Catfish (15) *** Directed by: Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost
ALMOST working as a companion piece to The Social Network, Catfish explores the consequences of internet anonymity in a compellingly horrifying way. New York- based film-makers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost follow Ariel's photographer brother Nev as he embarks on a somewhat nave online relationship with the family of an eight year-old girl who paints pictures based on his photographs.
That nothing will turn out to be quite as it seems is perhaps easily guessable from this set-up. Yet the way in which the film handles its staggering reveals, as the guys begin to smell a rat and investigate the claims of the family members with whom Nev is becoming increasingly embroiled, is both surprising and, at times, a little suspicious, something that has led to fervent debates about the film's own authenticity as a documentary.
On the latter point, while the directors have admitted to staging – or restaging – certain scenes for narrative clarity, they don't exactly seem adept enough as film-makers to be able to perpetrate such an elaborate hoax, especially the emotionally charged ending, which helps the film transcend the slightly patronising and uncomfortable tone it adopts for much of its running time to become a much more generous and sensitive examination of both the psychology of deceit and the illusion of connectivity offered by social networking services such as Facebook. AH
Burlesque (12a) **
Directed by: Steve Antin
Starring: Cher, Christina Aguilera, Cam Gigandet, Eric Dane, Alan Cumming
SERVING up yet another derivative take on the small-town-girl-follows-her-dreams story that's always been a fixture of movies and musicals, Burlesque finds honking chanteuse Christina Aguilera following the Busby Berkley playbook as an orphaned singing sensation who takes a one-way bus from her dull life in Iowa to the bright lights of Los Angeles, where the smog covered sky is not only the limit, but the source of Burlesque's predictably corny happy ending (it involves real estate and air rights).
Hitting the streets in search of stardom, she talks her way into a gig at a cash strapped burlesque club where the bar staff dresses like extras from Cabaret, the dancers look like drag queens and tough-but-tender owner Cher (for it is she) vomits forth advice about "owning the stage" and "working it" in between dispensing make-up tips to Aguilera and trying to ignore the crippling debt hanging over her. For the first 40 minutes or so, it's easy enough to give in to the simplistic pleasures that come from anticipating Aguilera's first big showstopper. Thenceforth the film collapses under a heap of boring love triangles, tame backstage rivalries, ear-splitting musical numbers and hyperactively edited routines. AH
Fred: The Movie (12a) *
Directed by: Clay Weiner
Starring: Lucas Cruikshank, Jennette McCurdy, Pixie Lott
BASED on a series of YouTube skits created by its teenage star Lucas Cruikshank, Fred: The Movie is one of the most grating children's films in recent memory. It revolves around a lonely kid with an annoying voice and a few anger management issues stemming from his somewhat dysfunctional home life (his mother is a bit of a lush who is always taking afternoon naps while his absent father has been transformed in Fred's imagination into a buffed-up, shirtless bodybuilder). It's supposed to be goofy fun but as Fred (Cruikshank) vows to take revenge on the neighbourhood kids who humiliate him as he unsuccessfully stalks his way into the affections of the girl of his dreams (played by British pop star Pixie Lott), the plot plays out more like the backstory for a serial killer movie. Failing to make Fred likeable in any way, shape or form, the film – which was made for American TV – also desperately attempts to bandwagon jump the Glee phenomenon by making Fred a wannabe singer in his high school musical troupe. That it comes nowhere close to replicating any of the sweetness or self-aware charms of that show is further proof that this should probably have remained on YouTube. AH
Animals United (U) **
Directed by: Reinhard Klooss, Holger Tappe
voices: James Corden, Stephen Fry, Dawn French
NOBODY'S yet thought to issue a Madagascar sequel in the new 3D format, so this English-language redub of an animated German success – yes, it's that promising – is at least filling a gap in the market. Adapting Erich Kstner's The Animal Conference, it offers a The Day After Tomorrow-like enviro-primer for youngsters. Faced with dwindling water supplies, a world league of species – African meerkats, giraffes and elephants, a gassy Tasmanian Devil, plus a displaced polar bear and a French cockerel – migrate towards a global climate-change summit to share their own experiences in the field.
What dooms the film to ordinariness are the animals themselves, so lacking in memorable characteristics that parents will most likely spend the 90 minutes guessing which celebrity voice artists have been busy earning themselves a nice Christmas bonus. Stephen Fry was probably a shoo-in as wise lion Sophocles, but casting Vanessa Redgrave as a 700-year-old tortoise seems vaguely disrespectful, and anyone who thinks a meerkat voiced by James Corden is going to replace Aleksandr Orlov as the nation's favourite is, shall we say, simples in the head.