Category Archives: Movies

The Salt Of The Earth

The Salt of the Earth
The Salt of the Earth

 

How long does it take to plant 2,000,000 trees?

Why would someone give up a safe and lucrative job as an economist with a global institution for the uncertain livelihood of a photographer?

What keeps a person who is steeped in the aftermath of brutal atrocities – and witnesses human savagery up close – sane?

We get an insight into all of these questions in this mesmerising documentary. The range and depth to be found in the experience of the life that Sebastiao Salgado has lived is just hinted at by the variety and profoundness displayed in the previous questions.

 

Serra Pelada Mines - one of Sebastiao Salgado's most iconic images
Serra Pelada Mines – one of Sebastiao Salgado’s most iconic images

Born on a Brazilian farm in Minas Gerais state in 1944, Sebastiao led a conventional life until the age of thirty – earning a Masters in Economics, moving to live in Paris and working on assignment in Africa for the World Bank studying the coffee industry.

He also met and married his wife Lélia Wanick (Salgado) a fellow Brazilian. So far, so usual.

Then one day he picked up a camera Lélia had bought for her studies – and his life changed utterly.

Fascinated and increasingly enthralled, we might even say bewitched, by the world of images, Sebastiao – fully supported by Lélia – made a very radical decision: he gave up his safe, secure and extremely well-paid job as an economist to begin work on a long-term photography project.

If this had failed we might say he was unhinged to take such a step, but with the benefit of hindsight we can say now that it was inspired.

Never an easy path – Sebastiao spent long periods away from his family, which now included children, two boys, along with isolation in remote and difficult, and often dangerous, terrain – his perseverance, dedication and rare talent eventually made Sebastiao one of the world’s most successful photographers.

Ironically, many of his signature photographs came to be taken on the same ground as he had previously trodden as an economist – capturing stills of workers where he had poured over statistics before. Some of his most renowned photos came from coffee plantations; a revolution complete.

A coffee plantation and its workers
A coffee plantation and its workers
A coffee plantation and its workers
A coffee plantation and its workers

This documentary by German film maker Wim Wender (with the help of Sebastiao’s and Lélia’s son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado) delves with empathy and incisiveness into Sebastiao and Lélia’s lives since that momentous change in direction, the highs and the lows, the various projects – including some truly horrendous experiences in Rwanda and Yugoslavia as both were dissolved by the acid of human hate – and their return to Brazil to begin their new project, the Instituto Terra.

If you can see this film, it will be an enjoyable and enlightening experience, tinged with some sadness of course – a bit like life and a fitting testament to a living lens on humanity’s positive and negative elements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cops and Robbers – The Seven Five Precinct

New York City's Police Precinct Seven Five
New York City’s Police Precinct Seven Five

In the early 1990s one Brooklyn gangster, Adam Diaz, sold a kilo of cocaine for $34,000. He sold roughly 300 kilos a week.

Despite operating in a crime-ridden chronically poor neighbourhood, despite the temptation presented by the vast sums of money involved, Diaz never feared his key shipments of drugs would be intercepted.

He had bought his own police escort.

Precinct Seven Five is a documentary telling the story of Michael Dowd, ‘New York’s Most Corrupt Cop’, whom Diaz paid $4000 a week for his services. And what services they were for a serving New York City police officer to provide to one of his precinct’s biggest criminals.

It’s a truly remarkable tale. Almost literally incredible. The truth seems so far-fetched that it would be almost impossible to get anyone to believe the events recounted over these 106 minutes if this was a summer action blockbuster.

Director Tiller Russell uses interwoven interviews with the real-life people to let them tell their own stories in their own words. Explanatory voice-overs are kept to a bare minimum and this makes for a hugely engaging experience for the viewer.

Russell is thoroughly blessed in that the cops and the robbers that form his cast of characters at the heart of the story are all larger than life, almost manically voluble and only rescued from verging into Soprano-esque stereotypes by virtue of the fact that we know they are all real people.

The result is riveting. By times funny, shocking and horrifying, it makes movies like ‘The Departed’ appear understated and restrained – yet these are real people and real events you’re forced to remind yourself every so often, not fictional caricatures.

Michael Dowd
Michael Dowd

Michael Dowd is the hinge on which everything else turns. He joined the NYPD almost straight after high school in the early 1980s. He had no great interest in the NYPD, he just happened to get his result from the Police Department before the Fire Department. The FDNY should thank its lucky stars it never secured the services of Mikey Dowd.

Charming, unscrupulous, up-for-anything ‘Mad Mikey’ cared mostly about being a good cop. He explains this as not being about good policing, about solving crime and catching criminals, but about always, absolutely always, backing up your fellow cops – no matter what.

As Dowd later explained to the Mollen Commission, which investigated corruption in the NYPD, cops who were not regarded as ‘good’ by their colleagues might find help slow in arriving when they needed it. In a precinct like the Seven Five in the 1980s and 1990s – described by cops and criminal alike as a ‘warzone’ with hundreds of reported incidents every day –  slow or no backup could be a death sentence.

This unbreakable code of silence, a blue omerta,  led many of the officers of the Seven Five precinct to serve and protect themselves, with Dowd as their exemplar.

He recalls on camera how he first left the straight and narrow by taking a few hundred dollars to look the other way during a routine traffic stop of a suspected drug dealer. Dowd was short on cash and a long way from pay-day.

Once he’d cottoned on to this new lucrative scheme, things soon escalated and expanded. Other cops refused to work with him until he struck up a connection with relative newcomer Kenny Eurell.

Eurell’s initial idealism soon faded as he was drawn into the murky world of Mike Dowd. Taking a one-off $100 dollars from one of Dowd’s schemes quickly gave way to fully fledged involvement in burglaries, then robbing drug dealers, and eventually working for them – principally Adam Diaz.

Dowd grew so comfortable in the criminal world and so far from his police oath that he set up his own drug dealing racket on Long Island.

Eventually that came led to his ultimate downfall. But that’s an outcome best and ably described on-screen by those who brought it about first-hand.

If you can at all get a chance to see this documentary, do.

It leaves fictional TV and movies in the halfpenny place by a country mile. Truth is not only stranger than fiction but far more dangerous.

John Wick

johnwick-reeves-church
John Wick

 

Clint Eastwood’s character apparently killed roughly 80 Nazis in Where Eagles Dare (1968).

Keanu Reeves as John Wick makes a hell of an attempt to beat that number in this film.

It’s fair bet to say he probably succeeds.

That might sound a bit monotonous as a plot but it turns out to be rather mesmerising.

We start knowing very little about Mr Wick. He’s obviously well-to-do, lives in an ultra-modern, superbly designed and expensively outfitted if austere mansion in rural New York. He has an expensive car collection.

We don’t know what he does. We don’t know what he did. We don’t know where his money came from.

Gradually we learn a little more. We find out that his wife has just died after a long illness. John Wick is a man in mourning, trying to come to terms with his loss. A thoughtful and foresighted woman, worried that this might be the case, his late wife has organised an intervention to draw John back into the world of life and living.

She has a puppy delivered.

John Wick and Daisy
John Wick and Daisy

And it has exactly the effect she hoped. Gradually man and dog bond. ‘Daisy’ as a final gift from his wife occupies a very special place in John Wick’s life.

The only thing that comes close to being as important is his car – a vintage Mustang.

Then one fine day John and Daisy encounter some Russian mobsters at a local service station, one of whom takes a great interest in the Mustang – so much so that he offers to buy the car, whatever the cost. He expects to get what he wants, the offer becoming ever more a demand and is flabbergasted, furious and then grievously offended when John refuses to either be intimidated or to sell at any price.

The mobster utters an insult in Russian. And John Wick responds fluently in the same language. An insight that raises far more questions than it in any way answers.

Later the same night, John wakes to unexpected sounds downstairs.

The Russian hasn’t taken ‘No’ for an answer.

In a short space of time, John’s life is turned upside-down again.

As he tries to get some semblance of balance back in the days that follow, his past life is revealed – and we realise that the Russians have picked on the worst possible target for a home invasion.

What follows is non-stop action, stylish, sustained and superbly entertaining.

 

 

 

The Drop

The Drop
The Drop – a thriller that does what it says on the tin

 

Eric Deeds doesn’t do whys.

Eric has a problem with Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy).

Bob is a bartender at his cousin Marv’s (James Gandolfini in his last film) bar, conveniently called Cousin Marvs. He lives in the house he inherited from his parents and generally keeps himself to himself. Doesn’t say much, just gets on with things.

Until the night he finds a beaten and bleeding pup in a trash can.

Bob's life gets complicated
Bob’s life gets complicated

That night changes Bob’s life.

The trash can was in a front yard Bob was passing on his way back from a shift at the bar. It turns out the house is owned by a young woman called Nadia (Noomi Rapace). It takes Bob a while to find out her name. It takes him longer to convince her not to call the police and have him arrested.

Bob’s previously simple life rapidly becomes complicated on a number of fronts.

He promises Nadia to keep the pup, rather than giving it up to a dog shelter. Bob though doesn’t know anything about looking after a dog, so Nadia agrees to help.

And then up pops Eric Deeds (Mathias Schoenaerts). He turns up in the park as Bob and Nadia walk the dog. Then he knocks on Bob’s door and invites himself in. Compliments Bob on his dog. Or actually, his, Eric’s, dog he claims. Eric eventually leaves but it’s clear the number of bats in his belfry don’t add up to what they should.

Bob tells Marv what happened and enquires about Eric Deeds – who he is and what he’s like. Marv warns him that Deeds is seriously bad news, erratic unpredictable and given to violence. People in the neighbourhood believe he killed a man called Richie Whelan.

While Bob is mulling over these developments, more trouble drops into his world. Marv’s bar is robbed at closing time by two gun-wielding bandits who make off with $5000. Despite the name, Marv doesn’t own his bar. He used to. Back when he was a big name in the neighbourhood, a loan shark as well as bar owner, and want-to-be hoodlum and hardman.

Now though he’s been forced to hand the bar over to Chechen gangsters, and these days Marv answers to them. A loss of any kind is a black mark and the brutality that may be meted out in punishment unknowable.

Unless Marv and Bob can find the robbers and recover the money. And convince the Chechens that they had nothing to do with it. As well as the police detective (John  Ortiz) who believes they know more than they’re telling.

Happy Ending?
Happy Ending?

And all the time not forgetting that Eric Deeds still has a bone to pick with Bob. And Nadia. And possibly Marv.

The resolution of these strands is like watching speeding trains all bound for the one terminus, hurtling ever closer – something explosive almost certainly will happen, but even as the tensions build we’re not quite sure how.

Then again there may be switches to be thrown and twists to come that change the entire story as we (believe we) know it……..

Hugely enjoyable in a quiet, understated way and played out on a very human scale, with sympathy for and insight into the often unsuspected depths of lingering fears and frustrations, hopes and dreams we all accumulate as we move through life.

Interstellar

Poster for Interstellar
Stellar Interstellar

‘I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.’

It’s hard not to think of that line, and many other ‘science fiction’ films when coming to a movie like Interstellar.

Especially a movie like Interstellar. Humans. Machines. Space Exploration.

There however the similarities cease. Nods and oblique references, some quite funny, are made to these predecessors, but Interstellar is very much its own film. And all the better for it.

Humanity is at the core, the heart of Interstellar. It might seem strange but it’s as much and actually much more of a love story than a space epic.

Tech and adventure provide the stunning backdrop for a story of human relationships, encompassing everything from romantic,  family and friendship to the bonds that link us all.

How strong are those bonds? How far do they reach? What would we do to save those we love? Who would we sacrifice for them? Is a planet full of people worth less than one special person?

It would be unfair to unravel any more of the threads that go into to weaving this story together.

Like the science of worm holes it folds back in and through itself in complex ways that thoroughly reward the viewer.

In its best moments and there are many, it’s a heart thumping thrilling experience – made all the better by the immensely powerful soundtrack, crescendos of perfectly chosen notes lending power to scenes throughout the film.

It’s rare to say that all the parts of a movie work, but in this they do: concept, story, script, actors, music, pace, visuals – and even the message.

It’s an emotional roller-coaster transcending genres in much the same way as the scientific theories at the heart of the movie aim to short cut reality, and in the same way as black holes are, apparently, inexplicable from the out side , the only real way to understand the magic of this movie is to go see it!

Do. It’s well worth it, even for those who have no interest in science or science fiction.

You just need to have a heart – or have known one once.

 

Fury

Fury Movie Poster
Fury

For a movie that’s two and a half hours long, Fury fairly zips by. It’s not always evenly paced and there are slow sections, but I was surprised at how fast the time had passed when the end credits rolled.

Perhaps part of the reason for this is that the film jumps straight into the heart of the story – and stays there. There are few distractions or deviations from the man storyline – Brad Pitt and his tank crew (Shia LeBeouf, Michael Pena, John Bernthal) show a new recruit the ropes as they fight some of last battles of the European war in Germany, April 1945.

Some reviews have called this an old fashioned straight-up war film, but that it is not.  Or at least not all of the time.

Long stretches, most of the movie, actually is action – Fury and her crew against Nazi tanks, infantry, mines, and panzerfausts.

Other sections though are closer, almost, to scenes from a stage play – mannered, studied, carefully posed and presented, slow, heavy-handed, coarse even crude. They work against the rest of the movie’s attempts to depict the reality of the war alongside the banality of the warriors, and vice versa. Some of these central  scenes undermine the essential ‘ordinariness’ of conscript soldiers that is crucial to the storyline – desperate times and situations wreak havoc on peacetime people and behaviour, this we know and have seen from a long litany of recent movies.

Lingering on an exaggerated if not bizarre vision of this well known idea does nothing for the audience, except perhaps to alienate them from the protagonists. The numerous, varied and prolonged horrors of war turn many people into human wrecks of course, but not always freakish outlandish over-the-top monsters as is sometimes the case here; the result is that when later in the film we might be expected to care about these characters, we really don’t. Internal, silent, unseen but hinted at damage can be more powerful than in-your-face grotesquery.

This seeming compulsion to sledgehammer and telegraph rather than adopt nuance and allusion, the triumph of unabashed spotlighting over subtlety, crops up throughout the movie, as if the creators were unsure how much of their message was making it into the viewers consciousness – or maybe they doubted whether their viewers might actually have consciousness. The answers seems to be slap them in the face with a giant can of ‘Did you see what we did there!!’ at frequent intervals.

It revels in its more brutal moments and seems to make special effort to make sure that no one misses the point – almost to such an extent that feels like showing off, ‘look at how much gory gritty reality we could ladle into these scenes’. Or it’s a lack of confidence. Maybe a better approach would be to trust yourself, your idea and not least your audience – if it’s visceral, we’ll notice, it’s not necessary to flag everything  as if the audience may be either dimwits or not fully human.

When the film stops treating it’s viewers like they have a lower IQ than the popcorn they’re munching on, it gets a lot of things right.

Foremost, whoever came up with the idea of using tracer rounds so extensively in the battle scenes deserves extra special mention. In a way this is sledgehammering the viewer again, but this time it works. I don’t know if it bears any similarity to reality but it is astoundingly effective. Trajectories of bullets and shells blaze through the sky in vicious flashes of red and green, striking and ricocheting with blinding speed and cacophonous racket. Between the light, the sounds and the rapidity, the viewer’s senses are thoroughly assaulted and set on edge, giving a visceral experience quite unlike anything I’ve seen before.

Tracer rounds light up the action - and the horror - in Fury
Tracer rounds light up the action – and the horror – in Fury

The shock, disorientation and sheer inability of the human brain to make sense of such situations is powerfully conveyed. Luck and the awful randomness at work are also highlighted, a millimetre here or there making all the difference, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what you’ve done, moral, immoral, black, white, tall, short, good, bad or indifferent – a split second and you’re dead. Those in the firing line have no means of controlling or effecting what happens.  Nor can they do much to help or protect their comrades. This sense of utter helplessness and powerlessness adds the greatest sense of terror – death and injury stalk the combatants impersonally, and there’s no rhyme or reason to who dies, and no way to avoid or influence it.

Despite the frankly ludicrous Bible bilge that crops up at intervals to annoy and distract, the main terror we see are people in a horrendous situation that they have absolutely no power to influence and no way to escape other than it seems through death.

All told overall, Fury is worth the investment of time and money by the viewer. It has some interesting things to say but not as many as it thinks, and its strongest element by far is its truly excellent and innovative battle scenes, which go further to show war as hell than all of the words of the script.

 

Gone Girl

Gone Girl Poster
Gone Girl

 

I came late to Gone Girl.

Gillian Flynn’s novel became a phenomenon in 2012. Published in June, it sold over two million copies within the year.

Gone Girl book cover
Gone Girl – Arguably the novel of 2012

It became a favourite of book clubs and a stalwart of review pages, staying at the top of the New York Times bestseller index for weeks on end.

Somehow it passed me by at the time, but with the movie version arriving in Ireland I decided to catch up with the book before seeing it.

Near the end of the book I was faced with quandary of whether to see the movie if I’d read the book, and compromised by not finishing the last few chapter.

The film itself sticks closely to the book, with some minor changes – interestingly the screenplay is by Gillian Flynn as well, so fidelity to the written word is not surprising. By no means though is this a rigidly ‘stage bound’ production slavishly following every aspect of the book; some parts and characters have been omitted, and some minimised and the timeline altered where necessary.

The core of the story remains the same. Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott Dunne are married. Both are writers. They live the life of a dream couple. Amy is the inspiration for and living embodiment of her parents’ best selling children’s books ‘Amazing Amy’, about a near perfect girl who (over)achieves at everything.

Nick Dunne left his North Carthage, Missouri  behind and become a success in the literary/journalism world of New York.

Boy meets girl at a party, true love strikes and the two are entwined as soulmates for ever.

The End.

Not quite. The fairytale takes a bit of a dent when both lose their jobs and move back to Nick’s hometown, but their lives continue more or less as normal.

When the film opens we see Nick Dunne now an ex-writer running a bar with his sister, Margo – or Go for short.

It’s Nick and Amy’s five year anniversary; he doesn’t have a present yet but he has the whole day……then the phone rings.

Nick drives home and finds his house empty. Amy has disappeared – the Gone Girl.

The rest of the movie unravels and unspools the story in more detail, using present and flashback perspectives.

The surprises come thick and fast, as do the twists, turns, and revelations. What starts as a simple love story and two people fated to be together, takes a complicated turn with many angles.  Will true love run its course? In sickness and in health, till death do them part?

Rosamund Pike was a little questionable for the early part of the film but by the end her performance will be seared in your brain – especially one particular scene; if you don’t like blood, be prepared!

Ben Affleck is well-nigh perfect for the role of Nick, and the supporting cast of Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens in particular are very much contenders for best on-screen performance.

Very enjoyable with some of the tense and uncomfortable moments that mark out a good thriller. Do see it if you get a chance – just not if your relationship (should you be in one) is in any way delicate!

Dawn of Planet of the Apes

Ape not kill ape
Ape not kill ape

It might seem strange or facetious, or even downright perverse, to connect this movie – ostensibly  a science fiction film about talking monkeys – to the dark events of the last few weeks on the world stage, war, death, destruction, suffering, but it is particularly resonant on all these scores, perhaps precisely because so much blood has been spilled to no good end and no conceivably justifiable purpose in real life.

The core theme and message of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is how similarities transcend and unite, even across apparently wide gulfs of difference.  Basic emotions are shared despite class, colour, and creed. Like our simian cousins humans are social animals, most often choosing to live in groups. How we organise those groups though can to lead to problems.

How do we make decisions? Who gets to make decisions? What outcomes do we want? Which outcomes are best? How do we judge? How do we achieve them? By consensus? By domination? Peacefully? Violently? Are some things important enough to die for? To kill for? What’s life for anyway? Love? Power? Plenty? Happiness? Dignity? Control? Duty? Responsibility? Belief? Me? Mine? Ours? Us?

All of these questions in one form or another have arisen in the last few weeks – and are at the centre of events in Gaza/Israel, Ukraine, Syria,  and Ferguson, USA. As well as each of lives and all of our homes.

Power and Control, Pain and Death, Conflict and Sorrow.

Or another way?

An unlikely place to seek ruminations on all these questions concerning the foundations of the human condition perhaps, but nevertheless this is what this film does, and does it very well and even somewhat poignantly.

Thought provoking and well worth a watch.

 

Arthur and Mike: running away from yourself so fast it hurts

Arthur Newman, Golf Pro
Arthur and Mike: Life’s no picnic

 

Do you ever think about dropping everything and disappearing into the wild blue yonder?

A new name, a new backstory, a new personality even – a new life! Just like that…..

That’s what Wallace Avery (Colin Firth) does in ‘Arthur and Mike’. Fakes his death and disappears. Not randomly or haphazardly; he has a plan – maybe more of a quest – and a place to be. As Arthur Newman – old pent-up, buttoned-down staid Wallace doesn’t do imaginative, even with his reinvention as a new man – he’s on his way to be a golf pro in Terre Haute Indiana. Goodbye past, hello possibility. Simple.

Except he’s not the only one fleeing his demons. Staggering or collapsing into Arthur’s path comes a mysterious woman (Emily Blunt), sprawled on a sun lounger seemingly on the way out of not just her old life but out of  life entirely. An unlikely hero but an honourable man, Arthur gets her to a hospitable and saves her life. The two – the stray and the waif – forge a bond, brittle at first but gradually deepening.

Over time and a series of adventures – what road movie doesn’t have adventures and escapades – the role of saviour and consoler switches back and forth, as both Arthur and Mike acknowledge and confront their demons.

There are some uncomfortable scenes along the way, some genuinely funny, a few very sad, and not a small number of rather sweet vignettes.

It’s not a prefect film by any means, and it doesn’t set out to be a blockbuster; the tale of two imperfect people probably never could be. It is intriguing enough to stay in the memory and provoke some reflective thoughts on what’s just played before our eyes.

One question that kept distracting me from the film was why were the two lead roles in the story of two Americans in America both filled by British actors. I’m not suggesting that roles be allocated on any kind of strict passport criteria – the key skill of acting after all being able to portray someone else who is not you – but casting of this kind can cause difficulties with believability. Relatively unknown actors can sail under the radar, and both film goers and critics may see and hear what they expect to see and hear from an American character.

But Colin Firth is too big a name and far too well-known as the quintessential Englishman not to invite, even demand, closer scrutiny, and unfortunately in this film at least his accent is not always up to scratch so as to pass muster. In fact it might be the case that his usual intonation and diction are so well-known and so familiar that no matter what he tries to do, what comes to mind will always be the distinctive voice of King George, Mr Darcy or Bridget Jones’ caddish boss.

Emily Blunt on the other hand – with a burgeoning career but not one defined, yet, by a single role, much less a specifically English/British one – carries off American tones with aplomb. Her performance is the best thing about this film by a country mile. Looking like a cross between the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Chloe from 24, she makes the screen her own as the kooky, impulsive, perhaps irredeemable Mike.

While it is flawed, there’s enough here to satisfy film goers who like a film a little off centre, neither sickly saccharine nor gratuitously bitter, depicting lives stained with darkness and constrained by dread, that ultimately perhaps asks as many questions of the audience as it does of the characters. As to where the answers lie, well that’s question for all of us, isn’t it?

Maleficent

Image of Angelina Jolie as Maleficent
Things aren’t always black and white despite how they seem

Black and white. Evil and good. Clear and distinct.

Fairy tales usually follow these lines. Things are kept simple, straightforward. Good v. bad.

Which is grand when you’re a child, until you grow up a bit and find the real world isn’t like that in very many ways. You could even say that growing up is essentially this process: beyond merely getting bigger or adding numbers on a calendar, that elusive quality, true maturity, develops as we come to learn that often, but not always, there are shades of grey in a great many things; certainties change over time, or we do or maybe a bit of both.

Some absolutes fade, get a little softer and blurred around the edges. That person whom we could never tolerate, let alone understand, and even less sympathise with, gradually seems a little more human – even judgements written in stone will weather over time.

Even in this context, though taking the solidly malicious Wicked Witch of the Sleeping Beauty tale and have us regard her as anything less than a fitting addition to a bonfire looks like a tall order.

Envious, enraged, vindictive, spiteful enough to curse a baby and blight a life. It would be hard to think of any character less susceptible to a moral makeover. And yet that is the magic of this film. It takes what we know, a familiar and well-worn plot and then turns everything on its head by showing us everything we don’t know.

Without resorting to saccharine schmaltz it persuades us that there might be another perspective, that even the hardest of hearts may have some spark of humanity left. But not always and not everyone. Avoiding oversimplification and refusing to shy away from darkness and death means the film packs a punch which makes the PG rating warranted.

The best part of traditional fairy tales are the sharp edges of the story that always tantalise us with tension and dread at regular intervals and send shivers up the spine – all may not work out, the end may not be happy. And often enough it isn’t. Maleficent takes this idea and runs with it gleefully. Presuming the audience is familiar with the Sleeping Beauty story already, it starts in a very different fashion.

Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) when we first see her is young and carefree in the magical Land of Fairies – still growing but already the most powerful of the fairy folk. Untroubled by outsiders she spends her days happily and content among the other creatures of Fairy Land: tall and short, on four legs and two, winged and hopping. The most stressful moment of the day is being hit by a mud pie playfully thrown by an 8 foot frog. Life is idyllic. Until. There of course has to be an until…..

One day an intruder from the Land of Humans is caught. Usually both realms go about their own business,  with the divide between magical creatures and mankind clearly marked. Stefan (Michael Higgins/Jackson Bews) however has other ideas. The same age as Maleficent (Ella Purnell) , the two become close friends. Gradually though the restlessness and ambition that brought Stefan into Maleficent’s life draw him away for longer and longer periods.

Eventually he’s gone for good it seems. Years pass by and the now grown Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) has to deal with another very different encounter with humans. King Henry (Kenneth Cranham) and his army of archers, infantry and mounted knights arrive to conquer the Land of Fairies. Maleficent becomes the winged protector and guardian of her home. Using her now fully developed powers, she marshals the other creatures of Fairy Land and repels the human invasion, flying over the battlefield  as an unstoppable, invulnerable avenger.

King Henry returns to his castle, defeated. Stymied by Maleficent, he offers to make anyone who can neutralise her his heir.

Soon after Maleficent meets Stefan (Sharlto Copley) again. And to say any more would be to give away far too much……..

Angelina Jolie is tremendous throughout, by times vulnerable, funny, terrifying, miserable but above all entirely convincing.

She’s ably supported by Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, and Juno Temple in a touching but never sickly sweet film.