Life in buddy hell

also showing; THE CABLE GUY Ben Stiller (12) KINGPIN Peter and Bobby Farrelly (12) THE CELLULOID CLOSET Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (15) FEAST OF JULY Christophe r Menaul (15) THE TIT AND THE MOON Bigas Luna (18)
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The Independent Culture
Cinema despises television, its runtish half-brother. Television is so small. You don't have to get off the sofa to watch it. You can vacuum while it's on, or eat, or knit. How common. And so easy. You don't have to do anything. You just switch it on, and it drains the room of conversation, morality, brain cells. Videodrome, Natural Born Killers, To Die For - these movies are so indignant, they should be waving placards outside Radio Rentals, or chaining themselves to Rupert Murdoch's railings.

The dark new comedy The Cable Guy is another such movie, though it swaps indignation and hysteria for simple concern, which is an odd thing for any film starring Jim Carrey to do. Carrey hasn't swapped hysteria for anything. He isn't allowed as much slapstick as he's accustomed to, but he doesn't seem any less frenetic; his tongue flaps and fidgets like it's cleaning the cream off an invisible whisk, while his bulging facial muscles suggest that champagne corks are popping beneath his skin. You're exhausted by him. And that's before you get to the scene where he dresses as a knight and tries to chop up Matthew Broderick (if we're honest, something we've all wanted to do since Ferris Bueller's Day Off).

Broderick plays Steve, an unassuming Ordinary Joe who is learning to live alone after separating from his girlfriend. He buys cable for a bit of company. And he gets the cable guy (Carrey) into the bargain. Carrey is lonely and ingratiating; when he flashes his twinkling eyes at Broderick, he looks like a hopeless fisherman who's just landed a juicy trout. For a moment Broderick humours him, and they do some of the things that buddies do - eat out, throw a karaoke party, lie together on an enormous satellite dish. There's nothing sinister about it - at least not until Broderick rejects him, and discovers that hell hath no fury like a cable guy spurned.

And all this, we discover in an early flashback, is because Carrey's mother used to plop him in front of the television set whenever she went out. Too much TV saps your brain, the picture says. Any attempts at satire are undermined by this truism. That's not a problem unique to The Cable Guy. Near the end, a TV breakdown forces a couch potato to turn to a book instead. You'll find that most of cinema's satires on television boil down to a rather crass message like this, something along the lines of "why can't we all just turn off the TV and get to know ourselves and one another?", which is enough to make the sanest mind turn to Pets Win Prizes.

It barely matters that The Cable Guy fails in this respect, because it is crammed with other pleasures, not least Carrey, who lets us glimpse the human being behind the sociopath. The director Ben Stiller doesn't have a secure grasp on his film's tone, but he does surface in a brilliant running gag, as an ex-child star turned psychopath, whose life is made into a tacky TV movie. Don't watch TV, the writer Lou Holtz, Jr is saying: this is the sort of junk you get fed. I suppose the joke won't really kick in until The Cable Guy gets snapped up by Sky Movies.

If Jim Carrey has deserted the scatalogical depths of Dumb and Dumber, then Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the no-brains behind that film, are plunging deeper with their disgusting new comedy Kingpin. Woody Harrelson plays Roy Munson, a promising bowler whose taste of success in the 1970s is soured when his bitter rival, Big Ern McCracken (Bill Murray), gets him into a scrape which results in his bowling hand being torn off. Seventeen years later, Munson is an alcoholic nobody who thinks his life is over until he chances upon the bowling hotshot Ishmael (Randy Quaid), and whisks him away from a quiet Amish life and toward a tournament where he will, inevitably, face Big Ern.

The Farrellys' pursuit of the ultimate bad-taste gag actually subsumes everything else in the movie. But their quest is a fairly addictive process for any audience willing to leave their integrity in the cloakroom - when the directors contrive a situation in which a young man must have sex with his scabby landlady, or when they construct a joke around a bucket of semen, you end up half willing them to conjure something even more tasteless, and half dreading that they will. At the press screening, the audience were roughly divided between those who sat stiffly in disbelieving silence, and those who sniggered childishly. I'm not ashamed to admit that I belonged to the latter group.

Homosexuality in cinema has come a long way, and gone a long way back again, and dithered about in no man's land for long periods of time. The new documentary The Celluloid Closet charts the progressions and regressions, but it doesn't employ any sort of angle - not even a gay angle. That's not a compromise; the directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have simply set out to fashion a historical document to create a chronological history.

The mood shifts from fanciful to tentative, from celebratory to sinister, as the picture charts the corresponding changes in image and attitude, from the sexless "sissy" figure in films like Broadway Melody to the emergence of homosexuality as violent threat in Cruising. The documentary is meticulously assembled, and the talking heads are extraordinarily revealing. Arthur Laurents, who wrote Rope, assures us that "nobody sees the same movie" - obvious, yes, but a neat way of communicating how we read our own feelings into what's on screen. The Celluloid Closet is an important testimony to how cinema can alter preconceptions and life, which is one good reason to see it. You want two more? Sal Mineo's eyes and lips, which you can never savour enough.

Feast of July is a drudging drama based on HE Bates's novel about a woman (Embeth Davidtz) who gives birth, buries the baby on a hillside and tries to start up a new life in the home of Tom Bell and his three sons, who compete for her affections. But the past comes back to claim her happiness. Ben Chaplin is fine as the heady nitwit who turns clumsy avenger, but this is grim stuff. The paltry rewards make it more finger buffet than feast.

Unlike Bigas Luna's The Tit and the Moon, a refreshing fable about the fragility of love, and of men, and the joy of sex - polymorphously perverse sex, that is. Tete (Biel Duran) is a young boy who, aghast at being usurped by a baby brother, resolves to seek out the perfect breast. He finds it in Estrillita (Mathilda May), whose aging lover Maurice (Gerard Darmon) is plagued by sexual insecurities. What with the acres of bare breasts, and Maurice's musical flatulence, this might sound ideal for a double- bill with Kingpin. Not so. It's a charmer, celebrating life, nudity and stolen underwear, and wistfully sighing over spilt milk.

n All films on general release from Fri