Tuesday 24 April 2018

Women call the shots in 'Maggie's Plan'

* Maggie's Plan (15A, 99mins), 4 Stars
* The Neon Demon (18, 117mins), 3 Stars
* Now You See Me 2 (12A, 129mins), 3 Stars
* Weiner (No Cert, Light House, 96mins), 4 Stars

Very funny: Ethan Hawke and Greta Gerwig in 'Maggie's Plan'.
Very funny: Ethan Hawke and Greta Gerwig in 'Maggie's Plan'.

Rebecca Miller's films to date have tended towards the earnest, but in 'Maggie's Plan' she turns to comedy - with impressive results. Greta Gerwig, decked out in sensible shoes and ghastly spinsterish outfits, is Maggie, a bookish New Yorker whose hatred of disorder has inspired her to take her life into her own hands. She's decided to have a baby with the help of a surrogate, but just as Maggie is readying the giant syringe, her grand plans are thrown into confusion when she falls for a married college professor.

John (Ethan Hawke) is clever and charming and tying to write a novel, a mark of low character if ever there was one. He claims that his brilliant wife Georgette (Julianne Moore, on top form) doesn't understand him, Maggie falls for it, and next thing they've shacked up together and have a kid of their own. But several years later, Maggie has grown tired of John's monomania, and hatches a plan to reunite him with his ex.

Joyously messy, and very funny, 'Maggie's Plan' seems at times like a mid-period Woody Allen movie, but the resemblance is superficial, a result of geography and erudite jokes. Because Ms Miller's film cheerfully subverts the classic romcom conventions, and in the end, Ethan Hawke's John is relegated to the position once occupied by women like Irene Dunne and Katharine Hepburn - that of the wilful and unpredictable sex object who'll be mastered one way or the other before the credits roll.

Nicholas Winding Refn is an infuriating director, a film-maker of genuine visual flair whose desire to shock always gets the better of him. His latest offering, 'The Neon Demon', has proved divisive and provoked angry denunciations on the social media pulpits. Elle Fanning is superb as Jesse, a wide-eyed innocent who arrives in LA hoping to break into modelling. Her dream comes true, but her success attracts the deadly enmity of older, shrewish rivals. There are shocking moments, from a gratuitously nasty implied rape scene to a spot of full-on lesbian necrophilia. Overall though, 'The Neon Demon' is daft and harmless, a showy horror film that fails to develop interesting themes but boasts moments of rare visual splendour.

In the 2013 film 'Now You See Me', a group of flashy magicians who fancied themselves Robin Hoods robbed impenetrable bank vaults and redistributed the proceeds. And in this sequel, they do it again! Actually 'Now You See Me 2' is a pretty likeable little diversion starring Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson as the squabbling leaders of the Four Horsemen, who this time are dragged to the fleshpots of Macau by a mysterious enemy. It's light, and funny, and Lizzy Caplan is wonderful as the newest member of the magic team.

Americans are obsessed with sexual continence: public figures can cosy up to big business, pass insane gun laws or squander US lives in pointless wars, but woe betide them if they're caught with their pants down. In Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg's documentary 'Weiner', we meet seven-term congressman Anthony Weiner, a star of the Democratic left laid low by a sex scandal. In 2011 he was forced to resign after it emerged he'd been sending photos of his bulging underwear to female admirers, and his public career appeared to be over.

But Mr Weiner is married to Huma Abedin, a most impressive woman and one of Hillary Clinton's closest advisers, and in 2013 he announced his intention to run for New York mayor.

Television campaigns put his wife and baby front and centre, and he seemed a reformed man, but more trouble was lurking around the corner. It's a fantastic documentary, and gives a real insight into the dirty underbelly of American politics.

Irish Independent

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