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Film round-up Film round-up: March 14, 2019

MARIA DUARTE and FRANK review Fisherman’s Friends, Under the Silver Lake, The Prodigy, What Men Want, Ben is Back and Girl

Fisherman’s Friends (12A)
Directed by Chris Foggin
★★★★

IN CINEMA, all too often “based on a true story” translates as “facts have been changed to ensure better box office.”

I’ve no idea whether this unexpectedly charming and thoroughly enjoyable tale of a group of Cornish fishermen, whose infectious singing of sea shanties brings them fame and fortune, sticks to the facts of their rise to celebrity.

Not that it matters.

Director Chris Foggin makes the most of Meg Leonard’s warm-hearted screenplay to create an engaging blend of comedy and surprisingly credible characterisation, which has maverick music manager Danny (Daniel Mays) battling to make national stars of an all-male bunch of sea-shanty singing Cornish fishermen and lifeboatmen.

Foggins drives the predictable narrative effectively — we know from the start that the singing sea-goers will finally find fame and that Danny will transform into a love-driven protagonist — and he creates credible characters in mostly convincing situations. They’re guided towards the expected happy ending with genuine charm.

Danny’s transition from traditional money-and-headline-grabbing pop promoter, as a result of his romance with Tuppence Middleton’s local hotelier Alwyn, convinces enough in this appealing offering which, while fact-based, brings back memories of Ealing comedies in their heyday.

Alan Frank

Under the Silver Lake (15)
Directed by David Robert Mitchell

THIS neonoir thriller sees its protagonist fall down a rabbit hole and you won’t want to follow him down it. After some two hours and 20 minutes you will be wondering what the WTF that was all about.

The film opens with Sam (Andrew Garfield), a disenchanted 33-year-old Los Angeleno spying — make that perving — on his female neighbours via binoculars Rear Window-style.

The protagonist is an odious peeping Tom, obsessed with masturbating to retro porn mags about which, loud and proud, he loves talking about.

When he spots a mysterious young woman (Kiley Keough) poolside at his apartment complex, who suddenly disappears without a trace the next day, he becomes obsessed in tracking her down across LA.

What transpires aspires to be a cross between a Hitchcock and David Lynch thriller. Sadly, lacking their ingenuity and tension, it's neither. And a shot of a toilet full of shit is simply that and something no-one needs to see.

This has to be front runner for the most pretentious film of the year so far.

Maria Duarte

The Prodigy (15)
Directed by Nicholas McCarthy
★★★

HORROR films remain cinema’s most resilient genre and so it proves with The Prodigy.

Armed with Jeff Buhler’s competent if scarcely ground-breaking screenplay, director Nicholas McCarthy revamps the traditional bad-seed shocker, most notably celebrated in The Midwich Cuckoos.

Here the sole supernatural cuckoo poisoning the nest of Sarah (Taylor Schilling) and husband John (Peter Mooney) is their young son Miles, chillingly played by Jackson Robert Scott.

Born at the same instant as lawmen kill a serial killer with a fetish for severed women’s hands, he rapidly racks up the chills and thrills by becoming a grisly child serial killer

Scott, cursed with eyes of different colours, is genuinely terrifying, notably in sinister scenes where he appears to bond with Sarah and Schilling’s strong performance in her role mostly convinces even when Butler’s screenplay and McCarthy’s direction far too often simply settle for familiar genre tropes.

As journeys into celluloid hell go, this is an effective enough excursion.

AF

What Men Want (15)
Directed by Adam Shankman
★★★

NINETEEN years on, this is the remake of Nancy Meyer’s What Women Want with a gender change. More in tune with today’s MeToo sensibilities, it has Taraji P Henson as an ambitious and unrelenting sports agent who keeps being passed over for a well-deserved promotion because she isn’t part of the boys’ club.

During her BFF’s hen do, she is introduced to a weed-dealing psychic (Erykah Badu) who gives her some special “tea” and, after it does its work, she starts hearing what men are thinking. With her new-found power, she’s soon able to outsmart her male colleagues.

This is a rather predictable screwball comedy, driven by Henson's inordinate charm, charisma and exuberant energy plus a great supporting cast. They keep you invested, along with some cracking visual gags and killer one-liners, including a great one about Get Out.

No work of comic art but it is sheer fun and its escapism is maybe what’s needed right now.

MD

Ben is Back (15)
Directed by Peter Hedges
★★★

ON CHRISTMAS Eve 19-year-old Ben, played a tad too winsomely to be entirely convincing by Lucas Hedges, unexpectedly returns to his family’s suburban New York home. There, his mother Holly (Julia Roberts) is patently relieved to see him.

But her relief is inevitably tempered by her concern that her drug-addicted son will not only be staying with the family but will also remain clean for the Santa season.

What follows in writer-director Peter Hedges’s undoubtedly well-meaning but a tad overdone family melodrama has Holly battling to ensure that Ben stays clean in a series of increasingly histrionic but not always credible events.

Not for the first time, Roberts’s superb shining teeth — a true tribute to Hollywood dentistry — tend to outshine her hard-working dramatics in a rather less-than-credible role.

Hedges, while adequate, is helped considerably by the fact that it is his father Peter who is guiding the melodrama along its rocky road.

AF

Girl (15)
Directed by Lukas Dhont
★★★★

A TRANSGENDER teenager pursues her dreams of becoming a ballerina in this extraordinarily moving coming-of-age film. It was the toast of last year’s Cannes Film Festival before suffering a major backlash.

Based on the real-life story of transgender dancer Nora Monsecour, it follows 15-year-old Lara (dancer Victor Polster) as she trains hard to be a ballet dancer at a new school while preparing for gender reassignment surgery.

All the stresses and pressures of being an adolescent are heightened. She finds it doubly hard to follow the dance academy’s strict regime because of the physical restrictions and inflexibilities of her male physique as well as her body dysmorphia.

The cisgender Polster delivers an exceptional and haunting debut performance and completely passes as a girl in this impressive feature-film debut by Lukas Dhont.

Ending on a shocking — fictional — note, it’s a powerful story which is sensitively told and which doesn’t shy away from its heartbreaking and hard-hitting moments.

Despite the controversy, it’s definitely worth seeing.

MD

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