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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

A Couple of Sweeties

While I will always make a point of watching big-budget movies that I have not caught previously, the selection -- despite the various amount of hype which precedes them -- often leaves me with a 'so what' reaction.  This week's choices included the weird Paul Bettany fallen angel flick "Legion" and Sandra Bullock's "Blind Side".  While the latter was reasonably entertaining, if far from brilliant film-making, I did not really see any evidence of why she deserved a best actress Oscar for her role, other than the unkind reaction that it was 'her turn'.

On the other hand sweet surprises manage to arrive with happy frequency; otherwise I might give up my ambition to try to view any and all movies that come my way.  Often these films arrive unheralded and I know little about their cinematic history or even much about many of the featured players.  I read a lot of film reviews and criticism, both in print and on-line, but every so often I discover a totally delightful feature which had not prevously registered in my cinematic mind.  A recent example was "Bunny and the Bull", a little-known and imaginatively presented British flick from 2009, which I will not discuss here, but would urge you to seek out.  Two other films viewed within the last week were equally engaging:

The Rocker (2008): An American outing for director Peter Cattaneo, who was Oscar-nominated for "The Full Monty" (1997) and who has not exactly been prolific in movieland, this movie stars Rainn Wilson as a would-be rock star drummer, dumped by his band -- who have since made it big -- some twenty years earlier.  Pretty much of a deadbeat existence and financial woes land him at the home of his sister, Jane Lynch, and filling in for the 'grounded' drummer of his nephew's garage band at the upcoming senior prom.  Tasting the trappings of a lifestyle so long denied, he forces his continued participation on the other three dubious teenagers and tries to groom them in the wild, wild ways of life on the road.  He is really an over-enthusiastic rocker who has never managed to grow up, but is happy to begin finding everything that he thinks he deserves -- after footage of his nude drumming appears on You-Tube and makes the group an overnight sensation.

Wilson looked vaguely familiar to me, but I could not place him until I discovered that he was the cheeky drugstore clerk in "Juno" -- a small but memorable role.  Two of his three band colleagues, were completely unknown to me -- Teddy Geiger playing the insecure but talented composer-lyricist and Josh Tad as the chubby, socially introverted nephew on keyboard.  The girl member of the group, Emma Stone, has subsequently become something of a 'flavour of the month' after her role in "Zombieland" and she now has a slew of A-list movies on her filmography.  Geiger's single-parent mom is played brightly by Christina Applegate and two-faced manager Jason Sudeikis rounds out the main cast.  There is nothing overly special about the story but it is a good-natured satire on the foibles of the rock scene and the comeuppance of Wilson's previous band is more than a little satisfying.  One of those musicians is played, incidentally, by a nearly unrecognizable Bradley Cooper. 

My Last Five Girlfriends (2009):  This movie was an even bigger unknown to me and I held out little hope for a British indie effort.  The writer-director Julian Kemp is mainly active on TV, making this a rare cinema outing.   However despite its low budget and little-known cast (apart from a couple of high profile cameos, obviously called in as favours), it was an amusingly presented and imaginative riff on the standard rom-com.  Contemplating suicide and downing a packet of pills washed down with vodka, young Duncan composes a note to his last five disastrous girlfriends outlining what has gone wrong with his life.  I had never even heard of actor Brendan Patricks who took this lead, but he portrayed the pleasant, inoffensive, yet thoroughly likeable nerd with verve.  Of his five exes -- very roughly the one who was using him as a stop-gap in her rocky ongoing relationship elsewhere, the unknowable one who forced him to eat some allergenic chocolate with nauseating results, the French one with whom he fell out over a pair of hideous shoes, the longstanding one who shared his inability to commit, and the 'ideal' one who ended up breaking his heart -- I only recognized two of the actresses.  The second ex-flame was played by Jane March, previously known locally as "the sinner from Pinner" after her role in "The Lovers" back in the early '90s and virtually unseen since swimming nude with Bruce Willis in "The Color of Money" back in 1994.  The other known player was the black actress Naomie Harris, who adeptly played Duncan's last, treacherous lover.

However the obscurity of the cast mattered little.  What made this film outstanding was the gentle humour of the tale's presentation.  Duncan's life was represented as a Duncanworld theme park where each bad relationship was shown as a ride that thrilled while it lasted, but then crashed and burned, with the park's customers adding their two cents' worth of sarcastic comments.  There was also Duncan's backstory briefly illustrated by a panorama of Barbie dolls.  Even his would-be suicide was used to create a totally false ending, before showing the viewer the potentially happy one that just might follow.

When you are on a strict diet of uninteresting blockbusters, a couple of sweeties are just what you need to compensate for the bad taste they leave.    
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