Movie reviews: Diary of a Teenage Girl, Manglehorn, Hard to be a God, A Doctor's Sword
Paul Whitington reviews of this week's other big releases - Diary of a Teenage Girl, Manglehorn, Hard to be a God and A Doctor's Sword.
During the heady days of the sexual revolution, many creeps made hay. Whether or not Marielle Heller's Diary of a Teenage Girl (4*, No cert, IFI, 102 mins) tells the story of one of them, however, is very much a matter of opinion, though its storyline does give one the shivers. The film is based on a graphic novel by Pheobe Gloeckner, set in San Francisco in 1976, and stars British actress Bel Powley as a teenage girl simultaneously precocious and clueless.
Though just 15, Minnie Goetze frets to her diary about the fact that she hasn't had sex yet. Determined to correct this egregious failing, she takes a pop at the only man she knows - her mother's boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), who's happy to oblige. She, of course, is in no position to cope with the resulting romance emotionally, but neither, it seems, is he - he's like a giant, gormless child, and though his behaviour is reprehensible it soon becomes clear he's not the one in control.
All this, of course, is spectacularly bad news for Minnie's single mom Charlotte (Kristen Wiig), a brittle, hard-partying disaster zone. Much funnier and warmer than its creepy subject matter would suggest, Diary of a Teenage Girl is very nicely handled by Marielle Heller, and Bel Powley is wonderful as the infuriating but indomitable Minnie. Must say, though, that my own 1970s was very dull by comparison.
Out of nowhere, Al Pacino has stopped shouting and mugging and started acting again. He sprang back to somewhere near his dizzying best earlier this year in Danny Collins, playing a jaded rock star. Word is Al's terrific in Barry Levinson's drama The Humbling, and he's not too shabby in Manglehorn (3*, 12A, 97 mins)either.
In David Gordon Green's blue-collar indie drama, Pacino is AJ Manglehorn, a misanthropic Texan locksmith. Long divorced, and estranged from his flashy stockbroker son, Manglehorn mourns the loss of a long-gone sweetheart he's convinced was his one true love. But that fantasy is threatened when he gets close to an actual woman - a kindly bank teller, played by Holly Hunter.
Though nice enough to look at, Manglehorn is laden down at times by pretentious writing, clumsy symbolism and one-dimensional supporting roles. But none of that matters when Al is on-screen: his subtle, mumbling, mesmerising turn is his best performance in decades.
Pity the poor, hard-working critic forced to sit through three hours of medieval squalor and slow disembowelings - in black and white, and Russian. Actually I'd been rather looking forward to Hard to be a God (3*, No cert, IFI, 177 mins), an ambitiously themed sci-fi fantasy set on a distant, Earth-like planet on which the Renaissance never happened.
An elite group of human scientists have been sent to covertly rule and observe the place, and watch amused as the locals wallow in the mud, fighting, stealing, clutching each other's privates and telling dirty jokes.
The subtext here is not hard to locate, but the horror of the human condition isn't theme enough to justify this endless, baroque horror show, which is beautifully composed and choreographed, but tiresome in the extreme.
And a brief word about A Doctor's Sword (3*, 12A, 70 mins), a very engaging Irish documentary telling the extraordinary story of a latter-day Job. Aidan MacCarthy grew up in Castletownbere, studied medicine and was working in London when war broke out. He joined the Royal Air Force, survived the evacuation at Dunkirk, was in Singapore when it fell, spent four years in a Japanese POW camp and arrived in Nagasaki just in time to see the bomb drop.
This stirring story of endurance and survival is told by the late doctor's family but also by himself, courtesy of a 1994 RTE radio interview that gives this documentary added poignancy and depth.
Trainwreck (Amy Schumer, Bill Hader); Pixels: (Adam Sandler, Kevin James); Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Henry Cavill); Mistress America (Greta Gerwig).