Tuesday 12 December 2017

Single bright female, a spoof of a spoof, puppy love and killer Pac-Men

* Mistress America (15A, 84 mins), 4 star
* The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (12A, 119 mins), 3 stars
* Paper Towns (12A, 109 mins), 3 stars
* Pixels (12A, 106 mins), 2 stars

Made in Manhattan: Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke star in 'Mistress America'
Made in Manhattan: Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke star in 'Mistress America'

Though superficially similar, Trainwreck and Noah Baumbach's Mistress America are polar opposites, diametric foes. Both tell stories of single females trying to make their mark in New York, but while Amy Schumer's character folds at the first sign of true love, Greta Gerwig's Brooke is too maddeningly original to fit into anyone else's box.

Mistress America co-stars Lola Kirke as Tracy, a lonely 19-year-old who arrives in New York to study. Her mother is about to marry a new man, whose enigmatic 30-year-old daughter Brooke also lives in Manhattan. When Tracy contacts her she's entranced, because Brooke is a babbling charmer, a scatter-gun of ideas and energy.

Brooke wants to open a restaurant, but Tracy wants to write, and slyly realises that she's found herself a perfect fictional subject. Everyone in Mistress America reads books and talks about literature, but they're all too giddy to stick to any one subject for long, because Baumbach's film is a modern screwball comedy that must keep moving fast or die. And Brooke is the kind of plucky, slightly deranged heroine Betty Hutton might have played in a Preston Sturges movie: the kind that never wins.

Guy Ritchie's new film is inspired by a TV series many of you will not be old enough to remember. 'Man from U.N.C.L.E.' ran from 1964 to 68, and starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum as American and Russian agents forced to worked together to combat a sinister global threat. It was a Bond spoof, which would make this film a spoof of a spoof, but never mind.

Mr Ritchie's film is set in the 60s, and stars Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo, a slippery CIA spy who sneaks into East Berlin to find Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a missing scientist. He gets her out, but is pursued into the west by a giant KGB agent called Illya Kuryakin (Arnie Hammer). Next day, the pair are told by their governments that they'll have to work together: Gaby's dad is building a uranium bomb for a Nazi gang, and Solo and Kuryakin must stop them.

Man from U.N.C.L.E. is enjoyable enough, though Mr Ritchie might have spent more time beefing up his flimsy plot and less on the flashy camera tricks and editing that so often detract from his storytelling. But Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer are pretty good in the leads, and nice design and a clever soundtrack make for a gossamer slight but perfectly watchable film.

Paper Towns is pretty slight stuff too, but has a youthful charm that just about gets it over the line. It's based on a book by Fault in Our Stars author John Green, and stars Nat Wolff as a hopelessly smitten Florida teenager. Quentin Q has loved his mercurial neighbour Margo (Cara Delevingne) from afar for years, and is shocked and thrilled when she knocks at his window and asks him to help her take revenge on her feckless boyfriend.

During a night of daring pranks they bond, then Margo disappears, leaving behind a string of clues for Quentin to follow. Nicely shot and accompanied by an ingratiating indie soundtrack, Paper Towns is more about mood than plot, and does succeed in capturing the heady terror of adolescence. It's pretty, but forgettable.

Those who were adolescents during the early 1980s will find many old friends in Pixels, a sci-fi comedy that has its moments but is full of holes. Adam Sandler plays a former gaming champion whose obsolete talents come in handy when Earth is stormed by hostile aliens whose attacks take the form of classic arcade games. As giant Pac-Men munch their way through Manhattan, a team of gaming nerds including Mr. Sandler, Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage become unlikely heroes.

I did laugh occasionally, and the effects are not terrible, but overall Pixels feels like a half-baked idea.

Irish Independent

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