Angelina Jolie’s bewitching talents are wasted once more in soggy sequel Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, writes Alistair Harkness, but Shaun the Sheep scores big in family sci-fi comedy caper Farmageddon
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (PG) **
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (U) ***
Official Secrets (15) **
Mystify: Michael Hutchence (15) ***
Non-Fiction (15) ****
Providing a Wicked-style origin tale for the delicious villainess of Disney’s 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty, 2014’s Maleficent failed to provide the perfectly cast Angelina Jolie with a spiky enough story to match her vampish turn as the curse-dispensing good fairy gone bad. Five years on and the same problem persists with Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, which sees the redeemed Maleficent made an outcast once more, this time by a power-hungry queen (Michelle Pfeiffer) intent on using her son’s impending marriage to Maleficent’s goddaughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning), as a way of usurping her own husband (Robert Lindsay) and seizing full control of both his kingdom and the neighbouring fairy-ruled Moors that Maleficent now protects.
Directed by Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge), the film does have some fun with Jolie’s oddball turn in the title role: her sculpted cheekbones, protuberant fangs, curlicue horns and Joan Collins-esque line readings make her early attempts to play nice particularly amusing. But it quickly sacrifices camp for action, expanding the mythology of the character with a lot of earnest, sub-Lord of the Rings-style world-building about an underground fairy army (led by Chiwetel Ejiofor) and big CGI battle sequence that can’t help seeming like an over-compensation for the central, somewhat drippy, love story between the guileless Aurora and her wet-blanket beau (Harris Dickinson). Further attempts to subvert the original Sleeping Beauty only manage to further sideline Maleficent in her own story, giving the whole enterprise an appropriately soporific quality.
Aardman’s A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon offers a far more entertaining jolt of family film action by embroiling the naughty sheep in an endearingly madcap sci-fi adventure. When a mischievous alien called Lu-La crash-lands near Mossy Bottom Farm, Shaun has to help her get home, ET-style, all the while trying to keep her out of the clutches of an officious government agent obsessed with capturing her. As you’d expect from Aardman, there are visual gags aplenty, and a subplot in which Shaun’s home is turned into a ramshackle alien theme park to exploit the sudden local interest in UFOs is a charmingly British way to pay tribute to the long history of alien invasion B-movies.
A great story is drearily told in Official Secrets, a clunky dramatic re-enactment of the fallout from former GCHQ analyst Katharine Gun’s leak of an NSA e-mail requesting their help blackmailing UN diplomats into supporting the case for invading Iraq in 2003. Presenting her as a pragmatic idealist whose conscience wouldn’t let her stand by as Tony Blair repeatedly made the case for war by citing evidence that didn’t exist, Keira Knightley does a good job of conveying the sickening fear of a 29-year-old risking everything – her career, her freedom, her immigrant husband’s UK residency – for what was right. Sadly, her performance and the film’s good intentions are hampered by some pretty corny storytelling from director Gavin Hood (Eye in the Sky), not least when it segues into the efforts of the Observer newspaper to break the story. Matt Smith, Matthew Goode and Rhys Ifans run around like they’re in a remake of All the President’s Men made by people who’ve never seen All the President’s Men.
Following the likes of Amy and Whitney, Mystify: Michael Hutchence is the latest documentary deep-dive into the life and tragic death of a troubled musician. Though it takes familiarity with the titular INXS frontman’s music as a given (it barely explores the band or their multi-million-selling career), there’s plenty of value in the way it reconstructs his life from reams of archival and home-movie footage. Over-laced with moving audio testimony from those who were closest to him – including Kylie Minogue, who talks intimately about their two-year relationship – the film provides a fuller picture of him as an artist and a human being, which in turn provides some much-needed context for the more hedonistic rock star cliché image that took root in the final years of his life, when his career appeared to be on the wane and his relationship with Paula Yates made him tabloid fodder. Directed by Richard Lowenstein, who collaborated with Hutchence a lot in the early days of INXS, the film is at its most interesting in these later stages, tracing Hutchence’s decline to a random assault that left him with a personality altering brain injury from which he never recovered.
French director Olivier Assayas (The Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper) has an ongoing fascination with the overlap between creativity and real life; in his latest film, Non-Fiction, he explores that interest with a conventional-seeming adultery comedy set in the world of the French publishing industry.
Though at first the concerns of a group of middle-aged bourgeois cultural figures – book editor Alain (Guillaume Canet), Alain’s actress wife Serena (Juliette Binoche), “auto-fiction” novelist Leonard (Vincent Macaigne) and political aide Valerie (Nora Hamzawi), who’s dating Leonard – might seem inconsequential as they confront their own obsolescence by gabbing relentlessly about the need to maintain the cultural primacy they see slipping away from them in the digital age, the film gradually reveals itself to be a both a sly take-down of such intellectual and ideological posturing and a funny celebration of the very human foibles for which such behaviour is often a cover.