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Men behaving strangely
November 16, 2011 - Rick Chatenever
It’s happening again. Men being men. In what’s becoming an all-too-familiar pattern, my gender hasn’t been distinguishing itself on the nightly news lately.
Between brain freezes and groping allegations among candidates who consider themselves qualified to be the most powerful man on the planet, and the far worse allegations swirling around the football program at Penn State, this week has hardly been a stellar advertisement for the benefits of testosterone.
Male identity issues are also on the minds of filmmakers this week … although they don’t exactly clarify the issue. Squeezing in three new movies last weekend, I found to my chagrin, each presented its own version of men behaving strangely. One was a comedy, one a special-effects action epic and the last — and best — a historical drama, but each in its own way made the same point: Guys are weird. Not only is this not necessarily a good thing — sometimes it gets downright scary.
Adam Sandler gets in touch with his feminine side in his new comedy, playing both halves of the title, “Jack and Jill.” They’re twins. Jack is the by-now familiar, default Adam Sandler role — L.A. mansion, great career, gorgeous wife (Katie Holmes), precocious kids, nonstop wisecracks … you know, the role he played in the filmed-on-Maui “Just Go With It” and before that in Judd Apatow’s “Funny People.”
Jill is everything Jack isn’t. With her fragile bravado, her passive-aggressive guilt mongering, her pet parrot as her traveling companion, Jill is, in a word, annoying. (Annoying is one of those great words in the English language. It’s not easy to define — but everyone knows exactly what it means.)
Jill’s annual visit for Thanksgiving from her home in the Bronx provides the excuse for Sandler to creatively reunite for some dysfunctional fun with his favorite director, Dennis Dugan, and his pals in the cast, adding cameos by Johnny Depp and Regis Philbin and a hoot of a co-starring turn by Al Pacino playing a somewhat deranged version of himself.
While the film has provided another chance for most critics to sharpen their scalpels, its comedy is actually a few notches up from the phoned-in gags and excuse to go to Maui in “Just Go With It.” Pacino seems to relish the chance to skewer his serious thespian side as much as Sandler seems to enjoy dressing in women’s clothes.
Annoying as she is, his Jill turns out to be one of Sandler’s more creative stretches … and a keeper in his gallery of memorable roles.
Far more disturbing data from the male front comes from this week’s box-office winner, “Immortals.” Stylishly directed by Tarsem Singh, this translation of epic mythology into more of a pop comic- book video game is the same formula that made a huge hit for the production team’s last effort, “300.”
The film’s striking look blends angular architecture with oiled-body sensuality, surrounding a cast led by Mickey Rourke and Henry Cavil. But take away the beheadings, eye gougings, neck breakings, spear piercings and bloody battlefield dismemberments … along with one gratuitous sex scene … and there’s not much left.
What prompts some parents to disregard the film’s R-rating and bring their young children is flagrantly irresponsible … and a sure source of nightmares. But it fits right in with the film’s cynical, exploitative gratuitous violence clothed in homoerotic togas and sandals that provided a coincidental foreshadowing for news emanating from Penn State.
The protagonist of “J. Edgar” is grappling with his own sense of gender confusion, but he does it with cinematic brilliance, thanks to star Leonardo DiCaprio and director Clint Eastwood.
Although the film might have been better 20 minutes shorter, the portrayal of FBI icon J. Edgar Hoover approaches Shakespearean dimensions clothed in Eastwood’s impeccable cinematography.
Surrounded by superb supporting performances by Armie Hammer, Judi Dench and Naomi Watts, DiCaprio’s Oscar-worthy portrayal casts Hoover as a stuttering mama’s boy and closeted homosexual with an encyclopedic memory and a powerful, if twisted, sense of patriotism. His arrival in government service coincided with new advances in criminology, ultimately making him a figure who inspired fear in the most powerful leaders of our land for decades. What’s fascinating is the way DiCaprio and Eastwood explore Hoover —his paranoia, his prejudices, his megalomania as well as his strengths —without judgment. Instead, he is a perfect storm of twisted psychology, paranoia and political power-mongering.
Funny, how such human flaws intertwined with technology and political power to make J. Edgar Hoover such a force in shaping American history.
Except, in fact, it wasn’t funny at all.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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