I'm afraid it's been another one of those weeks where my film-viewing has been largely uninvolving, especially when you think that I sat through two longish documentaries on cycling-cheat Lance Armstrong. Ours is a keen cycle-race household -- well really Michael far more than me, so the two movies aired to coincide with the start of the Tour de France were required viewing for us. However one would have been more than enough, since although we are probably more familiar than most with the cast of characters and the historic footage, the two films were overwhelmingly repetitive. Armstrong does comes across in the end as the nasty do-anything-to win villain that we always suspected was lurking there under the surface, rather than the holier-than-thou cancer-survivor-becomes-Superman image he sought.
Anyhow back to the two films headlined above. From this week's selection of Sky premieres, we first watched the so called pick of the bunch "We're the Millers" which was a box-office hit -- and then, somewhat reluctantly, "Sunshine on Leith", a Scottish 'musical' which sounded potentially dire. The 'Millers' movie should have been cast-iron entertainment, especially since Jennifer Aniston films are usually guaranteed hits because of the goodwill the actress manages to retain. In this one she plays a stripper (woo-hoo! and is given the opportunity to display her well-toned 44-year old body), who needs money, and is recruited by her drug-dealing neighbour, Jason Sudeikis, to pose as his wife. The idea is to play 'Happy Families' for the border guards as they attempt to bring back a huge stash of drugs from Mexico -- something Sudeikis has agreed to do for local drug kingpin Ed Helms to get himself out of a financial hole. For the balance of the family group Sudeikis recruits another neighbour, dorky teenager Will Poulter (the British lad is having a surprisingly buoyant career in American flicks) and street-punk Emma Roberts.
This mismatched bunch set off on their naughty adventure and are forced to deal with nasty Mexican villains, a double-crossing Helms, and another RV-travelling family comprised of a jaded treasury agent, his uptight teenaged daughter, and his horny wife. Take it from me, very little in the way of jolly japes ensue. But of course our four main protagonists, despite their obvious differences, do end up as the happy family they have been pretending to be. Overall one big disappointment.
As for 'Sunshine', a low-budget movie from sophomore director Dexter Fletcher (better known here as an actor), this really turned out to be the proverbial ray of sunshine. Based on a 2007 stage production by a local Scottish repertory company and featuring the music of The Proclaimers (a pop-folk groups headed by the twin brothers Reid), the story concerns a pair of soldiers/friends returning to Edinburgh after a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Davy and Ally are played by George MacKay and Kevin Guthrie, both totally unknown to me as was most of the remaining cast. The only 'big' names are Jane Horrocks and Peter Mullen, playing one set of parents, and it is just as well that there was a subtitle option since I never can understand a word that Mullen says and could well have had the same problem with the rest of the performers.
Anyhow we follow the lads as they attempt to adjust to civilian life, physically unscarred by their military duty unlike their badly-disabled buddy in the local rehab unit. They look for work and love, all of this punctuated with The Proclaimers' catchy tunes. I confess I knew nothing of their music prior to watching this film, but it is joyful and infectious -- and the group's hits such as 'Let's Get Married', 'Letter from America', and 'I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)' are slotted into the action without too much contrivance. Unlike recent big budget musicals like the over-hyped "Les Mis" and the over-the-top "Mamma Mia", this film is small, unbloated, and nearly perfectly formed. The final scene at the rail station is reminiscent of the happy conclusion to "Slumdog Millionaire", but writ large with what seems to be half the population of Edinburgh in attendance singing. Even if true love doesn't work out for one of the pair, it's a really feel-good movie.