Wednesday 13 November 2019

Film of the week: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Michelle Pfeiffer, Angelina Jolie and Dakota Fanning in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Michelle Pfeiffer, Angelina Jolie and Dakota Fanning in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Keira Knightley in Official Secrets

Disney's Maleficent (2014) succeeded so well because in its rewriting of the evil queen of the Sleeping Beauty myth as a misunderstood guardian, it struck an interesting balance between dark menace and fairytale candyfloss. It didn't hurt that the cut-glass visage of Angelina Jolie immediately lent the character a degree of gravity, and positioned opposite the wholesomeness of Elle Fanning (as goody two-shoes Princess Aurora), the whole thing had a compelling screen duo to build itself around.

In this sequel directed by Joachim Ronning, that dynamic is still there to enjoy, with Maleficent putting her foot down when Aurora informs her of the gushing marriage proposal by Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson). Beware the path of love, is the rebuke from the razor-cheeked fairy queen, before she relents and agrees to meet the new in-laws. Hiding in the grass all the while is Phillip's mother Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has it in for fairies and their ilk.

Without wishing to drop any spoilers, let's just say you'll never complain about your own in-laws again. We'll also say that this post-Game of Thrones world seems to demand that anything set against a backdrop of crowns and swords must now include cut-throat political intrigue and elaborate bish-bash-bosh on the battlefield. The nods by the writing team of Linda Woolverton, Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster are numerous. Even Pfeiffer seems to channel towering villainess Cersei.

This, as well as a whole realm of Maleficent's cousins turning up (among them Chiwetel Ejiofor) for winged warfare, pulls this sequel into areas that feel forced, as if only such bells and whistles could justify an encore of this scale and budget. There is some wedding fluff and pageantry to swoon over, however, if that's more your thing.

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As for Jolie herself, well... for all the rouged supermodel pouting and sharp put-downs, there remains a slight stiffness to her Maleficent magnificence, making you wonder was her expressiveness limited by all that weighty (but undeniably excellent) make-up and costuming.

★★★ Hilary A White

 

Dark Lies The Island

Cert: Club; Selected cinemas 

Although his three novels to date have all won major plaudits, Limerick laureate Kevin Barry first came to prominence as a short-story writer of uncanny ability. This self-penned screen adaptation features characters gathered from his two collections, 2007's There Are Little Kingdoms and the 2012 follow-up this film takes its title from.

The unique world Barry creates in his writings - a gnarled, cursed and blackly comic rural Ireland - makes for a rather potent cinematic setting in which to see wretched lives doing themselves no favours. This also goes for Barry's inimitable dialogue. So with these things covered, it falls to director Ian Fitzgibbon and cinematographer Cathal Watters to tie a ribbon around it all, which they do in sharp style.

The Mannion family preside in Dromord, with Daddy (Pat Shortt) the iron-fisted patriarch living in the big house with young wife Sarah (Charlie Murphy) and their daughter. On the fringes are his estranged sons, the self-exiled Doggy (Peter Coonan) and ne'er-do-well Martin (Moe Dunford). A macabre mini-carnival of blackmail, sadomasochism and jealousy erupts.

Ireland's bylanes are rendered delightfully eerie and twisted, with Tommy Tiernan the icing on a great ensemble cake.

★★★★ Hilary A White

 

Zombieland: Double Tap 

Cert: 16; Now showing 

Keep the brand upright, freshen up the characters, keep the stoners giggling. Assuming this was the goal of director Ruben Fleischer's Zombieland sequel a decade on from its moderately successful predecessor, you'd have to say job done.

If the quick-draw gags of the first left you cold, however, avoid. Much of the humour by co-writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is unashamedly character-based, with the Jesse Eisenberg's nerdy survivalist offering the chalk to Woody Harrelson's southern-fried tough guy cheese. Their post-apocalyptic slumming in the White House is interrupted when half their quartet (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) abandon them. A deadly new strain of zombie is also rumoured.

What ensues is loose and throwaway, but not without its Simpsons-esque charm. Zoey Deutch's airhead almost steals the show in a loveable wee cast.

★★★ Hilary A White

 

Non-Fiction

Cert: 15A; Now showing IFI

There is a point at the end of Olivier Assayas's Non-Fiction (Doubles Vies) where one of the main characters tells another that he has asked Juliette Binoche to voice an audio book. She hasn't responded and they ask another character, Selena, if she can help. Selena says it wouldn't be appropriate, but Selena is played by Binoche, and this sums up the playful knowingness of this lovely French comedy of manners.

Alain (Guillaume Canet) is a publisher who takes one of his longest-standing writers Leonard (Vincent Macaigne) out to lunch to tell him he won't be publishing his latest novel. Like all of Leonard's books, it is about one of his love affairs, but what apparently Alain fails to notice is that this love affair of Leonard's is with Alain's wife, Selena. Alain has his own affair going on with colleague Laure (Christa Theret), while Leonard's partner Valerie (Nora Hamzawi) suspects something but loves him anyway.

This privileged set of strangely likeable characters debate the future of books and art, internet versus print, general morality and other high-minded concepts against the backdrop of bed-hopping.

It's very wordy, funny, engaging and supremely French, with great performances.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

 

Official Secrets

Cert: 15A; Now showing

With embers reigniting on the Turkey-Syria border and self-serving skulduggery never more associated with geopolitics, this serviceable real-life drama about UK whistleblower Katharine Gun is indeed timely.

Gun mightn't have been able to stop Britain joining the US invasion of Iraq, but she did expose how these administrations operate. In 2003, she went to the press with details of US security emails seen while working at Government Communications HQ that implied the US sought to spy on and blackmail UN Security Council members in order to secure support for the invasion.

Keira Knightley's (below) functional portrayal of Gun is perhaps the least interesting thing about Gavin Hood's intelligent, nicely assembled and illuminating film that feels like ideal Sunday afternoon fare. Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode and Ralph Fiennes are among an engaging support cast as the tension ratchets in legal offices and newsrooms.

★★★★ Hilary A White

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