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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

From the Godawful to the Gorblimey

I have seen more than a dozen films since I last wrote, if I count largely forgettable Christmas movies made for television. Of the 'proper' movies viewed, I shall pick out three which range between "unbelievably bad" through "better than expected" through "an unexpected gem".

At the dire end of the spectrum is Adam Sandler's "Jack and Jill" (2011). I know Sandler has a large fan base made up largely of pubescent boys, but I have found his humour too jejune for my taste -- although there have been the occasional laughs despite myself. He proved that he can indeed act in the splendid "Punch-drunk Love" (2002), but that was the exception to his self-indulgent shtick. This film has Sandler playing twins, Jack a very successful but not terribly likeable TV-ad producer and his fraternal twin Jill who has festered back in the Bronx looking after their now departed mother. This gives Sandler the opportunity to cross-dress in a fat suit and adopt a whiney Noo Yawk accent, producing a totally unattractive woman who looks exactly like Adam Sandler in drag.

She comes for a Thanksgiving visit which extends and extends itself, driving Sandler to tears, but he finds that he needs her help when his largest client demands that he engage Al Pacino to present a kooky coffee ad. As luck would have it the twins meet Al at a hockey game and the latter is enchanted with Jill, who reminds him of his 'roots', and he pursues her relentlessly. When a recent poll here produced a list of the greatest film actors ever, Pacino came top of the pile -- much to my amazement, so you may well ask why he agreed to appear in such dreck. On the one hand his role here is little less than horribly embarrassing, yet I must admit that he brings unexpected warmth and pathos to her rejection of his advances. Jill is presented as a first-class ignoramus and the running joke is that she keeps referring to well-known film scenarios but continues to reject their correct titles when proffered. She also meets Johnny Depp, seated next to Al at the game (again, why the heck did he agree to the cameo?) and doesn't even recognise him, running off to accost some Z-list television personality. Enough already -- naturally we get a 'happy' ending with the twins realising how much they really love each other and regressing to their juvenile private twin-talk. And Jill actually wins a man too -- although she is not going to become the next Mrs. Pacino. At least we were spared the participation of Rob Schneider!

The 'middling' film of the week was "The Big Year" (2011) whose premise sounded pretty dire, with Jack Black, Owen Wilson, and Steve Martin portraying competing twitchers (bird-spotters). Wilson holds the record for spotting the greatest number of native birds in the U.S. for the previous year, and the other two, Black playing one of life's losers and Martin playing a big-shot industrialist, are out to take away his title. Wilson plays against type in his ruthless pursuit of the championship, alienating his loving wife Rosamund Pike in the process. Black can barely afford the competition but a growing friendship with Martin and some help from his mother sees him through. His father played by a frail-looking Brian Dennehy knocks his obsession until an unexpected spotting finally bonds them. The movie proved rather more satisfying than expected with its well-rounded characters and far from conventional or predictable conclusions. A strange idea for a movie perhaps, but not a waste of time by any means.

How many films from Peru have you seen? Nor me! The week's big surprise was writer-director Javier Fuentes-Leon's "Undertow" (2009). Set and lovingly photographed in a picturesque but poor provincial Peruvian fishing village, it is part love story, part ghost story, and part social drama. Miguel is a local fisherman whose wife Mariola is heavily pregnant and he enthusiastically awaits his first child. However he is also carrying on a long-standing affair with Santiago, the rich blue-eyed artist from the City who is vacationing at his childhood summer home. When Miguel refuses to leave with his lover, the latter drowns -- whether intentionally or not is beside the point; however, his very solid ghost -- visible only to Miguel -- lingers on. Until his body can be found and be buried at sea according to local traditions, he can not rest.  Even when Miguel finds the corpse, he does not rescue it, wanting to keep his forbidden lover close by.

Meanwhile the deeply homphobic villagers have their suspicions about Santiago's leanings and force Miguel to pretend that there was never anything 'like that' between them.  When a slew of slightly pornographic paintings of Miguel are discovered at the cottage, they all turn against him and even his loving wife finds his dalliance nearly inexcusable.  However this is far more than another 'gay' film, but rather something more humane. Miguel must own up to his wife, his neighbours, and to Santiago's family, who have come to claim the body when it eventually ends up in the fishing nets, and find the integrity to be a man. He knows that his lover's spirit will never be free until he receives the traditional local funeral rites. The funeral that Miguel arranges for him reminded me greatly of the scene from the great John Ford's "The Sun Shines Bright", where the formerly hostile townsfolk gradually join an outcast's funeral procession.  As with the Ford film every time I watch it, my eyes teared over here.

I can not recall many (if any) previous films from Peru, but this one certainly deserves a worldwide audience to discover its charms. Ironically, the three main roles are taken by a Bolivian, a Mexican, and a Colombian, so there you have it.

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