Monday 14 October 2019

Review: Serenity... 'a real stinker'

Cert: 16; Available on Sky Cinema

Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway star in 'Serenity',which could well turn out to be the worst movie of the year
Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway star in 'Serenity',which could well turn out to be the worst movie of the year

John Mason (Matthew McConaughey) is a charter game fishing captain on the tropical island of Plymouth in this film. There are shameless nods towards Hemingway in the way that he is obsessed with a giant and elusive tuna called 'Justice' which keeps giving him the slip, not to mention John's rackety style of rum-soaked machismo back on land.

Stepping back into his life out of the blue one day is ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway). She's not only traced him to this secret island hideaway, she has brought abusive mobster husband Frank (Jason Clarke) along with a hugely lucrative offer to John to "take him out" as it were on his boat and find him a watery grave.

While all this is happening, a mysterious pencil-pusher claiming to be from a tackle company is hovering about and eager to speak to John about something pressing.

And then, about an hour into producer-writer-director Steven Knight's film, everything goes a bit loo-la, dumping a load of utter hokum into proceedings about virtual worlds and estranged loved ones.

The cherry on the cake is one of the most flimsy and laughable twists that you'll see in film this year.

With all of this foolishness going on (not to mention the peculiar brand of trashiness that sees McConaughey regularly defrocked or sporting wet T-shirts), Serenity is a real stinker. There are lines of dialogue here that beggar belief, they are so lame.

The overall sheen of moneyed over-compensation - sweeping paradise-island shots, sun-kissed derrieres - does nothing to quell the suspicion of codology masquerading as serious filmmaking.

That said, there is at least some entertainment value in its sheer awfulness. Some.

★ Hilary A White

Under The Silver Lake

Cert: 16; Selected cinemas

It is impossible to write about the recent wave of excellent horror outings without mentioning David Robert Mitchell's slow and sensual 2014 indie chiller It Follows.

But the control and restraint he showed in that, his second ever feature, seems to have temporarily (we hope) abandoned Mitchell, if this barmy neo-Hollywood noir is anything to go by.

Andrew Garfield plays Sam, a directionless layabout who lives a quiet life in his poolside apartment. He becomes entranced by a girl (Riley Keogh) he sees swimming one night and introduces himself to.

When she disappears the following day, along with the contents of her flat, he takes it upon himself to follow the clues across LA, many of which are utterly bonkers and rather tenuous. In the process, Sam sniffs out an elaborate and lurid conspiracy.

Movie oddities have a noble tradition in the history of cinema - and there are moments in Under The Silver Lake that do hum with a weird fizz rarely encountered on the big screen since David Lynch retired. But Mitchell's writing is a stretch too far, as it ultimately doesn't offer much other than wilful eccentricity, and that's not enough after 140 minutes.

Garfield is great. So are Richard Vreeland's Hitchcockian woodwinds. And there's no denying the macabre nocturnal atmosphere that it manages to conjure. But Mitchell's self-indulgence at the typewriter is this otherwise curious project's undoing. ★★ Hilary A White

 

What Men Want

Cert: 16; Now showing

It's been 19 years since Nancy Meyers brought What Women Want to the screen, a romcom where Mel Gibson played a chauvinistic executive who suddenly gets the ability to read women's thoughts. His plan was to use it to scupper his female boss but he ended up seeing things a different way.

What Men Want is inspired by that film, offering a reverse and tweaked angle that takes too long to get to its own point and tries so hard to be funny it mostly fails.

Ali Davis (Tarji P Henson) is a sports agent in a successful agency. She believes she is about to make partner and is enraged when the position is given to yet another man. A combination of factors at a hen night give her the ability to hear men's thoughts and after the shock, and sometimes surprising insights into the minds of men she sees every day, she learns how to use her new power.

Sometimes the sheer weight of potential in a concept seems to tip it over and this film, which takes too long to get to the thought-reading part, does not capitalise on this potential.

A film led by a strong black woman manages to squander much of that potential too because although Henson is charismatic in the role, Ali is not very likeable. Her character, like the others, is more caricature in a scenario where the devil needs to be in the detail. The humour is raunchy slapstick that never feels clever and is rarely funny. It feels like a waste of an idea, especially in a climate when it could have been much more.

★★ Aine O'Connor

 

Girl

Cert: 16; Selected cinemas

Lara (Victor Polster), a willowy, sweet-natured 15-year-old, is preparing for sex-reassignment surgery. Offering unfaltering if concerned support for the journey she is embarking on is her single father Mathias (Arieh Worthalter), who accompanies her to specialist consultations and doctors' appointments.

Lara's anxiousness to get on with this transition is just one half of the drive coursing through our protagonist. The other is her probationary enrolment in a prestigious Belgian ballet academy where places are highly competitive. Both fundamentals to Lara's sense of self threaten to push her over the edge.

Lukas Dhont's heartbreaker took the Camera d'Or for 'best first feature' at last year's Cannes Film Festival, and may well make a star of its exceptional leading man (another debut). Polster is quite astounding for every second he is on screen here.

Dhont and co-writer Angelo Tijssens base their screenplay on real-life Belgian transgender ballerina Nora Monsecour, and mine a rich metaphorical seam from the dance itself (grace despite pain, going through the motions, etc) but also locate endless beauty and pathos. The engine room is provided by a gripping realist style, with some revealingly short edits that maintain a transfixing momentum throughout.

★★★★ Hilary A White

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