Reviews – New movies opening July 8th 2016

Directed by David Yates. Starring Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson.
THE PLOT: It has been many years since Tarzan, now known as John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgård), left Africa to be with his one true love Jane Porter (Margot Robbie), but they are drawn back to the land where they met by a plot by the Emissary of the Belgian King Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz). Ostensibly, Tarzan is in Africa to investigate claims of slavery by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), but when Jane is kidnapped by Rom and his mercenaries, Tarzan knows that there is a lot more going on in this land that he loves.
THE VERDICT: The last live-action story with Tarzan at its heart was 1998’s ‘Tarzan and the Lost City’, and Tarzan last appeared on the big screen in the ill-fated mo-cap mess ‘Tarzan 3D’ with Kellan Lutz in the lead role. There has always been a fascination with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ most famous character, and this new outing sees the Lord of the Jungle return home to save the natives from the white man.
Alexander Skarsgård leads the cast as the lord of the jungle, and does fine in the role, backed up by Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz and Djimon Hounsou. The trouble is that Skarsgård, like the rest of the cast, is up against some pretty tough obstacles in making the characters feel rounded and real. Christoph Waltz sadly never gets a chance to be anything other than the charming villain we have seen him play a million times, and while he does this well, it feels very repetitive and familiar. Margot Robbie does OK as Jane Porter; the actress tries her best not to make the character a damsel in distress, but is fighting against a script that keeps putting her in situations where she needs to be rescued. Samuel L. Jackson brings some levity to proceedings, but these attempts often feel out of place and don’t always work. Djimon Hounsou fares the best out of the central cast, making Chief Mbonga graceful and intimidating.
Screenwriters Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer picked up where Burroughs left off, placing a Westernised Tarzan back in the world he grew up in. There are issues with this from the start, but the most glaring is the fact that the African natives need a white man to save them from the Westerners. This is more than a little problematic, patronising and awkward, and sets the tone for much of the film. The dialogue for the film is uninspired but gets the job done, and there are times when the film jumps through time with no warning, leaving the audience wondering just what the heck is going on.
‘The Legend of Tarzan’ is director David Yates’ first big screen outing since the final ‘Harry Potter’ film five years ago, and although there are moments where the film works, it is clear that the film struggles with the copious use of – often shoddy – CGI, and trying to make the characters feel fresh and new when they are so well known to audiences. The action sequences – CGI aside – are fine, although many of them feel disjointed and don’t make a huge amount of sense.
In all, perhaps ignoring the plot and enjoying Skarsgård shirtless is the way to go for ‘The Legend of Tarzan’, as the dialogue is thin, the plot is jumpy, the CGI is often laughably bad and the jokes – such as they are – don’t land.
Review by Brogen Hayes

THE NEON DEMON (France | USA | Denmark/TBC/110mins)
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Starring Elle Fanning, Bella Heathcote, Christina Hendricks, Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves
THE PLOT: Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to LA to chase her dream of being a model. On her first shoot she meets Ruby (Jena Malone) and the two become fast friends. When Jesse’s star starts to rise however, she attracts the ire of older models who are being overlooked.
THE VERDICT: Elle Fanning leads the cast here as Jesse, the target of all the desire and envy in the film, and this is an interesting role for the actress to take now that she is 18, as it well and truly cements her as a grown up star on the rise. Easily playing a 16 year old aspiring model, Fanning seems to revel in the superficiality of the movie, making Jesse ethereally beautiful; but the actress also hints at something darker lurking just below the surface, making this an assured performance from the young actress. It’s just a shame that Fanning, and the rest of the cast – which includes Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks, Jena Malone, Abbey Lee, Bella Heathcote and Desmond Harrington – are let down by a vacuous film that focuses so much on style at substance is forgotten, and what few metaphors are to be had are hammered home with a sledgehammer.
In terms of script, it seems that Nicolas Winding Refn simply opened a copy of Vogue – or any other fashion magazine you care to mention – and decided to make a film about that. Additional writing was done for the film by Mary Laws and Polly Stenham, but it is hard to pinpoint just what these women brought to a film that is so misogynistic, sexist and graphic. The film focuses heavily on the visual, which is admittedly beautifully shot by Natasha Braier, but once it becomes clear that there is little more going on here, ‘The Neon Demon’ goes from exhilarating to exhausting. The film is filled with comments on the fashion industry, such as “I’m pretty; I can make money from that” and “I would never say you’re fat, doesn’t mean someone else won’t” – the latter delivered by Christina Hendricks – that seem meaningful but end up just being superficial and underline the horrible real world cliché that women hate other women. As well as this, the screenplay seems determined to shock for the sake of shocking, with scenes of attempted rape between two women and necrophilia thrown in as well.
As director, Winding Refn gets a strong performance from Elle Fanning, but the camera is so obsessed with her face that it begins to feel rather pornographic and exploitative, rather than a celebration of this young woman’s beauty. The pacing of the film is a mess, with the story being so paper thin that in order to reach the 2 hour running time, unsurprising slo-mo scenes with thumping electronica pervade the film. This is nothing new; we have seen this from Windin Refn before, and the director seems to be regressing as an artist, rather than moving forward.
In all, ‘The Neon Demon’ tries to make comments on the nature of female relationships, but through laboured metaphor, drawn out pacing and a paper thin story, the film doesn’t really say much of anything at all. Elle Fanning is strong in her understated role, and the heightened and stylised world of the film looks absolutely stunning on screen, but ‘The Neon Demon’ is misogynistic, exploitative and ultimately boring.
Review by Brogen Hayes

MAGGIE’S PLAN (USA/15A/95mins)
Directed by Rebecca Miller. Starring Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph.
Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is determined to become a mother; she feels she is at the right time in her life, even though she has yet to have a meaningful relationship that lasts more than a few months. Maggie plans to inseminate herself with sperm from an acquaintance, but as the date draws near, she becomes friends with fellow teacher and aspiring novelist John (Ethan Hawke), a friendship that turns to something more, destroying John’s marriage to the passionate but self-involved Gerogette (Julianne Moore).
THE VERDICT: The entire plot of ‘Maggie’s Plan’ could be easily dismissed as a film that focuses on truly first world problems, but to do this would be to do the film a disservice. ‘Maggie’s Plan’ looks at the nature of relationships and motherhood in a time when connections are seemingly harder and harder to make.
Greta Gerwig is on fine form as the remarkably unpretentious, but rather controlling Maggie; her performance is light and airy and, like many of us, she gets herself into situations without knowing how to get out of them, and not quite sure how she got there in the first place. Ethan Hawke plays the self-absorbed and perpetually unhappy John, whose marriage is not all that it is cracked up to be and he is sure that he is the gardener to his wife’s more successful career. Julianne Moore brings some levity as the utterly controlling and volatile Georgette, and the central trio are backed up by Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph in smaller roles.
The screenplay, written by Rebecca Miller and Karen Rinaldi feels as though it is heavily inspired by early Woody Allen films, and this is not a bad thing. There is an element of self-involved neuroses to all of the characters, but many of them have a warmth lingering under the surface; a warmth that causes the audience to root for these strange, dysfunctional people. The idea of motherhood is one that challenges many young women today, and it is carefully examined in this almost farcical tale of what to do when you have got your cake and you realise you don’t want it. The dialogue is whip smart and the change of loyalties throughout the film is a joy to behold.
As director, Rebecca Miller makes this subtle, gentle comedy one that asks plenty of questions and answers them as well. The performances from the entire cast are engaging and strong, as well as being relatable and, since many of the characters are completely unaware of their own shortcomings, rather funny. The film is well paced for the first act, but wobbles slightly as a three-year gap struggles to be bridged, but the fallout and absurdity that follows manages to pull the film back into its stride. The wit and humour of the film works well, as does the implication that the entire situation is more than a little ridiculous.
In all, ‘Maggie’s Plan’ is a well written, well acted and well directed look at the actions of self absorbed people to make their lives as close to perfect as possible. The humour is subtle but works well, and although the pacing wobbles from time to time, Hawke, Gerwig and Moore have rarely been better.
Review by Brogen Hayes