Fishes and Water

Million Dollar Arm: written by Thomas McCarthy; directed by Craig Gillespie; starring Jon Hamm (JB), Pitobash (Amit), Suraj Sharma (Rinku), Madhur Mittal (Dinesh), Aasif Mandvi (Aash), Lake Bell (Brenda), Alan Arkin (Ray), and Bill Paxton (Tom House) (2014): Slight, enjoyable Disney trifle based on the real-life search for baseball pitchers in India. Jon Hamm plays a failing sports agent who’s a jerk with a heart of gold that needs to be excavated by a sharp-tongued doctor (Lake Bell) and three lovable Indians. More culturally sensitive than I expected — it’s the high-money world of big agents and big athletes that’s the uncomfortable landscape here, not India. Lightly recommended.

Beetlejuice: written by Michael McDowell, Larry Wilson, and Warren Skaaren; directed by Tim Burton; starring Alec Baldwin (Adam), Geena Davis (Brenda), Michael Keaton (Betelgeuse), Catherine O’Hara (Delia), Jeffrey Jones (Charles), Winona Ryder (Lydia), and Glenn Shadix (Otho) (1988): Beetlejuice stands as testimony to the occasional correctness of the original formulation of Auteur Theory: that the Hollywood system allowed directors to be more stylistically themselves by taking away at least some of the decision-making about the manifest content of a film. Tim Burton certainly adds something to the mix, a very good something, but he’s controlled in part by a witty, imaginative (and much rewritten) script. The result is one of the ten great horror-comedies of all time, concise yet packed with amusing detail and amusing performances. 

That the afterlife posited by the film is undeniably awful is part of the joke. All the performances sparkle, from Michael Keaton’s anarchic Betelgeuse (more Joker than Batman) through skinny Alec Baldwin and young Amazon Geena Davis’s bemused recently dead couple all the way to a young, Goth Winona Ryder, her annoying parents (including Catherine O’Hara in a rare film role as her art-world-pretentious mother), and the late, great character actor Glenn Shadix as unctuous hanger-on Otho (!). Cartoony as hell, and spiked throughout with amusingly rubbery stop-motion monsters and real-world monster make-up. The oddball insertion of a whole lot of calypso music just adds to the anarchic weirdness of the enterprise. Highly recommended.

The Grand Seduction: written by Ken Scott and Michael Dowse, adapted from La grande seduction (2003) written by Ken Scott; directed by Don McKellar; starring Brendan Gleeson (Murray French), Taylor Kitsch (Dr. Lewis), Liane Balaban (Kathleen), and Gordon Pinsent (Simon) (2013): Very droll little Canadian film about a small Newfoundland fishing harbour’s quest to get a full-time doctor so as to be able to woo a factory to their depressed, mostly jobless shores.

Based on a previous film about the same situation in a French village, The Grand Seduction pretty much bursts at the seams with Newfoundland talent and actors from other parts of Canada, with the exception of lead Brendan Gleeson. Gleeson does a nice enough job with the accent, though it comes and goes. Performances are fine throughout, with Taylor Kitsch underplaying as the somewhat clueless doctor. It’s a sort of pleasant, occasionally tart Canadian set-up that seems like a hybrid of Leacock and an infinite number of old CBC movies and TV series. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Recommended.

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