Film reviews: Maleficent | Grace of Monaco

Angelina Jolie stars in Maleficent. Picture: PA
Angelina Jolie stars in Maleficent. Picture: PA
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REVISIONIST fairy tales: where should we draw the line? A Big Bad Wolf using the life experience of his dodgy past to advise on geriatric care in the community?

Maleficent (PG)

Director: Robert Stromberg

Running time: 97 minutes

* * *

Or the Seven Dwarfs finally selling up that shared cottage in the forest after successfully completing a therapeutic module directed at their separation anxiety? Strictly speaking, Maleficent is not a fairy tale character at all, but a green-skinned invention of Disney’s, conjured to add a gothic dimension and a dragon to the 1959 cartoon Sleeping Beauty.

These days, Disney is actively seeking to step away from the Disney Princess model by providing heroines who could pass the Bechdel test of having two women in a film who talk to each other about something other than a man. Their Snow Queen revamp Frozen managed to tick that box last year, and made a cool fortune. Now we have Maleficent, aimed at a slightly older crowd, but again emphasising female friendship and eschewing the usual third act rescue by a handsome prince.

Indeed, a second theme shared by Frozen and Sleeping Beauty is that if a man expresses a romantic interest in you, he’s probably a rotter. At the start of the film, young Maleficent is a tender-hearted fairy who falls for a human, only to lose her wings to him, a mild innuendo that accompanying parents may appreciate.

The betrayal earns him a kingdom populated by Scottish accents, while Maleficent broods at its outskirts. I haven’t mentioned that she’s played by Angelina Jolie until now, because even in print she is a distracting presence, drawing the eye from everything else that is going on. Maleficent is not a great film; the action sequences are indulgent, the storytelling is soft, and many secondary characters seem to have wandered in from old drafts of Narnia or The Hobbit. But Maleficent is a great character, and Jolie has a ball playing her in the manner of Joan Collins in her Dynasty pomp. “I like you begging,” she sneers to her former trembling love (Sharlto Copley). “DO IT AGAIN!”

Unfortunately, Elle Fanning’s Princess Aurora is lovely as the day is long, and as dull as a shock jock hour on hospital radio. This may not be entirely her fault: Maleficent’s reinterpretation of the cornerstone cursed birthday scene portrays the three fairies (Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple) as argumentative, incompetent, dim bulbs who act like a winged Three Stooges. Their gifts are beauty, charm, and something about being happy all day long. No mention of intelligence, you’ll notice, and this is underscored in a later scene where the teen Aurora encounters Maleficient. “I know who you are,” she chirpily asserts, as her nemesis looms above her in a midnight gown with prehistoric cheekbones, glittering eyes, and a pair of oryx horns. “You’re my fairy godmother”. Jolie’s astonishment is one of the highlights in the picture.

A montage showing Maleficent gradually falling under Aurora’s gregarious spell is another instance of Jolie doing heavy lifting to compensate for an underwhelming script. Shot in 3D and stuffed with ravishing CGI imagery, this film is a beauty, but whenever Jolie is offscreen, it is also a snooze.

Grace Of Monaco (PG)

* *

You could build a good drinking game around this trite, sanitised account of Grace Kelly, the Hollywood queen recast as a Grimaldi princess. Mind you, if it involved doing a shot every time someone reminded Kelly of her elevated status, you wouldn’t remember very much of the second half of Grace Of Monaco.

Part The King’s Speech, part The Princess Diaries, the movie focuses on 1961 with Kelly (Nicole Kidman, right) married to Prince Rainier (Tim Roth) and chafing at the restrictions of ruling a country slightly bigger than a cocktail mat. No wonder that when Alfred Hitchcock offers the lead in Marnie “with some Scottish actor”, she is sorely tempted.

Directed by Olivier Dahan, Grace is every bit as good as you might expect a film to be when presenting intimate details of someone whose moneyed descendants have access to the legal system. Thus, the parade of 1960s Vogue fashions is visually luxurious, but the film is psychologically shallow. Before Derek Jacobi takes her through his Princess school, the picture paints its heroine as naïve, nervy and virginal – the opposite, in fact, of the cool, patrician Kelly who was something of a studette in Hollywood before she ascended to the Monegasque throne.

Kidman cannot be blamed for the Mills and Boon tantrums of the script (“Everything I do or say is wrong”) but Kelly was 33 in 1961, while Kidman is a remarkably preserved 46-year-old. Also what’s with the breathy voice? It’s as if Prince Rainier got to marry his first choice of Marilyn Monroe after all.

General release from Friday

Fruitvale Station (15)

* * * *

A promising debut by writer-director Ryan Coogler, recounting the last day of a young man (Michael B Jordan) with a

dodgy past. Naturalistic characters give the movie its strength although there’s a tendency to pile up instances of the character’s inner goodness, from showing kindness to dogs to calling up his granny.

Selected release: Glasgow Film Theatre, Friday-19 June; Dundee Contemporary Arts from Friday

Benny & Jolene (15)

* * *

Welsh indie film featuring Submarine’s Craig Roberts in a story of musical best friends whose relationship founders when their band takes off.

Selected release: Glasgow Film Theatre, Friday

Edge Of Tomorrow (15)

* * * *

Tom Cruise plays a cowardly soldier trapped in a time loop where he relives battling the same squiddy alien invaders over and over again. The downside is that he keeps dying. The upside? Each time he learns a little more about how to defeat them, and makes a little more headway with a fierce alpha warrior (Emily Blunt).

A slick, smart combination of Saving Private Ryan, Groundhog Day and a computer gamer fighting to get to the next level, this is an unexpected return to form for Tom Cruise movies. The loop is snappily realised, the action is fast and exciting and, in a summer of sequels and prequels, it feels fresh. You may even want to relive this more than once.

On general release

Cheap Thrills (15)

* * *

Two broke friends (Pat Healy and Ethan Embry) meet a couple in a bar and become embroiled in an escalating series of dares. Well-acted and watchable, then gruelling and ghastly, this would also have worked well in Tales Of The Unexpected a few decades ago.

Selected release from Friday