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The Final cut: Maleficent and Holiday

Angelina is magnificent but the movie isn’t quite so and you’ll need a vacation from Akshay’s latest.

The Final cut: Maleficent and Holiday

Maleficent***

Director: Robert Stromberg

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Sam Riley

Fairy tales have power. Power to inform, power to reform, power to emphasise universal human values, power to frighten, power to enlighten, power to fire the imagination, power to thrill, power to enchant. This is a truth which has been commonly acknowledged, either explicitly or implicitly, consciously or subconsciously, from even before Aesop’s time.

It is because of this power that fables have never truly gone out of vogue. But currently they are enjoying an almighty multi-media renaissance and providing fodder for updated interpretations or even original tales. From animated movies like Tangled (Rapunzel), Frozen (The Snow Queen) or Shrek to live-action features like Mirror, Mirror and Snow White And The Huntsman to television’s Once Upon A Time and Grimm to books like Grimm Tales: For Young and Old by Phillip Pullman’s and comic books like Fables and Fairest. And now comes Maleficent, Disney’s retelling of their venerated 1959 animated film, Sleeping Beauty that was based on Charles Perrault’s version of the tale. The new live-action film brings us the familiar story from the point of view of the villain of the earlier version much like the stage musical Wicked brought us Oz from the perspective of the witches.

There’s nothing wrong with this sort of take on a familiar story. Fairy tales have, throughout the ages, undergone transformations and many have been sanitised over time to be shorn of their more frightening aspects for the sake of the little ones. And, if an update is done well, there’s all the more reason to go for it.

So the good news first. Maleficent is vastly superior to the awful Mirror, Mirror and also better than the middling Snow White. The first half of the movie surprised me and had me grinning with pleasure quite a few times. It adroitly mixes humour and whimsy and flights of imagination (aided by some pretty good CGI) combined with some darker imagery. The movie also cleverly homages the animated film in a few set sequences. But the quality then begins to flag. While the movie’s pace never truly slackens and it is never boring Maleficent also doesn’t develop the depth that it should have as it goes along. It is a short film by present-day standards (just slightly over 90 minutes) and usually I’m the first one to complain about the pruning needed by many, if not most, movies but Maleficent could have done with an added twenty to thirty minutes.

Maleficent aims to flesh out the one-dimensional evil witch of the animated film, to put her actions in context and to explain her motivations. In this it succeeds admirably. But freshman director Robert Stromberg (he’s worked as a visual effects supervisor and production designer with the likes of Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and James Cameron and has won Oscars for Alice In Wonderland and Avatar) and screenwriter Linda Woolverton (Beauty And The Beast, The Lion King) should have put in an extra half an hour to develop the other characters in the film and give them more screen time. Additional scenes devoted to the three pixies (Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple) or King Stefan (District 9’s Sharlto Copley) and his (barely seen) queen or Maleficent’s constantly transforming raven, Diaval (Sam Riley) would have brought the movie more opportunities for both laughs and subtle layers of profundity, making for a more satisfying experience as a whole.

Angelina Jolie, however, is quite magnificent. Her already sharp cheekbones further accentuated with the help of prosthetics and CGI and her lips painted crimson red, she’s pitch perfect as Maleficent, playing her with a perfect blend of anger, regret, humour and warmth. In contrast, Elle Fanning as Aurora, the sleeping beauty, is disappointing, especially light of her own previous standards. She overplays her hand quite a bit. Luckily, Jolie’s powerful presence drags the move over the finish line.

Cut to chase: Both the movie and the leading lady are visually stunning but we needed more meat on the bones.

Holiday**

Director: A.R. Murugadoss

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Sonakshi Sinha, Govinda, Farhad Daruwala, Dipendra Sharma

HolidayNot exactly torturous, Holiday is still a painful watch. There’s a certain slickness to this action-thriller, a remake of writer/director A.R. Murugadoss’s own Tamil hit Thuppaki, and some isolated scenes do carry a certain amount of tension but the overly familiar plot (lone cop/soldier takes on a bunch of nasty terrorists) has so many holes in it that it is hard to take the film seriously. The whole romance schtick involving Sonakshi Sinh is completely inane and has no relevance to the plot and irreparably harms the tautness (whatever there is of it) of the screenplay. And, while Pakistan is never mentioned and there’s a sop thrown to Muslims by a throwaway line in the film about terrorist sleeper-cells not necessarily belonging to a particular religion or community, all the bad guys in the film – bar one – have Muslim names. The exception is the guy at the very top who has a Christian moniker. Ahem! Murugadoss (best known to Hindi/Urdu film audiences for Ghajini) also overdoes the whole patriotism thing.

On the plus side, Akshay is not bad, the songs are hummable, if easily forgettable (music is by Pritam) and Govinda turns up in a cameo to bring a half smile to your face.

Cut to chase: Only for Akshay or Sonakshi fans.

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