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross — moving closer to the disturbed intimacies of Roman Polanski.

So, despite its imperfections, let us clink our glasses and throw rice on “Gone Girl.”

“Gone Girl,” a 20th Century Fox release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language.” Running time: 145 minutes. Three stars out of four.

Review: ‘Tammy’ misses the funny bone

Meet Tammy. Boy, is she a mess. Angry, profane and aggressive, then suddenly shy and sweet. Sometimes she’s funny, sometimes totally not. She can’t figure out what she wants to do or be, or where to go. She has loads of people around her, yet can’t figure out what to do with them. This one’s in desperate need of outside help.

And you thought we were talking about Tammy, the character — played by lovable Melissa McCarthy in her first venture as producer, star and co-writer with husband Ben Falcone. Well, sure. But really we’re talking about “Tammy” the movie, about which all of the above descriptions are also true.

Especially the “mess” part. Oy.

Other recent comedies have been described as elongated “Saturday Night Live” skits, but it’s especially apt here, and not just because McCarthy and Falcone, who also directs, are veteran improv performers. Exaggerated characters, some wacky side plots, a couple of famous faces sprinkled in, and you’re off. Some of it’s good, some terrible, but you keep it all, `cause, hey, why not? It’s a comedy sketch.

Only this is a much anticipated, heavily promoted feature-length film, and as such, it can only be deemed an unfortunate, though ambitious and intermittently enjoyable, misfire for McCarthy, so adorably entertaining in better movies like “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat.”

Part of the problem is miscasting. “Tammy” is full of name actors: Susan Sarandon, Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Kathy Bates, Sandra Oh, Dan Akyroyd. Most are misused. (Bates is a happy exception.)

Most glaring of all: Sarandon plays Tammy’s doddering grandmother, Pearl, with whom Tammy goes on a female-bonding road trip (yes, obvious echoes of “Thelma and Louise”). Give her credit for trying, but really, Sarandon as a doddering grandma? McCarthy is 43. Sarandon is 67, but we all know she looks great for 50, maybe 45. They give her a dumpy pants ensemble, an unflattering gray wig and fake swollen ankles, but we don’t buy it for a minute. Just look at Sarandon’s glowing skin here – she should be doing a Dove commercial.

It still might have worked if these two actresses had the comic chemistry (or the script) that made us laugh at the rowdy McCarthy teaming with the uptight Bullock in “The Heat.” No heat here, alas.

We first meet Tammy on, arguably, the worst day of her life. First, her car hits a deer. That makes her late for her job at Topper Jack’s burger joint, where she’s promptly fired by her sadistic boss Keith (Falcone), and responds by licking all the hamburger buns.

At home, she finds husband Greg (Nat Faxon) romancing neighbor Missi (Toni Collette, criminally underused). Furious, she runs home to her mother, Deb (Allison Janney, a great-looking 54-year-old, and thus also implausibly cast – but whatever.)

Tammy wants to hit the road. That’s where Pearl comes in. She’s eager to stave off the nursing home, and has a huge wad of cash.

Misadventures ensue. Tammy totals a jet ski. Pearl gets drunk – she’s a serious alcoholic, and a diabetic – and ends up having sex in a car with a randy old guy, while his son (Mark Duplass, in a sweet performance) and Tammy watch in disgust. Tammy and Pearl get in trouble with the law. Tammy needs bail money for Pearl, so she robs a Topper Jack’s with a paper bag on her head.

Somehow the two end up – and you knew this was coming – at a huge lesbian July 4th party! The hosts are Pearl’s friend Lenore, played by the terrific Bates, and girlfriend Susanne (Sandra Oh, barely used at all.) This is where things go seriously wrong between Pearl and Tammy.

It all comes hurtling oddly, with weird rhythm and pacing, to an equally odd ending. At least Tammy – the character, not the movie – seems to know a little more about where she’s going.

Us? We’re still scratching our heads.

“Tammy,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America “for language, including sexual references.” Running time: 96 minutes. Two stars out of four.

Review: Jolie’s a fun hero-villain in ‘Maleficent’

Maybe it’s too soon to say the tide has shifted definitively. But it’s certainly been a unique time for fairy-tale villains.   

After hundreds of years of moral clarity, suddenly we’re getting a new look at these evil creatures, who are actually turning out to be complex beings, and not that bad at all. Really, they’ve just been misunderstood. (And, by the way, those charming princes? Highly overrated.)

The most obvious recent example is “Frozen,” the animated Disney blockbuster that showed us how the Snow Queen, long portrayed as an icy-hearted villain, was actually a tragic victim of circumstance, with a pure and loving heart. And now we have “Maleficent,” which tells us that one of the most evil characters in all of pop culture is equally vulnerable and misunderstood.

Plus, she’s gorgeous. Duh. She’s Angelina Jolie.

All this is a rather seismic development in fairytale-dom. There are numerous versions of “Sleeping Beauty,” stemming back even before Charles Perrault’s from 1697, but the fairy who casts an angry spell on the baby princess, dooming her to prick her finger, has always been, well, just nasty.

But now, 55 years after Disney introduced the character named Maleficent in its 1959 classic film — and colored her skin an eerie green — the studio is back with a live-action (not to mention 3D) Maleficent who’s more superheroine than evil fairy. Think Maleficent by way of Lara Croft.

And though Maleficent is no longer green-skinned, it’s hard not to think of another green-skinned villainess who’s also been rehabilitated, by means of the durable Broadway hit “Wicked”: the witch Elphaba from “The Wizard of Oz,” who, it turns out, we just didn’t know enough about.

And so it is in “Maleficent,” in which director Robert Stromberg and screenwriter Linda Woolverton take us back to the fairy’s youth to better understand her. She’s a plucky young thing with lovely wings and bright pink lipstick, which will turn blood-red when she becomes an adult (the fairy world clearly isn’t lacking for cosmetics.)

One day she meets a young man from that other, darker world, where humans live. The two form a strong bond. But the ugliest human emotions _ jealousy and ambition _ will intervene. Young Stefan will grow into the power-hungry older Stefan (the wild-eyed South African actor Sharlto Copley.) And his stunning betrayal of Maleficent will instantly harden her, turning her into the villainess we recognize.

Alas, the story’s still all about a guy, in the end. But we digress.

“Maleficent” is surely targeted to the same audience which has so lovingly embraced “Frozen” and its appealing message of female solidarity and empowerment. But “Frozen” felt clever, charming, and fresh. “Maleficent,” less so.

Part of this is due, paradoxically, to Jolie’s star wattage. Don’t get us wrong: she’s the best thing about the movie, and always worth watching. But it blunts the effectiveness of the narrative if we can never quite believe Maleficent is bad. That’s because we know she’s essentially good, and she seems to know that we know it; You can see it in the upturned wrinkle of her mouth.  

And frankly, the other characters are simply not that interesting — Stefan, but also Elle Fanning’s Aurora, or “Sleeping Beauty.” The best scenes Aurora has, in fact, are when she’s a gurgling baby and then, adorably, a toddler, played by none other than 5-year-old Vivienne Jolie-Pitt. (In the movie’s one laugh-out-loud moment, Maleficent tells Aurora: “I don’t like children.”)

But Fanning as Aurora is too boringly sweet — especially compared to the fabulous-in-every-way Maleficent, with her blazing lips, fashionable black headgear and exaggerated cheekbones, not to mention her way around a quip. 

In the end, “Maleficent” is fun for its appealing visuals _ especially in the forest — and for watching Jolie. But that’s not enough to make the whole film interesting. As the minutes tick by, you might even start feeling a bit like Sleeping Beauty herself comes to feel:  Drowsy.

“Maleficent,” a Walt Disney Studios release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America “for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images.” Running time: 97 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.