Saturday 3 December 2016

Cinema review: Maggie's Plan - snobs will struggle to stifle the giggles

Cert: 15A. Now showing

Published 11/07/2016 | 02:30

Ethan Hawke and Greta Gerwig in Maggie's Plan.
Ethan Hawke and Greta Gerwig in Maggie's Plan.

Ever wondered how hipsters procreate? Well, wonder no more, as writer-director Rebecca Miller's dotty and delightful dramedy unearths the romantic habits of those exotic creatures for all to see. It turns out they're much like you and I. Well, sort of.

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From the opening moments with Greta Gerwig and Bill Hader nattering in Union Sq to the jaunty European score, a strong but agreeable bang of Woody Allen wafts off Maggie's Plan.

Gerwig, queen of the comedy of manners, plays the titular New Yorker, a university office worker who has everything in her life in order except a man to father a child for her. Just as Travis Fimmel's pickle producer is donating semen to her in a jar, she is sidetracked by John (Ethan Hawke), a writer and professor whom she crosses paths with.

Jump forward a few years and the couple are proud parents, with John having left his temperamental wife Georgette (a brilliantly Germanic Julianne Moore). But John's glitter is starting to fade and when she learns that Georgette still pines for him, Maggie hatches a plan to offload him back to his ex-wife. Providing a sounding board for Maggie's angst are long-suffering friends Tony and Felicia (Hader and Bridesmaids' Maya Rudolph).

Just look at that cast, all robust and visibly charged by the top quality material on the page. Gerwig always plays pretty much the same character - light, dowdy, likeable - but what a character. Miller's whipsmart screenplay also shows that Mrs Day-Lewis has a deep understanding of comic frequency and true romance, which is all too rare in the genre. Even the most achingly cool craft-ale snob will struggle to stifle the giggles. Lovely. 4 Stars

Hilary A White

Men & Chicken

Cert: 15A. IFI from Friday

Against our better judgement, Danish screenwriting and directing great Anders Thomas Jensen (Love Is All You Need, Brothers) takes us out to a remote and economically downtrodden island and plonks us in the middle of hillbilly dysfunction, gothic creature horror and a robust dose of Three Stooges slapstick.  It sounds just about crazy enough that it could work, and for the most part, it does. Unrecognisable from his suave Hannibal or Casino Royale incarnations, Mads Mikkelson's performance as Elias is a central confection in a film that is unafraid to shout about its eccentricities from the rooftop.

After their father's death, Elias (a certifiable nutjob) and more normal brother Gabriel (David Dencik) discover they were adopted and that their biological father, a genetic scientist, still lives in a decrepit sanatorium on the island of Ork. Off they go, and there find three bizarre half-brothers living in isolation among various farm animals. Initially suspicious of Gabriel and Elias, the trio welcome them in, albeit after a comical beating.

The three are cagey about their father, who they claim is living upstairs. This turns out to be a lie after Gabriel and Elias sneak up one night and discover a corpse. There is also the matter of a boarded-up cellar door and chickens waddling about with strange body parts. Gabriel wants answers but Elias looks to be settling in a bit too well.

How much you enjoy Jensen's latest will depend on your constitution and how much "weird" you like on your plate. The whacky humour is hilarious at times but it can begin to feel a little forced by the third act. Jensen does manage to concoct a nicely macabre tone out of the unsettling ether, with the loud crashes of farce tempering a much darker twistedness. 3 Stars

Hilary A White

The Legend of Tarzan

Cert 12A; now showing

Sometimes there is a reason they keep retelling a story, and that reason is that it's hard to do right. This is the 49th Tarzan retelling and while it bears no resemblance to Johnny Weissmuller running in speeded up B&W, it doesn't quite get it right either. However, it is an enjoyable CGI-heavy adventure and while none of the animals are real, Alexander Skarsgard's remarkably sculpted, miracle of nature body is.

It is the 1880s and Tarzan (Skarsgard) has been back in England living a genteel life with Jane (Margot Robbie, pictured) as Lord and Lady Greystoke. He initially refuses an invitation from Belgian King Leopold to visit the Congo but when US diplomat George Washington Williams (Samuel L Jackson) suggests there is slavery happening and they need Lord Greystoke as cover to investigate, Tarzan and Jane return to Africa.

However, the royal invitation is a trap, set by old enemy Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) in cahoots with older enemy Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou). The new story is intercut with flashbacks explaining Tarzan's origins, an acknowledgement that it is not a story for younger generations.

Director David Yates keeps it a little too earnest, Sam Jackson seems like token comedy as a result; Christoph Waltz looks more and more like a one-trick pony; while Skarsgard is a bit earnest too - so the only real oomph comes from Margot Robbie and surprisingly, Hounsou. Enjoyable but not too memorable. 2 Stars

Aine O'Connor

The Neon Demon

Cert 18

It has been said that this latest film from controversial Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn will either please you or pain you but won't leave you bored. I came at it having enjoyed Refn's Bronson and Drive, though not especially Only God Forgives, and here, boredom is a possibility.

Jesse (Elle Fanning) arrives in LA to become a model. Told to say she is 19 instead of 16, her charms endear her to an industry on the hunt for fresh meat.

In this predatory environment, even her landlord (Keanu Reeves) is at best nasty, at worst a rapist, she finds what initially appears to be the safety of a friendship with Ruby (Jena Malone) and the antipathy of older (but not old) models Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote).

Although Jesse is not the total innocent she appears, this is a toxic world.

With the weakest narrative of his work so far, Refn's undeniably stunning visuals feel hollow and derivative of Cronenberg and Lynch.

It's funny in places but it feels very self-aware and a bit self-indulgent. People have loved it; however, it just left me cold. 2 Stars

Aine O'Connor

Weiner

Cert: Club. Light House and Volta.ie 

Anthony Weiner ran for the office of Mayor of New York in 2013, a campaign that saw the once-popular former congressman gain a level of momentum as people responded to his sleeves-rolled-up defence of the middle classes. He quickly became the frontrunner.

And then scandal (ahem) reared its ugly head.

Back in 2011, Weiner resigned from Congress after finally admitting to a sexting scandal that saw him accidentally post a photo of his anatomical namesake on Twitter. The pun-heavy tabloid feeding frenzy eventually died down and Weiner and beautiful wife Huma Abedin moved on.

What took the wind out of Weiner's mayoral campaign sails were revelations in July 2013 of a different set of lewd texts involving up to 10 women after he'd left Congress. Any progress he'd made in resigning the Weiner punchline to history was now effectively negated. He came last in the five-man race, with just under 5pc of the vote.

Like last year's Zeitgeist-capturing The Queen of Ireland, this Sundance winner is a great documentary raised to distinction by virtue of the fact that directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg were already shooting a fly-on-the-wall doc on the man when the eruption took place.

Amazingly, Weiner's fatal flaws recede to the background as you marvel more at the hypocrisy of "the mob", be it sensationalist media or the modern-day "trial by internet". The cameras brilliantly catch betraying expressions and body language as Weiner and the clearly beleaguered Abedin (herself a member of Hillary Clinton's inner circle) watch their grasp on the situation slip away.

End-of-year lists beckon. 5 Stars

Hilary A White

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