Monday 19 March 2018

Cinema reviews: Manglehorn has a fresh performance from Pacino

Manglehorn Cert 12A

Searching for the key to happiness: Al Pacino shines as the curmudgeonly locksmith looking for the meaning of life.
Searching for the key to happiness: Al Pacino shines as the curmudgeonly locksmith looking for the meaning of life.
Growing pains: Bel Powley and Kristen Wiig star
In the beginning: Kate Mara and Miles Teller in Fantastic Four, which looks at the back story of the superheroes

Aine O'Connor and Hilary A. White

Reviewed this week are Manglehorn, A Doctor's Sword, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Max, Hard to be a God and Fantastic Four.

Al Pacino in no-shouting shock. Yes, really. A whole film where Al doesn't roar at anyone, well, just the once but it's muted, appropriate and in context. Director David Gordon Green has made an interesting mix of films from Pineapple Express to Compliance and not only is Manglehorn another interesting one, but, just as he did with Nicolas King-Of-Ham Cage in Joe, the director has managed to coax a fresh performance from a star who has long felt jaded to me. Although Pacino was good in Danny Collins too, so maybe I'm being unfair.

Here Pacino plays the title character, a curmudgeonly locksmith in Texas who is broadly accepted despite his unusual ways. He has spent, misspent really, his entire life regretting the loss of Clara (Natalie Wilemon), a woman he didn't love enough when he had the chance 40 years before, and writes daily to tell her so. It is Manglehorn's voice reading many of these letters that narrates the story. The rest of his life is taken up with his ailing cat, a son (Chris Messina) with whom he has a troubled relationship but via whom he has an adored granddaughter, and bank teller Dawn (Holly Hunter). Their mild over-the-counter flirtation has focussed on their pets, which makes Dawn think Manglehorn must be a decent guy, but it emerges that a life of regret has made him destructive. The film is slow at times and turns a bit mawkish but it's a interesting theme, Pacino is really good - the whole cast is - and whilst she isn't onscreen for long enough, it is a real pleasure to see Holly Hunter.


Now Showing

A Doctor's Sword

Cert 12A

Truth, as is oft pointed out, can be stranger than fiction and never more so than in the extraordinary story of West Cork doctor Aidan MacCarthy. Gary Lennon’s documentary works with the late doctor’s daughters Niki and Adrienne to recount the story of this remarkable man and his remarkable life. 

A Japanese Samurai sword hangs in MacCarthy’s bar in Castletownbere. Just as their father had never said too much about the origin of the sword, neither had he explained to his wife Kathleen why he suffered nightmares. In 1977 he suffered a brain tumour and was advised as part of his recuperation to write down his memories. The book, published in 1979, was called A Doctor’s War, and it was the first time most people who knew him heard what MacCarthy had lived through.

Unable to get work, he had joined the RAF at the beginning of WWII and after surviving Dunkirk and earning a medal for bravery, he was dispatched to Singapore just as it fell to the Japanese. He endured two years of cruel captivity in Java; shipwreck and further captivity in Nagasaki, including when the atomic bomb was dropped. He arrived in Dun Laoghaire in November 1945 weighing 7 stone, half his original body weight. He had survived a series of experiences, each  one of which had killed thousands of others. He had also saved countless lives along the way.

While Adrienne tells much of the story from behind the bar, Niki travels to Japan to find out about the man who gave their father the Samurai sword. Together with archive material, what results is a well-told and fascinating story of a life so worth documenting. It is also a lovely homage to a father.


Now Showing


Cert 12A

This is an odd one. Whilst not as sentimental as a film about a dead war hero’s dog might be, and it raises, although does not explore, some interesting ideas, this film is tonally at odds with itself more often than not. For instance, despite clearly being aimed at a younger audience, it contains dog fighting scenes which though not graphic are potentially upsetting. It pokes fun at stereotypes about Mexicans, then proceeds to reinforce them. It raises the issue of corporate and national arms dealing, then sticks it back in a closet. It wonders about the nature of heroism, then goes back to a traditional definition.

Having said that, Boaz Yakin’s film is not as jingoistic as it might be. It’s important to say too that it is still flag-waving in many respects. Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell) is a dog handler with US forces in Afghanistan. When he is killed, his dog Max (played by six different dogs) not only has post-traumatic stress, but such is his grief for Kyle that he cannot adjust to any other handler. That is until he meets Kyle’s younger brother Justin (Josh Wiggins) a thus-far semi-errant teenager who feels upstaged by his parents’ (Lauren Graham and Thomas Haden Church) adoration of their hero son.

Justin’s reluctance to take on Max is softened when he meets dog whispering Carmen (Mia Xitlali), his best friend Chuy’s (Dejon LaQuake) spirited cousin. Together they sense that the dog is right not to trust Kyle’s best friend and army colleague Tyler (Luke Kleintank) when he claims early discharge from the army through injury, and blames the dog for Kyle’s death. The teenagers work together to rehabilitate Max, solve a mystery, redeem themselves and salvage sweetness from Justin and Kyle’s tough-guy dad.

The teens on bikes solving issues that adults create has an inevitable Spielberg feel, as does the string-heavy score and unashamed emotionality. But this is not Spielberg and although well-intentioned, it remains at odds with itself. It is also too long, the first act especially. However with no swearing or blood it’s a safe bet for kids.It is also too long, the first act especially. However with no swearing or blood it’s a safe bet for kids between about seven and early teens.


Now Showing

Hard to Be a God

No Cert

The subtitles translating the opening voiceover for Hard to Be a God merge with the subtitled translation of the opening credits. It makes for a momentary confusion that proves prophetic. This is an amazing film, a stunningly crafted and created film full of visuals so rich you can practically smell the fetid world that is Arkanar. But it is a confusing film, an incredibly long one and ultimately one only for cinephiles in the most devoted sense.

Alexei German began his project to film the Strugatsky brothers’ sci-fi novel in the 1960s. It was mostly filmed in 2000-06 and only finished after German’s death in 2013, by his son, also a director. Although originally a poke at Stalinism it hardly feels out of place for modern Russia.

Don Rumata (Leonid Yarmolnik) is one of a group of scientists sent to Arkanar, a planet which is like earth, but 800 years behind. They are in situ to see a kind of Renaissance happen, but it never does, and Don Rumata is revered as the illegitimate spawn of a god. He and the other scientists are banned from interfering in this study world so cannot save the intellectuals and individuals who are routinely hanged while their books are burned. Despite the brutal age Rumata  has never killed anyone, just cut off their ears. But will immersion in the brutal planet change him? After 177 minutes of obscure Russian sci-fi, it’s not just Rumata’s sanity felt fragile.


Now Showing IFI

The Diary of a Teenage girl

Cert: 18

Phoebe Gloeckner’s 2002 semi-autobiographical graphic novel The Diary Of A Teenage Girl was a challenging, taboo-breaking story that pulled no punches. In the warts-and-all portrayal of a girl’s emerging sexuality in liberal mid-70s San Francisco, it gave voice to the adolescent female libido in unflinching terms. Overprotective fathers were heard to shriek at its very mention.

The themes and format all feel very “now” in terms of a film adaptation, even if the politics of the content can make for uncomfortable viewing. Debutante Marielle Heller (who adapted Gloeckner’s work for the stage a decade ago) doesn’t sugarcoat things but makes ample room for some very tender and heart-warming moments amid the lurid naval-gazing.

Bel Powley takes a star turn as Minnie, who has just popped her cherry when we meet her strutting proudly in platforms and flares. A doodling artist prone to the introspection associated with that age, she records her experiences on a tape diary in a manner that chimes with today’s obsession with the social-media self. The rub is that the man who deflowered her was Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), the rakish boyfriend of her hedonistic but loving mum (a superb Kristen Wiig).

It becomes clear Minnie lacks the emotional maturity for such a tryst, and love and adulthood seem more nebulous than ever. While no shrinking violet, even as she experiments with more age-appropriate people, it is her callowness and insecurity that make her less a tool of provocation than a rounded and charming ingenue.

Meanwhile, an unforced sense of era wafts forth thanks to the art and costume design and a sharp-eared soundtrack of Television, Nico and The Stooges. Bits of animation add to the authentic feel of the teenage perspective that it conjured.


IFI and selected cinemas

Fantastic Four

Cert 12A

The superhero origin movie is a common thing in recent years, with often well-established franchises being reinvigorated by going backwards to their characters' past. This look at the back stories of the Fantastic Four characters suffers for being almost all origin and little action. It shows promise for sequels, but as a stand-alone film it's a bit weak.

Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and his best friend Benn (Jamie Bell) spend seven years working on the teleportation device they invented as children.

Disqualified from their school science fair, Reed is picked up by Dr Franklin Storm (Reg E Cathey) and brought to work at the Baxter Institute with other gifted young people, including Sue (Kate Mara), Johnny (Michael B Jordan) and Victor (Toby Kebbell).

They pool their genius to perfect the machine that will transport people to Planet Zero, the pre-Earth dimension that Franklin knows exists and believes can be the salvation of Earth.

They fully expect to be the transportees, but when they're told that this honour will go to others, the lads get drunk and decide to go themselves. There are only four places and Reed opts to bring his VBF Benn so Sue gets left out. Her attempt to save the day, however, means that she is included in the fall-out when the trip goes wrong.

Victor gets left in the dimension, presumed dead, the other four, the fantastic ones, each get separate powers and are swiftly sequestered in Area 57, from which Reed escapes. But events will overtake them, eventually.

Director Josh Trank also co-wrote the screenplay from the Marvel comic. The characters aren't bad and the actors give them charm but this is a bit wasted on not enough plot. The film doesn't reach full potential, but it is watchable and nowhere near as bad as some of the awful reviews might suggest. There are parts that might prove scary for little children.

Aine O'Connor

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