Sharlto Copley

Maleficent (2014)

In a typically Disney-esque land, two kingdoms sit uneasily next to each other. The land of the humans, and the magical forest of the Moors, home to the once peppy and curious fairy Maleficent. After being taught a lesson about the fickle and uncaring capacity of men’s hearts, Maleficent takes a turn for the dark and witchy, with her first port of call being to curse the newly born princess of the human world, Aurora (well, we’ve all been there…). Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Aurora is doomed to prick her finger on a spinning wheel on her 16th birthday and fall into a “sleep-like death,” with her only chance of reawakening being true love’s kiss. In a deliciously cynical delivery Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) reveals she chose the loophole because of its utter ridiculousness, such a thing just doesn’t exist.

And therein lies the tone of Disney’s reimaging of 1959’s Sleeping Beauty. Veteran Disney screenwriter Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King) does a commendable job of balancing the expectations of fans of the kids’ classic with the desire to throw Maleficent’s splendid flavour of scorn over the proceedings. Not that Maleficent is all doom and gloom. The film’s middle act dedicates itself to our queen of evil watching over Aurora as she matures in scenes largely played for laughs. “Go away, I don’t like children” Maleficent deadpans as young Aurora (played by Angelina’s own daughter, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt) tries valiantly to disarm her with adorableness. It’s a charmingly played scene that roused laughter in our screening.

The film falters however when it’s restricted to the original mythology. The presence of Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) as a One Direction-esque love interest with the potential to offset Aurora’s (Elle Fanning) curse is an awkward inclusion and does nothing but stall the plot and show the influence of the Twilight school of flirting. Additionally, Aurora’s story is the most boring element of the film and Fanning is tragically given nothing more to do than smile and play with leaves. Mercifully her curse becomes the least important plot line, because let’s face it, kissing someone when they’re asleep is beyond disgusting.

But this is Jolie’s film. And she absolutely revels in it. Watch how in the cursing scene, Maleficent’s monologue is almost lifted line for line from the original cartoon. And yet in Jolie’s hands it becomes something new, something more sinister and yet more enjoyable. Jolie clearly enjoys and basks in the film, she simply is Maleficent, unlike say, James Franco in Oz The Great and Powerful who gave the distinct impression he was sleepwalking his way to a pay cheque.

Maleficent is a flawed film, no doubt. It lacks the universality of Frozen and first time director Robert Stromberg gets a little too influenced by his special effects background (Aurora’s three Aunts’ pixie form comes across as especially unnecessary). But another subversive Disney film is to be warmly welcomed, especially one which rests on the shoulders of such a delightfully flawed protagonist who is destined to become the Halloween costume of choice for a lot of its core audience. Oh, and special mention has to go to that Lana Del Rey cover of Once Upon A Dream. All together now, I know you…

Oldboy (2013)

Analysing a remake without explicit comparison with an original is hard enough work. In the case of Oldboy (2013) it all gets little more complicated. Whilst we could view it as a new adaptation of Garon Tsuchiya & Nobuaki Minegishi’s original source manga, Spike Lee’s latest joint seems to go out if its way to invite comparisons with Park Chan-wook’s 2003 critical darling. Except it’s not a Spike Lee “joint.” Lee got frustrated with cuts he was apparently forced to make from his original 140 minute feature that he downgraded Oldboy from “joint” to “film.” So here we have a new film, based on the Grand Prix winning favourite of Quentin Tarantino and almost overwhelmingly revered by film fanatics all over, which even its own director isn’t happy with. Signs do not bode well.

For the uninitiated, Oldboy tells the story of city boy Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin), a belligerent drunk who is imprisoned by an unknown entity for 20 years, framed for the murder of his ex-wife and eventually released back into the world obsessed with the idea of revenge. Where ever the supposedly imposed cuts were placed on Oldboy’s content, it was most certainly not on the film’s opening, a dreadfully slow, indulgent and cheap depiction of Joe’s alcoholism. With the subtlety of a battering ram, Brolin sways, stumbles and pukes his way through the city streets before hammily screaming “does anyone have any more alcohol?!” at apartment blocks. His imprisonment arrives after he chases an Asian lady with an umbrella through Chinatown, a motif that is consistently repeated to lead Joe into dangerous situations. It’s probable the filmmakers were trying to tip their hats to the original Korean film, but the overall association of badness with this corner of the city reeks of lazy and unsavoury Orientalism.

But Oldboy’s laziness extends far beyond its treatment of illness and culture. The infamous hammer hallway fight scene from Park Chan-wook’s original is practically copy and pasted, albeit with sickeningly cheesy guitar-led fight music that makes the whole scenario seem like Josh Brolin is levelling up on an awful arcade game. Then there’s the scene where Joe idly stares at a CGI octopus in an Asian restaurant. Brief and unnecessary, it’s very likely all involved thought this wonderfully subversive and clever, but it’s just an aching reminder of the superior version you wish you were watching.

There’s a chance that there is some enjoyment to be had in Oldboy if one has never witnessed how perfectly the story can be presented, as it was ten years ago. But for those familiar with the original there is precisely nothing new introduced, the twist climax limping in like a predictably unwanted guest, an over-acted one at that. Oldboy is completely undone by its lack of personal touch from its auteur director, its poor lead performance, and subtle-as-a-brick storytelling. Like its protagonist’s imprisonment, expect tedium and aggravation.