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Friday Flicks: What Men Want, The Isle and A Festival

Written by M.V. Moorhead Category: Visual Arts Issue: February 2019
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This weekend on the silver screen: 

What Men Want—This comedy flips the script, as the saying goes, on 2000's What Women Want, in which adman Mel Gibson finds himself with the ability to hear the thoughts of the ladies in his proximity. In the new film, sports agent Taraji P. Hensonwhatmenwantposter

finds, after an encounter with a psychic and a bonk on the head, that she can hear the prattle going on in the minds of men, and plots to use it to her advantage in crashing the glass ceiling.

My memory of the 2000 movie, directed by Nancy Meyers, is mostly of how tame it seemed. Gibson's eavesdropping on the inner monologues of women didn't reveal anything terribly scandalous or fun. That, at least, cannot be said about this new film; directed by Adam Shankman of Hairspray and The Wedding Planner, it's more candid and raunchy and imaginative in exploiting the possibilities of the premise.

It may occur to you that what men want is not, on the whole, that much of a mystery; men have a way of expressing what we want in no uncertain terms. Indeed, a fair amount of human history is arguably the result of men asserting what we want, or, more grimly, of the tantrums that result when we don't get it. The movie's obligatory positive message is that "we all want the same thing"; love, acceptance, security, and the like, and that's probably true at our best. But it isn't where the movie's laughs come from.

And though it's a shaggy, unfocused piece of moviemaking, it does have laughs. The large cast includes funny turns by Tracy Morgan as a LaVar Ball-esque sports dad, Josh Brener as Henson's long-suffering gay sidekick, Erykah Badu as the psychic and Pete Davidson as an office blowhard who doth protest too much. A bunch of sports personalities ranging from Shaq to Mark Cuban to Karl-Anthony Towns play themselves, and it's great to see Richard Roundtree in a non-comic role as Henson's boxer dad.

More importantly, however, What Men Want is probably the first movie to truly turn Taraji P. Henson loose as a psychical comedienne. She proves an uninhibited, exuberantly lusty clown, and more like this from her could certainly prove to be What Audiences Want.

The Isle--In the mid-1800s, three shipwrecked British sailors land on a remote, mossy, beautiful Scottish island. Once a thriving community, the place seems to have only four remaining inhabitants; two old guys—one polite but evasive, the other dour and isleposterforbidding—each with a beautiful daughter.

That is to say, these appear to be the island's only living inhabitants. Every now and then we glimpse a spectral blonde woman, just out of sight of our heroes. The locals exchange dark, pregnant glances and urge the lads not to wander off. This advice goes unheeded, and creepy trouble ensues.

I kept trying to guess where this ghost story, directed by Matthew Butler Hart from a script he co-wrote with his wife Tori Butler Hart—who plays one of the isle's beauties—was heading. I didn't succeed. The backstory that gradually emerges has roots in the myth of Persephone and the Sirens, but it's also a bluntly realistic and horribly plausible tale of men excused for crimes against women as a matter of course.

Here and there, a line of the dialogue didn't seem, somehow, to quite ring true to the period idiom. Otherwise, this traditional tale generates a moody atmosphere without resorting to cheap shocks, and its finale is touchingly sad.

At AMC Arizona Center 24. 

Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival—The 23rd annual fest kicks off Sunday, February 10, and continues through Sunday, February 24th at three different Harkins Theatre Multiplexes around the Valley; Park West in Peoria, Shea 14 in Scottsdale and Tempe Marketplace. The opening day features include the documentary Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy, and the drama Golda’s Balcony, a movie adaptation of William Gibson’s one-woman stage show featuring Tovah Feldshuh as Golda Meir.

Other selections include thrillers, comedies, dramas and documentaries, representing countries of origin from Israel to Argentina to Hungary to Canada to the U.S. A Festival Pass is $150; individual tickets are $11. Go to gpjff.org for details.

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