They say the old ones are the best but Maleficent (PG) offers a striking new take on the Sleeping Beauty story. It opens in fabulous fairytale mode, when we meet the young Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy), a fairy who lives in a magical kingdom. Her encounter with human boy Stefan (Michael Higgins) offers hope for a future rapprochement between the human and fairy kingdoms, but when the grown-up Stefan (Sharlto Copley) grows up to become a power-hungry king who betrays Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) in a brutal way, the scene is set for Maleficent to wreak a terrible revenge. So far so conventional, but while the story is strongly rooted in the folktales of Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, screenwriter Linda Wolverton and director Robert Stromberg have a different kind of fable in mind. The iconic twisted horns immediately identify Jolie as the Maleficent of Disney’s animated classic from 1959, but this Maleficent is a far more complex character than her previous outings have suggested, not least in her relationship with Aurora (Elle Fanning), Stefan’s daughter and the infant whom Maleficent places a curse upon. Fanning is given little to do other than smile, simper and promote wholesome innocence, but to give her anything more would have been a waste of time, so completely does Jolie dominate the screen with a brilliantly icy (and occasionally hilarious) portrayal of nuanced evil. Very young children might baulk at the intensity of the battle sequences that bookend the story, but overall this is a hugely entertaining and inventive re-imagining of one of the oldest stories in the Western canon.
US Army PR specialist Major Cage (Tom Cruise) is thrust into the front line of a war against an invading alien army, where he is promptly killed. When he wakes up to find himself living through the exact same sequence of events, Cage realises that he is trapped in a time loop. Repeatedly killed, but learning a little more about how to survive each time, Cage joins forces with humanity’s great hope, the killing machine Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), as they try to defeat an enemy that controls not only the battlefield, but time itself. Adapted from Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need is Kill and directed by Doug Liman, the story comes on — hard and fast — like a blend of Aliens and Groundhog Day. Barrelling along at a frenzied pace, with the editing a blur of barely connected images, the movie is a bravura attempt at creating the visceral intensity of living inside a computer game, where characters die time and again only to come back to life for another shot at glory. Cruise and Blunt work well together, Cruise offering a gentle parody of sorts of his action-man persona (Cage finds himself pitched into battle because General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) abhors cowardice), while Blunt’s role is a teeth-gritted homage to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the Alien trilogy. The dystopian backdrop and relentlessly pounding visual style are leavened by black humour and neatly delivered one-liners, and it all together as an adrenaline-fuelled shoot-’em-up. Good fun.
Based on a true story, and set in rural Leitrim during the 1930s, Ken Loach’s (The Wind That Shakes the Barley)stars Barry Ward as Jimmy Gralton, who returns from a ten-year exile in New York to re-open the local community hall as a gathering place for the young of the parish. The hall quickly becomes a voluntary co-op offering the locals lessons in boxing, literature, dancing and jazz, but soon Jimmy finds himself condemned and ostracised by the clergy and the local landowners for fostering a spirit of Communism. It’s a typical Loach blend of the personal and the political, as Jimmy finds himself torn between his principles and his duty to those he loves, although Paul Laverty’s script, adapted from Donal O’Kelly’s play, skews heavily towards the political and lurches far too often into the realms of polemic. That said, it’s a charming period piece, not least because Loach encourages local actors (and non-actors) to contribute in an authentically naturalistic way — while Simone Kirby, Andrew Scott and Jim Norton are all excellent in their supporting roles — and overall it’s a tale that offers a fascinating insight into a little-known period in Irish history.