Movie Reviews: 'Maleficent,' 'A Million Ways to Die in the West'

PHOTO: Angelina Jolie in a scene from "Maleficent."
Frank Connor/Disney/AP Photo

This week, get film reviews for "Maleficent" and "A Million Ways to Die in the West." Because "Maleficent" is a Disney film and ABC News is owned by Disney, the AP review for the film can be found below. ABC News critic David Blaustein reviews "A Million Ways to Die in the West."

For all movie reviews from ABC News, go here.

'Maleficent'

Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning

Rated PG

Two-and-a-half out of five stars

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.

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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 3-D) 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 -- young and female -- 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.

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And frankly, the other characters -- Stefan, but also Elle Fanning's Aurora, or "Sleeping Beauty" -- are simply not that interesting. 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.

--The Associated Press

PHOTO: Seth MacFarlane, right, and Charlize Theron in a scene from "A Million Ways to Die in the West."
Universal Pictures/AP Photo
'A Million Ways to Die in the West'

Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Neil Patrick Harris, Amanda Seyfried

Rated R

Two out of five stars

"A Million Ways to Die in the West," the red band trailer, is hilarious.

"A Million Ways to Die in the West," the movie, stinks.

You need to know: I love Seth MacFarlane. I publicly defended his 2013 Oscar-hosting performance. I’ve talked at great length about the genius of his TV show, "The Family Guy," and I gave his 2012 hit summer comedy, "Ted," four-and-a-half out of five stars. Yet what MacFarlane’s excellent reboot of the "Cosmos" series with physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (yup, he was behind that, too) does to advance our knowledge of science and the universe, "A Million Ways to Die in the West" does the exact opposite for humor.

Almost the entire movie feels like a comedian testing out new material that doesn’t work. MacFarlane plays Albert, a sheep farmer in 1882 Arizona. It’s a terrible place. How do we know? Because Albert tells us so -- over and over and over and over again. When he’s not telling us how terrible things are, we’re given the same jokes, over and over and over and over again. The movie should be titled "A Million Ways to Tell the Same Joke." And when we’re not being treated to different iterations of the same joke, we’re getting diarrhea in a hat (that’s not a metaphor -- it’s an actual scene in the movie) and a recycled version of "There’s Something About Mary’s" hair gel scene, only this time it involves the side of Sarah Silverman’s face.

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Might as well tell you about the so-called plot. Albert gets dumped by his girlfriend, played by Amanda Seyfried, making the Old West for him an even more miserable place than it already was. Then along comes Charlize Theron’s Anna, who, unbeknownst to Albert, is the wife of Liam Neeson’s Clinch, the deadliest gun in the territory. Anna teaches Albert how to shoot, instills in him a sense of self-worth, and, of course, they fall for each other.

Neil Patrick Harris plays Seyfried’s new boyfriend, Foy, a man with a fancy mustache who owns a fancy mustache shop. Foy is the film’s most consistently funny character, and even that’s because of NPH’s excellent comedic choices, rather than the character itself.

In fairness, "A Million Ways to Die in the West" does include a few genuinely funny moments, but they’re few and far between, and, like the other jokes, they’re often used more than once.

MacFarlane may have predicted critics weren’t going to like "A Million Ways to Die in the West" because of a personal vendetta against him and his previous work. The truth is, critics -- like me -- aren’t going to like this movie because it’s just not particularly funny.

--David Blaustein, ABC News

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